When I first entered the University of Pennsylvania as a naive and hopeful freshman, I quickly noticed the sheer amount of talent that I was surrounded by. Penn students are academically oriented and high performing, but they are no less successful in their endeavors outside of the classroom. In high school, Penn students held several club leadership positions, sang in the best acapella groups, or participated in athletics at the highest level— more commonly all three of these involvements. It is only natural for the excitement surrounding and emphasis on extracurricular involvement at Penn to be as strong as it is. It can be intimidating to join organizations, especially those with rigorous recruitment processes, and understandably so; however, it is important to remember that most, if not all, incoming students share these feelings and there are ways to navigate the club process.
One of my friends described her club recruitment experience during her fall semester, mentioning that she came in with a deep and genuine interest to explore a professionally oriented club alongside one that catered to her personal interests. After attending countless information sessions for the first few weeks of September, she applied to all of the social impact consulting clubs that Wharton offered, including Social Impact Consulting, 180 Degree Consulting, Penn International Impact Consulting, MUSE Social Impact Practice, and Wharton Undergraduate Consulting Club. She moved on to the first interview round for two of these organizations, the second round for one club, and the third round for none. She described her disappointment, stating that she understood that, realistically, not everyone could be accepted, but she still felt discouraged from exploring a genuine interest.
The extreme selectivity of these pre-professional organizations is partially warranted, for the clients and consequent project work available are not unlimited. Nonetheless, for other students who hope to gain this experience, the rejection from the chance to explore interests can be incredibly disheartening. Persistence is key in these situations, as is the ability to recognize that the opportunities at a school like Penn are endless. If you truly wish to be a part of one specific club, there are many more semesters in which you can try again. If not, extending your reach to other campus groups, even those activities in which you are not necessarily already comfortable, can be rewarding.
Of course, other students view the purpose of extracurricular involvements— both pre-professional and otherwise— at Penn as being largely social. One of my friends mentioned that the social aspect of her main extracurricular involvement, Intercol, is incredibly valuable to her; she explained that the BYOs, parties, casual hangouts, and dinners that she has attended with members of this competitive Model UN team. Clubs are great ways to meet people who share similar interests, but it is important to remember that the “social” experience of the “social ivy” also includes Greek life, cultural organizations, and simply and quite naturally making friends. In my experience, there is no set formula for experiencing the social ivy; instead, finding your own niche— and, as a result, finding “your people”— through a variety of avenues allows you to explore, experiment, and genuinely experience.
So, to all those who have felt excluded at times; to those who have felt disengaged; to those who felt out of place; and to those who have felt as though everyone else was just doing more than you, understand that Penn is a whole new ball game, and it takes everyone— even those who appear to be the most in the know— time and experience to find their place. One year into my Penn experience, I can confidently say that I have; trust me when I assure you, you will.
By Isha Thapar (W ’22)