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.