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While some aspiring Quakers take a trip to Penn before applying, others take the dive without ever having physically been on campus.

Credit: Ananya Chandra

Some students agonize over choosing a college, taking country-wide road trips to try to step foot on as many campuses as possible in search of the perfect fit.

But for some Penn students, visiting wasn’t doable — they just took the plunge.

“I decided really last minute that I even wanted to apply,” College sophomore Mackenzie Gray said.

Gray lives in Los Angeles and had actually traveled to the East Coast to visit colleges, though Penn was not yet on her radar. As deadlines were nearing, she wound up considering Penn because she realized that it fulfilled a lot of the aspects she hoped to find in a school.

“The main thing that made me confident that I would like it was the idea of balance,” Gray said. “I knew it was in a city but I also knew it had a campus. I’d been to Columbia and I didn’t like that there wasn’t much of a campus — it was really condensed.”

Gray said she was surprised by how urban the campus turned out to be and is in some ways glad she didn’t visit because it may have dissuaded her from applying.

“If I had come and seen the campus and seen how urban it was, and it wasn’t really what I was imagining, I might not have ended up here,” she said.

College sophomore Richard Reyes, who is also from L.A., didn’t visit Penn for other reasons.

“I thought I was going to end up at a UC or a school in California,” he said. “I didn’t really have the time or the resources to go out and tour other schools.”

Reyes participated in the Questbridge National College Match program, which means he listed eight preferences of where he wanted to go to school, without being sure which schools would accept him and meet his financial need.

“After USC and Stanford, I just put down all the Ivies, with Penn being the last on my list,” Reyes said.

And yet, a call came on Dec. 2, 2014 — Reyes can recite the date from memory — in which he was congratulated on being accepted to Penn. And when a student gets accepted to Penn through Questbridge, it’s binding.

“I kind of just got stuck here,” he said. “It was kind of depressing because I was going so far away from home, to a place I’d never gone to.”

But Reyes is quick to say he’s by no means unhappy now, even though at the time it caused some anxiety.

“The first week of school everyone was saying names and locations that I just had no idea what they were,” he said.

California may be far away, but Greece is farther. College sophomore Vicky Samara is from Greece, too great a distance for her to make the trip to visit campus. Instead, she got her introduction to Penn online.

“Google street view helps a lot — pretending I’m there, seeing the bridge, the ‘Welcome to Penn’ sign,” Samara said. “During Quaker days it was good because the University uploaded all this stuff online, like the videos of receptions, so it felt as if I was here.”

But it didn’t prepare her for actually making the trip, she said. Samara had to fly to the United States for the first time in her life all on her own. She was also worried about the safety of West Philadelphia.

“It’s so hard to know how dangerous a place is before actually walking the streets,” she said. “It’s very safe, I wish I knew that — it was just another worry.”

But now that she’s at Penn, Samara’s glad she took the risk.

“[It was the] best decision ever!” she said.

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