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College and Wharton senior Ran Ren studied in Oxford, England for a year. She plans to spend an extra semester at Penn.

Credit: Courtesy of Ran Ren

Not all Penn students walk down Franklin Field with a diploma in hand, four years after arriving on campus.

Many students choose to stay at Penn for an additional semester or year for a wide variety of reasons. Some hope to finish up the credit requirements for dual degrees, while others have to make up for non-transferable credits from their time studying abroad.

Wharton senior Gloria Fann plans to stay on campus an extra year, while Engineering and Wharton senior Zhiyi Zhang and College and Wharton senior Ran Ren decided to stay at Penn for an extra semester.

Fann, jestingly calling herself a “super senior,” said the school’s financial aid policy enabled her to stay at Penn for an extra year.

“I was on financial aid, and even though the fifth year is no longer part of the regular academic career, the school still provides me with financial aid,” Fann said. “I only need to pay a small fraction of the extra year’s tuition, and it turns out to be alright.”

Fann studied abroad in Japan for a whole year, where she experienced local culture and enhanced language skills. However, as an actuarial science major, only three of the credits she earned abroad counted toward her graduation requirement — the rest were counted as electives.

“For me and for some of my friends, the extra year didn’t make that big of an influence,” Fann said. “It’s like taking a gap year.”

For students in uncoordinateddual degree programs, such as Zhang and Ren, they have to fulfill the curriculum requirement for both schools, which often forces additional credit requirements on the students. Financial factors such as extra tuition and extra housing fees are also concerns for students when deciding to stay an additional semester. Zhang and Ren both considered the extra fees worthwhile for their Penn degrees.

“I initially planned to drop my engineering degree in order to graduate in four years [with a Wharton degree]. But after a serious reflection and a thoughtful discussion with my family, I believe spending the extra semester obtaining my degree in the Engineering school will positively impact my future plans and give me more opportunities,” Zhang said, adding that he hopes both degrees will advance his career in chemical engineering.

Zhang said his major advisor, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering professor Wen Shieh, played a major role in his decision making process.

“I found the advising systems at the Engineering school really helpful,” Zhang said. “My major advisor helped me plan my course schedule ahead and I’ve never taken a single course that didn’t count toward my graduation requirement.”

Zhang said his career plans will not be impeded by his additional semester. “I could use the extra time to do an extra summer internship,” he said.

Ren studied abroad in Oxford, England for a full year. Because of the difference in the academic system, her time at Oxford was divided into three terms and she was able to transfer eight credits back to Penn.

“Oxford has [one of] the best Philosophy Politics and Economics departments in the world, so my year there was really a wonderful experience,” Ren said. “Even though I have to take an extra semester, I never regret my decision studying abroad.”

The PPE major at Penn requires 16 credits to graduate, more than many other College majors.

“When I decided to study abroad, my College advisor informed me about the potential consequences but they gave me the freedom to choose what I want to pursue,” Ran said.

College and Wharton junior Tuo Yang, rather than taking an extra semester, plans to take seven classes per semester during the rest of his college career.

Like Ren, Yang feels that the academic advising system at Penn has given him a lot of freedom in course selection.

“During my freshman and sophomore years, I took some interesting courses that didn’t count for graduation requirements,” Yang said. “And my advisor encouraged me to take any course that interests me.”

During his sophomore year, Yang chose to study at Free University of Berlin for a semester. He recently applied for a post graduation program which will only be valid if he graduates on time next Spring, placing added pressure for him to fill his schedule to capacity.

“I’m currently taking six classes, and I still managed to have some time relaxing,” Yang said. “I believe as long as I arrange my schedule properly and take some courses with a relatively light course-load, I will be able to handle seven courses and graduate in four years.”

When facing the trade-off between graduating late and taking a heavy course-load, there is no right answer. Ran chose the former, rationalizing a lighter course load that would enable her make the most of her time at Penn.

“College is a valuable experience,” Ran said. “When I look back, I believe there will be no other time better than my time studying at Penn.”

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