This week, we invite assistant director of admissions Daniel Pérez, MPA, C’16 Fels ’19 to share his experiences as an undergraduate at Penn.
As I reflect on my academic journey at Penn, I would be remiss not to mention the role my high school experience played in my eventual intellectual journey through college. I first discovered my academic passion in high school when I took the plunge as a sophomore and enrolled in a senior level class. In this class, I learned about biology, anatomy, chemistry, and physics and how they could be applied to help solve crimes. Although the course was sadly de-funded the following year, it sparked my lasting interest in the study of crime and deviant behavior.
Fast forward to senior year, I remember googling the best criminology programs in the country and seeing Penn pop up. As a first generation and low-income student, I was not familiar with the myriad of application deadlines and admission strategies, but thankfully, through the relationships I had cultivated with several of my teachers, I was able to successfully navigate the college search and application process.
Prior to that moment, my only three options to pay for college were scholarships, loans, or military service. For much of my life, I gravitated towards joining the armed forces and had even visited my local Marines recruiting office. Given the opportunities that the US had opened up for me, I had always felt a desire to give back in some way, and after being a four-year member of the JROTC program at my high school, it seemed like the logical path forward for me.
But, sometimes life has a way of taking you in a direction you could never have imagined. A mere 48 hours later, I received a phone call that changed everything; I had earned a full scholarship to an Ivy League institution through the Posse Foundation! With that, I set course for Philadelphia, unsure of exactly what my journey had in store for me, but intent on studying criminology.
Upon arriving in this strange, new world, I connected with my pre-major advisor. She not only helped me navigate the vast and semi-intimidating academic landscape at Penn, but also provided me unwavering support throughout my time there. Whether it was patiently listening to me vent about my first ever C- (on a statistics assignment, no less), or celebrating with me when I was named to the Dean’s List that first year—her door always remained open.
Though my natural tendency at the time was to fully pour myself into the handful of subjects that intrigued me most, my advisors helped ensure that I kept an open mind to the wide range of learning opportunities at Penn. With their guidance, my academic path at Penn stretched far beyond criminology.
Slowly but surely, I developed an interest in research and statistical analysis. I even decided to learn a third language (German), and before I knew it, I had picked up a second major in political science. I took many classes across various undergraduate and graduate schools at the university, competed for Penn in a club sport, participated on a dance team, became the president of a minority organization, and so much more. Without even realizing it, I had embraced Penn for all it was worth and capitalized on the liberal arts opportunities it afforded. Most importantly, I had grown to value learning and academic exploration above all else, even if it meant my GPA might suffer at times.
Truth be told, it was not always an easy road. While I had been the sole valedictorian of my graduating high school class, at Penn, I was now surrounded by some of the best and brightest. On top of that, with no safety net to fall back on at home, I felt a tremendous pressure to push through; failure was not an option. I did my best to embrace the challenge. Imposter syndrome always lurked, but I did my best to adapt. It was exhausting at times, but I learned how to manage my many responsibilities, which gave me the confidence and resilience to succeed throughout the rest of my Penn career and beyond.
As I look back, Penn pushed me past what I thought I was capable of and taught me many valuable lessons. It afforded me the opportunity to build a supportive and eclectic community around me, full of diverse voices and spanning many different backgrounds. As I dove into my academic interests, I was able to learn from peers and share my own experiences as well.
As you embark upon your own academic journey, continue forward with gumption, and ALWAYS keep an open mind. You never know what new interests you might discover along the way.