On this exact date last year, I submitted my early decision application to the University of Pennsylvania. Filled with anxiety, I pressed the submit button to send the file that contained every little thing about my life. Essentially, I sent Penn Admissions my complete life story. It had all my high school grades, recommendations, personal statement and background information.

Coming from New England, I was never far away from Penn. Yet, as a junior or senior, I had never taken a trip down to tour the school. Even today, people are amazed on how I could apply to a school that I have never even visited, let alone get admitted and end up attending.

Yet, prospective students should not fear applying ED to Penn, despite the inability to visit campus. At the end of the day, Penn students are here for their academics and the opportunities that Penn has to offer; therefore, applying ED shouldn’t be reserved only for those who have had the luxury of visiting campus. 

So, last year, when I stood looking at my blank screen, I was questioning why I wanted to attend Penn. I knew that it was a big school in an urban setting. This aligned with my quest to break away from the small school environment I had endured for the last four years. I could even continue my civic engagement within a larger city community and learn about the issues surrounding Philadelphia.

Besides my personal interests, I had started to reflect on what I was most academically passionate about in high school. My love for journalism and media led me to apply as a communication major in the College of Arts and Sciences. The Annenberg School for Communication has one of the best undergraduate programs that allows students to select from a variety of concentrations within the field. This attracted me and solidified my decision to apply early.

When deciding to apply to a school early, people take into account everything they know about the school. Some students really analyze all aspects of the school: campus visits, academics, sports, extracurriculars and the social scene. Most students visit the schools they are going to end up applying to. According to a Penn Admissions representative that I spoke to, last year “over 80,000 people register[ed] for campus visits.” However, this statistic does not include how many students visited Penn that got admitted and enrolled here.

For applicants who cannot visit Penn, it is hard to gauge the school’s environment through a web page. Visiting schools on the East Coast is very hard for students who live in other regions of the United States. The most elite schools people are often attracted to happen to be the ones founded on the East Coast. This is especially hard for students who are thinking of applying ED because once they are admitted, they are obligated to come to Penn.  

International students and first-generation, low-income students have the biggest hurdles to face when they are in the midst of the college application process. Because of financial and logistical reasons, oftentimes they have to apply solely based on the school’s reputation and its academics. Students who are in this situation should really get to know the academic department they are interested in and message a professor. For students who are first-generation and/or low-income, there is the option to apply for Penn’s fly-in program, PEEP.

Other students like me ended up choosing Penn for a reason. We were faced with the same obstacle of not knowing what Penn would be like until our invitations to ConnectED or Quaker Days. Some students might not even have known what Penn looked like until New Student Orientation.

College freshman Vraj Shroff comments, “Due to logistical and financial reasons, I could not visit Penn. Still, I ended up applying early decision to pursue my interest in pre-med and possibly pursue a dual-degree with Wharton. I cared more about the academic aspect when applying early because that is all I could base my decision off from.”

Currently, there are more initiatives that top-tier institutions are taking to have a bigger outreach for groups like these to expose them to the opportunities found on campus. Looking back at my decision, I don’t regret applying early to Penn. I knew what I wanted and that’s what I got myself into. The fear of applying ED dissipated once I got on campus and entered my first communication class. That’s when I knew I was home.


CARLOS ARIAS VIVAS is a College freshman from Stamford, Conn., studying communication. His email address is cariasv@sas.upenn.edu. “Convos with Carlos” usually appears every other Tuesday.

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