Penn was founded in 1749 to provide students with an education based on the ideas of
Benjamin Franklin. Franklin’s philosophy held that a student’s education need not be wholly
traditional, but practical as well; he was controversial in his proposal that teaching English
was more important than teaching Latin. The resulting curriculum developed during
Franklin’s forty-year tenure as a trustee included the sciences, mathematics, history, logic, and
philosophy. It was later built upon by the creation of the nation’s first medical school, business school, and law classes. As America’s first university, Penn has remained dedicated to the philosophy
under which it was founded, and continues to offer its students and faculty opportunities
to achieve in academic, social, and professional worlds.
In 260 years, Penn’s student body has grown from a graduating class of seven to a student
population of 20,000, half of which are undergraduates. This qualifies Penn as one of the
larger schools in the Ivy League; however, the feeling on campus indicates the opposite. The
Penn campus is concentrated within a twelve-block area, centered upon Locust Walk, a treelined
pedestrian walkway that bisects the entire campus in length and connects dormitories,
academic facilities, libraries, and recreational spaces. Throughout the campus one can find
architectural records of Penn’s development in West Philadelphia, tracing from the late 1800s
through the present, with buildings by former student Frank Furness, professor Louis Kahn,
modernist Eero Saarinen, and Penn graduate Robert Venturi. This mix of old and new gives
Penn the easily distinguishable impression that characterizes its campus and sets it off from
the city surrounding it.
The campus and its urban setting are major parts of student attraction to Penn. While
the campus stands in visual contrast from the rest of the city, Penn is neither detached from
Philadelphia nor uninvolved in its community. Penn students regularly explore the city, and
many participate in community service and tutoring projects in nearby neighborhoods through
the Netter Center for Community Partnerships and the Civic House and Civic Scholars programs.
The city provides an excellent complement to Penn, offering more than one hundred
museums and galleries, multiple performing arts venues, top-ranked restaurants and bars, historical
sites, and a variety of other attractions for students to take advantage of. Students often
spend nights and weekends in historic Old City, Center City (Philadelphia’s “downtown”),
South Street, and other parts of town, but always return to campus to meet up with friends, do
schoolwork, or relax at a campus establishment.
Given its setting and the opportunities offered, Penn practically guarantees that a
student will find his or her niche. Penn students come from a variety of backgrounds, and
are linked by their appreciation for hard work and academics—that is certainly how they
earned their place at the university—but are marked by their ability to balance their education
with social and extracurricular pursuits. Students come from fifty states and more
than one hundred countries (14 percent of students at Penn are international). Registered
student groups serving religion, politics, talents, hobbies, geographic origin, ethnicity, culture,
sexuality, and other areas number almost 400, and student interests are so broad that
this number continues to grow. This exciting mix of personalities fuels the academic and social environment at Penn, where students take a genuine interest in learning on both
sides of the classroom walls.
The admissions selection process is complex. The best way to know if Penn is right for
you is to absorb as much information as possible. Talk to current students, faculty, and alumni,
explore the Penn Web site, and if possible, make a campus visit, take a tour, and attend an
information session. Go to Penn-hosted events in your hometown.
Penn is always changing, but by adding on and improving, not by replacing and forgetting
past success. I invite you to explore what Penn has to offer, partially jealous that I won’t
be able to experience all of the great new things added every year.
For many students, the start of freshman year at Penn may be a wake-up call. Most students
will come from high schools where they were top students. Take roughly 2,400 of those
students and pool them together with 7,500 sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and an incoming
freshman can be set for a humbling experience. The upside of this is how much you can
learn from your classmates, many of whom may have studied in depth the material you have
merely familiarized yourself with. They will have worked in places you’d never thought to work,
visited countries you’ve never thought of visiting, and started clubs and activities unlike any
that existed at the school you came from. As a student at Penn, you may learn just as much
from your friends as you do in your classes, and they will learn from you.
Penn provides plenty of support for students
and makes efforts to acclimate freshmen to their new
environment. Students are assigned peer advisors, faculty
advisors, and academic advisors from their undergraduate
division. These people can help select
courses, plan out future semesters, and ultimately
guide the student successfully throughout his or her
Penn established the nation’s first collegiate
business school, the first medical
school, the first modern liberal arts curriculum,
the first psychology clinic, the
first botany department, the first university
teaching hospital, the first journalism curriculum,
the first chairs of chemistry and
psychology, and the first course in the
Course registration at Penn could not be any easier or more convenient. After outphasing
written and phone-in methods, students can now do their entire course search,
request, and registration through PennInTouch, an on-line system that can also be used to
manage tuition, transcripts, student voting, and many other student concerns. After establishing
a schedule, students are given what is an equivalent to a “shopping period” known as
add/drop, during which they may attend various classes to ultimately finalize their course
selection by two weeks into the semester.
Four Undergraduate Schools
Most students applying to Penn will make their application to one of the four undergraduate
schools. These include the College of Arts and Sciences, the Wharton
School, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the School of Nursing. Dualdegree
programs offer students a combination of two of the schools, and students may apply
to these highly selective programs as well. As few students are taken into these programs,
applicants are given the opportunity to request admission to a single-degree program in one
of the affiliated schools should they not be accepted for the joint degree program.
Undergraduates in the College of Arts and Sciences officially select their majors by the
end of their sophomore year. The time before this can be used fulfilling language or general
requirements as well as coursework for their intended major. The College has a general requirement, consisting of ten classes taken from seven different academic sectors. In addition,
all students must also be proficient in a language and fulfill a writing requirement.
Graduates of the College are expected to take full advantage of the liberal arts and sciences.
There are more than fifty majors offered in the College. Special programs such as
Biological Basis of Behavior (BBB) and Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) attract students
for their multidisciplinary approach. The Annenberg School sponsors a major in
Communications through the College, and the School of Design supports Fine Arts and
Architecture majors. Students with specific interests that are not directly addressed by available
majors are allowed to find an advisor and create an individualized major. It is not unusual
for students in the College to double major or carry multiple minors.
Students in engineering can opt for a Bachelor of Science in Engineering (BSE) or a
Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) degree. Those selecting the BSE are usually on a preprofessional
tract, which makes up the majority of students in the undergraduate program. The
BAS offers a chance for students with an interest in technology who are less sure about their
future career to add a larger liberal arts component to their education. All engineering students
take seven courses in the College. The engineering curriculum culminates with a senior
design project, which is either an original or continued research project based upon their
The Wharton School was the first business school in the world, founded with the goal of
providing an undergraduate business program that integrated humanities and social sciences.
All students in the Wharton School receive a Bachelor of Science in Economics. Students are
required to take a set of core requirements including finance, management, accounting, and
marketing, and must pursue coursework outside of Wharton as well. Wharton students do not
have majors, but concentrations, made up of four course units from one area of study. There
are eighteen concentrations offered, and just as in the College, students are permitted to individualize
their concentration. Often students will pursue more than one concentration; the
most popular is finance.
Nursing students all receive a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, qualifying them to
dire ctly enter the professional world or continue in a graduate or professional program. Penn’s
Nursing program is consistently ranked one of the best in the country. Some nurses use their
education as a strong premed preparation. Penn Nursing offers a number of resources not
found at most schools, including state-of-the-art simulations labs and clinical experience in
the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, two
of the nation’s best hospitals and both on the Penn campus.
Students will find that all departments at the university are internationally respected,
and that part of the benefit of studying at a large, competitive university is taking advantage
of the facilities available. Penn offers sixteen libraries; the two largest and most popular
are Van Pelt Library, with its twenty-four-hour study lounge, and the Fisher Fine Arts
Library, which is so quiet and beautiful that you’ll feel smarter just walking in the doors. In
addition to libraries, the university offers a Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, multiple
art galleries, the Institute of Contemporary Art, television and radio stations, performance
spaces, an arboretum, and constantly updated computer and science labs. The
campus network allows students to have online access from everywhere on campus, including
dorm rooms, libraries, classrooms, study lounges, the student union, coffee shops, and
wireless access on most of campus.
Penn offers opportunities for international programs on six continents and nearly fifty
countries on a semester-long, full-year, or summer basis. In order to make study abroad
a viable option for as many students as possible, Penn’s Office of International Programs
provides much flexibility in arranging for travel. If you are interested in studying somewhere
that Penn does not specifically offer a program, you can find a program through
another school, get it approved, and arrange to have your credit from participation in that
program transferred back to Penn. If a student is receiving financial aid, that package will
be applicable to international programs as well. Most students go abroad at some point,
usually in their junior year or at least during the summer. There are programs to suit everyone’s
schedule and goals, and it is a great way to experience some of the things you have
studied in the classroom.
I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior years studying
in Tokyo. I participated in a language program at a Japanese university, and
was able to use those credits toward one of my majors. During that summer, my
language skills improved enough that I was able to skip an academic year of language
instruction. More importantly, I gained confidence in my language skills
and a proper understanding of the practical applications of Japanese. I also had
the unique opportunity to travel and explore the culture and sights that I had
previously known only in the classroom.
Most Popular Fields of Study
As the college admissions pool becomes increasingly large, acceptance to Penn is
becoming more and more competitive. Due to larger Early Decision applicant pools in
recent years, Penn has taken up to half of their freshman class from this group. The median
SAT falls around 1450, and most freshmen graduated in the top ten percent of their class.
In order to remain competitive in this pool, it is necessary to pursue a rigorous high school
While the academic program is very important to
the application, admissions officers consider more
than just letters and numbers. The Penn application
gives students a chance to demonstrate personal talents
and interests, specific strengths and goals, and
any other elements that the applicant feels are important
to communicate who they are and what would
make them a unique addition to the university. Past
essay questions have asked students what fictional
character they would most like to meet, what has been
one of the greatest challenges they’ve faced, and of
course the one that is most provocative, to include page 217 of one’s 300-page autobiography.
These questions are deliberately open-ended, allowing students to further demonstrate their
personality through their interpretation of the answer.
Penn looks for a student who has maximized his or her high school experience, meaning
that they should be taking the most challenging curriculum offered, and should be doing
well. Engineering and Wharton applicants are expected to have taken calculus. Standardized
tests are required, and a student must submit either the SAT exam and three SAT Subject Tests
or the ACT exam. Students are welcome to submit both if they choose. Admissions Officers will
consider the highest set of test scores. AP scores may be submitted, and exams may be used
for placement or credit.
Every year, The Daily Pennsylvanian runs
an article announcing that Penn’s incoming
freshmen are the result of its most
selective admissions process yet. As a
freshman, you read this and gain some
confidence for the coming school year—
you’re more qualified than all of the upper
classmen. Then your sophomore year they
have an article about the new freshmen,
but the numbers are higher and the
Note: Though there are no foreign language requirements for application, it is useful to
have some background, as there are language proficiency requirements for graduation. This
proficiency can be met with one of the more than one hundred languages taught at Penn.
In reviewing all of the required materials, as well as supplementary materials students
might have supplied, admissions officers are looking to admit an exceptionally accomplished
and diverse student body. This diversity applies to academic and extracurricular interests, life
experiences, geographic location, cultural background, and any other number of circumstances
that might make for a unique candidate. Admissions officers want students that are
right for Penn, but also for whom Penn is a good match, and all applicants are asked to discuss
why they feel Penn is best for them.
Like all of the schools in the Ivy League, Penn’s admissions process is need-blind (for
U.S. citizens, permanent residents, Mexicans, and Canadians), meaning that the admissions
decision is made without regard to students’ ability to pay for their education. There are no
athletic or merit-based awards. The financial aid package is entirely need-based, and the university
is committed to fulfilling one hundred percent of “demonstrated need.” This figure is
calculated using several financial forms, and is unique to each student’s situation. Almost sixty
percent of undergraduate students receive some form of financial aid. Penn has eliminated
loans from their financial aid packages. Students are able to graduate debt-free or use their
eligibility for federal loans to help offset their family contribution. Financial assistance packages
may include a work-study job and a grant, in addition to funds that might be provided on
the federal and state levels. Limited financial aid funds are available to international students
from other countries.
Student Financial Aid Details
Everyone says that college is a time to learn about oneself. A large part of this selfdiscovery
is facilitated by the people you meet during these four years. Many of my first friends
at Penn were people I met during a preorientation program (PennQuest) or were residents of
my dorm floor. With time at Penn, one begins to meet more friends through classes, activities,
or at parties and other social events. Freshmen will be happy to know that all first-year students
are in the same situation as they are and are eager to make new friends.
Housing is arranged according to a system of eleven individual College Houses each with
distinctive characteristics and personalities. They serve as an organizational system as
well as a way of breaking students down into smaller groups. Support is found throughout
the College House with advising, technical support, and even special residential programs
that house people with shared interests. Members of the faculty and staff live within the
College Houses as well, operating a host of special events including subsidized trips and
activities, study breaks, and educational programs. Within the College Houses, students are
divided into groups of about twenty students, each with their own Resident or Graduate
Advisor—a current student living in the dorms who provides social support to students and
is given a budget to operate small hall functions. The popularity of the College House system
and the renovations have made on-campus living more desirable; students frequently
retain the room they originally lived in, or stay in their original College House. Many students
move off campus as upperclassmen, but can maintain affiliation with the College
House they previously lived in.
As a freshman I lived in Penn’s oldest dorm, the Quad. I lived in a threeroom
triple with two other students who were at the time only random names in
a packet of housing information. Our freshman hall included students from
around the world and of many different backgrounds. It has been interesting to
see the different paths that we have explored. There always seems to be some sort
of bond between students who have lived together during their first year at
Over the past years, Penn’s New Student Orientation program has grown into a weeklong
event, allowing first-year students to get a feel for the campus before classes actually
start. Special events planned just for freshmen include tours of campus and the city,
introductions to campus facilities, College House meetings, social events, a convocation
ceremony, and lots of free food. Many upperclassmen return to campus early to attend a few
of the events, such as Freshman Performing Arts Night, which offers a sampling of the many
performing arts groups on campus. It is a great way to meet new friends, get your questions
about campus answered, and begin the year on a positive note.
Penn offers a few preorientation opportunities, including PENNquest
(outdoor experience), PENNacle (leadership), and PENNcorp (community service).
I participated in PENNquest, where one hundred students are broken into
groups of ten for a four-day hike through the Pocono Mountains. Participation
in these programs is limited, and there is an application process that is well
worth the effort. The programs offer students a chance to meet other freshmen in
a unique environment, and secure friendships that can last through the rest of
Student Activity Groups
Penn has been dubbed “the social Ivy,” a title that it deserves, though not for the fraternity-
crazy, non-studying image that it seems to imply. Rather, what distinguishes
Penn students is their ability to break from studying to explore personal interests, work on extracurriculars, or just catch up with friends. They
approach their out-of-class activities with just as
much passion as their academic pursuits.
Students at Penn have their choice of hundreds
of student activity groups. Though there is certainly
not time to get involved in everything, student groups
regularly host events for fund-raising, building student
interest or awareness, and showing the talents and
culture of the students they represent. There is always
something to do on campus, and activities of note are
major speakers and performers drawn each year
through Social Planning and Events Committee (SPEC)-funded events and many special
events organized through the Office of Student Life and the Student Activities Committee.
Penn students also get involved in community service, much of which is organized through
Civic House, and includes tutoring and mentoring programs for West Philadelphia children as
well as other issues ranging from community building to social action.
Since most groups at Penn are student run, there are opportunities to gain valuable
leadership experience as the head of a student group. There are also chances to get involved
in all aspects of student life, including student government, and the Student Council on
Undergraduate Education. Any students representing a common interest can organize and create
their own group, and recruitment by various student groups happens throughout the year
at orientation events and along Locust Walk.
About thirty percent of students at Penn are affiliated with the Greek system. Depending
on your interests, Greek life includes members of fraternities, sororities, and coed honors
and community service-based fraternities. The official rush for Penn’s twenty-nine
national fraternities and eight national sororities is in the spring, and pledging begins later
in the semester. Because many of the rush activities are fun and a good opportunity to meet
people, many freshmen get involved in rush even if they are not interested in pledging, and
some realize during the process that they would actually like to pledge. One way or the other,
Greek life does not dominate campus, and neither does it determine one’s friends. Most fraternity
and sorority events are open to all students, non-Greeks included. Given that it is
such a relaxed system, membership in a Greek organization comes down solely to a matter
of personal preference.
The City and Safety
Students at Penn have the benefit of living in one of the country’s largest cities. Situated
in the middle of the DC-to-Boston megalopolis, the City of Philadelphia offers a full
range of amenities, including wonderful restaurants, rich cultural resources, historic landmarks,
and an exciting nightlife. Going to school in the nation’s fifth-largest city means that
there are always many choices for what to do when you are not in class or doing homework.
Attractions such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Franklin Institute, and the Mutter
Museum are definitely worth exploring. The city attracts many great performers, and has a
lively theater and performing arts scene. Every year the Fringe Festival attracts artists and
performers to show off their talents in a week of special events. Also of note is First Friday,
during which the art galleries in Old City stay open late. There are many great restaurants
and bars in the area as well, and Penn runs shuttles down to the festivities to encourage
students to explore.
For students concerned with adjusting to urban life, Penn is very proactive. Students are
educated on safety issues when they first come to Penn, and are familiarized with the various
levels of security and assistance made available to them. All students are given a photo identification
card, which is used to gain access to dormitories, libraries, and other campus buildings.
Free walking and driven escorts are available to take students back to their destination. There
are a number of proactive measures taken to make sure students feel safe on campus.
Student Enrollment Demographics
Student Graduation Demographics
Penn is Division One and in the Ivy League. Three tiers of athletic involvement offer students
the choice of varsity, club, or intramural levels. With these choices, students hoping
to continue with sports on a level of high participation and competition can join varsity
teams, and those looking for a more relaxed involvement can join club teams (which compete
with other colleges) or an intramural team. This allows high school athletes to keep
up with their sport, but cut down on time commitment, and also gives novices an opportunity
to explore new sports, and take their interests to whatever level they desire.
Penn has three gyms around campus, including the amazing new Pottruck Health and
Fitness Center. Other facilities include a tennis pavilion, two pools, squash courts, indoor/outdoor tennis courts, playing fields, an indoor ice rink, rowing tanks, weight rooms, saunas,
and a boathouse on Philadelphia’s historic Boathouse Row. Athletic facilities are open for use
by students with IDs when not reserved by an athletic team. Penn Franklin Field was the
nation’s first two-tier football stadium, and the basketball teams play in the historic Palestra.
Penn Athletics Facts
- The Heisman Trophy is named after
Penn Coach John Heisman.
- The Penn Relays held at Penn’s
Franklin Field every April is the
world’s largest annual track meet.
- The first black American to win an
Olympic gold medal (1908) was a
Penn grad, John Baxter “Doc” Taylor.
- Penn’s football team was the first in
the United States to use numbers on
On-campus recruiting starts in the fall of senior
year, and many students have accepted job offers by
the winter holidays. In recent years, as many as fourteen
percent of graduates have gone directly to a graduate
program, and statistics show that eighty percent
of Penn graduates have received a second degree
within ten years of graduation.
Graduates of Penn will find that they have
received training in more than just their area of
study, and many will go on to work in fields very different
from their undergraduate studies. If the size of Homecoming and graduation events
is any indication of the graduate’s appreciation for their alma mater, then applicants should
expect great things.
- Sadie Alexander, First African-
American Woman in the United States
to earn a Ph.D.
- Harold Prince, Broadway Producer
- Ron Perelman, Financier
- Ed Rendell, Governor of
Pennsylvania, Former Mayor of
- Donald Trump, Entrepreneur
- Andrea Mitchell, News Correspondent
- Harold E. Ford, Jr., Chairman of the
Democratic Leadership Council
- John Legend, Singer and Song Writer
The Penn Faculty includes some of the most knowledgeable, accomplished, and respected
teachers in the world. Almost all courses at Penn are taught by full professors, with the
exception of some writing and foreign language classes. Though the average class size is small,
larger classes break down into recitation sections led either by professors or grad/Ph.D. students.
One way or another, professors stay in close contact with their students—they are not at
Penn solely to perform private research and teach graduate students—and most professors are
extremely accessible and eager to get to know their students. At the first meeting of a class, professors
discuss the materials to be covered and dispense syllabi delineating required materials,
exams, and assignments, and most important, any contact information, including office location
and hours, e-mail, phone number, and additional contacts. All professors are required to keep
office hours during which students are invited to stop by with any questions or concerns.