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.