Why I Enjoyed Being a UPenn Student
Many universities provide excellent academics, numerous clubs, and a prestigious reputation. From my perspective as a Quaker graduate, the University of Pennsylvania (also known as Penn or UPenn) distinguishes itself through its connections – across disciplines, communities, and cultures. If you’re considering attending Penn and wondering what it’s like to be a UPenn student, I’ll give you a more detailed account of why my experience was particularly meaningful.
Connected Across Disciplines
Like its founder, Benjamin Franklin, Penn promotes an interdisciplinary approach to innovation. As a UPenn student, my curiosity wasn’t limited to my major or school.
As an International Relations (IR) major, the majority of my classes were outside the IR department. In fact, I only took three courses within my major – Research Methods and two Thesis Seminars. The rest of my major classes spanned across Political Science, History, Legal Studies, Real Estate, Economics, French, Italian, and other departments. The program aimed to develop a global mindset by using diverse knowledge and perspectives, and students were expected to write a research-based thesis on an international phenomenon. I chose to focus on “The Impact of the Emerging Chinese Middle Class on the European Luxury Goods Sector.” IR is not the only major where you can integrate coursework from different departments. You can pursue interdisciplinary majors and concentrations like Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE), Cognitive Science, and Health Care Management and Policy, among others.
Connected Across Schools
Policies and programs at Penn often involve multiple schools or even other universities. If you plan to apply to the university, you may already be aware of Penn’s competitive dual-degree programs such as Jerome Fisher Management & Technology (M&T) and Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business (Huntsman). Penn also allows you to interact with students from other Quaker Consortium colleges – Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, and Swarthmore College. This provides Penn students with additional academic options and extracurricular opportunities to collaborate with peers from neighboring liberal arts institutions.
UPenn students also have the freedom to explore learning opportunities outside their official program. All students can participate in preceptorials, which are short, non-credit courses offered during orientation. Each year, I eagerly signed up for preceptorials that helped me expand my knowledge, such as Crash Course Russian or Sleep Quizzo. Additionally, any UPenn student can take classes across all the undergraduate schools: The College of Arts and Sciences, Penn Engineering, The Wharton School, and The School of Nursing. During my time at Penn, I took classes in all four schools!
Connected Across Communities
As a UPenn student, the word “community” was frequently mentioned, along with “OCR” (on-campus recruitment) and “the DP” (the daily school newspaper). Community also referred to West Philadelphia, the area encompassing University City.
As an undergraduate UPenn student, I worked through the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative (AUNI). This involved introducing healthy produce to elementary school students and running a cooking club. Later, I volunteered with the Penn Reading Initiative (PRI), where we provided one-on-one tutoring for children based on sociolinguistic research conducted by Penn researchers. If I were to go back today, I would definitely participate in an Academically-Based Community Service Course (ABCS). I was always intrigued by ABCS offerings, such as creating a mural in a neglected area or teaching drug education in local schools. Regardless of your interests, there are ways to incorporate them while contributing to the broader community.
Penn students venture beyond the Penn Bubble for more than just service. They enjoy activities like eating banana whips on Baltimore Avenue during the Dollar Stroll, having a beer at Dock Street West housed in an old firehouse, or exploring downtown. As a UPenn student, I often spent weekends visiting the art museum, trying out Steven Starr restaurants, and strolling along the Schuylkill Banks.
Connected Across Cultures
As an IR major, I intentionally collaborated with fellow Penn Quakers from various international backgrounds. Thanks to the International Program (IP), I had the opportunity to try Burmese cuisine and watch shows set in Botswana while interacting with friends from Turkey. The International Program was a residential option spread across two floors of the Harnwell College House. Residents had to apply to join, but it was definitely worth it. Nowadays, there are other residential programs available to students with global interests, such as Cultures Collective and Living Cultures Program Community. IP allowed me to meet my closest friends, participate in cultural events, and have more control over my living environment.
I experienced this international network of Quakers again when I studied abroad in Singapore. Penn alumni have successful lives all around the world. Even though we didn’t share experiences on campus, Penn alumni are eager to connect with each other in their adult lives. UPenn students are typically sociable and share similar intellectual interests, which makes it easy to form connections. I have been warmly welcomed at Penn Club alumni events in Philadelphia, Singapore, and Chicago.
While I treasure my experience at Penn, it was not without its challenges, as is often the case in college. I took courses that weren’t a good fit for me. I discovered that I thrive better in small discussion classes rather than large STEM lectures with hundreds of students. I sometimes felt overwhelmed by the “work hard, play hard” culture, as it seemed like every student was interning, taking a full course load, serving on a student organization committee, and still finding time to hang out at Smoke’s (a local popular spot). I knew that my success ultimately depended on me, so I had to make up for any gaps in my learning. I didn’t take full advantage of the available support services, but in college, no one pushes you to seek the help you need, so I learned the importance of advocating for myself and self-care.
Ultimately, I loved being a UPenn student because the most significant connection of all was with a community of brilliant and engaged peers. College is a time for self-discovery, and my experience at Penn was shaped by a wide range of interdisciplinary courses, a global community, and access to numerous opportunities. Your college experience is what you make of it, and if you have the chance to be a Quaker, it can be an ideal environment for you to pursue your goals and aspirations.