A month at UPenn - what happened, and what's next.

Personal UpdateUPenn

NSO Week

UPenn likes to kick school off with something called New Student Orientation (NSO) week. It's a week of mandatory (and boring) activities on safety and whatnot in the afternoons, and some fun events and parties later at night to help new students get to know each other and the school.

I'm not going to lie, I didn't really enjoy NSO week.

If you're a big fan of huge parties and alcohol, I'm sure you will have a blast.

But I'm not a fan of either, so those events didn't really appeal to me. And though I did meet a lot of cool people, it was all a blur of saying "hello, what's your name and major?" so by the end, nobody really knew each other. I've honestly repeated "Maxx, Bioengineering" at least a hundred times.

But I did meet a few people who I'm best friends with today. I'll forever remember our 4am movie nights and badminton days.

"Your Name" Movie Night at 4AM!

Long Day of Badminton.

Dorm & Food

I'm going to keep this section short.

  1. If you're outgoing, enjoy parties, and is fine with sort-of outdated facilities, take the Quad.

  2. If you're more introverted and want nicer rooms, take Hill or Lauder (if it's still open to 1st years).

  3. Stouffer has a great dorm community but isolated from everything else.

  4. KCECH has the best food and rooms, but it's a bit far from everything else.

I'm in Hill, and I love it.

It's super close to the engineering classes, and decently quiet. Some floors have a great community, and I always hang out in this lounge with my friends. And even though a lot of people say Hill dorms are small, it's big enough. Trust me on this - it's small compared to my room but totally cozy and modern.

Cozy Hill Dorm Room.

Hill food is also pretty good. Coming from NYC, I was worried about the food but it isn't that bad. Yeah, some days its actually horrible, but there's always KCECH or nearby restaurants to go to if you want.

Hill food.

Eating out with friends.


Now, classes. It's an Ivy League school afterall, how hard is it going to be?

Turns out, not hard at all if you truly understood your courses in high school.

Even with my 30 hours a week of engineering courseload - General Chemistry I lab, General Chemistry II and lab, CIS1200, BE1000, ECON0100, and PHYS0140 - alongside 10 hours of research a week at Corder Labs, I found it very very manageable. However, I do regret picking such a heavy courseload, which I'll elaborate on later!

Mouse brain slice I imaged at Corder Labs. So pretty!

Becasue I have a solid understanding of my ECON, PHYS, and CHEM courses before I came to UPenn, those courses were easy to me. I got a A- on my ECON exam for ~2 hours of studying, A on my PHYS exam for ~3 hours of studying, and A+ on my CHEM exam for ~1 hour of studying.

My point is, don't stress about class difficulty if you came in having a solid grasp on those basic courses.

Now, if you don't have a solid grasp on a basic course, you'll definitely struggle a bit.

That was the CIS1200 (Computer Information and Science) class for me.

I did very little programming and did not take AP CS P or AP CS A in high school, so jumping straight into CIS1200 was difficult (though it was recommended to take CIS1100 if you are in that position). I got a C (for like the first time in my life) on the midterm for ~4 hours of studying. I'm not too worried about it though, because homework grades count like three times more than the midterm, and I've been doing well on those.

And so, my tips for if you do end up in UPenn (or another hard university):

  1. Space out your schedule effectively! Do not, absolutely do not wait until the last minute to do homework. Some of the homework here takes 8 hours (I'm looking at you, CIS1200) to complete, which is very different from the 30 minute homeworks I used to do last minute. Check out my recommended productivity apps to help you with that.

  2. If you do not understand something, do not let it build up. It gets expotentially harder to keep up. If you have trouble, go to office hours. I'm going to be doing that for CIS1200 from now on.

  3. Finally, don't fly to SF for a hackathon the weekend before your midterm. I did that, and that definitely messed with my CIS1200 midterm.

Regretting my Courseload

If it's manageable, why do I regret my courseload so much?

To preface, most engineering students have around 20 hours of classes and most CAS/Wharton students have closer to 10-15 hours. So my 40 hours a week is definitely not the norm.

Well, it's because I thought courses was what I was paying $96,000 a year for. I thought that if I took more courses, I would be getting more bang for my buck.

And I'm wrong.

You're not here for the courses. Who cares about the number of courses you took after you graduate? It's about your experiences, your network, and your projects. Now, what do I mean by that?

  1. Your experiences matter more than your classes. That means having the time to join competitive clubs (WITG, WUFC, WUCC, etc) or doing research or having the opportunity to try something out. I'm doing research right now and joined the WUFC and PEVC clubs, but that means I streching my time thin. And recently, I was offered to intern at a Penn startup, which I declined because I had no time. I'm sure I would have learned a lot more about business and engineering from that internship than any of my classes could ever provide. (Still a big regret that lives in my head...)

  2. Independent projects look way better than classes. I began to look into starting my own startup via resources from Tangen Hall and the Singh Nanotechnology Center, and obtained some grant funding, and found a co-founder to work with. Yet, I wish I could spend a lot more time on that project that is otherwise wasted on classes (that I skip anyways). It's a personal passion project, and I'm interested in that way more than my classes.

Next semester, I'm going to try to take the least amount of courses possible. Life works in funny ways, doesn't it?

Still, trying to graduate with a Bioengineering Master's Degree with two minors in Entrepreneurship and Computer Science in 4 years is going to be a challenge. But I'm gunning for it.

The UPenn Culture

Let's get this out of the way: Penn is competitive. So, so competitively pre-professional.

The epitome of Penn's competitiveness: the Penn Clubs. I had to write multiple essays per club.

And that's only round 1.

Then there's round 2 and even round 3 interviews that you gotta ace! In the end, some clubs might only take 6 out of 100 or 200 people who appiled. It's crazy. There's a saying that getting into the prestigious Penn clubs is harder than getting into Penn itself. Luckily, I got into some amazing clubs focused on quantitative finance and startup development.

Even walking around Penn itself feels competitive. People are always talking about their internships and clubs and their friend in M&T. It's a bit depressing if you don't like that culture, but it's exciting if you thrive in that environment.

Rapid-Fire Generalized Reflections for Prospective Penn Students

  1. It's compettiive. It's almost guaranteed to be more competitive than your high school.
  2. It's extremely pre-professional. You're going to get sucked up into either the Quant, Consulting, or Startup culture.
  3. Take advantage of the resources. Some cool sites to look into: Singh Nanotechnology Center (for cool facilities like fabricating your own semiconductor, which is what I'll be doing soon1), Penn CURF (for finding research positions), Venture Labs (for cool business events like a YC event or for help building your startup), and Penn Career Services (resume and interview help).

YC Speaker Event! I was the only freshman...

Finally, if you're a prospective applicant or student with questions, feel free to email me! Here's my personal email: ma.xxy11@proton.me