Philadelphia, PA

What are the academics like at your school?

Least favorite class - MTH 114, multivariate calc. The professor was a visiting professor from Philadelphia Community College who was fired the next semester for doing such a terrible job. Favorite class - Hard to say. I've had lots that were good. FNCE 101, Monetary Economics and the Global Economy, might be the most impressive one. Extraordinarily well taught by Nicholas Souleles, stimulating, and practical. How often do students study? - One semester I took 6 courses. This meant I had many days when I woke up, started working, took breaks for food/shower/etc., and kept working until I fell asleep. Not all semesters are that intense and not all students take 6 classes. I'm taking 4.5 now and it's much easier, but I still study 6 days a week. Are students competitive? - Yes, overall. Some people are tools and take competition to an extreme and are always trying to ask smart-sounding questions in class. Most students do not enjoy this toolishness. What's the most unique class I've taken? - MGMT 209, Political Environment of the Multinational Firm, is a valuable class at the intersection of business and politics. About my major/department - http://www.upenn.edu/huntsman/curriculum/index.html Our program's website is a mess, but here's the info. Huntsman is a joint-degree program run by the College and Wharton. You get something of a liberal arts education but you also get the job-market power of Wharton, which is a nice combination. Do I spend time with professors outside class? - Yes. Note that Penn has more than one institutional framework that facilitates students joining faculty for free lunches. How do I feel about Penn's academic requirements? - They're generally not bad. Is the education at Penn geared toward getting a job, or toward learning for its own sake? - It depends on the student, but Penn does have a stronger vocational tilt than the other Ivies.

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Academics truly are a hallmark of the UPenn community, and they are almost universally strong across disciplines. Classes can be seminar-style (quite small and discussion-based), lecture (big class with little to no discussion) or a hybrid (i.e. a small lecture that incorporates some discussion. You will, as in most places, have some big introductory classes, but many also require a smaller recitation that can help facilitate some student interaction. Seminar classes facilitate more engagement, and it can seem easy to be lost in a big lecture, so you will need to be proactive. For bigger classes you will likely need to make an effort to get to know professors--going to their office hours for example--but many are very welcoming. Smaller class sizes will usually ensure the professor knows your name and face, but it can never hurt to ask them questions and see them, especially when you need recommendations for jobs or programs. Some are more friendly and accommodating than others, but the good ones are worth holding on to. There is not generally a cutthroat atmosphere in academics, but many students (especially business students) feel a lot of pressure and can be competitive with one another. However, many students gather for study groups before exams which can be extremely helpful and more enjoyable than studying alone. The vast majority of Penn students take academics very seriously--while they like their fun, during exam time the party scene basically freezes. Intellectual conversations outside of class are very common, but it depends person to person of course. You might see some students watching Jersey Shore after studying neuroscience, or without--despite the Ivy image, Penn isn't always that highbrow.

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The professors here are amazing. Most of my classes have had less than 20 students and almost every professor I have had knows my name and stops to say hi when I see them outside class. My favorite classes have been the small seminars (which is about 80% of the classes I have taken). I took a writing seminar freshman year titled 'Beastly Visions and Talking Creatures,' which is my favorite class to date. It was basically an animal rights class disguised as an English class and the teacher was an eccentric woman that reminded me of Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus. She took us to local restaurants and farmers markets that advocated free-range and fair treatment of animals (translation- free delicious food and a class for a good cause). My least favorite class was one of the intro classes for the Communication major (awful professor) and a geology class (I am not a fan of the general requirement at Penn, although they did reform the requirements starting with the class 2 years behind me). The students here are amazingly intelligent, and it is not rare to be engaged in intellectual conversations outside class. While they are competitive, in the College this is not as noticeable as it is in Wharton where the curves are stronger. The education in the College (liberal arts) is very theoretically based. It is academia for learnings sake. Very little of what I have learned has practical application for getting a job. The other 3 schools within Penn- Engineering, Nursing, Wharton Business School, take a much more practical approach to education. Wharton students practically have jobs handed to them when they graduate.

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Professors can really go either way. The classes here range between huge lectures to tiny seminars. But, I've noticed that in medium-sized lectures (around 50-70 people), professors often require you to put a name tag on your desk so that they familiarize themselves with your name. And there are definitely professors who know everyone's name by the end of the semester. My favorite class here at Penn has been The Business of the Sports Industry. I don't particularly want to go into sports (although I might after this class), but I loved the way that the professor brought everything back to what we learn in our basic Wharton classes. He basically showed us that sport franchises are like any other business. It was really cool. I would say that most people at Penn have a very healthy work ethic - otherwise, how would they have gotten in? People are always at the library, or in coffee shops working. Still, we know how to let loose and have fun and I love that balance here. My two majors are Marketing and Retailing. I love that they're off the beaten path (most everyone in Wharton majors in Finance) and that they're more subjective, and not just number-based. It really allows me to think critically and think outside of the box. There's one professor that I spend time with out of class - he was my Econ 101 professor freshman year and I almost failed. Since then, we have been really close and he has become my mentor. We have lunch at least once a month to check in.

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You have to make an effort to get professors to know your name. My favorite class was through the graduate school of government - Fels. It was called "Women Leaders and Emerging Democracies" and was taught by former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies (her son is dating Chelsea Clinton). The class was very hands-on and we heard a lot of wonderful guest speakers. Students study a reasonable amount. In class participation is an important part of classes Some Penn students have intellectual conversations out of class. Others just gossip. And others just talk about summer internships and investment banks (cough cough, Wharton) Students are very competitive. Especially pre-meds and Wharton kids. Most unique class - Community Based Environmental Health. We learned about health risks and the developed a plan to fix an environmental health problem in West Philly. My major is Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). It's an interdisciplinary major based off of the Oxford major by the same name. And Harvard has the same program but they call it Social Studies. It was Bill Clinton's major. I LOVE PPE. It teaches you liberal arts combined with practical real-life skills You have to make an effort to see professors outside class. The academic requirements are good, except there are too many science requirements (especially for non-science majors). Wharton is geared toward getting a job. The other schools are geared towards learning.

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Only in my smaller seminar classes do my professors know my name and my interests. These have actually been some of my favorite classes (English classes), because I can discuss my academic interests on a more personal basis with my professors, which all in all makes me more excited to learn. My worst classes have been math and science classes where we have problem-set type homeworks every week for recitation. Students study a lot! People are very competitive academically, but that doesn't mean they don't have intellectual passions outside of class that don't count for a grade. Once you get to upper level seminar classes in your major people get very excited to learn for the sake of learning. The english major, for example, definitely has a lot of passionate majors. I think it's partly the professors that foster this enthusiasm. I used to be a psych major, but switched because the psych professors were only there for their research. I felt like the English dept professors really cared about their students, and wanted to help them in any way they can. I have had many conversation with English profs about things outside their class, over coffee or walking through campus. As in english major I'm definitely learning for its own sake rather than for a job, but I know a lot of Wharten students and even econ and polisci students who are gearing up for a job.

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The academics at Penn are intense. I think the most competitive students are studying pre-med, because all of the introductory science courses are designed to be extremely difficult to weed out students who "can't handle" medical school. Penn tends to advertise that it has an "open curriculum", and compared to other schools, that may be true. However, I generally found that to be misleading. There are thirteen general requirements, and many times it is difficult to find a course that both fulfills a requirement and suits your academic interests. Penn is known for being very pre-professional. This is evident in the rigorous On Campus Recruitment process, and it's generally high success rate. Also, a great thing about Penn is that all of the graduate schools are on campus, so it's easy to interact with graduate students, and there's a very professional atmosphere. In my experience, the Chinese department has been exceptional. The classes are small (usually around 12-18 students) and the teachers are very attentive. They will always respond to your emailed questions as soon as possible. The workload is pretty heavy, which is understandable, but it's worth it because you learn a lot. And they're always willing to interact with you outside of class. My teacher even took my class to get Chinese food one night.

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With so many different paths of study to choose from, the peer competition widely varies. The Wharton School, beginning with the required Management 100 for Freshmen, is especially cutthroat. Many large introductory courses (notoriously Math and Economics) are also viciously curved. However, you can easily choose to sit back and observe your peers claw their way up to the top while you take one of the countless classes that foster discussion-based learning. At a research university as well-endowed as Penn, you can shape your own education to be whatever you want it to be. In the College of Arts & Sciences, the general requirements are, well, general—you have plenty options across various departments available to fulfill a requirement so that you never have to take math to fulfill the “math” requirement. If you want to be taught by full-time professors, you will be. If you want to be taught by a world-renowned professor, you will be, even in your freshmen year. Especially with the recent advent of the Freshmen Seminars, top faculty often teach freshmen in their areas of specialty. I took five classes my first semester as a freshmen, and the largest class I had was 16 students.

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As with any middle to large University, there are some large lecture classes. Introduction classes in Economics, Psychology, and Calculus can get up to 200 students. But all lectures ahve small recitation where once a week you meet in a group of about 15 to discuss the lecture and ask questions. All the professors and recitation leaders are available through office hours and before and after class to help you - they want to you to succeed. Most of the grades in most of the classes are normalized, but there is some competition to be above the average. Grades are most competitive in Wharton (the business school). Penn does have quite a few requirements, but most of them you can fill with classes you'd take anyway. They are distribution requirements, meaning a subject you can satisfy with one of twenty or so classes. The professors I've had have been very good and knowledgeable in their topics. Although they are some of the best in their fields, they have been willing to discuss with me after class or schedule a meeting with me. The only time I've had trouble with a teacher is in recitation, where many of the grad student teachers speak limited english.

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Get through introductory courses as fast as you can. If you're in the College, upper level classes are really amazing, especially in the history political science departments. There are a ton of courses with alternative formats. For instance, I had a class that met 6-9 on Wednesday nights and had field trips a couple times during the semester to visit the organizations we were studying. We ended up at the District Attorney's office the last week of school. There are classes that are geared entirely around designing a mural with the community in West Philly and then painting it. Architecture classes also have a really strong practical component. There's even one political science class about incarceration that meets each week at a local jail (students take a Penn van there and back) and is made up an equal number of Penn students and inmates. The list definitely goes on.

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