Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Orange and Apples: Penn

There has long been a debate if Princeton and Penn are truly rivals. Between the geographic closeness, the distinctly different surroundings, and, for many years, the competative basketball teams, these two schools were often discussed together. To help bring this comparison up to date, Maayan Dauber GS, who studied English as an undergraduate at Penn, discusses the two campus' cultures.

I was an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania. Now, I’m a graduate student at Princeton. Backwards, perhaps, because the most apparent difference between the two schools is that Penn is geared toward graduate students, while Princeton is geared toward undergraduates. Penn runs on its professional schools --- the law school, the medical school, nursing, engineering and Wharton. Its resources seem primarily invested in them, and the "college" can sometimes feel like an afterthought. That being said, I was certainly not deprived at Penn. I received a rigorous and sophisticated education in the English department. I loved the faculty, developed lasting relationships and landed the job I was after: becoming a student for life. But throughout, I had to work for it. I had to seek out fellowships and bombard advisers' offices in a way that non-"college" students didn't, and in a way that Princeton students need not.

With no professional schools, Princeton is an institution uniquely dedicated to its undergrads, and if this means that undergraduates have to work harder than they do at other schools --- which it does --- it is only because they are taken so seriously. As a grad student, I see the effects of Princeton’s commitment to its undergrads and even reap some of the benefits as well. It means that as a rule, Princeton hires professors who give and invest everything in their students. And it means, most significantly, that teaching, at every level, is phenomenal. Or to put it another way, advising in general --- from faculty to administrators and academic counselors --- is, in fact, something to write home about. To give just one of many impressive examples: After handing in a term paper, the professor of my seminar not only gave an in-depth written response, but also scheduled individual hour-long meetings with her students to discuss their writing.

Still, I proudly wear my Penn sweatshirt, and so do all of my college friends, because Penn engenders a kind of loyalty and love that is unique, too. There is a certain “school spirit” at Penn that seems unmatched. Basketball and football games are enormously popular, fraternity and sorority life is huge, student council elections take over campus. Students participate in extracurricular life in a real way, and Penn’s large size means that there are a wide variety of options to choose from. What’s more, unlike Princeton, Penn has city life to offer, and while campus can have a kind of centripetal pull, life in “center city” Philadelphia is a wonderful outlet.

Ultimately, it seems to me that undergraduates tend to be happy at whichever college they choose, though making that choice, granted, can feel very pressured. The differences between Penn and Princeton are probably best considered by looking at the kind of college life you’re after: Penn’s unofficial motto goes something like “Work hard, party hard,” and that life can be wildly appealing and even constructive for many people. Princeton tends more toward the “work hard” side of things, and while in retrospect I’d probably land with Princeton, it is only one of many worthwhile experiences available at even the best universities.


Anonymous said...

Food for thought:
Would Princeton's Blog have chosen someone who described Penn as better than Princeton?
Would the vast majority of students that attended Penn undergrad and gone onto Princeton grad say Penn offers a superior experience (maybe not education)? Absolutely.

Here's the real difference. This is what people should be basing their decisions off of. Both schools offer great educations. Let's be honest, Penn focuses more on undergrads than grads (who are outnumbered though barely). Princeton focuses almost entirely on undergrads. But that doesn't mean Penn doesn't have an undergrad focus.
Anyway, the difference:

Princeton is a place where an intellectual can be an intellectual. Where a quirky fun person can be quirky and fun. Where you can lie outside and do homework in peace and quiet.

Penn is a place of excitement and drive. It requires initiative and a creative spirit. Work hard, party hard is a great way to describe it. But party hard doesn't mean getting drunk Wednesday-Saturday (though that it can for sure). It means diving into extracurricular life in a way no other college students do. Walk down Locust Walk during peak hours of the day, and you will know the difference between Penn and Princeton. That is the best way.

Both schools offer totally difference experiences. At Penn, academics is almost peripheral to the growing you do outside of class. At Princeton, the growing is more centered in the classroom. Both are great ways to mature, but will create very different people.

That's my 2 cents!


Penn Guy said...

I see the design of both schools as the best measure of their differences.

Princeton surely has one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. It is serene, secure and physically and psychologically safe. But while hardly boring, the campus always struck me as a creation by adults attempting to replicate what they wished their own youthful experiences had been. (Yale has the same quality to it. Harvard does not.)

Penn's campus is entirely different. It is heavily influenced by Philadelphia's egalitarian grid (Robert Venturi's phrase) which promotes an idiosyncratic "jewel box" assertion of architectural individuality. There are some colossal failures on the Penn campus which would never have been permitted at Princeton. There are also some astounding creations. Many Penn buildings are in open war with each other, such as the oh-so-proper College Hall cowering from the ever-so-violent adjacent Furness Library.

Such tensions give the Penn campus a unique dynamism. Penn is a place where long-ago deceased architects still clamor for your attention and your studied appreciation. Princeton is a place to which every parent and every undergraduate dreamily wishes to be connected. Penn is a place that takes at least a year to understand and then one falls in love in a way that is very private and very difficult to explain to anyone who doesn't get it.

In my opinion, with the possible exception of the question of which has the most important works by Robert Venturi, these two schools don't have enough in common to be in competition. And with respect to Mr. Venturi, I believe he belongs equally to both.

Anonymous said...

"At Penn, academics is almost peripheral to the growing you do outside of class"

-I really don't know what you're talking about here. I went to Penn undergrad and Princeton for my PhD. Penn is a tough school if you're taking tough classes (math, science, econ, Wharton).

I didn't learn much from the west Philly bums sitting on the benches outside the high rises at 40th & Locust.