Last week, the University of Pennsylvania admitted thousands of applicants to the Class of 2022. If you’re one of those lucky high school seniors, you've surely seen Penn’s top rankings by now. You may have strolled down Locust Walk on a cheery campus tour, and you have definitely learned about our "unparalleled education" and "diverse community."
While we hope that many of you will join us next year, we also want to offer a more complete picture of Penn before you decide where you want to spend the next four years.
Like every college, Penn advertises the best version of itself to potential students. This is the version you’ve seen, heard, and read about. And while dozens of majors and extracurricular activities can make for a rich experience, we want to help you think critically about aspects of this university that might not be stamped on the front page of your glossy Penn brochure.
Penn is unusually pre-professional. This doesn’t only mean that, unlike other Ivies, Penn offers undergraduate programs in business, engineering, and nursing, but that Penn students throughout the school are almost laser-focused on snagging top entry-level jobs after graduation, often in rigorous fields like consulting and finance. In fact, according to Career Services, more than 25 percent of the Class of the 2017 found full-time jobs in finance, and more than 16 percent are pursuing consulting.
This pre-professionalism holds true for majors across the academic spectrum, and many students struggle with the pressure to prepare for their careers, even as underclassmen.
But this focus on life after graduation also means that Penn does its utmost to prepare you for your first job, and offers resources for all students of all interests. These include numerous grants for research and unpaid internships as well as a well-stocked Career Services center that will help you learn to interview or edit your resume.
While you may be familiar with Penn’s academic intensity, it’s less obvious that our “work-hard, play-hard” mantra often translates to an exhausting intensity and competitiveness that pervades social life and extracurricular commitments, as well as classes. Students are called upon to give 100 percent in all that they do, which often means that mental health and wellness can take a backseat.
While student groups and administrators have made efforts to provide more infrastructural support for mental wellness in recent years, many of these initiatives have been limited in their implementation or impact. By and large, students continue to describe this campus as stressful and lacking in terms or institutional support for mental health.
Fortunately, this stress is partially ameliorated by the strong social groups at the University. Penn’s large student body and efforts to accept diverse students mean that, as enormous as campus might feel at first, you’ll find your people. Student clubs and organizations cater to nearly every interest, and whether you join a club sport team, a Greek organization, or even a campus newspaper, your Penn friends will be there for you.
That is not to say that Penn is wholly inclusive. Many of our students hail from wealthy backgrounds, and spending money can often feel like a requirement to gain access to certain essential parts of Penn’s social life. Going out to dinner, taking Ubers, and buying merchandise for student groups is customary, which might feel jarring for a large percentage of incoming freshmen.
However, a full sixth of the Class of 2022 identifies as first-generation or low-income, and if you're one of these students, there’s never been a better time to attend Penn. In 2016, Penn opened a campus center for FGLI students, and this February, Penn hosted the fourth annual 1vyG conference — a national conference that brings together FGLI students from several different schools.
For decades, FGLI students admitted to Penn have had to undertake challenges that their peers — and even their University — did not fully understand or acknowledge. This is changing.
Finally, we would like to address some of the claims that you may have heard about Philadelphia, and specifically, West Philadelphia, which is where we are located. There is a common misconception that venturing past 40th Street is dangerous and unnecessary — we encourage you not to take these claims to heed.
While it may easy to get stuck in the “Penn bubble" in your first year, we encourage you to imagine a college life beyond this campus. Philadelphia is a wonderful place, and we hope you’ll take full advantage of a city with beautiful neighborhoods, delicious food, countless museums and historical exhibits, not to mention a Super Bowl-winning football team.
Easy access to the city of Philadelphia is one of the things that truly sets Penn apart from its Ivy League peers, and exploring the city can help you make so much more out of your time here.
Penn is a complicated place, and while we hope you seriously consider becoming a Quaker, we encourage you to do critical research on the University before making that choice. If you spend some time reading through our coverage, it should be clear that while Penn is a world-class institution with a lot to offer, there are administrative, infrastructural, and cultural features of this university that will come to define your highs and lows throughout college.