“I realized how extraordinary the past several months have been. The people I’ve interacted with, the insights I’ve gained, and the places I’ve visited are simply remarkable.” – Julian Fields-Jackson, W’27

This semester truly defined ‘surprising’ for me. Before coming to Penn, I was aware of the workload and opportunities that awaited, but what I didn’t anticipate was how quickly my hard work would translate into immense opportunities. Discussing my experiences with my parents and friends back home, I realized how extraordinary the past several months have been. The people I’ve interacted with, the insights I’ve gained, and the places I’ve visited are simply remarkable, and this all underscores why Wharton is ranked number one. Never in a million years did I expect to find myself talking to some of the most prominent developers in the United States on a Wednesday night, visiting the offices of the world’s most renowned private equity firms on a random Friday, or traveling to Miami on a career trek in mid-November.

An evening walk on campus. (Image: Fields-Jackson)

Arriving on campus

My journey at Penn kicked off earlier than the usual first-year student move-in, as I decided to dive into the Wharton Successful Transition and Empowerment Program (STEP). I wanted to immerse myself in a community before officially starting college and smooth my transition. STEP includes pre-orientation programming that is designed to assist underrepresented students in transitioning to Penn and Wharton. One aspect I love is its continuous support not just in the first week but throughout the next four years.

The first weekend at Penn was a whirlwind of events, thanks to STEP’s jam-packed schedule. We got to chat with Wharton Dean Erika H. James, had early morning headshots (that was an early wake-up call!), and gained some awesome insights from our upper-level student mentors during ice cream socials and dinners.

New Student Orientation (NSO) was a unique experience before classes began. It’s one of those rare times when you can just walk up to strangers and strike up conversations because no one knows anyone yet. Some of my most cherished memories come from those late-night, 12 am chats in the Quad.


Starting classes was quite a shock for me, especially when some professors started piling on the homework right from the get-go. But as time went by, I found my groove and began to settle into the academic routine.

I anticipated midterm season at Penn, but despite my preparations, it still overwhelmed me. Facing multiple midterms in a single week meant engaging in some of the most intense studying I’d ever done. This period, which might seem isolating, actually turns into a time of community. Group Study Rooms (GSRs) are packed with people until the wee hours of the night, and it’s not uncommon to see students studying in dining halls even 30 minutes before their midterms.

Clubs and Campus Life

Visiting Miami with the Wharton Undergraduate Real Estate Club. (Image: Fields-Jackson)

Clubs: The club application process was an emotional rollercoaster. It felt like a flashback to the whole college application process, this time under a significant time crunch. Knowing this, I made a conscious effort not to overwhelm myself with too many applications, especially because I chose to apply to some of the most competitive clubs with dauntingly long applications.

This journey also emphasized the importance of balancing school and social life. Juggling stock pitches and endless chapters for a writing seminar is a real struggle, but it’s all worth it in the end. After multiple interviews and dealing with rejections, I finally received acceptance into the Private Equity and Venture Capital Clubs’ (PEVC) Investment Analysis Committee. That moment was a huge relief, especially after feeling inadequate following rejections from nearly every other club I applied to.

As someone who eagerly anticipated participating in Penn’s clubs even before acceptance, I’m glad to say they are one of my favorite activities. With around 15 total members in the Investment Analysis Committee, there’s a level of camaraderie I truly appreciate, whether during our weekly meetings, waking up at 4 a.m. for career treks to NYC, or evening outings to Center City. You learn a lot, from building your own DCF (discounted cash flow) analysis to conducting research and preparing for recruitment season. This is also where I’ve forged some of my closest friendships.

Often if you’re not accepted directly into a specific committee, the club designates you as a general body member (GBM). This happened to me with clubs like the Wharton Undergraduate Real Estate Club (WUREC), and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Even though I’m not a committee member, I attend all available events, including résumé workshops with the president, speaker events with industry leaders, and career trips to places like Boston, Miami, and NYC.

I have found that one club is more than enough, especially for the first semester. Balancing club responsibilities with academic workload makes you realize the amount of work you’re undertaking and the need keep it manageable.

Dorm Life (Image: Fields-Jackson)

Dorm life: Dorm life was something I looked forward to at Penn since it represented the epitome of freedom and, in some ways, adulthood. Being placed in my first dorm choice made it even better. I was lucky enough to get assigned to Lauder College House. I have my own room in a suite with three other people and we share a bathroom. Having my own room definitely has its perks: I can stay up as long as I want, bring friends over, and just have a sort of sanctuary away from home. But it also has its negatives, like making sure I don’t isolate myself and keeping accountable with cleaning. I really enjoy the frequent floor/dorm events we have, whether it’s free pizza or celebrating the end of midterm season.

Ice skating at the Penn ice rink (Image: Fields-Jackson)

Hanging out with friends: Initially, I thought I would find life-long friends during the first month, which is totally unrealistic. However, I’m glad to say that over time, I’ve slowly started to find my people. Over the semester, my friendships formed naturally and often developed in alignment with our coinciding schedules. Before a Business Ethics & Public Policy (BEPP) 1000 lecture, we might grab coffee at Pret, and afterwards go to Hill Dining Hall for brunch. A friend and I plan to dine at new places in Center City, exploring Philly and stepping out of the Penn bubble.

—Sara Hoover

Posted: January 16, 2024

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