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In some larger classes, it may be hard to notice that some students aren't undergraduates.

Credit: Owain West

Taking a class that's full of freshmen when you’re a senior might be a weird experience, but it’s much stranger when you’re an adult and you’re in a class full of undergraduates. 

People have different reasons for coming back to school, whether it be to earn a degree or simply to learn more skills for their career. Penn employees often take classes, both Liberal and Professional Studies and not, because they are allowed to take up to two classes for free at Penn, a perk that many enjoy.

“Especially young professionals at Penn [take classes],” Charlotte Merrick said, who works in the School of Engineering as a communications officer. “I know lots of people who got masters degrees in their spare time. My old office manager finished her undergraduate degree while working full time.”

She is currently taking "Art, Design and Digital Culture" to learn more graphics and web skills in order to help her in her career and augment her skill set.

Marcia Klafter, who is currently taking "Public Policy, Museums and the Ethics of Cultural Heritage," used to be a consultant for the state of Pennsylvania and always wanted to major in anthropology but never got the chance. Now that she’s retired, she works as a docent in the Penn Museum and is taking classes in anthropology at Penn.

But still, getting a degree as an adult or taking college classes on a college campus is very different from the “college experience,” and being in a class with peers who are younger than you can also be strange.

Geoff Ferret, a data manager for Penn who “got talked back into” going to school to get a degree, found that it was “very weird,” saying that he was often “older than the instructor by a good five or six years.” While he had initially heard that many Penn undergraduates were “pretentious and yuppie types,” he found that while he doesn’t necessarily interact extensively with most of the student body other than in class, Penn students have taken his presence in stride.

“I think there’s only been three classes that I didn’t like,” Ferret said.

Merrick said that the opportunity allowed her to interact with a younger generation. 

“It was weird at first, but now I really like it. I don’t know too many people who are of this age group, and it's interesting,” she said. “Everybody’s so smart in this class, and they grasp the technology so easily.”

And while adult students have various reasons for taking classes at Penn, there is one common advantage — as Merrick said, “Why wouldn’t you take a free class if it was available?”

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