Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Penn Is a Must

Right when Mr. Mannix arrived at the lobby, we were greeted by breakfast care packages he prepared the night before. He's done a wonderful job of catering to our needs as our "dad". Once again, we were given the job of paying and tipping taxi drivers for the day. Once we arrived at Amtrak, I saw hundreds of people inside the Amtrak station during the wee hours of the morning. 

Amtrak station in Philadelphia
Our gate had dozens of commuters and travelers. Needless to say, people were ready to get to work while others resumed their travels. Surprisingly enough, people are able to work in cities different from the state in which they live in because of how close East Coast states are to each other. With California's geography, we're not as lucky to experience different states as often as people are on the East Coast. And because of its close vicinity, I passed through several states in just a couple hours. I wish I could say the same thing about living in California. Still, both sides of the country have a unique identity that makes them pleasurable. Although I'm starting to get used to the humidity, I long for the Bay Area breeze. And with the Bay Area, I long for the East Coast's colonial style architecture. Rather than demolish traditional buildings, they make an effort to preserve buildings like their Amtrak stations. 

Our visit to the University of Pennsylvania, also known as UPenn, was nothing short of amazing. With Dyana So on our side, nothing could get any better. It was a great start to the beginning of our college tour. Since Dyana came from the same high school and was involved in the Ivy League Connection during her high school career, she was able to talk to us from both a professional and personal standpoint. She was delightful throughout the whole tour. Dyana put her own spin on the tour, making it livelier. Her personality makes her an easy candidate for talking to people. Because of her superb public speaking skills, Dyana gives possible applicants a detailed walk through campus while putting her spin on it.

UPenn has certainly evolved throughout the years as America's first university. This past year, 31,000 students applied with only 2,400 spots. You can expect their applicant pool to be fierce, where more than 14% of its students are from places outside the United States. During the information session after the tour, some people came from as far as Shanghai and Tanzania. With such a great university like UPenn, it's no wonder why it's so competitive to get accepted.

There, we learned more about the university. Its colleges are the heart and soul of what makes UPenn special. Because of their commitment to liberal arts, there are opportunities to take theory into practice. Students are given the training that properly prepares them for their future endeavors. Nurses from UPenn for example, are offered one of the highest earning salaries right from the moment they graduate. And it's because of the special attention UPenn offers to its students.

One thing that makes UPenn unique is the fact that they have a no-loan financial aid package. That's because they offer other ways to meet your financial needs, without placing a financial burden on students upon graduating. Although a private university's cost of attendance is daunting, it's totally feasible. As one of the few colleges I know who do this, it drew me closer to putting UPenn on my short list of colleges I plan on applying to. By agreeing to meet every dollar of a family's demonstrated need, students can graduate debt free. An outrageous thought to some, UPenn is proof that dreams can become a reality.

In addition to their fantastic financial aid policy, they offer Dual Degree programs. Students are able to graduate with two degrees within four to five years. Although competitive and adding to a student's workload, the option is available for ambitious students. With nine options, undergraduates have a wide range of options if choosing to do so. And while exploring your options, switching majors isn't as hard as it looks. Students aren't required to declare their major until the end of their sophomore year.

What surprised me most was that UPenn is in an urban city, yet has the feeling of being a closed campus. At the University of Pennsylvania, they offer the best of both worlds. You can walk one way and feel like you're in the city yet walk the other way and be back in the suburbs almost. For people who have a fear of living in urban areas, UPenn is your exception. It beats all odds. I wasn't sure I'd like going to school in such a busy city like Philadelphia, but I surprisingly didn't mind its location. In fact, UPenn makes me rethink the idea of crossing urban cities off my list. And with security like theirs, there's no need to worry about big city crime. With more than 100 individuals on duty, students can learn under a safe environment.

The last half of the information session was going over the application process. One thing they couldn't stress enough wasn't highlighting a high level of talent, but the reason behind why you do it. You could be the best in anything, but without the why, it loses its meaning. From what I gathered, applying for the sake of applying isn't enough. With so many strong applicants in their academics, students have to stand out from the crowd. And to do so, they look at your interests, and the quality of your involvement. The common application can either make or break you, but being able to write skillfully can propel you forward.

Information about the Application Process:
  1. Students apply through the Common Application.
  2. Transcripts are vital to your application. But your GPA isn't everything; they want to see students use the resources available to them by their school with an upward trajectory.
  3. For testing, you can either use the ACT with writing or the SAT with two subject tests
  4. If you choose to send your SAT scores, UPenn super scores it, meaning they take the highest scores of each section.
  5. There are two essays that must be filled out. Remember, you're in total control. Remember to highlight why UPenn is for you, and not any other college. What makes this college a better fit for you than another school?
  6. Included, there must be two letters of recommendations by teachers who you've had during your high school career and one letter from your guidance counselor. These are very important, and should highlight your involvement in both your school AND community
  7. Students are given the opportunity to send one more supplemental letter of recommendation from outside school.

Once we finished our info session, we briskly walked to catch up with Dyana and Mr. Ramsey at Distrito, a modern Mexican restaurant owned by the Iron Chef Alton Brown seen on the Food Network channel. I had no idea what I ordered, but it turned out to be pleasurable to my taste buds. However, the food wasn't as important as the company. Talking with Dyana for the day, I was able to extract a lot of key points. For people who fear leaving their families, home isn't a destination. Home is a feeling, it doesn't necessarily need to be your hometown, but the people you feel closest to. For Dyana, she found "home" to be in her Japanese martial arts team.
Eating lunch next to our lovely tour guide, Dyana So
Seeing her work hard during the two years I attended high school with her, she's a source of inspiration for all. She along with former ambassadors of the Ivy League Connection, are living proof that not having resources readily available shouldn't be an excuse. Being proactive is crucial. So instead of making excuses, using your time to reach out and seeking out opportunities is more rewarding. Without drive and ambition, the only person getting in the way of your success is you. Even though Dyana's first year of college, it seemed like she was involved in UPenn for a couple years. We found that finding balance between academics and your social life is also important. But she reassured us that regardless of where you choose to go for college, it's inevitable for your first year to be transitioning into adulthood and newfound independence.

Overall, our first college visit was quite productive. It has propelled me to further look into universities I would have otherwise overlooked. This trip has begun opening my eyes each and everyday. I can't wait until we venture off into tomorrow's itinerary.  Now that the Fourth of July is underway, I can't wait to experience it from our nation's capital. I can't imagine a better way to celebrate Independence Day than in Washington D.C.


  1. Actually owned by Jose Garces :)

  2. The more I’m exposed to Dyana So the more I think she cannot possibly come from this Earth--she’s just too perfect. She has been such a godsend for our community. I wish there was something we could do for her to show our appreciation. We’ll have to think hard and find some way of showing her just how appreciated she is.