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For Aliza Caplan and James Howard, their college plans didn't go as well-planned as what was in their application letters. The two graduating seniors look back on finding what they really wanted to do.

Credit: Carson Kahoe

Plans that hopeful high school seniors write on their college applications rarely end up falling in line with what they actually do at Penn. For two graduating seniors, changing plans was a good thing.

College senior Aliza Caplan

When Caplan initially applied to Penn, she was undecided but thought she would be studying psychology and Spanish, since she didn’t want to do any heavy math or science, and loved her Spanish high school classes.

But in her freshman year, Caplan realized that psychology involved too much science, and she wasn’t as good at Spanish as she thought. So she changed her studies to sociology and Jewish studies.

“I landed on sociology as a broader framework to look at the issues that I care about like urban education,” she said.

Caplan also planned to pursue Jewish life at Penn, which she did end up doing. But she also found another extracurricular she never expected. During her freshman spring, Caplan spontaneously took a job at Williams Cafe and, reflecting on it now, Caplan said that this job has completely defined her Penn experience. She said her job has benefited academic life since it helps structure her day and stay on top of her work, but also she’s loved the social aspect.

“It’s a fun thing,” Caplan said, “A lot of our regulars are professors so I feel like I’ve known these professors for four years, and I see them outside of the Cafe.”

Caplan is not leaving Penn quite yet, though. She is will be sub-matriculating and earning a master’s degree in nonprofit leadership next year.

Engineering senior James Howard

Academically, Howard’s Penn experience has not changed from what he wrote on his application to Penn. Howard applied to Penn as a bioengineering major, and that’s what he’ll be graduating with. But he says it has been his nonengineering classes that have been his favorite classes at Penn, so he’s grateful that he’s been able to take electives.

Outside of class, though, Howard said that what he wrote on his application was not at all what he ended up doing.

“You just don’t know how much stuff is here,” Howard said. “You look at the Penn website and try to fluff your essay with all this stuff you might have heard of, but you still don’t know what’s out here.”

During his freshman year, Howard said he had a tough time transitioning to college and afterwards he decided he wanted to make sure that other incoming freshman did not have the same experience, so he applied to be a residential advisor. Howard said that though he never saw himself doing this before coming to Penn, it has been one of his best experiences.

Howard also said that he thought he would have been able to explore the city of Philadelphia a lot more, and didn’t quite realize how big it was and that Penn wasn’t right in the middle of the city.

Howard will also be staying around at Penn for another year, since he is sub-matriculating and will be earning a master’s degree in material science and engineering.

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