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empty-penn-commons-coronvirus-2020

The outside area of Houston Hall with the Penn Commons shield is a popular spot for students to hang out. 

Credit: Melanie Hilman

Hi, baby Quakers! First of all, congratulations (for the hundredth time, no doubt) on your admission to one of the most prestigious and selective Universities in the world. For roughly 70 percent of you, this is – barring a substantial change in plans – your home for the next four years. Your deposit has been paid, your place is secured, and your Penn apparel is sitting in your closet or on its way.

But for a still significant number of you, you have a choice. Are you sure you want to be a Quaker? Is somewhere else attracting you? You’re probably sitting at home, scouring Reddit and College Confidential for help in choosing where to call home for your undergraduate career. I write this not to sell you on Penn, but to add my perspective. As a first-year student at Penn, I hope to give you a bit of insight on how I made my decision to come here, and what I would have changed in that decision-making process if I could redo it.

Less than one year ago, I was in your very position. I loved Penn, but there were other good options. For the first time in months the ball was in my court. No more of the Harry Potter-esque “the college chooses the student.” In this phase of the college process, I had the last word.

That was a bit terrifying. Yes, it is a privilege to have a choice, but it’s so much easier to let someone else make the call for you. In the end, I based my decision largely on personal factors: I loved my home city, and my friends and family would be mere minutes away if I chose Penn. As it turns out, my perceived advantages were not incorrect, but I’m slightly disappointed that these were the criteria I used to chose where to spend almost $320,000 over four years.

So, to start my list of recommendations, let me say this: don't choose based on personal convenience, but base your decision on where you can see yourself being challenged. Yes, this is cliché, but I, like many of my peers, took classes my first semester in the topics that I thought I would be good at. That is nice, don’t get me wrong. But I also took some classes that, to an outside observer, make no sense from a career perspective. Why take Swahili if you might be interested in law? Because why not! Where else will you get the chance to study something totally new but here, in college? Do you know anyone who reminisces on their college years saying, “Remember that time I thought I liked politics and it turned out I did?” I sure hope not. In 20 years, I don’t think you want to sound like that, so why base your decision on similar logic?

Another important thing to consider is the social life. I am personally sick of the label of “social Ivy.” Not because I don’t like it, but because it's fuels a perception among some that Penn's social life is all about party culture. Instead, Penn’s strong attachments to extracurriculars is what I really think is the hallmark of our social lives. I didn’t know when I chose Penn, but we have literally hundreds of clubs. Many students end up spending significant amounts of time with the people they meet there. Yes, some students are pre-professional, but Penn students join these clubs and genuinely enjoy their time there.

Finally, find yourself a school with strong, student-supported traditions. This is one place where Penn really lacks with no excuses. The Palestra, the most historic venue in college basketball, often remains empty during our basketball season. At my first football game it took the spectators three tries to throw toast at the right time (toast, you say? Eat it.) More people can probably name the big-three consulting firms than can recite the words to “The Red and the Blue.” It’s not that this takes away from the value and prestige of a school, but it does diminish the collective unity that a school of our size and history should have.

This concludes my suggestions. Hopefully, they are of some worth to you and give you slightly more direction as you make your decision. While I will always be #ProudlyPenn, I cannot say that Penn is the right choice for everyone. But for those of you who choose it, I hope the choice is clear and I hope to see you on campus sometime soon. Hurrah!

ALFREDO PRATICÒ is a first year in the College from Philadelphia. His email is pratico@sas.upenn.edu.

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