Dear Class of 2027,
Congratulations! On March 30, the latest batch of Ivy League hopefuls received their long-awaited Regular Decision admissions results.
This is an exciting and imperative time in your life. While you may have the perfectly polished images found on admissions brochures etched into your brain, there is more to the Penn experience than meets the eye.
Future Quakers, here are three truths about what life at Penn can be like:
1. Penn has an extremely competitive culture
Every year, the allure of the Ivy League draws in prospective students like moths to a flame, and each year on Ivy Day, some of the nation’s brightest minds receive that coveted, yet elusive, acceptance.
Yet the label of extreme prestige comes with an extreme price: competitiveness. Many of Penn’s admitted students are valedictorians of their high schools, highly ambitious, and motivated. It may not come as a surprise that most students come to Penn as a “pre” something, whether that be pre-med, pre-health, or pre-law, creating an exceptionally pre-professional and at times intense environment.
Whether it’s Penn’s pre-professional atmosphere or finance-driven culture, many students suffer from pressures to conform. Some say that Penn has a 'Wall Street problem,' with as many as 50% of recent graduates pursuing a career in finance or consulting. Many students here succumb to the pressure of career aspirations driven by power rather than passion.
From the day you arrive on campus, there will be pressure to make sure your grades are perfect, to join multiple clubs, to excel socially, to snatch a great internship, and to be happy — all at the same time. Constant external pressures and internal stress, combined with the illusion that everyone around you is thriving, is a feeling all too familiar to Penn students.
However, a competitive college atmosphere can be found across all elite institutions. Penn is making strides to change this. One way it is trying to change this narrative is the recent elimination of the dean’s list starting in the 2023-24 academic year.
In addition, being in the company of some of the brightest minds can be advantageous. Penn boasts that over 94% of its recent graduates have either found a job, are enrolled in postgraduate education programs, are volunteering, or are not looking for jobs. Outside of employment, being at Penn will mean that you are surrounded by peers that are passionate in their work, inspiring you to work hard and improve as well.
2. Penn’s student body is abnormally wealthy
It’s no secret that the student body at Penn is wealthier than average, with a staggering 71% of students coming from the top 20% of the income bracket. Don't be caught by surprise when fellow first years break out their thousand-dollar Canada Goose and Moncler jackets, or when your classmates think that the average annual American’s income is $800,000. This is an environment where pressure to keep up appearances can be overwhelming for those from working-class or first-generation, low-income backgrounds.
This issue isn't new, and wealthy alumni from already-wealthy families only continue to perpetuate the cycle. Over a decade ago, The New York Times published an op-ed called “Elite Colleges, or Colleges for the Elite?” criticizing the role of elite institutions in perpetuating the wealth gap. This problem isn't unique to Penn and can be seen at nearly all elite universities.
Penn recently announced an increase in tuition and charges by 4% for the upcoming academic year. However, this also includes an increase in the number of students who will be eligible for full financial aid, representing a step in the direction to increase economic diversity amongst its student body. Penn also strives to support its FGLI and highly-aided students in a number of ways, whether this be through summer funding for rising juniors and seniors or laptops for incoming students.
3. Not all of Penn’s undergraduate schools are treated equally
While undergraduates have the option to pursue degrees in four schools — the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Nursing, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the Wharton School — there is a clear academic hierarchy that exists within our community, which can lead to a sense of exclusion for students outside of the Wharton School.
With its disproportionate amount of funding and attention, Wharton is often viewed as the pinnacle of academic achievement at Penn. The school's central location in Huntsman Hall and state-of-the-art facilities starkly contrast to the classrooms and outdated technology that students in other schools contend with. This disparity can make students in other schools feel unprioritized, a disparity exacerbated by amenities and resources reserved only for Wharton students.
This hierarchy extends to the national stage, as Wharton's reputation as a top business school often overshadows the achievements of students in other schools. This narrow focus on one school, with a disproportionate amount of support to take the trek up to Wall Street, we argue can devalue other postgraduate fields and pursuits.
With this being said, it is important to mention that the breadth of programs and experiences that Penn, its four undergraduate schools, and its 12 graduate and professional schools can offer its students is likely unmatched. Take your time at Penn to branch out and try things you might not enjoy — even if it does not seem profitable at first glance.
The decision of where to attend college is a personal and important one. No university is perfect, not even an Ivy League with a $20.7 billion endowment and a litany of famous — or infamous — alumni. Institutionally, Penn is far from perfect.
But ultimately, the Penn experience is what you make of it. These three problems, while important, do not entirely dictate life as a Penn student. Penn is situated in the vibrant, diverse, and bustling city of Philadelphia. It offers a wealth of resources and opportunities for students with any and all interests and socioeconomic backgrounds. You will learn from and work with world-renowned faculty and staff.
Take it from us. As members of The Daily Pennsylvanian staff, we would not be here if we did not love what we do.
Our final message to prospective students is simple: When deciding where you will spend the next four or more years, take a step back. Be proud of overcoming the astronomical odds of getting into Penn. And think clearly about what becoming a Quaker means to you.
Editorials represent the majority view of members of The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. Editorial Board, which meets regularly to discuss issues relevant to Penn's campus. Participants in these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on related topics.