Throughout my college search, I made it my mission to be able to tour the schools that I found interesting. The only way I was able to do this was by participating in college fly-in programs that attract students from underrepresented backgrounds. These highly competitive programs allow for selected students to embark on an all-expense-paid trips to individual schools.

For me, this entailed flying coast-to-coast to small liberal arts schools ranging from the Claremont Colleges to big research universities like the University of Chicago. Even though participating in these programs took time out of my hectic senior year schedule, I was still destined to look past the colleges’ brochures filled with happy smiles of their students.

I will always be grateful for my overnight hosts that took the time to “keep it real with me” and stay up all night telling me about their experiences as first-year students. Because of them, I was able to gauge each school’s climate academically, socially and financially. So, when prospective students ask you about Penn, give them the most accurate portrayal of the University possible.

A superficial college tour cannot provide all the details of college life at a particular institution. These pieces of information are what prospective students really want. Since college tours follow certain procedures and regulations, the information and answers are structured in a way that protects the university’s image. Thus, students are left with the pristine perspective that there are no apparent major flaws with that school.

Now that I am at Penn, I realize that I have begun to fill the role that my hosts did.  About a week ago, the participants in Penn’s Early Exploration Program — Penn’s fly-in program — had the chance to attend a student panel where I happened to be the only student representing the Class of 2021. The panelists were arranged from left to right starting with me, the freshman, to the senior representing the Class of 2018, meaning that I often answered questions first.

The main focus of the panel was to discuss our extracurricular activities and the amazing research opportunities we have at Penn. At the end, there was a prospective student that stood up to ask, “What would you improve about Penn?”

As a freshman, I could only recount the experiences I have had during my two months at this school. However, the senior on the panel initiated the conversation about the hyper-competitiveness at Penn and issues surrounding mental health.

To answer this question, the upperclassmen named all the resources and spaces on campus that are frequently used: La Casa Latina, Makuu, Pan-Asian American Community House, the LGBT Center, Counseling and Psychological Services, etc. These are networks where there are similar people that are ready and willing to help any student.

I discussed how the transition from high school to college was very hard for me. After New Student Orientation, I felt very alone until I found my core group of friends. I was struggling academically because the adjustment from producing mediocre work in high school to polished collegiate-quality assignments is difficult.

No one at college is here to hold your hand and tell you everything is going to be okay. The transition is very scary, and I emphasized to PEEP participants that even with two months under my belt, I am still learning and growing. I use on-campus resources to survive at this elite school that is meant to prepare its students for the real world after graduation. 

This information still holds true to prospective students who have already been accepted. In the upcoming months, Penn will start to accept students for the Class of 2022. These lucky students will be invited to their accepted student days, ConnectED and Quaker Days, in the months of February and April. During this time, remember that you were once these students.

If you get the chance to talk to or host a prospective student for one of those weekends, make it a point to express all the wonderful opportunities Penn has provided for you and what Penn can do for them. Yet, do not sugar-coat the issues that are found on Penn’s campus.

If we only have conversations that make out Penn to be perfect, once these students come, they will feel deceived. Having these real conversations about Penn with prospective students gives them an in-depth background of what they are getting themselves into if they come here. A college tour could never offer this. This is why it’s so important to be honest with these prospective students that you once were.


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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