Should I go to Columbia, UPenn, or Dartmouth?
Answered by: Tristrum Tuttle,U Penn + Computer Science
I can give a U Penn perspective. All of the schools you listed are going to be pretty similar in terms of academic rigor and student diversity. There are a few main areas where Penn differs:
Location - being located in Philly is actually pretty great. The first time I visited, I didn't like Philly either. But Penn's campus is contained in a pretty low-key section of the city, and actually feels more like a small town campus than part of a massive city. The best part of being in Philly is that there is always something going on. Philly is always hosting sporting events, musicians, and different speakers all around town. Philly is also a nice central location relative to the rest of the US - day trips to NYC are common and encouraged.
Pre-professionalism - This aspect of Penn is actually exaggerated more than it should be. Yeah, get used to seeing freshmen in suits going to internship interviews with Goldman Sachs and Google, but most students live in the moment. I'm working at a summer camp this summer, several of my friends are returning home to standard college summer jobs. On the other hand, if you are interested in the Pre-professionalism, Penn certainly tries its best to help you out. Recruiters are always roaming campus, and Penn's career services and alumni network are the best of the best. Also, the startup culture here is huge. Wharton is arguably the best business school in the nation, and it's students are just as focused and driven as you would expect. Engineering features a challenging curriculum but is also very hands-on and skills-focused.
Socializing - Like all the Ivys, Penn is "study first, party later." That said, the number of socializing options here is crazy. Frats throw weekly parties near campus, events are held downtown at different clubs and bars, and almost every student group on campus hosts BYOs in chinatown or elsewhere. Almost everyone is involved in multiple clubs and organizations, and the social atmosphere is pretty malleable to individual desires.
The main reason I chose Penn was because the students I met while visiting seemed human. The students here are very talented, smart and interesting, but more than anything we are involved. Very few students live in the library or spend all of their time studying. We volunteer, party, exercise, play video games, etc... When I toured other schools on your list, Dartmouth seemed a little too cliquey and desolate, and Columbia seemed noisy and cramped. Again, all three are great schools and you really cannot go wrong with this decision.