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Students and families on Locust Walk during Family Weekend. Credit: Benjamin McAvoy-Bickford

In three days, Penn tries to encapsulate its own experience. Every fall, colleges organize the notorious Family Weekend for parents to shadow their college students and learn about the amenities afforded to their 20-something-year-olds. From November 11 through 13, parents shuffled along Locust Walk to sightsee lecture halls and attend information panels which, perhaps surprisingly, is not how other schools pass the parents’ approval test.

At Northwestern University, parents are offered tours of the surrounding college town and are invited to group exercise activities to energize every individual. Though Evanston, Illinois hosts a much smaller atmosphere despite its relationship with Chicago, Penn does not engage its parents with Philadelphia. As for exercise opportunities, anyone can enter Pottruck, but group workout activities are not advertised.

In most schools like the University of Michigan or Vanderbilt University, parents receive tours of individual buildings on campus that their students might engage with regularly. At Penn, everyone is expected to explore each corner of campus on their own time. Campus tours are left to pre-scheduled Kite and Key walk-arounds or impromptu explorations of buildings lining Locust.

Non-academic, entertaining opportunities are a familiar sight for other schools. At Harvard, families can loosen up during karaoke nights after learning about academics and student services during the day. Family Welcome Receptions or Cookouts — both of which are hosted by Dartmouth each fall — are entirely absent from Penn’s social events. 

At one extreme, there is Penn, the social Ivy with very little excitement to showcase during its family-friendly weekend, and on the other side, there is the University of Southern California, which booked the 1980s English band A Flock of Seagulls as its opening act for the days to come. Not even Sheryl Crow or Wilco from President McGill’s inauguration could compare to what USC offered as its welcoming ceremony.

Instead, Penn’s Family Weekend revolves around information sessions with faculty or staff members in various lecture halls dotting all parts of campus. When not essentially attending class, parents are offered few luncheons or dinners to socialize. A single football game, the performing arts night, and a jazz performance by Terence Blanchard and Andrew Scott are the only entertainment. These snippets of non-academic events, while at least breaks from the rest of the day, are less interactive than those offered by other schools. Penn’s Family Weekend simply lacks the fun typically afforded to parents.

After coming to terms with its mundane offerings, Penn needs to reassess its goals for each Family Weekend. From November 11 through 13, the university should have focused on one objective: Proving to parents that all the hard work was worth it. Every family at Penn underwent the life-altering application process. They proved to the school that they were worth the trouble, so Penn should return the favor by providing parents with all the benefits they can give in a three-day period.

Currently, parents are subjected to the student equivalent of a max course unit schedule packed with lectures. Instead of academic material, they absorb content from “Eat. Sleep. Penn.” or “The College Experience,” which try to convince parents that their children are okay by talking through amenities in slideshows. These info sessions span topics of Career Services, Study Abroad, and School-specific issues, and while they are sometimes beneficial, they nevertheless cloud the picture of the real Penn.

Parents, students, and visitors alike want to feel welcomed at the school they choose. I imagine that at the heart of every school-sanctioned event, parents and students are the same people yearning for good experiences, not workshops trying to critique Penn’s problems. Family Weekend concerns every participant of it; fortunately, there are ways to fix it on behalf of everyone involved.

In addition to detailed, essential lectures, Penn needs to do the following: (1) engage with Philadelphia by offering vouchers, free transit, or discounted bus tours of the city; (2) offer unique tours of campus for specialized majors, buildings, or schools; (3) generate new, innovative ideas for social events that allow for parents to meet each other and socialize with people regardless of background; (4) encourage further exploration of school amenities, not just free access to Pottruck and the Penn Museum; and (5) schedule more entertainment — not necessarily an ‘80s rock band, but that would be gratefully appreciated too.

Furthermore, the idea that parents can shadow their students in Friday classes needs to be normalized and made as worry-free as possible for everyone attending. Parents want to meet professors too, so ensuring interactions with Penn’s faculty should be prioritized. Students and parents alike need to experience their school in full to be proud of it, and Penn has more than enough to offer — the trick is cramming it all into one package deal to unwrap together.

Not everything wrong with Family Weekend can be solved overnight, and Penn probably deserves a little bit of slack because the past two were essentially canceled. Still, for a school with high tuition and rigorous academics, more can be done. Penn needs to reexamine its priorities come Family Weekend and revamp its schedule to not just educate its visitors, but to entertain them.

C.H. HENRY is a College sophomore studying Communications and Theater Arts from Nashville, Tennessee. His email address is