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Back When They Took Anyone: Penn Admissions Through the Years


Photo by Navraj Singh / The Daily Pennsylvanian

The University of Pennsylvania is an 'Ivy League Institution,' which means it must be very selective and chooses only the very best candidates for admission. Throughout its 281 years of existence, the University admissions committee has done the very most to ensure that every class of Penn students is as talented, intelligent, and white as possible. Penn admissions has got this process down to a science and makes sure that it is fair and equitable at all times. Here, Under the Button presents a walk down memory lane for Penn admissions to demonstrate how the University has done nothing wrong — not ever — in selecting each new class of students. 

1740: The admissions department was just getting started. At their first meeting, they said, “Wow! You know what would be really really cool? If we only admitted white men!” And then they did. And statistics bear it out: The students were accepted into the University of Pennsylvania between the years 1740 and 1760 were certifiably 100% white men. And to make things really cool and nice, they were all rich, white men. And these rich, white men went on to do really great, ethical things with their wonderful upper-class educations, such as profit off of the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

1776: Can someone say “America Alert”?!? In these years the Admissions Office had three criteria: 1) you had to be rich 2) you had to be white and 3) you had to be a man. If you were anything else, acceptance was not going to happen for you! But even if you were all three of those things, you probably would have your studies interrupted so that you could be sent home to fight for your country. And in the process, you would probably get hypothermia and die. Can someone give me a U.S.A.?

1800: The Admissions Office in these years was really looking to diversify their student body, so they decided to exclusively admit rich, white men. Some would call this a pattern, but I would just call this the University of Pennsylvania! 

1820: The queerest years of Admissions Office history. Rich, white bottoms were the order of the day, and there were just enough rich, white tops to go around. The Admissions Office was very proud to announce that their top:bottom ratio was an incredible 1:10. Now that’s what we call a well-rounded class! If you were not a rich, white man, the University either evicted you or exploited your labor. Fun!

1840: The Admissions Office could no longer tolerate white bottoms and so they were completely eradicated. The white tops could stay if they were 1) rich and 2) said they hated Lana Del Rey. 

1860: During the Civil War years, the University offered its first supplemental essay. The question was: Is slavery wrong? Half the applicants got the answer correct and were immediately admitted to the University. What the archives don’t tell us is what the correct answer was. All we can say is that after the abolition of slavery, these young entrepreneurs found new and exciting ways to pillage and exploit people who were not white men. 

1900: Before 1900, the University thought that silly, little-girl brains couldn’t be filled with important things like “education.” But boy, was the University wrong about that! Silly, little-girl brains could learn all sorts of things, and the University was actually soo surprised. The Admissions Office added empowering language like “Girlboss!” and “Slay!” to its admission materials. 

1950: Move over, rich, white men! Like, maybe just one centimeter, if that’s OK. To make room for all the rich, white female students. And, also, maybe a handful of students of color, who will receive a world-class education, while also facing world-class discrimination from their fellow students. What a great opportunity!

1990: Did someone say socioeconomic diversity? Not the University of Pennsylvania!  But at this point, there were so many rich people around that the University really had to start clamping down on who got in or not. The criteria: perfect grades, perfect test scores, and good extracurriculars OR one (1) building named after a family member on campus. Take your pick!

2020: The Admissions Office has gotten 281 years of practice at this shtick, and they’ve really got this admissions thing down to a science. It’s as many rich, white people they can get away with admitting (and I mean, c’mon, if it’s not broke, why fix it?) plus enough people of color to fill up, like, 10 diversity photos on the admissions website. Now this is what we call progress!