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The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Pulling Back the Curtain on the Prestigious Ivy League Universities

From left to right: WIS alumnae Inaya Zaman and Sneha Parthasarathy, both of whom are sophomores at the University of Pennsylvania, at a Penn Holiday Celebration. (Courtesy of Ellie Fithian)

For high school students, there is always an aura of mystery that surrounds college life. Sure, applications, virtual information sessions and college tours all give students little glimpses. But what is the college experience truly like? What are classes and tests like? Are the professors funny? Dateline interviewed three WIS alumnae about their typical day in life at their universities: Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania. Answers have been edited for concision and clarity.

Q: Can you summarize a typical day in the life at university? 

Ellie Fithian (Harvard University ‘26, studying Integrative Biology): I usually have some mix of lectures, tutorials and lab sections and then extracurriculars and office hours. I also spend a lot of time with my friends between and after classes and have time for independent activities, too. 

Sneha Parthasarathy (University of Pennsylvania ‘25, studying Mathematical Economics): A typical weekday for me looks like getting up around 9 a.m. and having a lazy breakfast in my dorm (a perk of no early morning classes). I’ll grab lunch with a friend or two, then head to class during the middle of the day. Depending on whether the weather is good, I might try to go on a walk or do something outside like toss a frisbee. After, I’ll try to get some work done in a library before getting dinner with friends. After that, we’ll hang out and chat, or work on school together.

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Inaya Zaman (University of Pennsylvania ‘25, studying International Studies and Business): During the week, I plan my day around my classes, fitting in time to get work done, get food with friends, go to the gym and do my extracurriculars. Usually at night, I’ll study with friends. The weekends are more unstructured and a time to relax! 

Q: What are the academics like? 

E: I think it really depends on the classes you’re taking. Most of my assignments are problem sets which are due weekly or triweekly, lab reports and tests. I always see the humanities majors sitting in the library typing their 20 page essays, though. 

S: The academics are challenging. This semester, I am taking a lot of problem-set based classes, which is a bit different than high school. I do not have a lot of papers at all, but quite a few problem sets that will challenge my math or computer science skills. Tests are largely midterms, about twice a year, that account from 10 to 35% of my grades. There aren’t really quizzes or smaller assignments, unlike high school, and attendance is not mandatory for any of my classes either!

I: Academics differ depending on your school, major and classes. Since you can customize your classes more than in high school, many of my classes are more niche and relate to each other. Compared to high school, studying is more independent, and you need to seek out help more directly since you’re often in large lectures. 

Q: What is student life like? Is there a work-life balance? 

E: College is what you make of it! If you want to take a lot of classes and take on loads of extracurriculars, you can, but if you want to prioritize a good work-life balance while also pursuing your academics that can definitely be achieved. I think I have a healthier work-life balance now than I did in high school. Plus, there’s always some fun event going on and all your friends live next door!

S: The work-life balance in college is tricky to navigate, as there isn’t really a strict separation between school and home. However, I do think there is a work-life balance in being with friends and classmates all the time. It can be really nice to interweave social life and academics, with group study sessions or making friends in classes. I think that having everyone you know be in one place with social outings like grabbing food or studying together makes college feel a lot more real and warm. 

I: At Penn, there are a lot of options for extracurriculars and student life that you can tailor to your interests. I’d say there is a work-life balance if you prioritize it, and there is always something going on both on campus and off campus, so there will always be something to do. 

Q: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of college? 

E: I love being able to meet so many other interesting students. I also think the classes I get to take are super cool and my professors have all been incredible. It’s definitely an adjustment being away from family and friends from home, though.

S: My favorite part about college is definitely the friends I’ve made and kept at Penn. I think that having the ability to hang out with the people you love every day outside of just class makes life amazing. I love doing “family” dinners with friends to catch up on our day, or venturing out into the city to find a cafe and work together. My least favorite part is the academic pressure, especially during midterm week. It is really easy to fall behind in college, especially in large lecture classes without required attendance. Unlike in high school, it’s harder to form relationships with your professors as well. Because of that, once you fall behind, even if you’re just studying for another class, it can feel impossible to catch up. 

I: My favorite part of college is being able to meet so many new people and live so close to all of my friends. It makes the stressors of college a lot easier to manage by having a support system. Campus life helps create a sense of community that I really enjoy. My least favorite part of college has to be going through new stressors related to academics, but also career-related stress. Penn is quite pre-professional, and this culture can become stressful when trying to explore what you want to do. 

Q: What is your favorite college memory so far? 

E: In general, being able to spend so much time with friends is fantastic. It builds a supportive environment where any activity becomes really fun (seriously, even office hours with friends leads to fun memories). There’s also so many insanely talented people here, so watching my friends’ performances is always a good time. 

S: My favorite college memory is when a couple of WIS friends came to visit, and, along with my college friends, we grabbed brunch and caught up on all our experiences. It was an ordinary day, but it was really nice having my high school and college worlds intersect and reflect on how much we’ve all changed and grown since then!

I: Some of my favorite memories are when my friends and I go into the city and explore new areas of Philadelphia. I really enjoy campus life, but getting off campus and seeing more of Philly is always super refreshing and memorable, especially when there are events going on like the Super Bowl or holiday-themed pop-ups like Christmas Village. 

Q: What advice do you have for juniors and seniors, especially for dealing with college applications? 

E: Don’t stress too much! I was rejected more than I was accepted, and getting rejected from your dream school builds character. A large part of the process is luck, so don’t take anything to heart. No matter where you end up, you’ll have a billion opportunities to succeed at what you want to do! Apply to colleges that excite you and one of them will work out in the end. 

S: My biggest advice is the stereotypical line of trusting the process, and prioritize finding friends in freshman year. I honestly think that having a strong social circle you can rely on makes college so much easier and so much more fun, even more so than academics or anything else. In terms of rejections, I’d just say that in two years, you won’t even remember anything about the college process, except how nice it is on the other side, regardless of where you end up.

I: College applications and rejections are a stressful time, but I genuinely believe everyone ends up where they’re meant to be. College is what you make of it wherever you go, so don’t worry too much about rejections and get excited for this next part of your life!

By Elektra Gea-Sereti 

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About the Contributor
Elektra Gea-Sereti
Elektra Gea-Sereti, Opinions Editor
Hi my name is Elektra and I am a senior plus the Opinions editor. I have been at Dateline since 9th grade, and my opinion articles range from social media trends to movie reviews. While not being opinionated can be strenuous, I do write the occasional sports, features, and food article. Outside of Dateline, you can find me on the volleyball court, or debating people in Mock Trial. 

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