It is harder to get to Penn as an international student.
I mean that literally—it takes me about 22 hours, door to door, to get from where I spent most of my childhood, Dubai, to Penn’s campus in Philadelphia. Most international students I know have similar stories, and even if they are coming from a country relatively close by, like Canada, there are still Customs to go through at the airport! You can imagine how jealous I get when students who live near Penn can have their parents come over often, only need to go through a short drive to go home, and do not suffer from jetlag.
Given how difficult the physical journey to Penn is for me, I get a lot of questions about why I chose to come. Here, I will be providing a full explanation of what my thought processes were like as I picked which schools to apply to. Hopefully, it will help you find clarity while looking at colleges.
Firstly, I had to decide whether I wanted to attend university in the U.S. in the first place. Luckily, this decision was easy for me. I lived in the U.S. before moving to Dubai, am a citizen, have lots of extended family all over the U.S., and attended an American high school. It made a lot of sense for me to only apply to the U.S., whereas most of my friends were weighing options in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and elsewhere around the world based on visa eligibility, cultural differences, academic offerings, distance from home, and other criteria. My choice of country was straightforward in comparison to theirs.
I knew that I wanted to go to school in a city. Again, I had a lot of reasons for wanting to do so, such as:
- The proximity to an airport. Given how long my journey home is, I wanted to be near an international airport.
- The multiculturalism that is more common in cities. I grew up across four countries and attended a high school with over 80 nationalities represented in the student body, — diverse environments are most comfortable to me. I knew that I was more likely to find this in a city.
- The opportunities in a city. Given how far away Dubai is from Philadelphia, I was unable to make campus visits. I wanted to be in an interesting city so that in the rare case that I disliked the social environment or the professional opportunities on campus, I would have a whole city to explore.
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All of these self-imposed criteria made the pool of schools that would work for me much smaller. I decided upon these criteria based on a mix of common sense, talking to people a few years older than me, scouring lists of schools, and thoroughly reflecting on what was important to me in college. I started putting a list of schools relatively early on, and given what I was looking for, it makes sense that Penn was on the list.
I hope that hearing about my journey to applying to Penn gives further insight into what it was like to navigate the college application process as an international student. It was definitely a confusing path that required lots of research, but I am so proud to attend this university and know that I ended up making the right choice.