University of Pennsylvania
BackgroundInterview Date:May 2019
Gender Identity: Female
Race/Ethnicity: East Asian
Graduation Year: 2021
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
High School Experience: Public high school in Southern California with a graduating class of about 900 students. There was a culture of going to college, but it wasn’t as academically competitive as a lot of other high schools in the area.
First Generation College Student: No
Major: Digital Media Design – it’s a combination of Computer Science and Design
Minor: Fine Arts
Extracurricular Activities: I’m a teaching assistant for a computer science class, I’m in an engineering sorority, and I’m in the Computer Science Society.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience? In what ways?
Being a teaching assistant is probably one of my favorite things about being at Penn because I found out I really like teaching and helping others and it made me enjoy Computer Science more.
Can you describe your weekly coursework for your major?
I mostly have weekly homework assignments for my Computer Science classes or Fine Arts assignments. I usually take two Computer Science classes per semester and that takes up the majority of my time. The Fine Arts assignments require studio time. How much the weekly projects affect your grade differs for each class. For one of my classes, half of my grade is based off of assignments and then for another, 80% is based on exams.
Is there anything that you feel your major’s department does especially well or poorly?
For Computer Science, I really appreciate the TA’s because they are really helpful in terms of helping you understand the material and your homework. I rely on the TA’s more so than the professors.
How accessible are your professors?
I contact my TA’s more just because, personally, I’m kind of intimidated by professors. My freshman year I had a really good experience with a Physics professor. There aren’t a lot of TA’s in Physics, so I just went to my professor’s office hours every week and he was super helpful and really made sure I understand the material.
How would you describe the learning environment? Is it particularly competitive or collaborative?
It’s more collaborative in Computer Science courses because everybody is struggling so we’re all trying to help each other out. I know there are classes at Penn that are more competitive, but the classes I’ve taken are more collaborative.
What has been your favorite class you’ve taken for your major?
Computer Science 120, it’s the second intro-level Computer Science class. There are a lot of fun projects that make learning the material more fun. You build things like a photo editor or a chat server and it’s really rewarding to finish those projects.
Why did you pick your majors? Are you happy with your choice?
Yes, I am happy with my choice. I chose my major because I really like art and design but my parents weren’t too happy about me only doing art or design, so integrating that with Computer Science is really interesting. Right now, I think I like computer science more than art, so I’m very happy.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Hill College House with one roommate
Sophomore: New College House in a suite with five other roommates and we each have our own bedrooms.
How was transitioning from Southern California to Philadelphia, PA?
It was really different because I’m from more of a suburban area and the city seems a bit more hectic. The biggest difference is the weather. I’ve realized that the weather has a big impact on your mood, so the fact that it’s usually pretty cold and gloomy for the majority of the school year was not what I expected. I visited Penn on the brightest and most beautiful day and I didn’t anticipate it.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
I mostly stay on campus and even when I do go farther off campus I go with a large group of friends so I always feel safe. I always feel safe when I’m on campus even at 3AM or something just because it’s on campus. I wouldn’t feel as safe if I was walking alone on the sidewalk somewhere. I don’t think I’ve experienced anything where I’ve felt I wasn’t safe, but there are definitely some people in Philadelphia that I try to avoid.
Pros and cons of being located in the University City neighborhood of Philadelphia, PA?
1) I like that it’s not directly in the city because I don’t like hectic areas but it’s really convenient to go to Center City if I want to.
1) The gloomy weather.
What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you like to participate in?
Freshman year I was still adjusting and I mostly went to frat parties with friends. They were fun because they were new to me, but now that the novelty has worn off, I don’t think they’re that fun. This year, now that I’ve found my friend group and community, I like to go to Center City and do karaoke or go to restaurants. I tend to go out on Friday or Saturday.
What are some of your favorite events to go to on campus?
I really like going to the dance shows because my roommate is part of two dance teams and I think it’s really fun to go out with all of our friends to support her. Also, my friends and I go to the movie theater pretty often. It’s pretty close and convenient to go to.
What is the impact of Greek life on nightlife?
Greek life is pretty big at Penn. Before coming to Penn, I never thought I would be in a sorority, but I feel like a lot of people are part of Greek life here. Not that it pressured me in a bad way, I just feel that did contribute to me rushing. In terms of nightlife, they throw a lot of parties that people go to but I don’t participate in anymore. [About 27% of undergraduates are involved in Greek life.]
How happy are you with the weekend options? Is there anything you would change if you could?
I think I’m pretty happy with how things are. I feel like Penn doesn’t really encourage students to go off-campus, it’s more upperclassmen telling you to get out of the Penn bubble and go to Center City. People mostly take Uber or Lyft to Center City, but I know that there are Penn buses but it seems like nobody knows how to use them. I wish that was clearer.
How did you meet your closest friends?
My closest friends right now were on my freshman hall. Hill College House was really social because all the rooms were really small so that forced people to not stay in the room and socialize with their hall, which I guess is a good way to do that. We’re still really close. All five people I roomed with my sophomore year were on my hall freshman year. I’m also pretty close to a lot of the girls in my engineering sorority and also the people I TA with. I’m friends with more people from organizations than my classes.
How would you describe the overall social scene at Penn?
At Penn, I do think that a lot of people’s social life comes from clubs and organizations. The unfortunate thing is that most clubs and organizations are competitive to get into. Coming in as a freshman, if you don’t get accepted to any of the clubs you apply for, you feel kind of left out. Not that you can’t make friends in other ways, but that is a big part of the social scene. I wish I tried to join more things my freshman year rather than getting discouraged from getting rejected from clubs because I now know that everybody gets rejected from clubs and it’s not a reflection of me.
To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
I feel like most social groups are very diverse and there is a lot of mixing. It’s common for me to see diverse groups of friends.
How would you describe the East Asian community on campus? How strong is it?
The only thing I’m a part of is the Chinese Student Association, but I just go to events that have free food [laughs]. It’s a good way to meet new people who have the same background as you and, in a way, it’s easier to find friends that way because you know you have something in common with them.
To what extent do people in Greek life and not in Greek life mix socially?
Most of my friends that I didn’t meet through my sorority aren’t part of Greek life. My freshman year I didn’t know a lot of people that were part of Greek life, but this year I know more people because I joined an engineering sorority.
How do you like the size of Penn in terms of undergraduate enrollment? How has that impacted your experience? [Penn has about 10,600 undergraduates.]
I really like it. I like going to a school where every day there are people who I don’t know and people that I’m meeting. By the end of high school, I knew everyone in my grade and knew people in the surrounding grades and I didn’t really like that, I like always being able to meet new people. I like that Penn is large and you’re always meeting people.
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
I was mostly finding connections through friends rather than going onto the website to specifically surf for alumni. It’s more like I’ll be talking to a friend and they’ll tell me about their friend who graduated last year was also interested in the same types of internships as you, let me give you her email.
To what extent have you used the career office? How helpful have they been?
I have used them only to look over my resume. I don’t really rely on them that much, I get by more on advice from friends and upperclassmen because I find it difficult to book appointments and find the right time to go talk to someone there.
Have you learned any computer programs or languages through your coursework that will be helpful to you professionally?
I took a digital foundations class my freshman year that introduced me to the Adobe Suite, but it was much more of a foundation class. Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out Photoshop and Illustrator more on my own. I’ve learned Java, OCaml, and C. It’s just one class that teaches OCaml.
Have you used financial aid? If so, how easy are they to work with?
I recently just had a lot of difficulties with financial aid this year. Every time I would call or check in with them I would talk to a different person and they would tell me different things. It was pretty inconsistent which was annoying. In general, they’re always willing to help you sort things out. I haven’t had to go to the financial aid office and have been able to do everything by phone, which has been pretty nice.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Penn before you entered as a freshman?
I wish that I knew it was really normal to get rejected from clubs and stuff like that because my freshman year I got rejected from the first clubs I applied for and I got really discouraged and gave up. I feel like if I kept applying and then got into some more clubs maybe I’d have a better social life my freshman year.
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
I don’t know if this is something a student who is visiting can see, but I really like the fun traditions that Penn has like Hey Day or when they throw toast on the football field. I feel like random things like that really bring everyone at Penn together.
Reasons to attend Penn:
1) The people at Penn are super supportive of each other. Everyone that I’ve talked to have been helpful. It’s more so in engineering, but everyone wants to help each other succeed and I really like that vibe.
2) You’re so close to Center City and you can get away from Penn easily if you want, even if you want to get away to study. It’s really nice to have the option to go somewhere new so you’re not at the same place every day.
3) The TA’s and professors, at least in engineering, are super helpful. It’s really contributed to me liking my major more.
Reasons to not attend Penn:
1) My freshman year I was really sick of the meal plan and I thought the dining hall was pretty bad. Also, because I’m a vegetarian, they didn’t have a lot of options.
2) I don’t like how the clubs and organizations are competitive to get into. I also think it’s unnecessary because even the more fun things to do, like dance teams, are competitive and it doesn’t give people the opportunity to branch out because it requires applications and auditions and stuff like that.
3) It’s pretty cold and gloomy for most of the year.