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College Hall, a symbol of Penn academia, is contrasted by the career-oriented attitude that permeates many aspects of the University.

When Wharton sophomore Dennie Zastrow was applying to Penn, his parents encouraged him to select Wharton to boost his chances of finding a good job. Two years later, it's that career-minded focus that's driving him to get out.

Zastrow, who is currently trying to transfer into the College, said he was turned off by Wharton's emphasis on finding the right internships and jobs as early as freshman year.

"You shouldn't come out of high school and learn how to be an investment banker," he said. "You should get a firm base of knowledge and learn how to think."

Still, he knows that majoring in Political Science won't offer him a break from thinking about the future for long.

Penn's pre-professional atmosphere - influenced not only by Wharton, but also the Engineering and Nursing Schools - is distinctive and, for better or for worse, many students say it has affected their undergraduate experience.

For some, it's been the elective courses they've taken; for others, it's been the groups they've joined.

But for almost all, students' career-mindedness has put early pressure on them to be thinking about where they're going after Penn and what they need to do to get there.

College senior Eve Richer said this aspect of Penn culture has become more apparent as she has gotten older.

"By senior year, to not have a track - you feel like a lost soul a little bit," she said.

When Richer tells people she wants to live abroad next year, they are a "little surprised or confused" by her plans, since she's not following one of the more traditional post-graduation paths for Penn students.

Even those who have plans sometimes feel the pressure.

College senior Nellie Berkman already knew she wanted to participate in Teach for America, but watching her classmates go through On-Campus Recruiting interviews led her to submit her teaching application earlier than she thought she would.

"I didn't realize people are applying for jobs so early. My friends at liberal-arts schools haven't begun to think about getting jobs and won't until March," she said.

Career Services Director Patricia Rose said she "would bet [her] house" that the number of Penn students getting job offers early senior year is indeed greater at Penn than at many other schools.

Of the members of the class of 2007 who went straight to work, 88 percent had accepted offers by graduation and 66 percent by the end of December. And workforce-bound College students fit in with the University-wide trend, with 77 percent receiving offers by the end of May and 43 percent by the end of fall semester.

Sophomores and juniors say they feel the same kind of pressure when it comes to the internship search.

"So many people I know are doing it," said College junior Cecilia Vogel. "It's just like you can't ignore Huntsman - it has a very dominating presence on campus."

College junior Amanda El-Dakhakhni said that recently she's seen "a lot of non-Wharton kids starting to panic."

"Seeing people walking around in suits and getting summer jobs in February makes you feel like you're behind for some reason," she said.

This Penn mindset manifests itself in many ways, she said, such as the prevalence of pre-professional extra-curricular groups, like the John Marshall Pre-law Society, of which she is a member.

But this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

For some College students, having three other undergraduate schools gives them a chance to supplement their liberal-arts studies with courses that look at the same material from a more practical angle.

"I think a lot of students who apply to the College have [such opportunities] at the back of their minds," Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Dennis DeTurck said. "Here's an Ivy League school where I can take classes at the business school without any kind of special permission."

He added that College students as a whole take around 1,000 course units per semester in Wharton, as well as a considerable number of credits in Engineering.

And many students just aren't satisfied with only one school. According to Rose, nearly 2,000 students are currently pursuing degree options in two of Penn's schools.

College and Wharton sophomore Emma Edelman decided to get a dual degree because she wanted to "keep as many doors open as possible."

Edelman said she wanted a liberal-arts education but also really enjoys being in Wharton "because it grounds" her.

"Penn is the most interdisciplinary of the undergraduate Ivy Leagues," University President Amy Gutmann said. "This has made it increasingly possible for students to cross boundaries."

College sophomore Rose Feinberg, for example, chose to complement her Health & Societies major in the College with a Wharton class called Clinical Issues in Health Care Management.

"I love getting a business perspective on the things I've been looking at from a historical perspective," she said.

Still, administrators admit that job-related pressure is a reality for students in all four schools.

Having three pre-professional undergraduate schools "is a blessing and a curse at the same time," DeTurck said.

Even though pressure to think about the future affects college students across the country, it is magnified at Penn, he added.

DeTurck said this pressure gets all students thinking, "I've got to have the internship after my junior year at the investment bank where I'm going to work, or I've got to prepare like crazy for my MCATs or LSATs."

But those who don't imagine a future in investment banking shouldn't be dismayed.

"It's a myth that the only way you can get a lucrative job is to go to Wharton," Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Rebecca Bushnell said. "The liberal arts are the route to a stunning array of professions in which you can make a lot of money and do good."

In any case, pre-professional coursework isn't necessarily what employers are looking for.

According to Rose, investment banks and consulting firms, two of the largest hirers of Penn graduates, reach out to College students because they want people who are smart and have been able to develop problem-solving and leadership skills, regardless of their major.

"If you want to be an investment banker, you can study anything," she said.

That's exactly the mentality at liberal-arts colleges, where many students say they spend their time honing their passions rather than their resumes.

Haverford College senior Ben Zussman said financial-services companies like Credit Suisse also recruit graduating seniors on his campus because they're looking for students who are smart and interesting.

Nevertheless, he said that Haverford, which has no defined undergraduate path for business and no graduate schools, is less career-oriented than Penn.

Although a handful of Haverford graduates do go straight to medical school or the workforce, "a lot of my friends are really open about next year," he said. "Whatever will be will be."

Internships are also not as competitive, he added, estimating that a large portion of Haverford students' summer plans were volunteer-based, in fields like social justice.

At Bryn Mawr College, a strict honor code inhibits the development of a pre-professional atmosphere by discouraging students from discussing their grades and career plans, according to Bryn Mawr junior Katherine Faigen.

Although there are tracks for people studying engineering or medicine, students place more emphasis on following their interests. "We do what we like to do here," she said.

Non-profit internships and jobs are more common, she added. "You could name basically any NGO and someone here has taken it on."

Senior Staff Writer Inna Lifshin can be e-mailed at

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