What is Penn like?
Penn is pretty much anything you want it to be. The most distinctive thing about Penn is its dual-degree programs, which are incredibly diverse. There’re dual programs between the college of engineering and the college of arts and sciences, between the college of arts and sciences and Wharton, between engineering and Wharton, etc. These programs give students who have diverse interests the chance to rigorously explore the interdisciplinary nature of both interests.
Another distinctive thing about Penn is that there are many hospitals located right on campus, allowing for an abundance of research opportunities. For example, if one were to pay attention to the Science Times or the journal Science (or any other scientific publication for that matter), one would notice that the University of Pennsylvania is cited very regularly, even more so than Harvard or Princeton or whatever. This is because Penn truly has a lot of resources, especially in terms of medicine and biology and neuroscience, and it is very easy for undergraduates to get a research position.
Finally, professors are INCREDIBLY accessible. I’ve been to all my professor’s office hours at one point or another and been able to speak with them like a normal person. Professors really do invest in their students, and I would say that Penn has a very down-to-earth environment between its students and faculty.
What is most misunderstood about Penn?
Wharton is not the biggest deal about Penn. Certainly it is the richest and most well-funded college of the university, but that’s because businessmen are rich and like to throw money at things. However, there is much more to Penn than just that. What I find to be most unique about Penn is the cutting-edge research it does and the accessibility of the professors.
What surprised you the most in college?
How easy professors are to get to know. Professors recognize a thirst for learning and the willingness of a student to commit himself to overcoming difficulties. If you have the dedication and commitment, then professors are there to help you. Coming to college, I didn’t realize how easy it would be to speak with my professors (and this may be the particular nature of Penn).
I was also surprised by how well Bay Area schools prepared me for college. Many people who previously found their high school easy found college to be a huge leap, but I and my fellow Bay Area friends had a rather smooth transition. So appreciate your high school!
What has been one of the greatest challenges in college, and what do you think high school students can do to best prepare themselves?
The hardest part in college, apart from learning to take care of yourself, is keeping up with the work flow. The class-material itself is not so different from high school, but you have much less homework and less regular exams. In fact, your grade is contingent upon basically three scores (usually two midterms and a final). So you have to make sure you really know the material and do consistently well each time since you have very few chances of proving yourself.
Another difficult part is to convince yourself to go to class. Since most classes don’t take attendance, it’s easy to convince yourself to skip a lecture or two, but don’t make a habit out of it. If you do, you are honestly wasting your tuition (which is overpriced, anyway).
How did you spend your time in high school?
I spent most of my time concentrating on academics, which in my opinion, definitely paid off. I did not find my first semester in college particularly difficult even though I took challenging courses. The difficult part was maintaining the consistency of test scores as mentioned above, but the material itself was very manageable. It’s important to develop a strong work ethic in high school, i.e., make sure to actually understand what you learn rather than merely completing homework assignments, and TALK to your teachers when you don’t understand something. The latter skill is especially important, because it doesn’t make sense to pay more than $50,000 in tuition if one doesn’t take advantage of one’s professors. In fact the only thing unique about college is having access to people who are infinitely more knowledgeable than you, because otherwise we should all just read books and study on our own.
If you were to start high school all over again, what would you do differently?
I would have tried to do research in high school, because coming to college, I realized that that is what interests me. However, in high school I had the naive viewpoint that research is incredibly difficult and that I did not have adequate knowledge to attempt such tasks, but that isn’t true. Even if “research” is merely writing up papers or creating tables, it is the access to intelligent professors and the being in an intelligent environment that makes you learn and that can potentially ignite an interest in you for a certain academic field.
What advice would you give prospective college students to help them prepare for college?
Focus on something that interests you. The most lacking thing about high school students nowadays is that they have all this determination to be successful, but they don’t direct that energy toward anything that is actually productive. Being president of a million clubs and applying for prestigious summer programs might successfully get you into college, but where do you go from there? I believe it would be infinitely more productive if people concentrated on things that actually interested them, because not only does that make you a more interesting and deserving person, but you also will have an immediate direction to lean towards in college, and this direction is what truly sets you ahead in the long run. People with passions and honest goals are the ones who ultimately succeed in life, because they know how to fully utilize the resources of college in a way that maximizes their benefit while other people waste their time thinking that a prestigious college is a guaranteed fast-track toward success.
What kind of students do you think Penn is looking for? And why?
I honestly don’t know what Penn looks for in students since every student body comprises a diverse range of talents and in some cases, lack-of-talents. What I will say is that Penn seems to recognize all sorts of talents to create a well-rounded student body. Thus, focus on your talents and the things that interest you to impress the admissions officers.
Monta Vista High School
University of Pennsylvania