College tour experience - University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)

Background: I was in Washington DC for a 2 week AMP Global Youth Scholar program this summer (2018). Before the start of the program, I visited a few college campuses with my parents. Unfortunately, none of the CollegeFit mentors were on campus at the time of my tours so I couldn't take a personalized tour with them. I took the "generic" information session+tour at most of the campuses and did a walk through without the tour at one (Columbia) due to time constraints.

This blog post will focus on my college tour experience of the University of Pennsylvania aka UPenn.

We took the student-guided tour of UPenn on a Saturday morning. UPenn is located in the "University City" Section of Philadelphia. It is a very urban area. There was a lot of construction happening when we visited so the area seemed more crowded and cramped than it probably was.

We started off with an hour-long information session in the auditorium. This one was well attended - the hall was almost full. They had some slides running on the big screen about the history of the university and other stats until the admissions officer presenting the information session arrived on stage. One of the things that was rather unique about the UPenn presentation was the stories they shared of students who had arrived on campus to do one thing but ended up doing something else altogether. For example, there was one guy who was sure he wanted to be a lawyer and the President of the United States one day. But he did an internship at Pixar and decided to go into graphic design and animation instead after majoring in Creative Writing! There was another story of a nursing student who also completely changed career tracks. The message was - people come to UPenn and discover their passion. Another message - the founder of Penn, Ben Franklin was a Polymath and Renaissance man. He was so many different things - Founding father, inventor, printer, author, freemason, postmaster, statesman, humorist. They ended with a slide of Ben Franklin that said "When the world needed a printer, he became so much more. When the world needs you, what will you become?" I think the best fit for UPenn will be those kids who have multifaceted interests and ready to transform themselves based on what the circumstances ask of them. This fits my profile which is why UPenn is one of my top choices when I apply for college this season.

After the information session, we were given a tour of the university grounds by a student. There were about 20 families touring in our group and maybe 10 different groups in total. The student guide was a major in Psychology and Public health. Nothing really stood out about the architecture of UPenn to me - my main recollection is that it is in an urban area and there was a lot of construction going on. There are a lot of stone/brick buildings and in front of College Hall is a huge statue of Ben Franklin. There is also a "modern art" colorful LOVE sculpture that we passed by. We walked down "Locust walk" which is the prime pedestrian walkway through the heart of campus. During school time, this would be packed with students trying to get to their destinations. For now, it was mostly just the college tourists (with a few stray students or other passersby).

Some interesting titbits I remember from the tour - Engineering seniors take part in a "Senior Design project competition" every year. All sorts of contraptions have been built for this over the years - one cool one mentioned was a "Confetti cleaner" used to clean the football fields after a game. The tour guide also mentioned that you don't need to be part of a Greek fraternity or sorority to have a social life - she herself was part of the theater group at Penn and that is where she mostly hung out. There are nearly 500 student-led organizations on campus that everyone is likely to find something they like to participate in.

The highlight of the tour for me was entering one of the Wharton School of business buildings. Since I am interested in attending Wharton, I was happy to get a chance to see the building from inside. My parents spotted the "Dhirubhai Ambani auditorium" inside this building - a gift from alumnus Anil Ambani to commemorate his father Dhirubhai, one of India's pioneering industrialists. One of the things the tour guide talked about once we were inside the building was the dual degree programs - both coordinated and uncoordinated - that UPenn offers. There are a couple offered in conjunction with the Wharton school of business - The Huntsman program and the Management&Technology program. If you are sure about what you want to do, these are a couple of good options to explore. All in all, it was a good, high-level introduction to what Penn has to offer.

Pros and Cons of the tour:

First the pros:

  • Free, high-level tour to give a whirlwind introduction to UPenn. If you are in a hurry, have only a couple of hours to spare, and are in the early college exploring phase this may fit your bill.
  • Information session offered a few interesting nuggets including tips on how to write a better application and the philosophy of the school.

The cons:

  • No time to ask the admissions officer any questions after the information session as we were immediately shepherded to the tours.
  • Didn't see the inside of many buildings (except for the Wharton school building) or see the classes in session or the dorms.
  • Didn't get a chance to chat 1:1 with the student tour guide.
  • Didn't get a chance to pick a student tour guide to match my interests in majors.

College is your home for the next four years at least. When it is time to decide on your final college choices, don't leave things to chance. Make sure you fully research the colleges that you are interested in to determine the best fit. There are many resources on the Internet starting with the college website that can help with that. Do your homework! And use CollegeFit to book a personalized 1:1 tour with a student of your major to get the inside scoop!


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