Penn's brochures would have you believe that starting freshman year is like walking onto the set of some combination of "Good Will Hunting," "The Social Network," and "A Beautiful Mind." For many, disenchantment sets in as the classes are more boring and the people less thrilling than advertised. In the end, 97.3% of Penn's freshman stay onboard, accepting these as inevitable facets of a stressful college life. But the remainder just can't shake that disenchantment - roughly 30 students leave Penn every year, for various reasons. Below are 5 of their stories. [*Some of their names have been changed to preserve anonymity].
Wharton wasn’t what Darren Eggert had expected when he arrived at Penn — he found the curriculum dull. “It didn’t have the kind of pedagogical self–reflexivity that is incumbent upon a liberal education,” he says. Eggert was in awe that Wharton allowed students to graduate as subpar writers and didn’t necessarily require them to read books. The intellectualism Eggert so desperately sought was shot to the ground by a pre–professional ethos.
According to Eggert, one has few choices but to buy into the Wharton discourse. Eggert couldn’t get comfortable with Wharton's morals, or lack thereof. He was uncomfortable being taught that the logic of hiring and firing was reducible to cost–benefit analysis. The ostentatious lifestyles of the pupils and graduates became other contributing factors in his disillusionment with Wharton and Penn. As Eggert grew more critical, he came to believe that there was no such thing as a self–skeptical Whartonite. He found the entire school to be nonsensical, filled with corporate buzz–words and without the academic milieu he had originally anticipated.
Eggert was also discouraged by how the Wharton mentality bled into the social life on campus. He thought that the Greek system in particular fostered an atmosphere of exclusivity, status and rank. He felt that frat life really did nothing for a person. “The kind of relationship you have in a frat is fake. It doesn’t move you, it doesn’t encourage you to grow, it’s just vapid,” he says. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t just hang out with whoever he wanted. Eggert found fraternity life to be anti–intellectual, and that it put up barriers to students’ empathetic development. He was frustrated that one either had to buy into Greek life or feel lonely.
Additionally, Penn’s spatial layout made it hard for Eggert to bring together his disparate friendships. A lack of congregational space (other than Greek houses) made Penn feel “centrifugal and disperse.” After being out of the social scene for awhile, Eggert decided he needed to transfer.
Now at Brown, Eggert is an independent concentrator in Political Theory. He’s pleased with the less stressful atmosphere. He admits his new home is definitely less glamourous, and that he misses Philadelphia and its music scene. Brown, however, has provided a new home for Eggert’s rampant intellectualism — one that allows him to pursue his academic and social interests free of the Wharton/Greek ethos.
A San Diego native, Alissa Arnold never anticipated the kind of elitist socializing she’d encounter on Penn’s campus. Arnold discovered within months that she definitely didn’t click with anyone here. The stereotype of a harsh East Coast personality was realized in the immature, inconsiderate girls she met — the kind she “wouldn’t even want to network with.”
Even the Greek system proved a major disappointment for Arnold. She was angered that pre–formed groups were already set up on campus. “Everyone’s dad worked for Goldman Sachs and everyone had been to the same Jewish summer camp in Maine,” she says.
Arnold also found that Penn’s faux–“Ivy League Prestige” was not reflective of the quality of school. She was disappointed by the teaching and campus community, but the lack of pride for Penn sports frustrated her the most. “Sweatshirt schools are your ideal college experience, but there really wasn’t pride aside from the name,” she says. She concluded that people were only proud to go to Penn because it was an Ivy.
Missing the SoCal sun and disillusioned with Penn, Arnold transferred to USC. She’s elated by the change, having found the people much more considerate and sociable. “People out here are more willing to talk to you and help you out. At Penn it was every man for himself. If you’re struggling in class, ‘I’m not going to help you.’ Common courtesies don’t exist. People are in their own world,” she says.
Now, Arnold feels she’s more academically challenged. She feels she’s receiving more individual attention and is gaining internship opportunities in the field she’s interested in, entertainment.
Particularly exciting for her is the change in appearance of her fellow students. “Penn is one of the least attractive campuses I’ve ever seen in my entire life. To be an unattractive person and have a bad personality, what the hell do you have going on for you?” she wonders. On the whole, Arnold found Penn girls exceptionally unattractive and the males only slightly better.
Catherine Osmond isn’t practical. She’s not a networker, a hand–shaker, a pre–professional type. Yet, that’s exactly what Osmond found Penn asking her to be. She saw other students defining themselves in relation to Wharton, thinking things like “I’m an artist and I am not a Wharton person.” Osmond soon realized campus life permitted only one type of being. She, however, couldn’t understand why the archetype of investment banker had to loom in everyone’s mind.
She also found herself bogged down by the intensity of the Penn community and frustrated with the tribe mentality on campus. “When people found out what I was involved in I could see the cogs turning in their head and categorizing me,” she said.
Osmond was ready for somewhere that could offer her more academic sovereignty — somewhere that allowed her to pursue her interests just for the sake of pursuing them. Brown University became a new artistic home for her. She’s content learning whatever she wants to learn and seeing others’ enthusiasm for their own classes.
True to her character, Osmond’s transfer was fueled by a tinge of caprice. “The same reason people our age get tattoos, or do other crazy things, that same energy motivated my transfer to some extent. Not that I regret it, I just kind of had to do something,” she says. This was the time in her life, she decided, to be unrealistic and dream. Osmond found Brown to be the perfect place to do just that.
Tess Rinearson lived the life of a typical, social student her freshman year. It wasn’t long, however, before she found herself in a twisted, love–hate relationship with the omnipresence of Penn’s social life. Rinearson had to face the facts — she had come here to study and really wasn’t achieving her academic goals.
At the end of her freshman year, she decided to transfer to Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science. Unlike Penn, where “business came first culturally,” Carnegie Mellon boasted major support for her chosen interest range, and didn't have the distractions of an intense social life.
“Work hard, work hard” is the motto at her new school. This change in work structure was exactly what Rinearson was looking for and, she admits, what she needed. Instead of wasting four years, Rinearson was ready to “need to work hard” while an undergrad.
The transition hasn’t been easy. Rinearson misses Penn’s sense of community (particularly among Computer Science majors). For example, she misses when “our computer science student group would hold social events as well as academically focused things.” Additionally, the curriculum change has placed Rinearson in several freshman classes, which she’s actually found more rigorous than those at Penn.
Rinearson is pleased with her progress and has few regrets. “I feel like I’ve learned more in the past two months than I did in two semesters and that’s really meaningful,” she says.
Jerome Vivino thought he’d found the perfect combination at Penn. By mixing music and business, Vivino was going to be able to pursue two things that really interested him. It wasn’t long before he realized something wasn’t working. “Wharton was not the deal at all,” he says. Vivino didn’t connect with his studies, and found himself ditching class to write songs in his room. “I couldn’t force the material down my throat and I didn’t want that to affect my future,” he says.
Vivino finally decided to transfer to the College as a second–semester sophomore. He shut his business books, wrote a song called “Peace Out Wharton” and hoped for the best. Once again, Vivino didn’t get exactly what he anticipated. The music program at Penn was feeding him Beethoven instead of Dylan, Mozart instead of Marley. Vivino knew he wasn’t looking for a classical music education, and Penn wasn’t a great environment for an aspiring rock star.
That’s why he chose Berklee College of Music. “I needed to get the best education to become the best guitarist possible,” he says. After a semester off, Vivino applied with fingers crossed. He was accepted and, after a summer session of classes, was set to jam with the best.
Vivino would currently be a senior at Penn, but credits–wise he’s still a freshman at Berklee. The age difference doesn't matter to him and neither do the 60 hours of practice classes a week, for that matter. He’s doing what he loves and for him, that’s enough.