Penn’s Stress Mess

A new survey says it's one of the most stressful schools in the country. And students — in between grinding their teeth and losing their hair — say they couldn't agree more

According to a new study, Penn is the fourth most-stressed out university in the country.

No wonder they’re getting wasted in West Philly.

Three other Ivies cracked the top 10: Columbia (2nd), Harvard (5th) and Princeton (6th). Stanford is No. 1.

Using data from US News & World Report, among other sources, The Daily Beast ranked the top 50 schools. Such stress-inducing criteria as cost, competitiveness, acceptance rate and campus crime were taken into account. [SIGNUP]

Not a single Penn student I spoke with was surprised by the Quakers’ dubious distinction.

Wharton’s uber-competitiveness has a trickle-down effect, the students say. (Huntsman Hall is nicknamed “the Death Star.”) When recruiters hit campus, it gets worse. Everyone vies for the same handful of prestigious jobs and internships, not to mention grad school slots. Friendships come second, if at all.

Factor in the insane course loads, the study groups that routinely begin at 1 a.m. and the intense campus social pressure, and it’s easy to see why the best and the brightest are stressing out in Ben Franklin’s brainery.

“It makes me think of what the Red Queen said in Alice in Wonderland — ‘It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place,’” says Maneesh Singhal, a senior biology major from outside Boston.

“It’s like you’re constantly in an academic and arms race to see who can come up with the best resume or get the best job or get into the best grad school or dress the best. And because everyone is doing it, you’re running on a treadmill and not going anywhere.”

Wharton senior Raj Gokal feels his buddy Maneesh’s pain.

“You think in terms of ‘beating’ other students,” says Gokal, a finance major from Valdosta, Ga. “At Wharton, everyone is goal oriented. You must have an internship to succeed in that world, so you start worrying about it as a freshman. Your senior year is practically all about the job search.”

Lauren Haber, a sophomore transfer from “laid back” Cal-Berkeley, was shocked by Penn’s intense culture. “Everybody takes five, six or seven courses. When recruiters were here, I spent 10 to 15 hours a week just prepping for interviews.”

The prep work paid off — Haber landed a summer job at Google. But even that increased her stress, she says, because her Wharton friends were miffed that the plum went to a non-economics major.

How do Penn students cope with the Big S?

Senior Singhal began losing his hair and grinding his teeth. Sean Henson, a junior in engineering — among the highest-stress majors — says many of his friends are in campus counseling. Fellow junior Christina Shin knows more than a few students on medical leave.

The payoff, says Athens-born senior Alex Stamatiadis, is that “we’re going to be leaders in our fields. Penn gives you tools you wouldn’t have at other schools.”

And if you think the stress factor is discouraging high school seniors, think again. More than 3,000 are on Penn’s waiting list for fall.

Mea culpa: Maneesh Singhal’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post. My apologies.

GAIL SHISTER, TV columnist for the Inquirer for 25 years, teaches writing at Penn and is a columnist for She writes for The Philly Post on Tuesdays.