Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s founding fathers, was also the founding father of the University of Pennsylvania. After developing his idea of the nation’s first modern liberal arts curriculum, Franklin and the first Trustees purchased the land for Penn’s campus in 1750. The school opened its doors in 1751.
Penn boasts a lot of firsts in its storied history. Besides being the first university in the United States, Penn opened the nation’s first medical school in 1765, the world’s first collegiate school of business (the Wharton School) in 1881, and appointed the Ivy League’s first female president (Judith Rodin) in 1994, just to name a few.
The University of Pennsylvania’s 269 acre western Philadelphia campus has been described as University of Oxford meets University of Cambridge thanks to its Gothic architecture. Despite the buildings having a classical feel on the outside, they are modern on the inside and there are many places that serve as student hangouts.
Penn students have dual personalities. From Sunday to Thursday, they study like fiends and drink only caffeine; but from Thursday to Saturday night, alcohol replaces caffeine and red Solo cups replace all reading material. Student hangouts reflect that shift--during the week, you’ll find coffee shops packed, but on the weekends, bars and frats fill up. While students spend a lot of time off-campus, there are a lot of on-campus hangouts Penn students love.
Houston Hall is campus’ most popular lunch destination. Upstairs, it’s got quiet study areas with great seating and a creperie; downstairs, it’s Houston Market, where you can order salads, paninis, burgers, cheesesteaks, Asian bowls, falafel, sushi, tacos, fajitas, Indian food—basically, anything you’re hungry for. As if that weren’t enough, Einstein Bagels opened shop this past year, adding breakfast to the menu, too.
Houston goes from ghost town to packed house between 11 a.m. and noon, and you’ll struggle to find a table until about 3 p.m., when the lunch crowd clears out. Houston is central on campus and the market takes Dining Dollars (pre-paid by the parents!), making it the lunch date spot of choice.
Students looking for a quieter on-campus study spot will usually check out Williams Café, located in Williams Hall, or Starbucks on the lower level of 1920 Commons, a main dining hall. Both locations offer snacks and coffee, and students lucky enough to find a place to sit will usually stay parked for several hours. While it’s not exactly a place to sit down and have a coffee, a lot of socializing goes down on Locust Walk, which is truly the main artery of campus. You’ll inevitably run into people you know on the walk, whether they’re handing out fliers, performing an African rhythms concert, registering voters, or just passing by. Locust is the best place to catch up with someone you haven’t seen in a while; if it’s a sunny day, you can stop to chat and set up a lunch date.
Once the sun goes down or the weekend sets in, Penn students love their dorms and common rooms. Most college houses are either apartment style or supplied with common rooms, where you’ll usually find groups of students studying and hanging out together. Since everyone is notoriously social, there’s usually an imbalance of talking to working. It’s not uncommon to find a boisterous birthday celebration going down in a common room or apartment on any weekend night.
The most popular weekend destination on-campus is the frat scene. While Greeks make up only 30 percent of the student population at Penn, they throw a disproportionate number of the parties, which are usually easy to get into, provided you’re traveling with a fair number of girls. There are around 30 fraternities on campus and most of them love a good party—Thursday and Saturday nights rarely disappoint in the Greek scene.
Located in the City of Brotherly Love, Penn students enjoy the perks of a big city with a history dating back to Colonial times. Philadelphia prides itself on being the birth city of America, with Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross’ House, and more located within walking distance of Penn's campus, giving students easy access to the historical sites.
Penn is only a few blocks from Philadelphia's 30th Street Station, which offers connections to Septa Regional lines and AMTRAK. When it comes to nightlife, students can travel to Old City, Manayunk, or stay close to campus. As Penn students will find, there are plenty of options right in the school’s backyard.
Penn is famous for being located in West Philadelphia, and students make sure to take advantage of the urban surroundings. Thanks to the growth of University City, students spend a lot of time hanging out off-campus. However, that idea is deceptive; shops and hangouts located 'off-campus' are a closer walk for a lot of students than some university buildings. Penn students are more likely to be found in a nearby bar or coffee shop than anywhere else, especially on the weekends.
For partiers looking for an easy weekend hangout, Marbar is a popular destination. Located at 40th and Walnut streets, the bar and grill is right next to most off-campus housing and attracts a lot of upperclassmen who love the bar scene. Below the bar is Marathon restaurant, a great place to take visiting parents or friends out for a nice dinner. And while Marbar usually sneaks its way into the weekend party circuit, nearby Smokey Joe’s holds the title of most popular student bar.
Better known as 'Smokes,' the bar is the scene-of-choice for Penn seniors, who have a pseudo-monopoly on the place and keep it busy all week. Most Penn students will make an inaugural trip as juniors, eventually settling in to the Smokes routine.
After a long night out, whether it be at Smokes or a smattering of frat houses, the average Penn partier will find himself or herself at Allegro’s, University City’s best spot for late-night pizza. While most stops at Allegro’s are forgotten, many students will tell you that a $2 slice of pizza there will cap off a busy night perfectly. If you listen closely to a crowd of freshmen on a weekend night, you’ll usually hear at least one demanding a stop at Allegro’s. In the same vein, McDonald’s deserves an honorable mention for late-night snacking.
When not active on the social scene, Penn students hunker down to study, usually in their café of choice. One of the most popular spots is Bucks County Coffee, located on a strip of great restaurants on 40th street. Bucks stays open until 1 a.m. most nights and caters to a huge number of students living in the area; it’s a popular place to gather a study group or just get a cup of coffee before a marathon reading session.
And while it seems that studying and partying dominate life at Penn, a lot of students find time to sneak in trips to Center City. Penn students love living in Philadelphia, and often hop in a cab or brave the 15 to 20 minute walk to downtown. South Street is popular for its tattoo shops, bars, cheesesteaks, and the famous Condom Kingdom; Rittenhouse Square has some of the best shopping and prettiest views in the city. There’s really no end to exploring Philly, and Penn students with time to spare love enjoying their surroundings.
After the third quarter of every home football game, the Penn students sing “Drink a Highball." At the end of the song, when the students sing “Here’s a toast to dear old Penn” everyone throws actual toast on the field. It is rumored that this tradition started after Prohibition went into effect, since the students were no longer able to toast with alcohol.
At midnight, the night before the first Microeconomics 001 midterm exam, students try to release stress by participating in a collective shout on the Junior Balcony of the Lower Quadrangle.
Spring Fling is an annual festival for the students at the end of each spring semester. “Fling” usually begins on the Friday of the second to last week of the semester and ends that Saturday night. It is known to be the biggest college party in the East Coast, complete with top-notch performing artists, food, and carnival games. Many students also partake in drinking before the event (and during), which is not condoned by the university.
Chuck Bednarik (1949?), former NFL player for the Philadelphia Eagles
William J. Brennan Jr. (1928), former associate justice of the Supreme Court
Warren Buffett (early 1950s), American investor, businessman and philanthropist
Catherine Drew Gilpin Gaust (Ph.D. 1975), first female president of Harvard
William Henry Harrison (never graduated), ninth president of the United States
John Heisman (1891), football player, Heisman Trophy named after him
John Legend (1999), recording artist
Leonard Lauder, co-founder of Estee Lauder, billionaire investor
William S. Paley, Founder of CBS Corporation
Owen Josephus Roberts (1895), former Associate Justice of Supreme Court
Arlen Specter, senior United States Senator from Pennsylvania
Donald Trump (1968), real estate mogul and television personality
The Penn Quakers compete in NCAA’s Ivy League. All of their sports are D-I, except football which is D-I FCS. The most popular team on campus is the men’s basketball team, which was named the Ivy League Champion 22 times. Penn is also a member of Philadelphia’s Big Five, which consists of the five major collegiate basketball programs in the city. Penn has made numerous appearances in the NCAA Tournament, the last of which came in 2007. The Quakers' home court is the Palestra, which has hosted more NCAA Tournament basketball games than any other arena in the country.
Meanwhile Penn’s football team plays at historic Franklin Field. Besides hosting Quaker football games, Franklin Field also hosts the Penn Relays, which is one of the biggest and oldest track and field competitions in the nation.
Penn has had some notable athletes in its history. John Heisman, for whom the Heisman Trophy is named, attended Penn, as did Chuck Bednarik, who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson were Penn’s 2008 Commencement speakers.
Nine signers of the Declaration of Independence (George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin, Francis Hopkinson, Thomas McKean, Robert Morris, William Paca, George Ross, Benjamin Rush, and James Wilson) and 11 signers of the U.S. Constitution (George Clymer, Thomas Fitzsimons, Benjamin Franklin, Jared Ingersoll, Rufus King, Thomas Mifflin, Gouverneur Morris, Robert Morris, George Washington, Hugh Williamson, and James Wilson) are associated with Penn.
With approximately 64 percent of students living in the college houses on campus, Penn offers an array of living possibilities in its Philadelphia location.
Here's how a current describes it:
"At Penn, dorms are known as ‘college houses,' since they all have a lot of social activities and want to get their residents involved. Most freshmen live in either the Quad or Hill. The Quad is the building you'll see on a lot of Penn publications; it's architecturally beautiful, centrally located on campus, and a great place to live. A lot of Penn traditions like Hey Day and Spring Fling happen in the Quad, so you also live in the center of the biggest Penn parties.
"The Quad doesn’t have a lot of hall-based activities, so you may not know all your neighbors. However, you do have the advantage of sharing a building with most of your classmates. Hill House, meanwhile, is known for being incredibly social; people who live in Hill tend to stay close with their hallmates throughout their time at Penn. While Hill boasts tiny rooms and could definitely use a renovation, residents do have easy access to a dining hall on the first floor. Doors to Hill rooms tend to stay open, and students love hanging out in one of four (or more) common rooms on each floor. While some upperclassmen do live in both dorms and some freshmen live in other houses, most first-years divide along Hill-Quad lines. Hill residents are jealous of the Quad, and Quad residents pity friends who live in Hill.
"Most upperclassmen that still live on campus live in one of three high-rises – Rodin, Harrison, and Harnwell. The high-rises have apartment-style rooms, so you're basically living in a university-owned apartment that happens to have a security guard and an RA. Most people love living in the high-rises, but there are two common complaints. First, the elevators are notoriously slow to climb the 20-plus floors of the building. Second, since people move to the high-rises with their friends, there’s no incentive to meet your fellow floormates. Not knowing your next-door neighbor is fairly common after freshman year.
"Penn has four other college houses that don’t quite fit into a category—DuBois, Stouffer, Kings Court, and Gregory. Each has a mix of freshmen and upperclassmen, and residents often choose to stay in one of those dorms for more than one year. DuBois caters to the sizable African-American population on campus; however, I’ve been told white kids live there too. DuBois plays host to some of the best college house events on campus. Stouffer is a popular destination for upperclassmen bumped from the high-rises, but a large number of Stouffer residents come back for multiple years. Kings Court, like Hill, is located on top of a dining hall, and plays host to a mostly freshmen population. Almost half of Kings Court residents are part of residential programs, which cater to academic interests students may want to pursue outside of the classroom with like-minded hallmates. Finally, Gregory hosts a large program in modern languages, making it a culturally and linguistically diverse house; both freshmen and upperclassmen live in Gregory, which tends to be cozy and welcoming."