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Photo: Julio Sosa

All Penn students are familiar with New Student Orientation, but few know that its history spans more than half a century.   

On Sept. 2, 1968, Penn’s class of 1972 moved into their dorms, marking the beginning of that year's “New Student Week,” as it used to be called. Multiple traditions have remained the same since then: the class-wide picnic, the activities fair and the Performing Arts Night, though important changes have also been made. 

For example, until 2000, NSO was only four days long. At a Board of Trustees Meeting, 1966 College graduate and former Penn President Judith Rodin changed the length from four to six days to make extra time for academic seminars, according to meeting minutes at the University Archives and Records Center. The Penn Reading Project is also a newer addition to orientation. 1989 College graduate Richard Gusick said PRP was not a part of his NSO.

In 1968, students took some preliminary examinations during their orientation week, including a Wharton “accounting aptitude” test, according to the 1968 New Student Week schedule. Freshmen were divided and orientated based on schools — the School of Allied Medical Professions being one of the schools at the time — as well as based on gender because the College for Women still existed at the time. There were also specific meetings for those who designated themselves as “commuters,” which refers to students who commute to school from their off-campus homes. 


Welcome back to school! Read our other stories on NSO including a piece on how the student government is updating their recruitment process for orientation and an investigation into what actually happens when students skip mandatory events.


In 1973, the University sent out a news release about their decision to add a Faculty-Freshman Day to the New Student Week lineup, which included 149 — later changed to 152 — seminars given by faculty members. The topics ranged from “Comprehensive Care of the Pregnant Addict” to “Electronic Music.”   

Parent Orientation seminars were introduced in 1977, according to the New Student Week activities pamphlet. The parent activities lasted two-days and included student panels, a comedy night and a barbecue.    

And in 1981, incoming freshmen during New Student week, which was “often referred to as Camp Penn,” attended 40-person parties hosted by New Student Week committee members, toured Philadelphia by specially-chartered trolley and chose one of three high rise rooftop parties to go to.   

Gusick said that he did not remember organized activities during NSO but recalled the dorm-wide parties thrown by graduate fellows. For him, one of the most memorable events was the tour around the city. 

“The bus stopped at South Street, and they let everyone run around,” Gusick said. “I remember thinking that Jim’s Steaks was the best cheesesteak — what a freshman.”      

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