Words by: Gabby Uy, Year 12
Kyla Uy served as BSM’s Head of Student Council and Habitat for Humanity President before graduating in 2018. Here, she shares her tips on how to navigate the University of Pennsylvania’s rigorous academic curriculum and the changes she’s made since IB.
What did you expect when you first showed up at Penn?
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I actually expected to have orientation programs so we’d get to know people, but they kind of just threw us in there. They had these events that weren’t mandatory – anyone could go or not go – so it was hard to meet people in the first week. That’s why my transition was a bit hard.
So how did you actually get around the whole transitioning thing?
I joined a clubs – a lot of Southeast Asian clubs. I went to the meetings of the Vietnamese Society, the Indonesian Society, the Chinese Society – and from there I met people. And adjusting to the weather hard was initially, but if you layer properly, it’s not too bad. You get used to it! UNIQLO heattech is a must.
Are clubs a big thing at Penn?
Yeah, they are. There’s different types of clubs; there are social clubs where you meet people then there are other clubs that are more professional. Consulting and private equity and those kinds of things. I did a balance of both.
Speaking of professionalism – I’ve heard of this stereotype that Penn students can be really competitive. Is that true?
Yeah, it is! *Laughs* But I don’t look at it like it’s scary – it pushes you to perform better. That’s actually why I chose Penn; it’s an environment where everyone kind of pushes each other and you just keep striving until you reach the top. But we have a lot of fun – it’s like work hard, play hard. We all study until super late and everything in the day is about studying – you study in between classes. At night, we have a lot of fun together and we go out. There’s stuff downtown we go to and there are some parties on campus too. If not, it’s just dinners and movie nights – it’s very social and at the same time very hardworking. That was the balance I wanted out of college.
Which classes have you enjoyed the most?
I took marketing for social impact, economics, calculus and a writing seminar class. Three of them were intro-level classes and marketing for social impact was an upper-level class – I was actually the only freshman there! I was kind of scared to take it at first, but it was really fun and I got a lot out of it. That would have been my favourite. It’s about promoting good social behaviour for companies, how companies view social impact and how we can change their mindset towards pro-social behaviour. It was really interesting. We did a lot of case study work, analysing social enterprises. We researched, presented, worked in groups and wrote a lot of case reports – it was very interactive-based.
Do you have any idea what you want to major in so far? Has that changed at all since coming to Penn?
I didn’t know what I wanted in high school, because in high school you only really think about college. In college, you think about the rest of your life too, so it’s made me plan my life and what I want out of it more. I’m planning to transfer to Wharton but I’m not sure yet – you just have to write an application essay and your GPA has to be above a certain level. Right now, I’m thinking of double-majoring in economics and business.
How do your classes now differ from what you did at IB?
Math now is easier [than IB HL math], but econ is much harder! It’s completely different from what we learn here – it’s more math and it’s more logic. Your questions aren’t essay-based anymore; they’re all two-marker calculations. And the questions are all linked together, so if you get one wrong, everything else is wrong and they don’t carry on marks. I found it really hard, but it’s okay.
What strategies do you have for difficult classes? Do you go to your professors for help?
Yeah! Every time I don’t get something in the lesson, I always go to office hours and clarify it on the spot rather than wait for a midterm or a final. That’s an approach I changed from IB! I used to just cram everything. You have a good relationship with your professors too. For my marketing class, my professor and I talked a lot – but in the bigger lectures, not so much. Sometimes lectures range from 50-600 people! So you have a good relationship with your TAs. Their recitations are smaller classes so you get to raise your hand and interact and stuff. You’re broken up into smaller groups to encourage discussion.
What would you say the workload is like compared to IB?
It’s not worse than IB, but at the same time, the content is much harder. You have to think a lot more, but it’s more about understanding class and reviewing than studying-studying. It’s still work.
How would you say you’ve changed – if at all – since coming to Penn?
I’m a bit more aware of who I am as a person and I’m more aware of the world. Being in Manila, you’re in such a bubble and you don’t realize what’s going on around you. I’ve just learned so much more.
Lastly, do you have any words of wisdom for anyone looking to study at Penn – about applying, or what to expect?
Well, there’s criteria, right? Your testing scores, your school grades, recommendations, essays and extracurriculars – in each of those five categories, you have to make sure you’ve got everything covered. If one category is weak, there’s still a chance of getting in, but you have to make another one stronger. And in terms of what to expect at Penn – people are very intimidating, but that’s only a front. People seem to have their lives planned out and together, but it’s only a front and you shouldn’t be intimidated by that.