RealTalk Penn beta is an anonymous Q&A forum for Penn students by The Signal + Friends. Our contributors are Penn undergraduates who do their best to answer your questions. We're not officially affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania.
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I'm an incoming English major in the College of Arts and Sciences. Do y'all find advising to be helpful in determining your curriculum, or are you better off turning to students?

I'm a CIS major but an English minor; my CIS advisor has been fine but not super helpful other than to offer the standard academic advice, and the CIS upperclassmen have been really great at offering their personal experience in classes. In my experience, English professors are a lot more invested in students and give more personal, tailored advice, so hopefully this will be your experience! But I would say definitely reach out to multiple students as well for feedback on their favorite classes / advice, since their perspective will be different than a professor's, and I think it's valuable to get a mix of opinions.

Kindred Koala, 20 January 2020, 4:32pm

If I'm not interested in drinking/parties, should I still rush a sorority?

Sororities can be lots of things - they can give you a community, a network of people on campus, philanthropic opportunities, and yes, lots of social opportunities like mixers and formals. It's definitely not uncommon for girls in my sorority not to drink, and everyone is super respectful of that. It's more rare for girls not to want to go to parties, even if it's just to hang out with their sisters. I would say there's a lot you can get out of a sorority if you're not into that stuff - a close network of friends, philanthropy, social events outside of parties, etc. - but I will say that Greek life in general is structured to be a social activity, and the most common form of that is partying on the weekends, so you may want to ask yourself whether it's worth it both with your money and your time/energy to rush if you think you won't be attending the majority of the social events where you'll get to hang out with other girls. However, this also totally depends on the sorority, and some are more focused on partying than others. I'd say if you're in doubt, rush, talk to the girls about this, and see if you think it's for you!

Kindred Koala, 20 January 2020, 4:25PM

I know many students face a lot of mental health challenges during school; are there any helpful tips / lifestyle choices that help y'all keep yourself well?

I definitely found myself struggling with mental health more since coming to college, and these are some things I've found that help me cope:

1) Above all, be kind to yourself! Try not to be too hard on yourself, accept the mistakes/failures you make, and appreciate that you're handling a lot and doing the best you can. Celebrate the little, day-to-day wins and recognize when you've reached your limit.

2) Getting off campus - whether it's going for a walk in the city or going to a coffee shop downtown on the weekends to get some work done, this helps you get a chance to breathe away from what can be a stressful environment and helps you see the bigger picture.

3) Prioritizing my physical & emotional wellbeing over schoolwork, internships, even social life, etc. - I learned quickly that I don't function well when I'm not sleeping or eating well or exercising, so I've learned to prioritize these things, even when I have a lot on my plate. I've also learned that it's okay to take a day or two off and take the time to refresh. It's okay to say no to things that feel like too much and just taking some time for yourself.  

3) Opening up to friends - talking to the people around you who support you really makes a huge difference and may take some of the weight off of your shoulders. Being vulnerable with others also helps them open up to you!

4) Therapy - CAPs has been a great resource for me, and even if it's not the right fit for you, they can point you in the direction of resources that may be helpful for you. Don't be afraid/ashamed to go to therapy or take the medication that you need - it could make a huge difference in the quality of your life, and it's right there on campus for you to use.

Hope that helps!!

Kindred Koala, 20 January 2020, 4:18pm

What is the best weekend to have a friend from out of town come and visit me?

Usually, I'd say invite your friend on a weekend where you aren't super stressed with lots of assignments or exams to prep for. Sometimes that sours the visit for both of you. But in terms of fun weekends where lots of events/parties are happening, the top times are probably Halloween, maybe Valentine's Day weekend, St. Patrick's Day weekend, and Spring Fling weekend, which is usually in mid to late April - the week of Fling is really social/spirited, if you want your friend to experience that! But just know that all your other social groups will plan things, so either there's a tradeoff between spending time with your friend vs. other groups, or you can ask whether your friend is comfortable with joining your groups. I'd also say when the weather is warmer it's a better visit, since there are more things to do in Philly.

Wallowing Whale, January 20, 2020 3:57pm

Where can you buy alcohol on campus?

Usually, you can get wine/beer (not hard liquor) at Fresh Grocer on 40th and Walnut. Otherwise, you can get anything you're likely looking for at Fine Wine & Spirits (4301 Chestnut St) which is a half mile from Fresh Grocer.

Wallowing Whale, January 20, 2020 3:50pm

How do the language placement exams work in relation to the foreign language requirement?

Will doing well in the placement exam (let's say Chinese) force me to take the intermediate/hard classes? If that's the case, will purposely doing poorly allow me to take the beginner courses throughout my four semesters?

In other words as well, what's the benefit of doing well in the language placement exam versus doing poorly?

I apologize for the long post, the college/class system is extremely different in my country.

When I took the placement exam at the beginning of freshmen year, my impression was that they wanted to put you in a class you'd be comfortable in and wouldn't be super stressed in. For me, after the written part of the exam, where they'd gauge your reading and writing skills, there were professors who talked to you for 5-10 minutes to gauge your listening and speaking skills. The professor gave me a sample passage to read, asked me about my background in the language, and gave her honest thoughts on where I could be placed. For Chinese specifically, I know there's a heritage track where the classes are catered to who grew up in a Chinese household so their listening/speaking might be better than reading/writing.

It's honestly up to you - doing well on the placement exam would indicate the classes you could take, but you don't have to follow the suggestion and can take an easier class. Usually the challenge is if you don't do that well on the placement exam but want to take a higher level course - in that case you'd want to prep a little before the placement exam and reach out to the professors of the language classes you want to take.

Wallowing Whale, January 20, 2020 3:45 pm

Why is it that GPA doesn't matter for jobs and engineering recruiting? Doesn't that represent mastery of material? Funnily enough I'm not doing too well in CIS 120 and CIS 160 because I have such a tough schedule but I really like programming and the problems we do in 160. I just wish I had more time to practice and actually do the work.

I think this is more of a CIS phenomenon more than a general engineering trend. Most of the stuff that we do in the classroom isn't really indicative of what industry is looking for from you, so even if you don't find that you're excelling with classroom material, that doesn't truly represent your potential on the job, and recruiters know that. I was in a similar boat as you, with CIS 160 especially, and if you find yourself enjoying the material then I think you're doing just fine.  

CIS Intro Track first semester is definitely a grind, and you'll have plenty more semesters to continue mastering software engineering. I personally found CIS 121 way more enjoyable than 120 and 160 because the application of the material was built into the core of the course. It gets easier as you go through the system :)

Zesty Zebra, 2:55 PM, November 25th 2019

For Penn Labs, as an applicant developer next semester, do I need to know JavaScript and how to use the Git Control System/Github, etc.?

Depends on what role you're applying for, for web frontend you definitely need to know JavaScript and React, but there are different standards for each team (Platform: Python and Django; Android: Kotlin; iOS: Swift). The team leads are mostly looking at your technical skill; Git / Github are easy to teach once you're onboarded. Feel free to email me at for more info :)

Zesty Zebra, 2:50 PM, Nov 25, 2019

Is it true that GPA doesn't matter for some engineering internships? I'm worried that my grades won't be high enough for recruiting :(

Yes, this is true!! Sometimes a higher GPA may get you an interview, but past that, it's totally up to the interviews and most won't consider your GPA after they give you an interview. Also, an okay GPA from Penn will get you a long way, especially in engineering.

If you're computer science, too, lots of companies will send all candidates a coding challenge, and if you do well on that, you'll get an interview. In that case, it's all about what you can do, and not your grades.

Kindred Koala, 2019 11 November, 8:57PM

coolest professors to talk to outside of class?

For CIS: Swapneel Sheth is the BEST. Take that man out to lunch at first possible notice. Also Jeffrey Babin is super cool. Take him to Magic Carpet

Zesty Zebra, November 8, 2019, 11:32 PM

Jeffrey Babin is AWESOME. But also Diana Robertson, Dave Meaney, and Graham Wabiszewski are incredible humans as well

Funky Flamingo, 2019 November 09, 11:30 AM

Rajiv Gandhi! Take him out to lunch! Also Richard Shell

Kindred Koala, 2019 November 11, 8:53PM

Adam Grant, but I realize he might be a bit out of reach... Steven Blum (negotiations professor), Domenic Vitiello (Urban Studies/Design - I never took any of his classes, but he set aside time for me to learn from him), any Nursing professor (tbh they're amazing), Peter DeCherney (Cinema Studies), Jacob Rivkin (Fine Arts/Design), Prasanna Tambe (OID/Analytics), Amy Sepinwall (Legal Studies)... also now I'm a bit sad that most of my professors here have been men :( so, a gender studies professor!!

Wallowing Whale, 2019 November 11, 1:11AM