s I look back on my decision to attend the University of Pennsylvania, I can say without hesitation that it was an excellent choice for me. Due to my diverse interests, I needed a diverse college experience. At Penn, I found just what I was looking for: a challenging academic environment, a wealth of opportunities to express myself creatively, and a group of friends that will likely last a lifetime. Penn fully prepared me for my first career with a leading management consulting firm that advises Fortune 500 companies on their most important strategic decisions. Penn also offered outstanding opportunities for my musical pursuits, leading to my current career performing and recording original R&B music.
As a student in the College of Arts and Sciences, my coursework spanned a range of disciplines. I read and wrote about English literature spanning several centuries and many cultures — from Chaucer’s Middle English satire to Nelson George’s criticism of contemporary black popular music. I took courses in U.S. political parties, African history and introductory computer programming, to name a few.
World-class professors, individuals who were leading scholars and active participants in their respective fields, taught all of these courses. One political science professor was a foreign policy advisor to past U.S. presidents and participated in the issues on which he lectured. And, since many of these courses were small discussion-based seminars, I often was able to have substantive conversations and valuable interactions with these brilliant academics, not to mention my talented peers.
There is more to college than studying and when evaluating a college, there is certainly more to consider than its academic reputation. I found many opportunities to express my musical talents at Penn and in the surrounding Philadelphia community.
Early in my freshman year, I joined Counterparts, a coed a cappella group consistently rated as one of the nation’s best. In Counterparts, I was able to sing on award-winning albums and perform at Carnegie Hall. I was also able to develop my leadership skills. Like most activities at Penn, Counterparts was entirely student-run. We selected and arranged the music, promoted our performances, arranged and financed our travels, and even produced our own CDs.
The opportunities to explore my musical interests were not limited to campus activities. Philadelphia added to the richness of my Penn experience. Philadelphia has long been a hotbed of important black music, from the 70’s soul of Gamble and Huff to the visionary hip-hop of the Roots to the vibrant gospel music emanating from the neighborhood churches. I was both a witness to and a participant in this cultural experience. Alongside performers from West and North Philadelphia, I played at freestyle hip-hop performances organized by fellow Penn students. I directed the choir at a local church. I studied with professors who did important fieldwork in black music and its relationship to the community. Many of these experiences are special to schools such as Penn, institutions that are located in the heart of a vibrant urban community. Often, prospective students do not give sufficient attention to the community surrounding the college. If you do consider this, I’m sure you will find that Penn’s location in Philadelphia adds to Penn’s appeal.
My experience at Penn was wonderful, one that will have a lasting impact on my future. No matter what my future holds, Penn prepared me to excel both analytically and creatively. By John Legend, nine-time Grammy Award winning recording artist.