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UPenn Versus Claremont McKenna College for a government-oriented kid

Raemi11Raemi11 16 replies3 threads Junior Member
Hey, I'm a high school senior who is deciding where to apply Early Decision this coming Fall.

I have legacy at UPenn and my stats are definitely in the running so some might say just go with UPenn because of the status/rank. My college counselor at school tells me he thinks I'd actually have a better chance of getting accepted to UPenn than CMC ED because of my legacy, but says I'm still definitely very competitive at both.

I visited UPenn twice and Claremont McKenna once. As a Northeasterner, I fell in love with Southern California and was amazed by the different opportunities CMC would offer me. My passion is for political science and economics and I hope to pursue a career in government. Claremont McKenna has a strong focus on these areas and with the Washington Program, along with their top-notch internship opportunities, I feel it might be perfect.

UPenn has the national status though that a small liberal arts school doesn't. While the Forbes 2017 ranking places Claremont McKenna just under Penn and above other schools like Columbia, I am still hesitant at choosing a lesser known school.

Obviously Penn offers terrific opportunities that come with an Ivy degree, but could CMC actually offer better/more opportunities for political internships and matriculation into grad school? My main gripe with UPenn aside from this is the environment. UPenn is known in many circles to be a very stressful environment (I know there have been a number of suicides.) This, compared to Claremont McKenna which maintains a career focus while being ranked the #1 "These Students Love Their College" in Princeton Review makes me think CMC is the way to go.

Could anyone dispel with the notion that UPenn is a stressful, somewhat depressing place to be? And are CMC and Penn's political opportunities roughly equal or does Claremont McKenna's focus on government lead to more internships?

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Replies to: UPenn Versus Claremont McKenna College for a government-oriented kid

  • PennCAS2014PennCAS2014 378 replies8 threads Member
    edited August 2017
    Both are obviously outstanding schools. The "feels" at each are going to differ widely. A few things to consider (and my most important piece of advice is at the bottom so if you don't care about the rest, at least read the end!)

    The VAST majority of students at Penn are actually quite happy. Penn did have a cluster of suicides (similar to the problems other universities like Cornell, MIT, NYU, JHU, Columbia, etc have faced in the past) but mental health challenges are common to every college campus and suicide patterns are SIGNIFICANTLY more nuanced than discussions on college confidential would have you believe. At the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of Penn students are extremely happy, well adjusted college students. It's a medium size school of about 10,000 undergrads-- you can't judge it by a small number of unrepresentative, news-grabbing tragedies that it has faced which don't indicate what they might seem to show upon cursory inspection.

    I think you might also find that Penn cares quite a bit about political science and economics. In fact, they care so much, they're building a new facility to house both programs that will foster greater cross disciplinary interaction:
    Penn has also recently built the Perry World House which is bringing leaders from across the political landscape to campus for classes, research, speeches, panels, and more:
    Don't forget about the Penn-Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement which is being led by Vice President Joe Biden (who has several children and grandchildren who are Penn alums):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1FZW_xHu2g (a video of Joe Biden's first speaking event related to the Biden Center)
    And then there is Andrea Mitchell (1967 Penn Graduate) and her new gift to endow the Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy at Penn:
    Penn also has one of the most robust Washington DC programs in higher education:
    I was part of the Penn in Washington Program and I absolutely loved it. I, and several of my friends, enjoyed the benefits of the Penn brand in DC and we had jobs in various parts of federal government from the White House and the Dep't of State, to homeland security and the Senate. Other friends were at Think Tanks, NGOs, and non-profits..
    And Penn grads have been in politics LITERALLY since the beginning of America. From signers of the declaration of independence to Governors Jon Huntsman and Ed Rendell, Penn alumni have been involved throughout the United States' long history. And yes, you'll find Penn grads at the very top of our government today (the president) and of foreign governments as well.

    All of this is to say that you don't need to be concerned about the opportunities you'll have at Penn to explore politics and political science. There is no internship you won't be able to snag from Penn and I have found that since I've graduated the ivy league brand is more powerful than I even realized when I matriculated not that long ago. It opens doors I didn't expect and has led me to events I would never have heard about had I not gone to Penn or another Ivy.

    The most important piece of advice:
    ***AT THE SAME TIME HOWEVER - you sound like you want to go to CMC. And since CMC is an outstanding place to go and you sound like you really think you'll be happy there, you should go for it! Don't choose CMC because you think the opportunities for jobs/internships will be better (they won't be) or because Princeton Review employed a faulty methodology to "prove* that their students are infinitely happier (they're not). Go because YOU will be happy there and when you're happy, you will thrive and when you thrive, you will do well enough in school to land amazing internships and go to great graduate schools.***

    Good luck-- feel free to reach out with any questions you might have about Penn, Political Science, government internships and more :)
    edited August 2017
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  • quakerstakequakerstake 770 replies9 threads Member
    Penn can also "boast" two Presidents of the United States who attended - William Henry Harrison (died in office after 31 days) and the current one. I will say that the opportunities at Penn are amazing. As an undergrad there (awhile back now), I had George McGovern as a Poli Sci professor teaching a class on Presidential Elections.
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  • Raemi11Raemi11 16 replies3 threads Junior Member
    Wow, @PennCAS2014 what a terrific comment and advice! Thank you very much for your thoughtful analysis.

    A couple of questions:

    You mentioned CMC will not offer me better opportunities, but do you think it could offer me similar level of opportunities? As you assumed (correctly) I still have a love for CMC and am sold on it. Do you think the Ivy level degree is so invaluable that it is worth getting even if it means I'm not as in love with the school as Claremont?

    Does everyone at the Penn in Washington program get those level of internships and if not how hard is it to achieve them?

    Are those buildings/centers you mentioned regarding politics and economics open yet, or still under construction?

    You seem to have very similar interests as I do and I am curious did you major in political science, or PPE? I'm very interested in the PPE major.
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  • PennCAS2014PennCAS2014 378 replies8 threads Member
    Hey @Raemi11 - I'm glad I could be helpful! I will try to answer your questions as best I can:

    1. I don't know if CMC will offer comparable opportunities (only because I am not as familiar with the school as I am with other LACs). That being said, I think the most important consideration for undergrad (when talking about schools that have highly qualified students, high quality academics, and a long pattern of good career outcomes) is your happiness. Being happy is essential to unlocking success no matter where you are and you can't network confidently, get amazing grades, and do all the rest if you're miserable!

    To me, the Ivy brand has been invaluable but that's because I entered an industry and chose to live in a city where prestige matters too much imo. I didn't grow up with connections to this world and in a lot of ways, besides my ivy education, I don't fit the stereotype of a person who finds success in this world too often, but I landed at an organization after college that recruits HEAVILY from place like Penn, Harvard, etc. and then takes select students from other schools to fill out their class. I also used ivy connections (an older Princeton alum I met at a networking event who I hit it off with after he brought up our basketball rivalry) to transition a bit in my career as well. For me, the benefits have been incalculable. For someone else, perhaps not. For most people, in most fields, in most cities around the world, where you go to undergrad won't make much of a difference. On the coasts, in fields like politics, finance, law, and tech etc. at the highest levels, it can matter a great deal. Especially because the Ivies also have great grad schools which can double, triple, or quadruple your network in fields like politics. But the reality is that I wouldn't have chosen to go to Penn if I thought I wouldn't be happy there. No amount of professional success can mitigate the damage done by four years of discontentment; just ask every Columbia grad you meet ( ;) jk! Columbia is great and that was a joke).

    2. Most people in the Penn in Washington Program get the *type* of internships they want, regardless of the level. So if you want a federal internship in an executive agency, you can probably get one. That doesn't mean you will get the EXACT internship you want. But you will probably be able to find something in your preferred genre (though that's probably true at many schools). Penn in Washington does have OUTSTANDING advisors and a deep bench of mentors and resources for students trying to break into Washington. I actually got my internship just by applying through the standard government jobs website but I know the penn brand was helpful. I was in an office with other interns who were ivy students and students from local powerhouses. I am doubtful that only ivy-students and local powerhouse schools applied but that seems to be where they decided to recruit from that year. But of course there are Penn students who don't get the exact internship they want (just as there are Harvard and Princeton students who don't as well). Going to Penn doesn't write you a golden ticket to success- it just gives you access to more resources than most other places that will help you as you pursue your loftiest goals. I can't say that they're better than what CMC offers, because, again, I'm not as familiar with it-- but I am pretty certain they'll be just as outstanding if not better.

    3. The new center for Politics and Economics will open in the Spring, I believe. I am SO jealous of anyone that gets to use those facilities. I may have to find some time to audit a course because that building looks amazing. I find Penn's most recent architectural efforts to be absolutely outstanding. They are committed to respecting the integrity of the pre-existing structures (like the Trust building or the Perry World House's original house) while integrating state of the art designs and tech. It's going to be so cool!!!!!

    Also the Perry World House is already built and the Biden and Mitchell Centers are not going to be physical buildings (it seems) but rather programs with faculty and resources for research and classes.

    4. Political Science was my minor. It was a great experience and it continues to improve from what I'm told.

    I also forgot to mention that because of Penn's One University Policy you will be permitted to take classes, do research, meet students and work with professors in Penn's other undergraduate and graduate/professional schools. That means you can take classes at the Fels Institute of Government at Penn or the Law School that are related to your interests. Penn also has an outstanding commitment to interdisciplinary opportunities and has thus created many programs you might enjoy like the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative:
    https://penncurrent.upenn.edu/2014-05-08/eye-future/penn-wharton-public-policy-initiative (a little article about what it is)
    https://publicpolicy.wharton.upenn.edu/ (the actual website)

    Or the Penn Public Policy Challenge:

    And of course the University Minor of American Public Policy which is an interdisciplinary minor that combines the resources of The College and Wharton:

    I just want to emphasize again that my responses are only intended to show that Penn can offer you the same (and perhaps even greater) resources as CMC when it comes to politics and government. But again, if you will not be happy at Penn because in your heart you have become a Southern Californian, then that matters a lot too.

    As always, happy to answer more questions. :)
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  • Raemi11Raemi11 16 replies3 threads Junior Member
    @PennCAS2014 Again, thank you for your invaluable feedback. I am now seriously reconsidering if I should apply ED to Penn, after all I could apply ED 2 to Claremont McKenna. Another thing that keeps on popping up in the back of my minds is advising/career service.

    At a small liberal arts school, you get a lot of personal attention and "hand-holding" from career services from what I hear. I know you mentioned Penn's advising was "OUTSTANDING." Does this extend to career service advising as well and help obtaining these level of internships. I am a little worried if I will become lost in such a big school like Penn and not have access to the resources I would at a smaller school.

    Thanks again!
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  • PennCAS2014PennCAS2014 378 replies8 threads Member
    That's true- doing ED that way would give you the best shot at getting into either-- but that's only useful if you think you would be equally happy at each.

    I personally received a lot of hand holding from career services but I also sought it out. I think this is true across the board at Penn: there are more resources than you could possibly take advantage of but if you never seek them out then they won't be of much use to you. So if you want to benefit you have to be the one to set up appointments with career services and you have to come with questions so they can help guide you. I don't know how it is at CMC but at Penn there is definitely the expectation that you are going to take the lead in deciding what you want and Career Services will help you outline the path to achieve your goals. So for example, I spoke with the head of the Penn in Washington program before applying to my internships so that she could assist me in tailoring my applications to the specific branches, offices, executive departments (state, homeland security, treasury, etc., think tanks, and more,) that interested me. But I never would have received that advice had I not taken the time to consider my goals and bring my questions to the resources I knew would provide me with advice. I did the same when it came time to find a job and I wanted to translate my humanities majors into a more business oriented position. Career Services was INVALUABLE in helping me craft my narrative for interviews and in helping me to identify the marketable skills my majors had given me.

    And once you've graduated, career services is STILL a resource to you. I remained in contact with them after graduation and they have helped me in my career and most recently they helped me as I applied to and eventually chose a graduate program. They revised my personal statements for professional school and helped me perfect my resume. They helped me brainstorm topic ideas for the personal statement as well. For me, they were very hands on. For a student that chose not to reach out and ask for help, perhaps they wouldn't feel the same way.

    Also just on the topic of advising at Penn--- The College is genuinely a LAC within a large research university. From the moment you accept a seat at Penn you are assigned a Peer Advisor, a Pre-Major Advisor (a faculty member selected from the departments you're most interested in or, if you're undecided, from a department at random), and a College Office Advisor (someone to help you navigate any challenges within the university. So for example, my sophomore year I had a health problem and my College Office Advisor coordinated with my professors and student health services to ensure that I was able to miss class while still having access to notes and recorded lectures, allowing me to stay enrolled for the semester even while missing a month of class). Once you're a sophomore or junior, you will choose a major and you will also be assigned (or you will choose) a major advisor. So by the time you are a sophomore or junior you will have 4 officially assigned advisors to help you navigate everything from social life at Penn to your major requirements and career goals. In addition to those advisors who are assigned to you, there are MANY opportunities to find informal advisors that you can identify through taking classes with a professor you like, finding a research mentor through the Center For Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, or participating in one of Penn's many centers and programs like the Kelly Writers House or the Penn Center for International Politics. Needless to say, you'll have advisors for everything and your responsibility is to reach out to them and use them as resources when you need them!

    Hope that helps as well :)
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  • Much2learnMuch2learn 4610 replies168 threads Senior Member
    edited August 2017
    Penn can be stressful. They expect a lot of their students. Every Ivy does. Students are talented and there to be challenged. A lot of the stress really comes from students trying to take on too much. Getting involved in clubs and activities is a big part of the Penn experience. Students have to learn to find a balance and also keep in mind that there are more important things than top grades.

    Regarding suicide, I think that that comes primarily from mental health issues. Also, the sheer size of the Penn student body guarantee that it will happen from time to time. Additionally, if you look at the details, Penn counts all Penn student suicides, including students on a leave of absence, or who were at home on summer break, etc. I think they report more because they are more transparent in counting many events that other schools would not report.

    The Ivy brand seems to matter more than it probably should in politics. It is amazing to me that the last 5 Presidents are Ivy League grads, and is Hillary. Trump sent most of his kids to Penn and Biden sent his kids and grand kids. I think it is not only the education, but also the connections that they developed. Additionally, Penn undergrads have the opportunity to apply to sub-matriculate into the Penn Law School, which is also highly ranked.

    I believe that 8 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were affiliated with Penn, including Ben Franklin, Penn's founder.

    CMC is an excellent school, and I am sure you would have an excellent experience there too.
    edited August 2017
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  • dfin2013dfin2013 210 replies11 threads Junior Member
    I think that you would have an excellent experience at CMC, but more opportunities and connections at Penn (ALONG WITH an excellent experience). CMC would seem "sleepy" compared to Penn, in terms of the size of the student body and the surrounding area. Since legacy really only gives you an advantage at Penn if you apply ED, I would use it there. You still may not get in :(
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  • SwimDad99SwimDad99 193 replies7 threads Junior Member
    My son is into his first days at Williams and has been blown away by the LAC experience. We also visited Pomona and CMC during our visits last year, and he loved them, too. Passed on them only because of the distance. So, OP, you're not crazy to give careful consideration to CMC. My son ultimately chose Williams over Dartmouth. And could not be happier about that decision now.
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  • Raemi11Raemi11 16 replies3 threads Junior Member
    @penncas2014 Do you think that the wharton school at penn dominates the campus? I've heard that it does and people even from the poli-sci major or PPE (philosophy, politics, and economics) end up going into exclusively consulting or i-banking. I really want to work for a think tank, maybe go into law at some point, work for politicians, and eventually run for office myself. That's really my main concern.

    So overall, would UPenn give me those opportunities and is it easy enough through the career and internship services? Also, do people every take internships over the school term or only during the summer?

    Thanks again, you all have been incredibly helpful and I am revisiting Penn next week to give it another chance!
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  • Much2learnMuch2learn 4610 replies168 threads Senior Member
    "Do you think that the wharton school at penn dominates the campus?"

    No. Wharton is almost 20% of students. Undergrads are all mixed in together. You will know Wharton students, but they do not dominate the campus. I have never hear that from a Penn student. CAS is nearly 60% SEAS is almost 20% and Nursing is small, maybe 5%.

    It is true that you may have options to do other things. Penn gives you options. If you want to be a politician, consider running for a class position to start. I think many PPE students spend a semester in Washington getting real experience. Summers are possible too. PPE is also a common pre-law degree. I would investigate with the department about the DC semester and how that works.

    You will want to build up your Penn contacts for later, when you are seeking donors. lol
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  • PennCAS2014PennCAS2014 378 replies8 threads Member
    @Raemi11 Nope, I wouldn't say that Wharton dominates the campus by any means. If anything, the College is the most obvious presence on campus because it houses about half of all undergrad students and every person at Penn will end up interacting with the College at some point (whether they realize it or not! For example, several science and math classes in the engineering requirements are actually housed in the College or taught by College faculty, along with the language classes that Wharton students take, etc.). In terms of campus leadership, you'll find that CAS students tend to make up the majority of club memberships and many leadership positions, again because of CAS's larger representation in the school. All of Penn's schools are doing tons of research and getting a ton of press for it as well-- especially the Med School. Of course Wharton has the best name recognition among the laypeople and outside of the Northeast - that's certainly no secret. But the campus experience is characterized by cohesive interaction among students from all four schools. I'm not exaggerating when I say that within a month of coming to campus, you'll all feel more like Penn students than CAS or Wharton students. I lived with, ate with, partied with, studied with, took classes with, exercised with, etc. etc. students from across Penn's four undergrad schools. You see each other so often and in so many different contexts that any preconceived notions about what "types" of people go to which undergrad school melt away very, very quickly. The idea that "wharton dominates" is just a misconception.

    It is true that a lot of students end up going into Ibanking and Finance. But that's true across the ivies. Several years ago, the Ivy's quintessential liberal arts college, Dartmouth, had 4 valedictorians and all of them took jobs in banking/finance. It's a very popular career for high achieving students from the most elite colleges because they're the low hanging fruit: most people who want them can get them and the employers come right to campus and recruit us so it makes it easy for us to get prestigious careers. That being said, there are tons of resources to help students who do not want to go into those fields at all. The reality, however, is that other industries don't recruit the same way and so some of the most coveted jobs in politics, for example, will require you to pursue a different, less obvious path to attain them (but that would be true anywhere, not just at Penn). Penn DEFINITELY has the resources to help you get those jobs though. From my graduating class alone I know at least a handful of people who currently work on the Hill, several in the White House, and several in executive departments (like state, treasury, DOD, DHS, etc). I can't think of anyone with whom I graduated that went to work for a think tank but I looked at the alum directory and I see people from my class at the Brookings Institution and at AEI. I don't know them personally but they are around!

    As for law school admissions, I cannot think of a better school for undergrad. Here's the link to the Penn Pre Law statistics website: https://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/20152016lawstats -- as you can see the top 5 schools at which Penn undergrads matriculated for Law School last year were Penn, NYU, Harvard, Columbia, and Stanford. If law school is the goal, I can personally assure you that Penn will do wonders in connecting you to that goal.

    And yes, you can definitely run for office one day. Penn alums have been in politics since the country was created! But voters care very little where you went to college to be honest. People say voters don't like ivy league grads but the last 5 Presidents have all been ivy grads and of the opposing candidates, 4 were ivy grads. Penn has had alums become president, governors, mayors, congresspeople, state attorneys general, and many other elected positions all within the last 10 years (adding to its long history of political alums). In addition to all of the elected officials, Penn alums have gone on to appointed positions as well and behind the scenes jobs at places like the SEC and in campaigns and more.

    Yes, people do take internships over the school term. I know a person who worked in the Philadelphia DA's office during the school year. Another friend did the Penn In Washington Semester where you take classes and have an internship. (She's currently pursuing graduate work at Harvard and intends to run for office one day). Don't forget the Factcheck.org is actually a Penn creation and you can likely become involved with that as well (among the many other politically oriented institutes and organizations on campus that might allow you to intern with them). And while I'm name dropping, Mary Frances Berry, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, John DiIulio, and Vice President Joe Biden are all professors at Penn (though Biden's role as a professor has not been fully fleshed out yet). Being able to interact with these political figures, learn from them, and potentially cultivate relationships with them while on campus will be meaningful experiences as well (disclaimer: you are unlikely to cultivate a relationship with Vice President Joe Biden as he is very busy ;) but the rest are there!).

    And now feels like a good time to bring up Penn's Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies:
    "As a part of a collaboration with the NBC, PORES staff and a select undergraduate students will be staffing the NBC Decision Desk the nights of the primaries. They’ll be working alongside analysts who will write the results of the exit polls for broadcast journalists and Web writers connected to NBC News and MSNBC."

    At the end of the day, if you're main concern is running for office then your major concern should be about building the best possible network you can. College degrees don't win elections, but ivy league networks certainly influence them and fund them. Going to Penn grants you membership to an exclusive club with a disproportionate affect on local, national, and international politics. It won't make you into the type of person who can get elected but it will put at your fingertips all of the resources necessary to start working towards your goals in ways that other universities simply can't. Finally, this is all especially true along the Northeast Corridor. If your political ambitions will intersect with that region at all, be sure to keep in mind the benefits of building your network close to there.

    I hope you enjoy your visit to Penn! Let me know how it goes!!
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  • oldcmcalumoldcmcalum 122 replies3 threads Junior Member
    You're getting a ton of great information on Penn (and it's an amazing place), but as a CMC alum, I wanted to put in a plug for it as a unique place too. I was not a government major (oddly I was a science and math major at CMC), but part of why I chose CMC was that there was such a substantial focus on politics and economics. The courses I took in those areas were phenomenal and ultimately, right after graduating, I entered a field (strategy consulting) that was more typically filled with people from those majors. I don't have a ton of time to write a huge long reply, but I wanted to say I think you're right that you could get more personalized attention at a smaller school. The internships and experiences my friends in Gov and PP&E did while students at CMC were phenomenal and I think you find that across all departments. The research institutes are amazing and opportunities during the school year are also available if you're interested. Even as a science major, this was the case for me. In addition to research during the school year, I ended up spending every summer in college at a national DOE laboratory working on cutting edge genetics research as a result of a great recommendation from a professor who really got to know me. When I came back to school my senior year not sure I wanted to stay in science, the career center worked with me to identify consulting as a possible fit for my interests and I ended up with multiple offers and had my choice of firms. Finally, I know the overall reputation of Penn is stronger in the general population, but CMC definitely enjoys it's own strong reputation in circles that matter. In my senior year, we had 1 Rhodes scholar, 2 Watson and 2 Marshall fellows in a class of 210 - I don't keep up on that as much anymore, but that seemed to be something consistent with CMC grads receiving more than our fair share of prestigious postgrad fellowships. One other quick anecdote: I attended business school at Kellogg (Northwestern) when it was consistently ranked #1 and in my class of 650 full time MBA students, the only undergrad schools that were more heavily represented than CMC were Northwestern and Stanford. In my class, I think we had 10+ folks who had graduated from CMC.
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  • quakerstakequakerstake 770 replies9 threads Member
    In case it's of interest, Penn posts very detailed career placement reports.

    Here is the link to the 2016 summer internship report: https://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/files/CAS_SummerSurvey2016.pdf

    Links to all of the recent available reports are at: https://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/reports.php

    You could look for the government related positions Penn students obtained.
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