Quad dormitory courtyard in the fall

Penn Admissions Blog

Deciding on Penn: Before and After
Olivia | August 19, 2017

Hello, all!

My name is Olivia, and I’m excited to share my freshmen year Penn experience with you through the admissions blog. I hope to give you glimpses and insight into life at Penn by sharing my thoughts and experience in academics, student life, Philly, and college life in general!

A little more about me: I’m thinking about studying Mechanical Engineering, but my academic interests widely vary from Chinese to entrepreneurship to creative writing to art, and it was important for me that I attend a school that gave me the opportunity to explore all of my interests, whether academically or through extracurriculars. I’m from Wilmington, Delaware, a small city forty minutes away from Philly, and I went to a close-knit, Catholic high school. I love being surrounded by friends and family, but it is also important to me to be independent, and I try to challenge myself to try new things and get outside of my comfort zone – which is part of the reason I’m writing this blog post right now. I also need time to de-stress and reflect, whether it’s through running, painting, reading, or watching Game of Thrones or The Office.

Last year at this time, I’d been struggling for months over which college I would be applying early to in November.

I decided I wanted to come to Penn after visiting for the final time on a rainy day in mid-October, just a couple weeks before I really had to make up my mind before the early decision deadline on November 1. While I’d visited Penn before for the normal info session and tour, I decided to take the engineering school tour for the first time that Friday. It made a huge difference; as we walked around the engineering quad, going into classrooms and labs that I would potentially be spending the next four years in and listened to the tour guides’ stories of their experiences, I began to envision what my life would look like in Penn engineering. As my mother and I walked down Locust Walk, despite the rain, I looked around at campus and pictured myself inside the library with a hot chocolate, in one of the rooms in the quad with a good book, or even going for a run in the rain. Beyond the glossy brochures and the statistics rattled off in the info sessions, I could see myself at Penn, and I made up my mind to go home that day and finalize my supplements.

During my college search, when I asked older students or even tour guides why they decided on the school they ended up attending, many echoed the same sentiment – after stepping on campus, they just had this “feeling,” that this was where they belonged. And while that was a hopeful and honest response, it was also somewhat alarming to me as a high school junior or senior, making me feel as if I had to experience that “feeling” to know I wanted to go to a school. In many decisions in my life, I am overly logical and analytical, overthinking every last detail. It wasn’t any different in the college process. I loved some school visits and felt neutral about others, but in each instance, I found myself carefully weighing pros and cons of each of my options. While I believe I eventually did get some of that magical feeling on my final visit to Penn, I also experienced similar feelings at other schools I felt I truly connected with. In the end, as with most decisions, it was a balance of emotional and logical, and it did not come instantly.

When people ask me now why I chose Penn, I have a list of answers; some expected, some less traditional. I chose Penn for the size and scope of the engineering program and its many interdisciplinary options, for the surrounding Philly area and its many offerings, and for the privilege of being surrounded by and inspired by an extremely intelligent, motivated, and diverse student body. I also chose Penn for the feeling I get when I settle on a bench outside on a sunny day and look across campus or when I happily return to my hall, which has quickly become a home and a community, at the end of a long day. The Penn experience to me is far more than the academic programs, urban location, college houses or dining plans.

When I think about what has defined my experience here at Penn so far, and what my day-to-day life really looks like, it isn’t the big picture staples of a Penn education or student life that I think of. Life at Penn is challenging and often stressful, as it is at any educational institution filled with smart, hardworking people; it is filled with dining hall and food truck food, interviews, applications, and meetings, early morning 8 am classes and far too many late nights, and even in a few short weeks, it’s contained tens of hours of struggling through computer programming homework in office hours and raising my hand just one more time for the TA (teaching assistant) to come over and help me tackle a problem. In contrast, it is also filled with plenty of joyful moments, both academic and completely non-academic; until you have struggled over one single problem for hours, you will never truly know how it feels to finally get it! My Penn experience has also been defined by spontaneously taking a trip to Chinatown to try pho for the first time with my hall mates, running down the Schuylkill River Trail to the Philadelphia Art Museum at midnight, so much free food, playing ultimate Frisbee for the first time and absolutely loving it, not having class some days until 11 am, and being able to walk two doors down to my best friend’s room any hour of the day just to say hi. These are the moments that I was looking forward to attending Penn for, and yet these are the moments that I never could have anticipated. I’m looking forward to many more and continuing to learn what my life at Penn will look like in the coming months and years.

About the author

I am from Wilmington, Delaware, studying Computer Science with interests in creative writing, art, entrepreneurship, and data science. On-campus, I'm involved in a publication, a volunteer organization, religious life, and Greek life. I've loved learning more about Penn and the students here and taking advantage of all the great opportunities Penn and Philly have to offer. In my free time, I love running, cooking, exploring the city, and spending time with friends and family.

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