Hurrah, Hurrah! Congratulations on being accepted to Penn! The Assembly of International Students looks forward to meeting you in the fall! Meanwhile, we are here for you to help you through the transition. We have assembled a guide with the most important information you need to know, as well as a Frequently Asked Question section. If you can’t find an answer to your questions through any of the resources available on this website, please contact your international mentor, or mail us. We are more than happy to answer any of your questions.
All incoming freshmen are required to live on-campus because of the convenience and safety of campus housing. Penn has a system of college houses and each house fosters a very warm and welcoming sense of community. The three most popular freshman houses are:
The other college houses that are open to freshmen are Stouffer, Gregory, W. E. B. Dubois, and Harrison (only members of the Freshman Experience Program can live in Harrison). Each college house also offers residential programs (for instance, the Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship program in Ware and the Freshman Experience program in Harrison), which freshmen can apply to. Students admitted to a program live together (on the same floor) with people of similar interests. The housing application is available online from your Applicant Portal starting April 1. For more information on housing options for incoming freshman, refer to the Penn Residential Services Website.
Note: An important factor to consider in your decision is that all the College Houses with the exception of the high rises (Harnwell, Harrison, and Rodin) are closed over Winter Break. If you live in one of the other houses and expect to stay in the US over winter break, you will need to find a host to stay with for the duration of the break. All houses are closed over the summer.
Courses and Registration:
After receiving your PennKey, you will be able to sign in to PennInTouch to sign up for courses. The course schedules will be available on PennInTouch sometime in August. To understand the process of registration, refer to this page. For a tutorial on how to navigate PennInTouch, watch this video. Don’t panic if you end up not getting some of the courses you signed up for! The first two weeks of classes are an Add/Drop period so chances are that you’ll get the course you want. You can also email the professor to see if you can get a permit for the course. Also its totally acceptable to schedule back-to-back classes. All classes at Penn end 10 minutes before the listed finish time to allow for travel time between classes.
A valuable resource for picking classes is Penn Course Review – a student run publication which presents student ratings and comments for all undergraduate courses. You can search by the course code as well as by the name of the professor to get information on course difficulty, instructor ratings, and usefulness of assigned readings, amongst other things.
You can view the list of books required for your courses on Penn InTouch once your schedule is available. There is a direct link to the Penn Bookstore where you can order your books online and just pick them up when you get to campus. The Penn Bookstore also sells Penn gear such as t-shirts, sweatshirts, and bags along with school supplies and dorm room essentials. Another place where course books may be available is the Penn Book Center, located on the corner of 34th Street and Sansom Street. You can also buy and rent books on websites such as Amazon.com and Chegg.com. Another option is the Penn Book Bazaar, where Penn students can post used books for sale and you can look through the available books and contact the seller directly. You can compare the prices of textbooks from all these sources by visiting their respective websites. Finally, there is the Free and For Sale Facebook group where Penn students list all sorts of items, including books.
Since you have decided that you are going to study in US, it is a good idea to open a US bank account! When going to get your bank account, make sure to bring your passport, Penn ID, I-20, and acceptance letter with you.
Also note that banks and phone providers will attend the Campus Express fair during ISO and NSO.
Here are some banks that are located near campus:
Bank of America, 3925 Walnut Street, “Our purpose is to help improve the financial lives of our customers and clients through the power of every connection. How will we know when we’ve achieved that? When our customers and clients tell us we have”
Wells Fargo Bank, 3431 Chestnut Street, “We want to satisfy all our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially. It is just as relevant today as when it was written more than 20 years ago.”
TD Bank, 3735 Walnut Street,”TD Bank is one of the 10 largest banks in the U.S. But we’re not like other banks. We’re open early, open late and we’re even open weekends. We have FREE customer coin. We let people keep our pens. And we even have dog biscuits for our four-legged guests. We work hard to create the best experience for our customers. That’s what it means to Bank HumanTM. That’s what it means to be America’s Most Convenient Bank®.”
PNC Bank, 3535 Market Street or 200 South 40th Street, “For more than 160 years, PNC has been committed to providing our clients with great service and powerful financial expertise to help them meet their financial goals. We are proud of our longstanding history of supporting not only our customers but also our communities, employees and shareholders.”
Citizens Bank, 134 South 34th Street, “Our goal is simple. Deliver the best possiblebanking experience so our customers and clients can better manage their finances.”
UPenn SFCU, 3401 Walnut Street, “The Student Federal Credit Union (SFCU) is the first and only student-run credit union in the Ivy League, and exclusively serves the community of the University of Pennsylvania. Founded in 1987 by three Wharton MBA students, the SFCU has been providing Penn students with secure, efficient, and convenient financial services for over 27 years.”
Since you have decided that you are going to study in US, it is a good idea to get a US phone number! When going to get a phone number, make sure to bring your passport, Penn ID, I-20, and acceptance letter with you.
Here are some phone service providers near campus:
AT&T, 3741 Walnut Street, “AT&T is bringing it all together – helping people mobilize their worlds – with advanced mobile services, next-generation TV and high-speed Internet services, and smart solutions for businesses.”
T-Mobile, 3441 Chestnut Street, “In a world full of busy and fragmented lives, we at T-Mobile USA, Inc., have this idea that wireless communications can help. The value of our plans, the breadth of our coverage, the reliability of our network, and the quality of our service are meant to do one thing: help you stick together with the people who make your life come alive. That’s why we’re here.”
Verizon, 3631 Walnut Street, “We’re committed to putting our customers first by providing excellent service and exceptional communications experiences. By focusing on our customers we’re able to produce a solid return for our shareowners, engage our employees in challenging and meaningful work and provide something of lasting value for society.”
Finally, note that without a social security number, you may need to provide a deposit in order to get a phone plan. You can also choose a pre-paid plan.
As freshmen, you are required to be on a meal plan. The meal plan consists of a certain number of meals as well as Dining Dollars. The meals can be used at four dining halls: 1920 Commons, Hill Dining Hall, the Cafe at McClelland (in the Quad), and Kings Court Dining Hall. Retail dining options which accept Dining Dollars include Houston Market in Houston Hall, Joe’s Café in Steinhardt-Dietrich Hall, and the Starbucks and other dining options in the basement of 1920 Commons. Other cafés and snacking options around campus may not take Dining Dollars but often accept Penn Cash, such as the Bridge Café in Huntsman Hall.
Penn also has a wide variety of cuisines from Vietnamese to Lebanese and classic American food available in the restaurants on and around campus. Philadelphia is renowned for its amazing culinary scene and there are restaurant weeks in the Spring and Fall which give you the chance to sample some of Philly’s finest restaurants at discounted rates. Don’t miss it!
The Fresh Grocer (also known as Frogro), 4001 Walnut St, (215) 222-9200
CVS, 3401 Walnut Street, (215) 662-1333
CVS, 3925 Walnut Street, (215) 222-0829
Convenience food shopping and late night snacks:
Wawa, 3744 Spruce Street, (215) 387-0029
Wawa, 3604 Chestnut Street, (215) 222-6422
7-Eleven, 3440 Market Street, (215) 222-1317
Weekly Farmers’ Markets bring fresh fruits and veggies on Penn’s campus. You can find them at 36th and Walnut Street (in front of the Penn Bookstore) every Wednesday, 10AM – 3PM.
Trader Joe’s, 2121 Market Street, (215) 569-9282
It is accessible by taking the 37th Street Trolley Eastbound and getting off at 22nd Street. Trader Joe’s is on the northern side of Market Street.
Whole Foods Market, 2001 Pennsylvania Avenue, (215) 557-0015
Reading Terminal Market, 51 N 12th Street, (215) 922-2317
For fresh and local fruits, vegetables, cheeses, baked goods, and lots more at reasonable prices.
If you’re arriving at the Philadelphia International Airport:
International Peers Helping Incoming New Students, better known as the iPHINS, will be at the Philadelphia International Airport on Wednesday, August 19th and Thursday, August 20th to welcome all the new international students coming in. We will have maps and will be able to direct you to shuttle services, cabs, or trains. Sign-up sheets will be sent to you over the summer asking about your arrival dates and times.
Shuttle Service – Lady Liberty
There are several shuttle bus services at the airport that will drop you off at the address you request. For example, Lady Liberty is a reliable service that will take you from the airport to any address in University City for $10 per trip.
1) After claiming your baggage, go to the Ground Transportation Information desk located in each baggage claim area.
2) The Ground Transportation Information Representative can provide you with a list of available shuttle services.
3) They will alert you once your shuttle arrives.
4) Give the driver your address (make sure you know which College House you’ve been assigned to) and pay upon arrival at the final destination.
There is a $28.50 flat rate for a taxi from the airport to the Central Philadelphia area, which includes University City. Please also account for tips when paying, as it is customary in the US to tip approximately 15% of the fare (a little over $4 in this case), depending on the speed of the trip and whether or not the driver assists you with your luggage.
If you’re arriving at the John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK), NY and traveling by road to Philadelphia:
Dave’s Best Limo
Dave’s Limo service is an airport shuttle service the covers Philadelphia, Newark, and JFK.
This is the information for airport pickup from JFK:
JFK and Newark:
Please call 800-255-2378 or go to the Ground Transportation desk and dial 23 from the phone, to connect with the JFK Newark dispatcher.
Dave’s Limo provides door-to-door service.
Super Trans provides door-to-door service between Philadelphia and JFK, Newark, and LaGuardia Airports.
Note that there also other shuttle service alternatives that you can find online.
You can get advanced standing for nationally sponsored exams including the A- and AS-levels, the French Baccalaureat, the Abitur, the IB (higher-level subjects), the Italian Maturita, the Federal Swiss Maturity Certificate, Denmark’s Studentereksamen, Iceland’s Studentsprof, and Finland’s Matriculation Certificate.
Original certificates or an official copy of the certificate must be submitted directly to the Office of Admissions for evaluation. The policy on International Baccalaureate credits can be found here and the policy on GCSE Advanced Level Standing can be found here.
Your first resources should always be your professor and Teaching Assistant (TA). Professors are very open to questions and you should take advantage of their office hours. The same goes for the TAs. If you have a scheduling conflict, email them to set up a time. Penn also has a variety of other learning resources such Weingarten Learning and Resources Center which offers help with time management and balancing your workload and the Penn Tutoring Center where you can get a private tutor who will meet with you every week. The Penn Tutoring Center offers a variety of services including private tutoring for many core introductory and intermediate courses, satellite tutoring at many locations on campus such as the college houses, special events near finals such as ‘Cram ‘n Jam’ and ‘Graveyard’, and student-led workshops. The best part is that all of these resources are absolutely free for Penn students so you should definitely consider making use of them!
The Weingarten Center also offers A+ Workshops which aim to provide international students with tips and strategies needed to be successful in the US higher education system. They are offered in both the fall and spring semesters. You can sign up for these here.
The Writing Seminar
A writing seminar, used in order to fulfill the writing requirement, is a course that all undergraduate students are required to take regardless of their school or major. The Critical Writing Program offers various seminars that cover a range of interesting topics, from photography to anthropology. Enrollment in a writing seminar consists of the completion of reading and written assignments that are related to the topic of the seminar. The course culminates in the completion of a final portfolio. It is not mandatory for students to take a seminar during their freshman year, however, it is highly recommended that students do. International students who do not have a strong grasp of certain aspect of American English have the option of taking the seminar, Global English. This seminar is better suited for these students because it provides instruction in the conventions and demands of American English college writing. In addition, students can receive additional support from tutors that are freely available in the Marks Family Writing Center. The specialists at the Writing Center are a great resource for any aspect of the writing process:
For the critical writing seminar, the Center can even provide specific help on assignments since they have been extensively trained in the Critical Writing Program’s approach.
Places to Study
There are 15 libraries at Penn which include the Biddle Law Library, the Biomedical Library, the Engineering Library, Fisher Fine Arts Library, and Van Pelt which is the main undergraduate library. Each library is equipped with computers and also provides laptops on request for use in the library. You can also borrow DVDs from the DVD collection in Van Pelt and even video cameras if you need them. Penn is also part of larger network of libraries known as ‘Borrow Direct’ which allows students to request books and materials which may be present in the libraries at Cornell, Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, Brown, and Columbia universities. EZ-Borrow is PALCI’s (Pennsylvania Academic Library Consortium, Inc.) web gateway that allows simultaneous searching of academic library catalogs in Pennsylvania. This means that if there is some resource which Penn’s own libraries don’t have, you can still access it through these two services.
You can also reserve study rooms in the libraries and Wharton students can book group study rooms in Huntsman Hall. There also a number of quiet spaces in each of the college houses as well as computer labs. Check your college house’s brochure for specific information on these. A new application developed by Penn students allows you to see which study places are accessible and to reserve them at any time.