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Penn Admissions Blog

My College Search Process
Olivia | October 8, 2019

Three years ago at this time, I was attending my final college tours, editing college essays, and trying to decide where to apply early. It was a stressful few months, thinking I had to make decisions at that very moment that would change the course of my life forever.           

If you’re a college senior and you’re also worrying about that, there’s good and bad news: the college you attend, the friends you meet there, and the experiences you have in college very much change the course of your life. However, if you’re the type of person that’s thinking of applying to Penn, chances are you can’t make a wrong decision when it comes to college. Whether you’re considering big or small schools, city or rural, east or west coast, private or public, Ivy or not, liberal arts or big research institutions, you’ll make the most of wherever you end up. The college you choose will shape your path in a positive way during a few years filled with plenty of fun, growth, and transformative experiences. But your college will define your unique experience, so it’s really important to think about what you need and want in the place you’ll spend the next four years.

Deciding to apply early decision to Penn wasn’t an easy decision for me. I looked at a wide range of schools in pretty much all the categories I listed above. I chose Penn because it was in Philly, had a great engineering program, gave me opportunities in student life that I was really interested in, and because its early decision application seemed like a smart choice for me.  However, while I stated all these reasons before I applied, the reality is that life at Penn, and college in general, is very different than what I expected, and it’s hard to tell what a school will be like until you’ve lived it.

In my words, here are some of the things you hear in info sessions and college tours, and some of the things I heard about Penn, informed by my Penn experience, and what they’ve really meant to me.


City School:  At first, I didn’t know if I wanted to go to school in the city. I’m an outdoorsy person, and I didn’t want to feel claustrophobic or overwhelmed by the crowded, busy nature of a city. However, Penn’s campus in West Philly feels like a little hub on the edge of the city, and, the more I’ve explored, the more I’ve grown to love the proximity to Philadelphia. The public transportation system makes it easy to get to Center City in 15-20 minutes, and I’ve learned that getting off campus to run, grocery shop, study, or explore with friends has been really beneficial to me and my mental health. Going to school in Philly reminds me that there’s so much to life outside of Penn and makes me feel like a Philadelphia resident, rather than just a Penn student.


Ivy League: I’d grown up hearing about the Ivy League all my life, and it had always been a dream of mine to go to one of these schools. I worked really hard in high school, and I wanted to go to a college where I would be surrounded by bright, driven, motivated students. After coming to Penn, I discovered that while this is definitely true, on the flip side, this culture can also mean that opportunities (like student organizations, internships, and research positions) can be competitive and you’ll feel like it’s harder to stand out. This can be really motivating, but it can also take a while to get your bearings, and it’s important to know how to navigate this pressure and surround yourself with people who will support you rather than compete with you. I’ve learned to look at this challenge as a positive aspect and try and let it push me rather than discourage me.


Interdisciplinary:  Beyond dual degree programs and double majors across schools, interdisciplinary means that you’ll meet so many students at Penn who have a wide variety of interests across every different area you could think of. My English class is filled with engineering students, and I’m in student organizations with science majors who are into graphic design and political science majors who want to work with data. No one’s major restricts their interests, and people bring their interests into many different areas of their life at Penn.


Mid-size school: Penn isn’t a small school, and it’s not large. You’ll see plenty of people you know as you walk to class, but you’ll also constantly be meeting new people. You’ll have mutual friends with pretty much everyone, but you can also feel anonymous sometimes. Joining clubs and organizations helps make campus feel smaller if you’re looking for that; you’ll get the sense of tight-knit community while also having access to an impressive array of opportunities.


Active student body: One of the things I love most about Penn is how active the student body is and how everyone is involved in a wide variety of interests. Student life is vibrant and multi-faceted, and every weekend looks different for most students! On the weekends, students will always be hanging out with the clubs they’re involved in, their Greek organization, or their roommates. Whether it’s exploring the city, trying a new restaurant, exercising, playing games, or just hanging out, there’s no shortage of things to do here.


While you’re looking at schools, I’d advise you to dig a little deeper into the phrases that are thrown around at info sessions and try and learn from students what being a student at a particular school is really like. Asking just a few questions could go a long way in discovering what might be the best fit for you.

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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