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Credit: Tyler Kliem

Penn accepted 15.63% of early decision applicants to the Class of 2026. Admission was offered to 1,218 students, comprising around half of the Class of 2026.

Penn’s early decision program saw 7,795 applicants to the Class of 2026. Of the 1,218 accepted, 14% are first-generation students and 53% are female. Admitted students hail from 60 countries and 42 states. More than half of admitted United States citizens and permanent residents identify as students of color.

The Daily Pennsylvanian sat down with five members of the Class of 2026 to speak with them about applying to college, reasons why they chose Penn, and how the pandemic changed their mindset about their future.

Incoming College first year Haohui Zhang, from Philadelphia, said that he was drawn to Penn for many factors, citing its proximity to home, generous financial aid program, and strong economics department. Zhang plans to major in Mathematical Economics with a possible minor in Statistics or International Relations.

Haohui Zhang, a member for the Class of 2026 from Philadelphia (Photo from Haohui Zhang).

Zhang added that Penn's robust scholarship program was a draw for him to attend, and emphasized the importance of programs like Penn First Plus.

“As a low-income student, the fact that Penn has a really good financial aid program is really attractive to me,” Zhang said. “I want to be able to afford college without taking out hundreds of thousands of dollars of loans.” 

Zhang said that while he initially wanted to major in computer science, he realized during the pandemic that he was more interested in a career with more social interaction.

“I want to be interacting with other people and working together with them instead of just having independent work,” he explained. 

New York City native and incoming first year Jaden Aracena is the first person in his family to go to college. He plans to major in finance at Wharton with interest in Penn’s five-year submatriculation MBA program. 

Jaden Aracena, a member of the Class of 2026 from New York City (Photo from Jaden Aracena).

Aracena said that his entire family was there for support when he opened his early decision result, which brought him comfort.

"I was with my mom, my two little sisters, my stepdad, my girlfriend, and my grandmother and grandfather,” he said. “I saw the confetti, and I just started bawling my eyes out. I had made my family proud."

Aracena said that he would not have known about Penn had one of his teachers not mentioned it to him.

“It was my junior year, and I had gone on this club trip. One of my teachers mentioned looking at Wharton,” Aracena said. “Later that day, I went home and looked it up.” 

The pandemic, Aracena said, helped him realize his desire to attend a college closer to home. 

Incoming Engineering first year Sophie Cai has dreamed of attending Penn for years. Cai lives in Bryn Mawr, Pa., and is originally from Ningbo, China. She plans to major in computer science in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and expressed interest in Penn’s Digital Media Design program.

Sophie Cai, a member of the Class of 2026 from Bryn Mawr, Pa. (Photo from Sophie Cai).

Cai said she first heard about Penn through her older sister who graduated from Engineering in 2019.

“It was truly a dream come true to me,” Cai said about her acceptance. “Penn has been my dream school for, I believe, 6 or 7 years.”

Cai said Penn’s one-of-a-kind programs interested her. Before applying, Cai had attended two virtual Penn summer camps, the Management & Technology Summer Institute program and the Engineering Summer Academy at Penn, studying the Computer Graphics course.

Cai said she is especially interested in joining a variety of extracurriculars at Penn, such as the DP’s design department and Penn’s Hype Dance Crew. 

Incoming College first year Nhật-Hà Phạm is an international student from Hanoi, Vietnam, who is interested in exploring Penn's various health programs.

Nhật-Hà Phạm, a member of the Class of 2026 from Hanoi, Vietnam (Photo from Nhật-Hà Phạm).

Phạm said that, because her admission decision came out at 7 a.m. in Vietnam, she originally planned to sleep and wake up early to check but was too nervous to do so.

“I had to get my mom to sleep with me because I could not sleep,” she laughed. 

Phạm explained that Penn is perfect for her because it offers both health-related programs and opportunities to engage with the Philadelphia community.   

“The biggest thing that stood out to me was the nutrition science major,” Phạm said. “Not many institutions in the U.S. offer a nutrition science program.”

Moreover, seeing how Penn handled the pandemic “with an emphasis on public health and protection for students” assuaged Phạm's worries.

Incoming College first year David Kerendian, from Los Angeles, said he has always had a deep interest in pursuing interdisciplinary studies. At Penn, he hopes to explore these interests in the Philosophy, Politics and Economics major.

David Kerendian, a member of the Class of 2026 from Los Angeles (Photo from David Kerendian).

“I love philosophy, and I also have a deep admiration for politics,” Kerendian explained. 

Kerendian looks forward to joining the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal and Penn Mock Trial once on campus. He added that he is also excited to meet new people who have a wealth and diversity of experience and viewpoints.

Being part of a diverse community is important to Kerendian after being part of the Orthodox Jewish community all his life.

“I grew up Orthodox Jewish, and I know Penn has a pretty strong Orthodox community,” he said. “I’ve always been one that loves to explore new cultures and traditions, and I really want to be in a place that honors that.”