I can’t believe this was seven-and-a-half years ago

I recently shared The Yale 250 I didn’t submit, written to answer the question, ‘Why Yale?’ Since I’m easily distracted, that experience inspired me to dig through some old files and fish out* ‘Why Penn?’, submitted on October 30, 2004.

*this isn’t a mixed metaphor; I was digging through the top of a frozen pond, not fishing in some hole I dug

While I wrote the essay for Yale of my own free will, I distinctly remember annoyance toward Penn’s request – an annoyance I think evident in the stiffness of my writing, and my bland, generic answers. Still, I thought it might be fun to compare my expectations with how four-and-a-half years as a student at Penn actually turned out.

The essay is included sequentially in its entirety, with a director’s cut track included for optional commentary:

In the classic story, Alice in Wonderland, Alice arrives at a fork in the road. Alice asks the Cheshire cat which way she ought to go. He replies “that depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” and when she tells him, “I don’t much care where,” he informs her, “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.” Making an uninformed decision is like making no decision at all.

As I said, stiff. I don’t need to point it out in every paragraph, so this will be the last time.

Until this fall, I knew very little about the University of Pennsylvania. A few alumni had mentioned it to me and I had obliged them by reading a little about it. When given the opportunity to visit Penn in mid-October, I took it. At the time, flying cross-country to visit a school seemed excessive, but I recognized the importance of making an informed decision.

Making an informed decision is still something I still think is important. That said, flying across the country may have been a little excessive in retrospect, especially given that Penn didn’t pay for it, and that my family had just visited Philadelphia the preceding summer.

“Do you want to visit Penn while we’re here?” my parents asked me.

“No,” I replied. “It’s not like I’m ever gonna go there.”

In more retrospect, this might have been a cute anecdote to include in my essay.

My short stay at Penn made a lasting impression on me. The first thing I noticed, in contrast to other schools, was the extent to which the University allows students to make academic choices, while ensuring that each student has a solid background in a variety of disciplines. One student I met was pursuing a course of study in business and engineering while studying music as a minor. I find the ability to study many different fields enticing, especially because my small high school offers a limited variety of courses.

Pretty sure I wrote ‘in contrast to other schools’ precisely because I knew this is not something actually unique to Penn – which was my main problem with the essay question as a whole: Almost anything I wrote probably applied to countless other schools. Except Columbia. The Core Curriculum has always sounded like the opposite of fun.

Of course, Penn took the opportunity of my one-year deferral to make the sector requirements more restrictive, just in time for me to actually show up in Fall ’06.

Penn’s wide range of options is not limited to the academic field, but extends to all areas of campus life. Many people with whom I consulted reported that Penn had honored their individual housing requests. One student explained how he had originally been placed in a dorm he disliked, and then been permitted to move. Penn’s large and beautiful campus contains a variety of settings in which to live, study and thrive. Being in the same environment at all times can make life monotonous.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I did nearly all my studying in my dorm room.

Additionally, the diversity of Penn’s student body ensures that I will have the opportunity to meet people with a variety of backgrounds. Coming from a Jewish high school, I would like to have the opportunity to meet many different kinds of people in college.

This was mainly true, though I also think I had the impression that something to this effect had to be in the essay somewhere.

The quality of Penn that impressed me most was the level of student involvement in various organizations and activities. My stay was organized by the Jewish Community at Penn, and I was delighted to see students participating in every aspect of the Sabbath. Students led prayers, organized meals, delivered speeches, and taught classes. The amount of responsibility that each student was willing and able to take is truly indicative of the general dedication and commitment that Penn expects from its students. I am very involved in my community in Seattle, and I hope to continue that level of involvement at a college where it is similarly encouraged.

The Jewish Community at Penn (JCP) really was quite welcoming.

Penn offers a number of activities that I hope to become involved in. Penn is known for its student publications, most notably the Daily Pennsylvanian, which I had the opportunity to read while visiting. I am Editor in Chief of Between the Lines, my school’s student publication, and I hope to continue to be involved with journalism.

More from Between the Lines in an upcoming post. In the meantime, I’ll point you again in the direction of one of my favorite Twitter feeds, @DPOnIt.

A final thing I noticed about Penn was the satisfaction of its student body. In other schools I had visited, students frequently complained about food, professors, and campus life in general. Of those I spoke to at Penn, not one had anything negative to say about the school. Students wore their red and blue Penn apparel with pride. I recognized that Penn’s positive atmosphere is an indication that, I, too, would be happy there.

Honestly, I don’t know why I buried this so far down the essay. This was the real reason I chose Penn, and I never looked back.

Alice visits the March Hare, despite knowing nothing about him. As she approaches his house, she exclaims, “I almost wish I’d gone to see the Hatter instead!” Unlike Alice, who was forced to make an uninformed decision, I have considered my options and made an informed decision: I choose Penn.

Silly Alice. In hindsight, I’m not quite sure how you got into this essay.


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