A tour of the University of Pennsylvania

I had no idea what to expect of The University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) because it is located in the heart of West Philadelphia, and thus is a true urban campus. I am from Los Angeles, but am in love with New York City; however, I had a preconception that going to college in a city…
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Cece Jane

July 27, 2016

The University of Pennsylvania’s shield.

I had no idea what to expect of The University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) because it is located in the heart of West Philadelphia, and thus is a true urban campus. I am from Los Angeles, but am in love with New York City; however, I had a preconception that going to college in a city was not for me. But from the moment we arrived in Philadelphia (my first time) I was enamored with UPenn.

UPenn is home to 10,400 undergraduates, and the campus is compact, covering just six blocks by four blocks. One minute you are in a bustling city, and then you cross a busy street and find yourself within the gates of a beautiful Ivy league campus, surrounded by gorgeous, historic buildings, and greenery. There was something very comforting about the small campus environment. It felt safe and familiar.

It was interesting to learn that the original UPenn campus was founded in 1750 by Ben Franklin (yes, that Ben Franklin). Franklin founded the university for the “common man to train in professional life, not clergy.”  Up until that time most educational institutes were only for religious training.

We learned from our charismatic and energetic tour guide that at UPenn, undergraduates attend one of four colleges:

1- Arts and Sciences, which offers 50 majors liberal arts. About 66% of the students are enrolled in this college.

2- Engineering, which enrolls about 16% of the undergrads. I was really excited to learn about the “senior design project,” which students take their final semester.  Here, engineers in teams of three to eight “design something that will make the world a better place.”

3- The world-famous Wharton Business School, arguably the best undergraduate business school in the nation.

4- The School of Nursing, also one of the very best nursing schools in the nation.

Our guide shared with us that undergraduate students are very well supported at UPenn. When admitted, freshman are assigned two advisors: 1- a faculty member/pre-major advisor, to help you with everything academic; 2- a peer advisor, who is a junior or senior.

Some other interesting facts about UPenn for those thinking of applying:


·      There is a two-year language requirement, but you can test out of all, or part of it. There are 50 languages to choose from, and if they do not have the language you want to study, they will hire someone to teach you that language!

·      There is a math requirement, but it can be a math applied within your major

·      There is a required writing class, of which there are 50 choices

·      30% of UPenn students study abroad

·      The “College Green” is located in the middle of the campus, and is a hub of student gatherings. During the fall and spring students study and socialize on the Green in hammocks. In the middle of College Green is the statute of Ben Franklin and his coat “button.” You will have to visit to hear the folk-lore story of the button!

·      The UPenn campus is home to 6.5 million books

·      UPenn is a fairly social campus, and 30-35% of students participate in Greek life

·      Freshman are required to live on campus, and are housed in a beautiful quad of buildings. After the first year, 55% of upperclassmen stay on campus; others go off campus, but usually stay within a block or two.

· Most importantly, there are 450 clubs on campus, one of which being a Mario Cart club team (that was the most important part)

Ok, let’s talk safety- after all, UPenn is located in a major city. On the tour, we were advised that UPenn is ranked “the safest metropolitan school in the United States for seven years.” When you start at UPenn, a number is programmed into your phone for the UPenn police which you can dial at any moment.

There is also “P-walk” and “P-ride” where an officer will come get you at any time if you need a walking escort or a ride.  There are also cameras all over campus and emergency phone stations throughout the campus.

One of the exciting aspects of visiting UPenn was all else that Philadelphia has to offer. After the tour, we took a ten-minute Uber ride to Independence Square, home of the Liberty Bell and copies of the original Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and United States Constitution. We then walked along Walnut Street where there is great shopping, toward Rittenhouse Square where we ate vanilla ice cream dipped in chocolate in the park, while listening to the sounds of street music and observing the work of local artists.

The city is vibrant, like a small New York City, but so easy to navigate. There is a palpable energy that is a nice accoutrement to college life, if you are into that type of inexperience.  If you are, be sure to stop by Sonny’s for a Philly Cheese Steak!

The University of Pennsylvania was very compelling- great academics, combined with city life, and historical context.  It is a must see for anyone considering going to school in an urban environment.

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