In a few weeks, Penn’s early decision applicants for the Class of 2022 will receive their admissions decisions

Just last December, I anticipated my decision day, dreading the prospect of rejection or deferral. Like many applicants, I had worked up an image of Penn that felt perfect enough to justify the late hours I kept in high school, studying for tests and writing essays. 

At the time, it didn’t seem like there was any other college where I’d be happy. 

But while there are many unique aspects of Penn, I’ve come to find that I probably could have had a similar experience at other universities.   

Early Decision tends to stimulate anxiety amongst high school students. Each year, it appears that colleges receive record numbers of applicants, and acceptance rates hit all-time lows. Factors such as a student’s demonstrated interest, the smaller applicant pool size in Early Decision, and universities’ desire for high yield rates all increase Early Decision acceptance rates. For this reason, there can be a lot of pressure to apply early. 

Submitting an early decision application has its benefits: higher acceptance rates, an early notification date, and potential evasion of writing other college applications. Still, students choosing schools to apply to early often adapt an unhealthy fixation on a given university which they see as their “dream school.”

Since Early Decision is a binding agreement, applicants are essentially saying that the school they’ve applied to is their ideal college. Because these schools need to be “perfect” for applicants to apply early to them, students tend to glorify them — sometimes to an unhealthy degree.   

Whether one is applying early to Penn or any other college, it is important to recognize and try to avoid the false idealization of particular universities. While disappointing, rejection or deferral from one’s early decision school is not the end of the world; there is a place for everyone at other colleges.

When I was applying to Penn, I became obsessed with the potential to take advantage of creative opportunities on campus like the Kelly Writers House, paired with the pre-professional ideals of Wharton. Yet, I neglected to acknowledge that similar dynamics exist at other schools. For example, Johns Hopkins University has one of the best creative writing programs in the nation, as well as a large concentration of pre-medical students. Ultimately, my choice, and that of many others, to apply early to Penn was somewhat arbitrary.  

The ennoblement of certain universities doesn’t just affect our perception of a school’s benefits, but also the problems it faces. Even after starting at Penn, I’ve continued to engage in the dangerous game of putting other colleges on a pedestal.

During my first few months here, I read about and witnessed firsthand the mental health issues that plague Penn’s campus, wondering if I would be better off transferring to a different school, as it seemed that my friends at other universities were much happier. However, without discrediting or undermining Penn’s problems, it’s crucial to understand that they aren’t always specific to this campus. 

In discussing mental health on campus, we use the term “Penn Face” to describe the masking of one’s personal struggles, creating a false, unrealistic image of that person. But similar phenomena exist at other schools too. Stanford University describes the disingenuous appearances of others as “Duck Syndrome.” In other words, this isn’t just a Penn problem. 

College admissions is a nuanced topic that possesses many angles that demand attention. Early Decision, because it forces applicants to pick a “dream school,” is a perfect example of the false idealization that occurs when choosing and comparing schools. 

Although it may seem like dime-a-dozen advice, being granted admission to a particular university isn’t worth the excessive stress. Odds are, even if someone is admitted to their “dream school,” they’ll engage in mental gymnastics, questioning their decision to attend. 

False idealization of any institution inevitably leads to disappointment; fixation on a certain school is useless. Every university has benefits and drawbacks, and a lot of the time colleges are more similar than they are different.


ISABELLA SIMONETTI is a College freshman from New York. Her email address is isim@sas.upenn.edu. “Simonetti Says So” usually appears every Tuesday.

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