Lots of people love the month of March. It signals the end of winter, college basketball championships are starting up soon (Go Hoosiers!), and acceptance letters are going out to students who have gotten into the TESOL program here at Penn. Congratulations to those of you who have been accepting into the incoming class! It’s quite an accomplishment and something you should be very proud of.
One of the first things a lot of people do as soon as they get admitted is check out the ELX website, which may or may not have led you here. If so, welcome! I know a lot of newly admitted students have questions; I know I had approximately one million. I have rounded up some of the more common ones and have compiled a list here for you to check out.
I have been accepted into to both Columbia’s Teachers College and Penn’s GSE. Why should I pick GSE over TC?
How big are the classes at GSE?
Are the professors approachable?
How many students will be matriculating in the fall?
How many classes will I take each semester?
Where can I teach for EDUC 528/EDUC 563?
What’s the difference between getting an M.A. or an M.S.Ed?
What are my living options?
Is West Philly safe?
What if I have more questions?
I would like to begin this section by saying that I did not apply to TC. Personally, I don’t really like New York and I have absolutely no desire to live there. However, a lot of people at GSE that were accepted to both schools. I asked them to help me with this question and here’s what they had to say:
- Size: I couldn’t get exact numbers, but from my understanding TC is HUGE compared to GSE. I go more into this in the next question.
- Cost of living: A quick Google search will tell you that New York is one of the most expensive cities in the world. So on top of tuition, you have to take into consideration cost of living. A few of my friends here said that they got more financial aid from Columbia, but it wasn’t going to offset their cost of living and even with that aid, it was actually going to be more expensive for them to go to school in New York. By comparison, Philly is a lot cheaper. Plus, I know lots of people who have moved here from New York (amongst other places) and they love it! A lot of people overlook Philadelphia, which is great because it keeps the prices on things down, but it’s a shame for them because they don’t know what they’re missing!
- Content taught: TC tends to focus on practicum and pedagogical development (great for practitioners) whereas GSE tends to put more emphasis on interrelated cultural, social, political and many other dimensions of education practices, which is great for those who need more theoretical insights to teaching (such as researchers, teacher-researchers, or practitioners). As an aside, I have to say that I am really enjoying learning about the cultural and social aspects of education because I feel it is a topic that otherwise gets overlooked in many programs and I feel as though this is strengthening me as a teacher.
- Teaching/leadership opportunities: Something that really sets us apart from TC is that you can start teaching your first semester at Penn. You can start teaching your first semester at PEDAL, and there are even classes that have a teaching component. Your second year you can become a PEDAL facilitator, a writing coach, and more. You walk away from the program with a lot of teaching experience, which is fantastic.
One really nice thing about GSE is that classes are around 20 people, meaning you really get to know and interact with your professor and other classmates. I have never felt lost in a sea of faces, and the small class sizes means that everyone gets to participate in class.
Yes. And I say that without hesitation. Because the class sizes are so small, professors actually get to know who you are. Additionally, they always hold office hours and make it easy for you to talk to them if you need to. Plus, they are all great people. I spent about 30 minutes talking to one of my professors last semester about our Christmas plans before getting to the question I had about my final paper. This, in my opinion, is a HUGE plus.
It’s a little hard for me to say, but my cohort was around 80 students. That seems to be pretty typical, so I would expect something around that number.
Students usually take about three classes per semester. Here is a good breakdown given from the program’s website that I would say most students follow:
- Course requirements for degree: 12 (7 required courses, 5 elective courses)
- Typical Course Load:
- Fall: 3 courses
- Spring: 3 courses
- Summer: 1-2 courses
- Fall: 3 courses
- Spring: 1-2 courses (including EDUC 563-TESOL Seminar)
- Culminating Experience: EDUC 563-TESOL Seminar (includes a service project of 30 hours of ESL teaching)
One thing that I really like about the places where we can teach is that they are located all across the city (West Philly, Center City, South Philly, etc.). Another thing I really like is that you can teach any age group you’d like, whether that be kids or senior citizens.
In the fall, our fieldwork and service-learning coordinator holds an information session for all TESOL students. At the session, she breaks down the different types of sites and locations where we can go teach. I highly suggest you attend since it is really helpful. You’ll also have access to all this information on Canvas, our class management system.
In many ways, an MA and MSEd are comparable degrees – you’ll find either at the master’s level in TESOL, depending on the program, and both would fulfill a job requirement for “a master’s degree in TESOL”. Either could also lead to future doctoral studies in the field. Based on what I have learned from others, one of the biggest differences between the TESOL MSEd degree at Penn and TESOL MA degrees at other schools has to do with the program structure and coursework/teaching experiences required. While many MA degrees may not include any direct teaching – or just a few weeks of teaching – in our program, you will teach for at least two full semesters (for EDUC 528 and EDUC 563) and have a variety of teaching/tutoring/curriculum design experiences built into your electives as well. In addition, there is a strong emphasis on theory (related to linguistics, second language acquisition, etc.), rather than a focus simply on pedagogy. Ultimately, these experiences – and the portfolio of knowledge and skills you will build to accompany them – should position you more favorably in the field.
Program reputation will be related more to the specific program than the degree type; Penn GSE’s TESOL program does have a strong reputation in the field, both in the US and internationally, and the fact that our university is an Ivy League institution does not hurt either.
You have two options for living arrangements. You can either live on campus or off campus. I can only speak to living off campus, but I do have some friends who live on campus and seem to like it. You really can’t beat the location!
If you are interested in living off campus, feel free to check out Penn’s Off Campus Services website. I found that it was a good resource for getting a feel for how much places go for. Personally, I had the best luck using Craigslist. I found my house in June for an August 1 start date. I have a lot of friends who also had a lot of success using Craigslist, but we were all able to check out the places we were looking at in person. So if that isn’t an option for you, I’d probably bypass these sites.
As far as neighborhoods go, I know people that live in West Philly, Rittenhouse Square, Center City, and Graduate Hospital. I have some friends that live a little farther out in Philly, but they usually end up driving to campus. If you want to remain within walking distance, I would probably look around those neighborhoods.
Most international students end up living on campus at Sansom Place. I have heard good things about it. If you’d like to learn more about living there, you can check out their website here. If you’re coming from abroad, this may be the best bet for you. Also, I have had international friends live here for a year and then move off campus for their second year. So you can always do that.
I get this question A LOT. I think a lot of people still imagine the Fresh Prince of Bel Air when they think about West Philly. I have three things to say about that. First, that show was on like 25 years ago (don’t you feel old now) and A LOT has changed since then. Secondly, the people who say that tend to have not visited West Philly in a while, so their knowledge is dated. Third, you probably have the Fresh Prince theme song stuck in your head now. Here’s a link to the video so that you can jam out to it at home. Also bet you didn’t know that there’s an extended version. Now you do and you’re welcome.
So my answer is this: if you have spent any time at all in a big city and/or have any semblance of common sense, you will be fine. Yes, there are certain areas of West Philly that you shouldn’t be walking around late at night by yourself, but you really have to work to get to those areas since they are not super close to campus. West Philly is huge, and I don’t think people realize how much of the city they are talking about when they use that term. So that is something to keep in mind.
Campus itself and the areas surrounding it are safe at night and I feel comfortable walking around when it is dark outside. Penn also has an active Division of Public Safety that does a really good job of keeping campus and the area around it safe. But keep in mind that Philadelphia is the fifth largest metro area in the States. It’s not a bubble that is immune to bad things happening, but if you pay attention to your surroundings you will be fine.
If you have more questions that have not been answered here, feel free to leave a comment below. You can also join us for one of the online admissions chats that is coming up (check out the Upcoming GSE Admissions Events page).