Why I Loved Being a UPenn Student

Chelsea Mariah

Why I Loved Being a UPenn Student

Many colleges offer top academics, hundreds of clubs, and a brand name. From my perspective as a Quaker alumna, the University of Pennsylvania (also known by Penn or UPenn) is set apart by its connections - across disciplines, across communities, and across cultures. If you’ve got Penn on your list and are wondering what it might be like to be a UPenn student, I’ve provided you with more of an elaborate outlook on reasons the experience was particularly meaningful for me.

Connected Across Disciplines

Like its founder, Benjamin Franklin, Penn believes in an interdisciplinary approach to innovation. While I was a UPenn student, my curiosity was never limited by my major or school. 

As an International Relations (IR) major, the vast majority of my classes were outside of the IR department. In fact, I only attended three courses within my major (arguably the most important ones though) - Research Methods and two Thesis Seminars. My remaining major classes were spread across Political Science, History, Legal Studies, Real Estate, Economics, French, Italian, and other departments. The program itself was created to use knowledge and perspectives to build a global mindset; then, students were expected to design a research-backed thesis paper addressing an international phenomena. Ultimately, I chose to write on “The Effect of the Emerging Chinese Middle Class Buying into the European Luxury Goods Sector.” IR is far from the only major where you can merge coursework across departments. You can pursue Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), Cognitive Science, Health Care Management and Policy, among other interdisciplinary majors and concentrations. 

Connected Across Schools

Policies and programs often reach even beyond to incorporate multiple schools or even universities. If you’re planning to apply to the university, you might already know that Penn is known for competitive dual degree programs such as Jerome Fisher Management & Technology (M&T) and Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business (Huntsman). Penn gives you the opportunity to interact with students who attend the other Quaker Consortium colleges - Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, and Swarthmore College. So, Penn students can access more academic options and extracurricular opportunities to collaborate with their neighboring liberal arts peers. 

UPenn students are also able to access learning opportunities openly, without official permission through a program. All students are able to enjoy preceptorials, which are short, non-credit courses offered during orientation. Every year, I became eager to brush up on my trivia knowledge with preceptorials such as Crash Course Russian or Sleep Quizzo. Any UPenn student can additionally take classes across all the undergraduate schools: The College of Arts and Sciences, Penn Engineering, The Wharton School and The School of Nursing. While at Penn, I took classes in all four! 

Connected Across Communities

As a UPenn student, I heard the buzzword “community” as often as “OCR” (on-campus recruitment) and “the DP” (the daily school newspaper). Community also often referred to West Philadelphia, the greater area encompassing University City. 

While University City (UC) and West Philadelphia have shared a complex relationship, Penn students overwhelmingly appreciate and contribute to West Philadelphia. As an undergraduate UPenn student, I work-studied through Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative (AUNI), where we introduced healthy produce to elementary schoolers and ran a cooking club. Later, I volunteered with Penn Reading Initiative (PRI), where we tutored children one-to-one using a curriculum backed by sociolinguistic research from Penn researchers. If I were to go back today, I would certainly also take up an Academically-Based Community Service Course (ABCS). I was always curious about ABCS offerings, like creating a mural in a blighted area or teaching drug education in local schools. No matter where your interests lie, there are ways to incorporate them while giving back to the broader community.

Penn students leave the Penn Bubble for more than just service. Students love to eat banana whips on Baltimore Avenue for the Dollar Stroll, grab a beer in an old firehouse at Dock Street West, or head over the bridge to downtown. As a UPenn student, I often spent weekends at the art museum, Steven Starr restaurants, and walking on the Schuylkill Banks. 

Connected Across Cultures

As an IR major, I intentionally collaborated with Penn Quakers from various international backgrounds. I was able to eat Burmese food and watch shows set in Botswana while bumping shoulders with friends from Turkey because of the International Program (IP). The International Program was a residential option set across two floors of the Harnwell College House. Residents had to apply to join, but it was well worth it. Now, there are many other residential programs to fit students’ global interests like Cultures Collective and Living Cultures Program Community. IP allowed me to meet my closest friends, enjoy cultural events, and exercise extra control over my living arrangements.

I also experienced this international network of Quakers when I moved abroad to Singapore. Penn alumni lead successful lives across the globe. Despite not sharing experiences while on campus, Penn alumni are eager to connect with each other in their adulthood. UPenn students tend to be social and share similar intellectual interests, so connections easily form. I have been welcomed at Penn Club alumni events in Philadelphia, Singapore, and Chicago.

Personal Takeaways

While I value the experience I had at Penn, it was also complicated, as college often can be. I took classes that I later learned were not a good fit for me. I realized I can focus better in small discussion classes than 300-person STEM lectures. I felt overwhelmed at times by the “work hard, play hard” culture, as every student seemed to be interning, taking a maximum course load, on a student organization committee, and somehow fitting in time to head to Smoke’s (the local sticky floor institution). I knew that ultimately, I was responsible for my own success, so I needed to make up when I didn’t learn enough in class. I didn’t take enough advantage of the support services that were available, but in college, no one pushes you to request the help you need, so I learned that you have to be proactive about self-advocacy and care. 

Ultimately though, I loved being a UPenn student because the greatest connection of all is to the community of sharp, engaged peers. College is a time to figure oneself out, and my experience at Penn was an accumulation of a wide variety of cross-disciplinary courses, appreciation for a global community, and access to an abundance of opportunities. College is what you make of it, and if you get the chance to be a Quaker, it can become an ideal environment for you to pursue your aspirations.

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