Last week, more than two thousand applicants around the world received the news that they had been accepted for enrollment at the University of Pennsylvania. If you are one of the few thousand applicants that were accepted, we at The Daily Pennsylvanian congratulate you. The moment we opened our emails and heard “The Red and the Blue” was one of the most exciting of our lives, so enjoy it to the fullest.
Now, you have a month to make a choice. We hope that you will seriously consider joining us in Philadelphia, and by May 1 we will be proud to call many of you our fellow Quakers. However, while each of the schools you visit will tell you that you are a perfect fit for their perfect communities, we offer this word of advice: Take a deep breath. Think critically.
Wise decision-making generally involves a sober consideration of the advantages and disadvantages of each possible option. Colleges, however, are often less effective at conveying this information than at generating hype and buzz among prospective undergraduates. When you receive a tour or a glossy brochure from a school seeking your signature on an enrollment contract, consider this: You are being sold a project. The school’s interests may not match your own. Indeed, there is, in all likelihood, information you need which you are deliberately not being given. And Penn is by no means the only school which exhibits this phenomenon.
Your ability to make a wise decision, and consequently, your happiness with your ultimate choice will depend on your ability to obtain and evaluate this information.
In an effort to help you with this task, we asked our staff to tell us what they would have told themselves when they were choosing Penn. Among the responses we received, one from one of our freshman editors rang particularly true: “Not everything that you hear initially about Penn is true. Take time to reach out to students and faculty to form your own opinion, not one that is based on the pressures of your parents, friends, or community.”
Accepted students will have been told that Penn is a “large urban research university” which will provide them myriad opportunities to get involved with advanced projects in innumerable fields and subjects. They will not have been told that the school’s focus on research means that undergraduate education is, in many instances, a lesser priority in the eyes of faculty and administrators. At the end of the day, providing what incoming students are likely to be thinking of as their “college experience” is only one comparatively small part of what Penn does, and that will be reflected in their day-to-day lives should they choose to attend.
As another one of our freshmen wrote, “No one warns you that applying to clubs is really hard.” This is true from a general sense: Competition is a major part of almost everything at Penn. Put differently by a writer for 34th Street (the DP’s arts and culture magazine), “Face it: A lot of Penn students don’t know how to chill.” This is often a great part of Penn culture, as we are a community that constantly pushes itself to be better. If you are an inherently competitive person, Penn’s environment is more likely to be a great one for you.
One of our juniors writes that, “The baseline social scene at Penn is fun and reasonably accessible, but the more time you spend here, the more money you realize you need to spend.” The University itself does a reasonably good job of offering freshmen free or affordable opportunities to explore Philadelphia or have otherwise diverse and enjoyable experiences. However, participating in many social scenes at Penn requires spending more money than you would expect, and this should be taken into consideration.
Along the same vein, life here demands a significant degree of self-sufficiency. This is not to say that Penn does not provide resources for its students; as a sophomore writes, “Academically, take advantage of the resources Penn affords you. Check out books, go to office hours, schedule lunches with your professors.” There exist many avenues for support inside and outside the classroom, from faculty to friends, but connecting with them usually requires individual initiative and effort. Here, as a rule, you find little that you do not seek.
This is in large part a product of scale. You should understand that a large school like Penn simply cannot guarantee the communal intimacy that some see as essential to their expectations of a college experience. You will not necessarily see somebody you know every time you walk through campus, as you may at a small liberal arts school.
But Penn also lacks the intense school spirit that defines life at many larger universities. Despite our teams’ championships and tournament appearances, sports fandom does not exert any significant influence on undergraduate culture. While school spirit certainly exists here, it is splintered by club, fraternity, a cappella group and team — people love their group or circle, but don’t necessarily bleed red and blue.
In many ways, life at Penn can more closely resemble independent life in a major metropolis than the cozy, communal experience familiar to the silver screen. This fact carries no negative inherent value — your life isn’t a movie — but it is different than what you may be expecting or looking for. Indeed, many students find that they thrive in such an atmosphere; others, however, find it dismaying.
Ultimately, regardless of which school you choose, it will be up to you to get as much out of your college experience as possible. Think holistically about this choice, but ultimately, heed the advice of one of our freshman staffers: “Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to make the right decisions. Eventually, it will all work out.”
We hope that the right decision for you will be Penn. As a freshman put it, “You should probably come to Penn. It rocks.”