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Incoming Freshman Spends Hours Each Day Perfecting 'Penn Face' in Mirror


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Each year, members of the incoming class prepare for Penn in various ways. Some go on trips with their family and friends. Some work summer jobs to make some money before school. Others overhaul their wardrobes or hit the gym. A few even do the summer reading. Perhaps one will complete Thrive At Penn.

Incoming freshman Erin Hiltim is different. She's at home, where she spends hours each day looking in the mirror.

"I'm just trying to get the Penn face down before I get there," Hiltim, a resident of Radnor, PA, told us on Thursday. "It's not as easy as I expected. It's not exactly a smile, but it's not a frown either. It has to say: 'I'm successful and mentally healthy, but also busier than you.' I just have to keep practicing."

Hiltim says that she was warned about Penn face from a current Penn student who had attended her high school. 

"She told me that Penn face is the face people use to hide the stress, frustration, and anxiety that the environment of this school can produce," Hiltim explained. "But I didn't focus on the clear and obvious concerns. When I heard that, I was like, I have to have the best Penn face of anyone in my class. I need to show up stoney-faced."

After perfecting the Penn face, Hiltim plans to master the "smize" and the "soft smile", two related but vaguely different types of the classic "smile." "The smize and the soft smile are both useful for certain occasions," Hiltim says. "But the Penn face is what you wear every day."