Penn Welcomes Class of 2021

An electricity fills the air at Penn on Wednesday, Aug. 23, as the 2,458 members of the Class of 2021 move into seven College Houses across campus. 

Tara Mehta, an 18-year-old from Norristown, Pa., settles into a double on the top floor of the newly renovated 195,000-square-foot Hill College House. Her roommate had yet to arrive.

“I’m excited about all of the opportunities [at Penn] and about Wharton. I was interested in business all of high school,” she says. “And I love Philly. I’m really into sports, the Phillies, the food scene.”

Her mother, Asma Mehta, hangs back by the door as Tara enthusiastically shows off the space.

“Her dad went to Wharton as well so she’s following in his footsteps,” mom says. “I’ve been dreading today so I’ve not even really started thinking about it. I’m going to be an empty nester…because she’s our last one. But she’s so close; it’s really good to know that she’s just a car ride away.”

A mix of emotions—happiness for sons and daughters embarking on their collegiate adventures, sadness at no longer having them at home—shows up repeatedly in conversations with parents.

“We’re moving my baby,” says Malathi Subramanian, whose daughter Shreya also has a room in Hill House. “I’m so happy, but on the way, we all needed Kleenex.”

The newest Penn students, however, express nothing but anticipation and pure joy. The elation is clear by their facial expressions as they unexpectedly meet—and take selfies with—Penn President Amy Gutmann or wander up Spruce Street looking for the entrance to the Quad. As they lug baggage into their rooms, families in tow, the look doesn’t wane. Kelton Madden, a freshman from Livingston, Mont., even bounces on the bed of his Ware College House dorm.

Before today, Madden had never physically been to Penn.

“I’m impressed in general, and excited. This freshman dorm is the best building on campus,” he says. “The room is bigger than I expected. It’s a sweet view. You can see right into the courtyard.”  

As of now, Madden has his mind on majoring in physics and astronomy. Subramanian and Mehta plan to study business or finance. It’s only day one, so those majors are apt to change as the members of the Class of 2021 explore and discover their home during the next four years. But that’s the goal, to make the University a comfortable place that fosters growth and development.  

“At Penn, we believe that where you live is where you learn,” said President Gutmann.

On Tuesday, Aug. 22, about one-third of first-years, including international and transfer students, settled into their dorms, and the remaining two-thirds arrived on Aug. 23, greeted by 25 student coordinators, 120 student volunteers, and a host of upperclassmen from Penn Athletics and New Student Orientation. This year’s freshmen hail from 72 nations and all 50 states, as well as Guam and Puerto Rico. The 2,600 returning upperclassmen can move in any time before classes begin on Aug. 29, with the biggest influx expected to arrive on Saturday, Aug. 26.

Back in the Quad, as the day progresses, music welcomes more and more parents and students into the Penn family. Second-year grad student Michelle Donnelly, sitting at a table to the left just past the gate at 37th and Spruce streets, offers encouraging words and a smile.

“Happy Move-In day!” she exclaims. And in that moment, any trepidation on the faces of passing freshmen vanish, replaced instead with unabashed excitement.

Photo: Staff of the newly renovated Hill College House take a break from welcoming new students to pose with President Gutmann.

Move In at Hill College House