The Pre-Med Life

Before I got to Penn, I never really knew what pre-med entailed. Was it an extra major or minor? Was it a concrete department within the University? Getting into med school felt like such an insurmountable feat. I learned the stats: only 50% of applicants nationwide get into med school. Well, that doesn’t sound great.

Then I got to Penn and I started learning how to maneuver my way around what being pre-med really means. There is no actual department designated to the pre-med program nor is there a pre-med major; instead, pre-med essentially means that you have to take certain classes that med schools look for. Those can be found here: You could potentially major in whatever you want (I have a friend who is pre-med and a theatre major and just got into med school), you just have to fulfill the requirements. Most people gravitate toward a science major because 1. most pre-meds are naturally interested in science and 2. most science major requirements overlap with a lot of pre-med requirements. My major, the biological basis of behavior, is a very popular pre-med major, as are biology and chemistry.

Most pre-med requirements inherently tend to lean toward the more difficult side; the organic chemistry components are generally considered to be the most difficult amongst students. However, I can’t stress enough that pre-med is going to be difficult no matter where you go. Think about it, should becoming a doctor really be an easy process? Probably not. The most important part of crafting a schedule for the upcoming semester is planning and balancing! Everyone has their own methods of doing this. Personally, I made myself a spreadsheet to keep track of what classes I need to take while I’m at Penn and when. This allows me to figure out a balance for each semester so I’m not taking too many difficult classes.

Here’s the bright side:

While pre-med at Penn (and everywhere) certainly is very challenging, 80% of applicants from Penn get accepted to med school; this is fantastic considering the national average of 50%. Outside of academics, Career Services is an amazing resource that can offer a lot of information and assistance to pre-meds. It can help find opportunities in research or volunteering and is a great place to find information on the process of applying to med school. And, since there are a lot of pre-meds at Penn, there is always someone who understands both the struggle and the dream.

-Grace M, C'20

Best Study Spots Around Campus

There are a ton of great study spots on and around campus at Penn. The most popular spots tend to be the two libraries -- Van Pelt and Fisher Fine Arts -- as well as Huntsman Hall, the Wharton building that is open 24/7. However, during the busiest times of the semester, you may have a tough time finding a seat in some of these popular locations. Luckily, there are a plethora of other places to choose from depending on what kind of environment you like to study in.

There are tons of great coffee shops to choose from. One of the main ones is Starbucks in the 1920s Commons building, but there are also some other Starbucks to choose from on 39th and Walnut Streets and 34th and Walnut. Saxby’s over on 40th and Locust got remodeled recently and tends to be a pretty popular area with its big tables and lots of outlets. Hub Bub is great as well, but it closes earlier than some of the other options.

Outside of coffee shops, there are other places to study in some of the academic buildings and College Houses. The highrises, which are located at the west end of campus, have spacious rooftop lounges that are always a good option on a weeknight. Houston Hall has a lot of good tables and couches on the ground floor above the marketplace. The Annenberg School for Communication as well as the Law School are both areas that undergrads are welcome to use.

Some people like to complete their work in the comfort of their own rooms, while others like to venture downtown to Center City and work in parks or bookstores. It’s really up to you where you get your work done, but going to school at Penn in Philadelphia provides students with a wide variety of places to explore.

-Pat Z, C'18


My Experience Taking an Academically-Based Community Service (ABCS) Course at Penn

In the spring of my sophomore year, I took a course titled “Ethnography & Media: Social Justice and the Street.” I registered for it because it sounded like an interesting topic and I was curious to learn about the intersection of Communication and Social Justice. Little did I know that I had enrolled in an Academically-Based Community Service (ABCS) course. ABCS courses combine community service with course curriculum, providing a structured way for students to volunteer in the Philadelphia community while applying their experiences to course topics. While they tend to be more time-consuming, given the amount of time spent at the volunteering location, my time in the course proved to be extremely rewarding!

I volunteered at Books Through Bars, an organization in West Philadelphia that receives letters from prison inmates requesting books of various genres and written by a multitude of authors. Having received the letters, volunteers pick out books from the donated library of books at the center, and package them to be shipped back to inmates.

After volunteering at Books Through Bars for the duration of the semester, my project team created a video documentary that described the way the organization operated, who volunteered there, and how the community was involved in its efforts. It turned out to be an awesome experience in which I had the opportunity to interact with individuals outside of the “Penn Bubble,” but discovered that we still had much in common. That said, the experience also reminded me that people come from all different walks of life, and that I am lucky to be at a University that can provide opportunities to engage with the local community.

-Angela I, C'18

Classic American Constitutional Law

The summer before my freshman year when I was picking classes for my fall semester, I noticed a constitutional law class called “Classic American Constitutional Law.” I was amazed that undergraduates could take constitutional law classes; I thought that would only be a possibility for law students. When I was in high school I loved the Supreme Court unit in A.P. U.S. Government, especially because we went over all the major landmark Supreme Court cases. Needless to say, I signed up for the constitutional law class for the fall.

By the time midterm season came, most of our grade so far had consisted of class discussions and a short paper on the constitutional provisions that allowed for slavery. Then our amazing professor, Rogers Smith, announced that for our midterm we would be engaging in a simulation and writing a long paper about the events of the simulation. He sent out the context
for the simulation, which went something like this:

Abraham Lincoln is elected in an alternate universe in 1860 with the same Constitution in place that was actually in place at that time. Southern states have threatened to secede if Congress bans slavery in the territories. Also, Louis Pasteur has invented a serum that will make humans basically immortal, as well as bring the dead back to life. Lincoln and the Republicans pass an act, LASH, that establishes free clinics to provide the immortality serum to all U.S. citizens, including slaves, but not slave-owners. Lincoln thought this would encourage slave-owners to give up their slaves in order to have access to the serum. Slave owners immediately criticized LASH for being unconstitutional.

Our class was split up into different groups: Congress, state governors, civilians, the Executive Branch, and the Supreme Court. We devoted two classes to enacting the simulation, with each group being able to sue/secede/declare war/make judicial rulings/pass new laws/lobby, etc. It quickly turned into mayhem, but was ultimately a lot of fun and taught us a lot about the warring ideologies that contributed to the start of the Civil War.

After the simulation took place, our professor wrote up a paper prompt based on the results and events of the simulation and asked us to write 8-10 page papers commenting on the constitutional forces at play with many of the key events. This was a lot more interesting than rehashing ideas about real Supreme Court cases that we had discussed in class. It also forced us to think independently; no amount of research could yield academic information on the hypothetical, totally made-up scenario that we had experienced. I felt truly challenged intellectually, which was one of the main things I was hoping to get out of college. And I must have really had fun because I signed up for the second semester of Professor Smith’s class and
agreed to go through the madness of a different simulation all over again.

-Hannah R, C'19

Greek & Roman Mythology

The word I most closely associate with the College of Arts and Sciences at Penn is “flexibility.” Want to take a class about pirates? You can do that! Or maybe a class taught by a professor who was at one point a Buddhist Monk? That’s an option too! Or disliked math in high school and never want to “solve for x” ever again? That's also a possibility! Penn has a variety of wonderful classes and a myriad of courses to fulfill our graduation requirements.

The classes we take at Penn are split roughly into 1/3 major, 1/3 elective, and 1/3 general education. One of the categories for classes within the general education section is called Arts and Letters. As someone studying physics, I was dreading this requirement. I like to do problem sets, not write paragraphs. However, back in high school (and admittedly I have read a few while at Penn!) I absolutely loved the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. I saw a class called Greek and Roman Mythology that satisfied Arts and Letters and figured it would be the least painful way to fulfill the requirement.

I ended up loving the class, and it is still my favorite course I have taken at Penn. We read some of the greatest epics and stories from the ancient world, including (but certainly not limited to!) The Odyssey, Oedipus, and The Aeneid. I thought it was so cool that I could be reading something written by Homer one minute in Greek and Roman Mythology, and then be reading something written by Newton right after in one of my physics courses. It ended up being the most enjoyable - rather than the least painful - way to fulfill the requirement.

And this is one of the many reasons why I praise the College for its flexibility; had it not been for the Arts and Letters requirement, I do not think I would have taken a mythology course during my time at Penn. I am extraordinarily grateful that the College’s flexibility afforded me the opportunity to discover a passion for Greek and Roman Mythology!

-Nathan S, C'19

Advising at Penn

When I was a freshman at Penn I thought I wanted to be an economics and computer science double major. I really liked math in high school so I figured I would naturally like econ as well. Meanwhile, I also took computer science in high school and figured I would do a double major to incorporate some technical skills into my Bachelor’s degree. I had it all planned out.

However, as my freshman fall semester began and I got deeper into my Introduction to Economics class I realized that I definitely did not want to continue with the subject. I was shocked (and also disappointed) that I didn’t like Econ. More than that though, now I felt lost and had no idea what I was going to major in! If not Econ what else was I going to do? During this mid-semester pre-major freshman crisis one of my friends approached me and suggested I visit the college office of academic support to meet with an advisor during their walk-in- hours.

While I already had a pre-major advisor, I was definitely looking for a new perspective and someone who I felt could direct me in the right direction. So, I found their walk in hours conveniently located in Claudia Cohen Hall (a building I frequented for class and ironically was home to my econ lecture). Walk in hours were every day and open for about three hours. This meant I could just walk right into the office and meet with any available advisor for 15 minutes. I could ask any questions I wanted about my academics and future planning. So, that is exactly what I did and I could not have had a better experience. I met with an advisor who pulled up my record quickly and listened to my rant about what I did and did not want to do. She then showed me a few different departments and majors that she thought I would be interested in. I continued to narrow down her list until I stumbled upon the cognitive science major, which is a combination of psychology, computation, linguistics, philosophy, neuroscience and math. This major was perfect for me! It was everything I was interested in and all the required courses for the degree seemed to really spark my interest. Those 15 minutes were life changing and I walked out of those walk in hours with a new major and a new direction!

Penn offers their students a lot of resources and if you seek help anywhere, Penn is likely to provide exactly what you need. Additionally, it is okay to not know what you want to do before coming in as a freshman! I found out mid-semester that my original plan to study economics and computer science was not going to work out. It is totally okay to change your major and explore new options, this is what Penn is all about!

-Stephanie W, C'18

Learning Outside of the Classroom

This semester, I’m taking URBS 178 (Faculty-Student Collaborative Action Seminar in Urban University-Community Relations: Penn and West Philadelphia as a Case Study in Progress). Despite its long name, the mission of the course is fairly simple: to allow students to learn about Penn and its relationship with the West Philadelphia community and to then engage with this material through service and research.

The class is divided into three main parts. The first part is the seminar; our class of 15 students meets for three hours on Wednesdays to discuss Penn’s relationship with West Philadelphia throughout its history. Dr. Harkavy, who is incredibly well respected both at Penn and in the academic world (many of our readings cite him and his pioneering work), leads the seminar. He has been teaching the course every semester since the 1980s, and he has been one of the most engaging and knowledgeable professors I’ve had at Penn to date. Having such a small class means that we are all able to sit around a conference table together and have meaningful discussions about the course material. The seminar involves readings, guest lecturers, and even a trolley tour around West Philadelphia.

For the second part of the course, each Penn student is assigned to a high school senior at a local high school. We go to their school and help them with college applications for an hour each w-eek and essentially just serve as their mentors.

The last part of the course is the problem solving learning (PSL) paper. This is a research paper that we write over the course of the semester in which we try to solve a specific problem that we’ve noticed through our discussions in seminar and our time at the school. Some past papers from the course have led to the creation of new ABCS courses, new initiatives in local schools, and even new civic engagement opportunities at Penn (like the Swipe Out Hunger campaign).

URBS 178 has been one of my favorite courses at Penn. I know that the work that I’m doing is relevant and purposeful, while giving me a better view of my current position as a Penn student. Especially with the PSL, I’ve been shown that if I see a problem, I have the power to actually make a change. The course also allows the students to contribute to the syllabus and make changes as the course progresses, which has enabled me to directly contribute to what I’m studying. ABCS courses are fairly unique to Penn, and I can say that without a doubt, taking one has shaped my college experience and larger perspective for the better.

-Rachel W, C'20

Theatre in Philadelphia

As a college student, few things are more critical than course registration. We will spend hours scouring through course listings to find the perfect courses that fill general education requirements (ideally two at once), taught by renowned professors, or are just straight up cool. While registering for courses the summer before my freshman year, I stumbled across a true gem: Theatre in Philadelphia. I couldn’t have been more excited because throughout high school, I was a huge theatre nerd. I loved to read plays, act, and see live productions, so Theatre in Philadelphia was a perfect fit.

Theatre in Philadelphia is a freshman seminar in which a class of about twelve students has the opportunity to see plays and musicals in Center City every week, free of charge. In preparation for seeing the production, our class would read the script of the upcoming play and discuss its historical context, relevant themes, and notable past productions. After doing our research in advance, we were finally ready to see the show. Once a week, our class would assemble outside of Fisher-Bennett Hall, meet up with our professor, and take SEPTA, Philadelphia’s public transportation, into Center City. We
saw some truly thought-provoking and beautiful productions, ranging from classics like Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House to more contemporary pieces such as Metamorphoses, which used dramatic staging in an onstage pool to tell modernized versions of stories from Greek mythology. We would later write essays analyzing the dramatic interpretation of the play, unpacking the production’s strengths and weaknesses, and highlighting interesting artistic choices.

For me, Theatre in Philadelphia really sums up some of the amazing experiences that Penn offers to its students. Penn’s proximity to Center City gives me the ability to explore a rich, and frankly underappreciated, theatre sphere with a mere fifteen-minute subway ride. As a freshman from Colorado where driving is a necessity for getting where you need to go, I was not very familiar with taking the subway or bus. After taking that class, however, I possessed the confidence and knowhow to navigate SEPTA, which made the city of Philadelphia even more accessible to me. Moreover, Theatre in
Philadelphia allowed me to combine my love for theatre with academic analysis, which developed my skills as both an actor and a student. Finally, since the seminar was so small, I was able to form close, meaningful relationships with other students that I still cherish to this day.

                                                                                               -Katherine F, C'19

Fun Ways to Exercise at Penn

When I came to college, I knew I wanted to keep up with exercising regularly since I wasn’t planning on playing sports, but I knew it would be tough to fit in with such a busy schedule. Surprisingly, though, I found a ton of ways to get some activity throughout the day, and it’s been a really nice part of my routine every day (ok, most days). From the beautiful scenery outdoors, to the awesome gyms Penn has to offer, to the friends you can make, exercising at Penn is a great way to de-stress and have some fun.

Running in Philadelphia
One of my favorite things to do on a beautiful day in Philadelphia is going on a run by the river. The Schuylkill River Trail is a bustling paved path with a great view of the water, the Boathouses, and the Philly skyline. Any time of the day, you’ll see families out for a stroll with their kids, people going for a morning jog, and young professionals
taking their daily commute to work. Besides getting a nice breezy bout of exercise, you also get a much-needed break from school and stress, and you might even see some cute dogs!

Hiking in the Wissahickon
Only about 20 minutes away from Penn is a vast park with over 50 miles of trails for biking and hiking. It’s amazing that you can go from being right in the middle of the city to feeling like you’re completely surrounded by nature. Penn Outdoors Club leads trips to the park every now and then, but you can go anytime by bike or public transit if hiking
is something you really like to do. Something about walking around in the trees, listening to all the little sounds of nature makes you feel so refreshed – it’s the perfect study break!

Pottruck Gym
By far the most convenient way to exercise at Penn has to be going to Pottruck (one of Penn’s gyms), especially if you live on campus. I usually roll out of bed early in the morning and can get there in around five minutes – perfect for people like me who don’t like getting up any earlier than they have to. When I first visited Penn, I was SO impressed by everything that Pottruck had to offer. There’s a super tall climbing wall, two full-size swimming pools, a floor entirely devoted to cardio machines, a floor entirely devoted to strength machines, and, on top of that, a ton of extras like spinning studios,
Pilates machines, and dance studios. The amount of options is almost overpowering. My favorite thing by far at Pottruck would have to be the group exercise classes, though. The schedule has a wide of variety of classes, including weight training, yoga, cycling, Zumba, and kickboxing. When I started going to the same classes week after week, I got to know the instructors and other students who also went regularly. It’s a good feeling to remember that there’s a smiling, familiar face waiting for you at the gym, and that you get to do an awesome workout with them right by your side, with fun music
and great instructors powering you through the whole time.

College can get stressful, and it can get busy, but having the opportunity to move my body and meet new people every day really helps me ward off the stress and feel happy. If there’s anything I recommend while being in college, it’s to take that time to let out your stress and care for yourself. Philadelphia and Penn definitely make it fun and
easy to do those things.

-Olivia G, C'20

Treating Yellow Fever

You might be wondering, didn’t the United States eradicate Yellow Fever in the early 1900’s following the discovery that the disease was transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito and creation of a vaccine? You’d be right! However, in my Medicine in History class, we’re studying history from the inside out, granting validity to treatments, ways of thinking, and anatomy of historical medicine in order to analyze it. This entailed an assignment where I had to track my “symptoms” including being tired, having a strained quad, and a cold, and then act like an 18th century doctor, consulting diagnostic manuals and treatment recipe books in the Rare Books Library from the age of Galen and humoral medicine. I found out that I could treat my quad with what is called a fomentation by wrapping herbs in cloth, boiling them in water, then soaking them in wine before applying the mixture to my leg. Another way of studying from the inside out meant that during our recitation, a smaller group that meets outside of lecture with the guidance of a teaching assistant, our professor cooked us up a delicious (not actually) treatment for yellow fever.

We watched him as he made “Wine Whey.” He boiled milk and then added some dry Sherry wine. He waited until the alcohol cooked off, and the milk separated into curds and whey. He then strained the mixture and provided us each with a small cup of our treatment. The mixture was cloudy, with a brown-ish tint. We had a test-drinker, and then the rest of us followed in suit. If I had to say what wine whey tastes like, I’d tell you to imagine that you’re drinking sweet, liquid bread. To be honest, it wasn’t that bad. I’d take it anyday over grape cough syrup. But then again, I’d rather have a cough than yellow fever.

Overall, it was a great learning experience where I really got into the minds of the doctors and the patients, both cooking and taking the treatment. And bonus: I’m Yellow Fever free!

                -Brooke R, C'19    

No Shame in Not Knowing

When I talk to freshmen about what they want to study, I'm struck by how many confidently answer with their choices - "I'm pre-med." "I want to study econ." "I want to do bio." When the answer is "I don't know," it's usually given almost apologetically. When you apply to college, you want to show that you're passionate and driven. It's embarrassing if you're not sure what you want to do; it makes you seem unfocused, meandering, pointless. That's an attitude that's hard to kick, even as you go through college. As upperclassmen, we tend to carry the same ethos through when we apply for jobs. I should be hired to work for Goldman Sachs, we say, or J.P. Morgan, or Credit Suisse, because I used to dress up as an investment banker for Halloween in elementary school, because I had pictures of Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein pasted into my notebooks in middle school, because I read the Financial Times more thoroughly than my AP Literature coursework in high school.

But there are two main problems with this belief that passions must be lifelong and instilled at an early age. The first problem is that people are terrible at predicting their future preferences (I study behavioral economics; it's practically one of the founding statements of the field). The second problem is that college freshmen know essentially nothing. We start college at an age when our minds haven't finished developing, often with little or no experience living on our own as adults within society. The things we want to study or explore when we begin college may be quite different in their reality than in our imagination. Which doesn't mean that it's bad to start college with a burning thirst to study sociology - just that it's dangerous to let a passion developed in your teens to close you off to other opportunities.

Socrates claimed that while he knew nothing, he was nevertheless the wisest man in Athens - since none of the other Athenians knew anything either, but he was the only one who realized his own ignorance. There is no shame beginning or even ending college not knowing where you want your life to go, as long as you acknowledge that you don't know, instead of throwing yourself down a path that turns out to be the wrong one.

                                                                                                                                                             —Jinah K, C'18

What You Wish You Knew: Greg, C'19

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I had the pleasure of talking with my roommate and close friend Greg W. He is a Philadelphia native studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE). Penn has been a part of Greg’s life long before becoming a Quaker; it is a 10 minute walk from our dorm room to Greg’s house. He took his SATs in the math and physics building on campus. Growing up, Greg and his dad would attend basketball games in the Palestra and football games at Franklin Field (and now that he is a student here they still do). His mom works for Penn.  Yet despite all of these connections to Penn, the deciding factor in choosing Penn for Greg was his “aha moment” when he was walking down Locust walk. There is something magical about the feeling of Locus Walk: the luscious trees, beautiful buildings, and palpable excitement that surrounds you as you walk through the heart of Penn’s campus alongside your fellow classmates. It is a feeling that is hard to describe… but you’ll know what I mean when you come to Penn!

I asked Greg what advice he would like to have given to his freshman self. Greg said that initially he was disheartened as he met so many students who had a definitive plan for what they would like to study. Greg was still uncertain. However, he know realizes what a blessing in disguise this uncertainty turned out to be. In his journey to PPE, Greg has gotten to take courses such as Music and the Brain and Greek and Roman Mythology, courses which he said have greatly broadened his perspectives. He also discovered a passion for Biology, an interest he thinks he likely would not have realized had he been certain about his path coming into Penn. 

                                                                                                                                                      —Nathan S, C'19

What You Wish You Knew: Paddy L, C'19

I had the great joy of chatting with my one of my closest friends, Paddy L, about his experiences so far at Penn. He is from North Salem, New York, and he is a Psychology major with a minor in Biological Basis of Behavior and a certificate in American Sign Language. When asked to reflect upon what he wished he knew as a freshman, he replied, "Coming into college, I know I was lucky in that I knew how to relax. But in the high stress of an Ivy, I think I often lost track of how acceptable it was to just breathe. A tendency to schedule, measure, and optimize one's free time is unleashed with increased academic rigor. Understanding that I didn't need to succeed in my relaxation, but to simply do the act, would've been very beneficial. I am a huge proprietor of stable mental health- freshmen especially should be aware, regardless of their chosen institution, of exactly how to ensure they have it." He emphasized this need and desire to always maintain balance in his life, especially during his freshman year, and not become swept up in the chaos of college. As for some survival tips, Paddy swears by the mantra, "Don't try 'to survive,'" which he explains further, "personally I indulge. I am a glut in every domain that I love: psychology, theatre, my friendships, ASL. The requisite to such is an ability to shed. So, be willing to give up, whether that be a friend, a class, a passing opportunity. Whomever is reading this is likely a master multitasker, superb at overextension; however, college is about amplitude. If you want to love something, you've got to be willing to actually love it." Again, Paddy circles back to pursuing this balance in life, even if that means passing some opportunities up or letting things go. Because surely enough, Penn offers more opportunities than you could ever dream of, but at the end of the day, it's about picking and choosing so that you stay in touch with yourself. 

—Katherine F, C'19

What You Wish You Knew: Kat M, C'17

1. Name, Hometown, Major

Kat M

Darien, CT


2. What do you wish you knew when you were a freshman?

I wish I knew that Penn that while would present me with challenges that I had never faced before, my experiences here would equip me to rise to meet them. The pace of life at Penn is fast but rewarding. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, but usually it’s much more engaging to be challenged by others’ high expectations -- in and outside the classroom.   

3. Most memorable experience?

I have had a great time at Penn, so I have a few very memorable experiences. One is when the current Executive Vice President, Craig Carnaroli, told me that one day I would have his job. The EVP oversees the functions of the university that operate as businesses, like dining, real estate, and IT. Craig, who is second in rank after President Gutmann, is an exceptionally nice and thoughtful administrator (and Penn grad!). Craig, some other students and I have been working together since my sophomore year to tackle issues around Penn’s high costs of attendance. This year I have had the opportunity to serve as Penn’s elected undergraduate student body president. As President I have tried to advocate for lower costs across the university - not just in terms of formal tuition and fees, but also costs students face to participate in classes, like textbooks and course codes, and costs students face to participate in extracurriculars, like Greek life dues and club sport fees. The administration has committed to trying to solve these challenges, and to do so they take student input seriously. I have really enjoyed getting the chance to work with the admins, like Rodney Robinson from OSA (pictured here), to collectively make the Penn experience better for all students. 

Another experience I want to highlight is from my senior year fall. It was pouring outside. One of my housemates came and asked me if I wanted to get a banh mi sandwich with her from a Vietnamese market in West Philly. We would walk there and back, she suggested. For whatever reason we thought it was a better idea not to bring umbrellas, so we got drenched during the ten minute walk. At Penn we are very lucky to be able to live within walking distance of so much culture. The city of Philadelphia has so much to offer. West Philly is a great place to live, explore, and eat - even in the rain.

—Hannah F, C'17

Featured Series: What You Wish You Knew

In light of recent regular admissions decisions, our bloggers and members decided to talk to close friends and peers who aren't a part of Cognoscenti in order to share with you a broader sense of what Penn students do, care about, and wish they knew before starting college at Penn.

We hope that what these students have to say will either help you make your decision to come to Penn, or be good advice for you as you look at Penn, and specifically the College of Arts and Sciences, as a school you would like to apply to in the future!


Exploration: The General Education Requirements in the College (PART 2)

Last time I wrote about the courses I took to fulfill the Foundational Approaches portion of the College's General Education Requirements. Here is part two, on the Sectors of Knowledge:

Sectors of Knowledge

Society: I’m really interested in media, so for this requirement I took COMM 130, Mass Media and Society. The class looked at the evolution of media throughout human history and also considered where different media are headed. It was also a great opportunity to work with someone like Professor Turow, a very accomplished scholar and public figure.

History & Tradition: HIST 023 -- double counted with Cross Cultural Analysis.

Arts & Letters: I’m currently taking COML 100 (The Global Novel). This is my first English class in college and it’s been such a welcome change from what I’m used to! I’ve been able to employ the analytical skills from math classes in our class discussions and papers and I hope to do the reverse this in my math classes!

Interdisciplinary Humanities & Social Science: For this requirement I took HIST 012 Globalization and its Historical Significance -- check out my earlier blog post on the class!

Living World: I took classes the summer between my Freshman and Sophomore years and PSYC 001 (Psychology 100) was one of them. It was my first true science course while at Penn and looked at the brain and psychology.

Physical World: I am currently taking GEOL 125, Earth Through Time. When I was young, I was obsessed with dinosaurs, and a big part of Earth Through Time has been committed to learning about the earliest forms of life on Earth. We are just beginning to talk about dinosaurs so I am very excited to continue.

Interdisciplinary Natural Sciences & Mathematics: When it came time to fill this requirement I decided to do something a little bit different and take PHIL 025, the Philosophy of Science. We talked a lot about what it means to truly ‘know’ something and what it means for something to be a fact-- particularly relevant today!


That’s just a brief introduction to the classes I took to fulfill the Gen Ed Requirements. The great thing about the College is that given the amount of choice, everyone’s coursework will be totally different. It comes down to what you want to have learned and be well-versed in after four years.

Matthew S, C'18


Penn Perspectives

As a second semester senior, a lot of my extracurricular involvements over the past four years have inevitably died down. However, I’ve actually gotten involved with a new student-led group this semester called Penn Perspectives. Every Wednesday for an hour and a half, a lecture hall full of seniors meet and listen to a popular professor talk. The professor changes every week, and the choice of professor was solicited by seniors Penn Perspectives. The students who lead the group claim that the seniors in Penn Perspectives encompass all of the majors at Penn. This gives seniors a chance to learn about different disciplines from amazing professors and to foster curiosity beyond what we currently know. I really enjoy the experience every week because every professor has a very interesting story to tell about their life and career path, and they’re all really fun and genuine people.

Here are the professors who we have listened to so far:

  • Professor Paul Rozin: He teaches a popular class at Penn called “Psychology of Food.” He’s been teaching at Penn since 1963 (!!).
  • Professor Jeffrey Babin: He teaches Engineering Entrepreneurship in the School of Engineering, though he graduated from Penn with an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and later received his MBA at Penn. After undergrad, he actually was a drummer in a band and eventually ended up in entrepreneurship.
  • Professor Fariha Khan: She teaches in the Asian-American Studies department, and her commentary was especially relevant since she talked to us a few days after the debacle with President Trump’s immigration ban. I learned a lot about Asian-American refugees in the Philadelphia community, which was super interesting.
  • Professor David Eisenhower: He teaches a seminar about Political Communication in the Annenberg School of Communication. He takes a class to the Republican and Democratic conventions on election years and described his perspective on elections over the years to us. Oh, by the way, he’s the grandson of President Eisenhower and is married to President Nixon’s daughter.
  • Professor Jamie-Lee Josselyn: She teaches Creative Writing and majored in English at Penn as an undergrad as well. In her lecture, she incorporated one of her essays, in which she wrote about an experience teaching in class.

Obviously, these little blurbs do not give these professors justice, and I am not accurately listing out all their lengthy credentials -- but regardless, I have loved listening to these incredible professors that I have heard great things about over the course of four years in a more informal setting. One of the best things about Penn is being an arms-length away from experts and scholars in all sorts of fields and taking advantage of that learning opportunity. 

Emma Hong, C'17

Exploration: The General Education Requirements in the College (PART 1)

The College of Arts and Sciences is defined by its liberal arts curriculum, meaning that College students take classes beyond their majors and learn about a variety of disciplines. College students acquire a broad set of skills to prepare themselves for the rest of their academic and professional careers. This most clearly manifests itself in the College’s General Education Requirements: The Sectors of Knowledge (specific academic areas) and The Foundational Approaches (skills). These requirements are best thought of as buckets of classes with many classes fulfilling each requirement. Taking these classes has been a great opportunity for me to learn about fields different from my major and I am better prepared for the future because of them. I’ll go into Foundational Approaches below, and look out for another post on the Sectors of Knowledge soon!

Foundational Approaches

Writing: For this requirement I took WRIT 076 (The Urban Invasion) which looked at gentrification and urban redevelopment. I’m pursuing a career in real estate, so working on my writing through a real estate lemse was instructional and informative. I also developed a strong portfolio of relevant writing that I have used with potential employers!

Foreign Language: After taking French in high school, I decided to complete the Foreign Language requirement by continuing my French studies. This continuation provided a transitional set of courses during my first few semesters of college and left me with a certain level of proficiency.

Formal Reasoning: Here I took MATH 103, which was a prerequisite for my major. Additionally, MATH 103 was a Structured Active In-Class Learning (SAIL) class, so most of the learning happened outside of the classroom and we worked on complex problems in class. I would recommend SAIL classes to anyone who wants to learn about their learning style.

Quantitative Data Analysis: I fulfilled this foundation with ECON 103, Statistics for Economists, and was able to count it towards my major.

Cross Cultural Analysis: I took HIST 023 (The Islamic Middle East) for this requirement, as did many of the other Cognos. We learned about the history of the Islamic Middle East (starting with the fall of the Roman Empire and ending with the Ottoman Empire). This course actually inspired me to take an elective this semester about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Cultural Diversity in the US: For this requirement, I took ARTH 278 which was an American art history class. Beyond lectures, our class got to travel to different museums around Philadelphia to look at iconic works of American art. Seeing the famous pieces in person absolutely enhanced my learning, and was only possible in a city like Philadelphia!

Matthew S, C'18


Consult for America: Clubs Connecting Passions with Service

The first club that I joined at the University of Pennsylvania was Consult for America. The name was as enticing as its mission, which was to help provide the resources of the University of Pennsylvania to small business within the West Philadelphia area. In order to do so, members of the team form client groups and work to provide free small business consulting to local businesses.

Throughout my time in this club, I have the chance to work on 4 entrepreneurial ventures, while also gaining leadership experience through my time on the executive board. I have explored patent law and the patent application process, while working with an entrepreneur who was at the beginning phases of a product to revolutionize showers for people with disabilities. I developed marketing strategies for men’s boxer products, and local restaurants. I even got to generate a social media strategy and evergreen social media content for an author looking to raise money for her most recent self-help book.

Beyond the friendships, business acumen, and leadership experience that this club has provided me, I am most proud of the opportunities it has given me to interact with the West Philadelphia community. All new Consult for America members take a walk through the communities surrounding Penn, to gain a deeper understanding of our larger community. As students, we come to this area, live here for four years, and then many of us leave for other cities and opportunities. Through Consult for America, I found my way of saying thank you to West Philadelphia. 

One thing that is really special about Penn, is that many students find ways to use their passions and interests to connect with the surrounding Philadelphia area. Consult for America is not unique in that regard. There are clubs that teach dance classes in local public schools, some clubs paint nails in local elderly homes, and some clubs work with women in the prison system. There are thousands of ways to turn fun activities into meaningful work here at Penn. I have always found that the hardest part is just choosing which one to join.

Jaslyn M, C'17

Sofar Sounds in Center City

The idea is simple. In cities all over the world, people can sign up to attend small concerts in order to get closer and bring the intimacy back to music. Sofar Sounds is a company that operates on this premise. The day before the concert, you are sent a secret location. When you arrive, you have no idea who else will be there or who will perform. Last weekend, I decided to take a break from my typical Sunday routine of coffee shop study sessions, club meetings, and laying in bed watching Netflix, to travel to &Pizza in Center City and interact with three new bands and a plethora of Philadelphia residents.

My friend and I arrived to the pizza shop, where benches were spread across the room, pillows and blankets were placed on the floor, and young people from all over the city were bustling with energy. As the company promised, the environment was intimate. The restaurant provided free drinks and pizza, and the audience sat around a stage. The pizza was family style, so boxes of different types of artisan pizza were being passed around the room, from stranger to stranger. Neighbors, who had been strangers only moments ago, began talking about the pizza, what schools they attended, and whether or not they had been to a Sofar concert before. My friend and I found that the two people behind us were also Penn students, and we were all able to share stories about our lives on campus and found common connections and friends.

Eventually the music began, and we were able to hear acts and stories of artists who had traveled from California, Russia, and New York. They played their songs, and then re-joined the crowd to engage in conversation, answer questions, and listen to the other acts. Last weekend I was reminded that as a Penn student, I am also a resident of the city of Philadelphia. Which means that when I want to escape campus, or practice living the young professional life, I can find incredible and unique ways to do so. So, no matter where you live, I suggest that you check out to see if there is a Sofar Sounds program in your area. Find a way to make music and your connection to your city intimate again.

Jaslyn M, C'17