A few weeks ago, I received a call from my very cross mother who told me that I had spent well beyond my allowance in the past 10 days. I sputtered, telling her that I had not tried to deliberately spend that much money and that I could not think of any major purchase I had made recently. After the revelational phone call, I checked my bank account at long last. When I read through the transactions, much of it was outgoing Venmo and Uber payments (and a lot of food). I realized then that partaking in social activities at Penn can become a constant grab for your wallet, and that sometimes, it can feel like you need money to have friends.
Significant social expenses for many Penn students include attending shows and formal parties on and off-campus. The majority of these events require a fee for attendance. With prices ranging from $10-$25 for tickets, going out to events on a weekly basis can easily stack up over a semester. As the treasurer of the Transfer Student Organization, I know that most ticket revenue goes directly toward renting out a venue for events such as formal. Venue rental in Philadelphia is costly, so student organizations might incur losses if they did not charge ticket prices.
Penn’s affinity for BYOs also adds costs to socializing. Penn follows the time-old BYO tradition of Philadelphia, one of the most prominent BYOB cities in the United States. BYOs grew popular in Philadelphia as a result of expensive alcohol licensing and wine wholesale costs for foodservice businesses in Pennsylvania. Penn’s embrace of Philadelphian food culture is great, but this also means that Penn students will need to pay out-of-pocket for food, alcohol, and transportation for student organization BYOs.
For a working Penn student, a semester of attending such social outings and performances could potentially be months of part-time work or hours of taking Wharton Behavioral Labs. Being involved in various communities is an essential part of college life, but frequent social events can rack up tremendous bills. I certainly have spent more money here at Penn than I ever did during my freshman year at the University of Virginia. BYOs were not nearly as prevalent at UVA as they are at Penn, and student organizations’ social events were often subsidized completely by the University or by club “slush” funds.
With Penn’s urban location and social expectations, many students feel compelled to spend money. Passing on certain shows and events is certainly an option that students always have, and any stigma in making this choice should not exist. However, opting out may not be ideal to some students for several reasons. Mixers and BYOs can facilitate organization bonding, and students do often miss out on meeting new people by not attending. We should also strive to support our campus performing arts groups and cultural organizations who invest significant time and commitment to prepare for shows and events. And lastly, it can hurt when friends don’t celebrate birthdays or special occasions with you.
To address overwhelming finances for Penn students, campus leaders should be wary of the financial strains that social events can place on some students. They should also utilize University funding from sources such as Students Activities Council, New Student Orientation, and 5B organizations as often as needed. The only caveat is that funding sources like the Intercultural Fund, Wharton Council, Asian Pacific Student Coalition, and SAC are restricted from bankrolling any alcohol-related events, which means that organizations will often have to pay for BYOs and parties at their own discretions.
Although sources can be circumscribed, funding from University resources is available to those who need it, so campus groups should be vigilant in applying for external funding to lift or minimize additional financial burdens on event attendees. Campus groups should also recognize that while making profits is justified, it should never be at the expense of members-at-large or higher ticket charges. For example, a policy implemented by the Transfer Student Organization is to place a cap on formal prices.
According to College junior and TSO Co-President August Gebhard-Koenigstein, “The transfer community is incredibly diverse, which means that TSO has to represent students from all financial backgrounds. We don't want anyone to feel excluded from our events — as long as you're a transfer you should feel welcome, and there shouldn't be anything keeping you from getting involved.”
“I'm not sure how long it's been our policy to cap prices,” Gebhard-Koenigstein said, “but since I've been here [in TSO], we've never charged more than $15.”
University funding can be a bureaucratic and nebulous path to navigate, but what’s for sure is that attending Penn costs much more than simply tuition and room and board, which Penn estimates in its Undergraduate Cost of Attendance as “Personal Expenses.” However, this figure isn’t accurate for everyone, as personal expenses can vary from student to student, especially in an expensive city like Philadelphia. So while it’s great to be involved on campus and form solid friend groups, it’s also OK to consider your wallet and skip a few social events.
JENNIFER LEE is a College sophomore from Fairfax, Va. studying international relations. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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