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Photo from: Macarena Perez Herrera, August Gebhard-Koenigstein, Aliki Karnavas (left to right)

Penn upperclassmen can choose to live on or off campus, but transfer and exchange students don't have the same options.

About 5,600 Penn students — roughly 54 percent of the undergraduate population — live on campus and approximately 3,100 of them are not freshmen. While most upperclassmen live on campus by choice, transfer and exchange students are required to live in campus housing for one year.

Many students, though, are happy to have a required living arrangement, which they say can help them to build a community as new students at Penn.  

Transfer students have to reside in a four-year college house or upperclassman college house during their first year, and the meal plan is required, according to Penn Residential Services’ website.

“In order for all new students to Penn to get the most out of their experience, residing on campus provides the greatest opportunity," Executive Director of College Houses and Academic Services Martin Redman said in an email statement. 

College junior and transfer student from Georgia Institute of Technology August Gebhard-Koenigstein lived in Mayer Hall in Stouffer College House during his sophomore year, his first year at Penn. He chose to live in Mayer because of the designated “transfer community” there.

Gebhard-Koenigstein said about half of his hall — at least 15 students — were transfers and that there was special programming for them.

“As a transfer, it’s a little bit harder because people already have their friend groups,” he said. “It’s nice to get to know people right away on your floor." 

Gregory College House has a transfer community too. Until last fall, transfer students lived throughout Gregory. However, the Transfer Student Organization pushed to move transfer students nearer to each other and the house made the changes, Gregory College House Dean Christopher Donovan wrote in an emailed statement.  

“The students enjoyed living among residents going through a similar adjustment to Penn,” Donovan wrote. 

Gebhard-Koenigstein said some transfer students opt out of the transfer housing and live elsewhere on campus, such as the high rises. Gregory does not have air conditioning and Gebhard-Koneigstein had to share a room in Mayer, which he said can be a deterrent for some. He explained that older transfer students sometimes prioritize amenities and features like single rooms, which can motivate them to live in the high rises.

College junior Aliki Karnavas transferred from Georgetown University last year and decided to live in the high rises. She was assigned a random roommate, who was also a transfer, for her second-floor room, which she said worked well. 

“I probably would have lived on campus,” Karnavas said. “My mom went to Penn in the '80s and she still has this image of, ‘Any off-campus housing is super dangerous.’” 

Karnavas added that she wished there was more information about the buildings on the housing form. She said she had to ask current Penn students to find out which were high rises. 

Macarena Perez-Herrera, an exchange student from Seville, Spain, is living in Harrison College House this semester with many exchange student neighbors.

Perez-Herrera’s three roommates are exchange students, she said, one of whom is a Spanish student she requested to live with. She said she would have chosen to live in campus housing anyway, as she is just at Penn for this semester and has never lived in the United States before.

“When we need something or we’re going to do [an activity] together, all of our friends live one or two floors above or under us,” she said. 

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