With graduation fast approaching, we’re taking the month of April to honor our M&T Class of 2015 with a few Senior Spotlights. This installment comes to us from Nick Liu with some advice for M&T underclassmen.
Now that I am a senior, it’s helpful for me to take a few minutes to reflect on the past four years at Penn. I have written out the five most important pieces of advice that I can offer M&T underclassmen. Most of the advice below is reworded and repackaged from those far smarter than myself, but all of it has impacted me in a significant way.
1. Friends and Mentors
If there is one thing I have learned at Penn, it’s the importance of friends and mentors. Being there to celebrate a friend’s ups is always fun, but a true friend is someone who helps in a time of need. When your friend or mentee is in trouble, he or she should be your number one priority, far over whatever exam or paper that you have due. That’s when you form a genuine connection. Research has shown that you can only maintain five truly close friends at once, which I strongly believe. I’ve been very fortunate to find a few friends I trust entirely, and I see positive traits that I’ve acquired from each of them every day of my life. At the same time, it’s important to continue to meet new people. Although close friendship is often a matter of circumstance, you have the ability to choose your closest friends as long as you continue to meet new faces. You’ll know that you’ve found the right group when you trust them to be there for you when you need them the most.
The same goes for mentors. There is absolutely no way I would be where I am today without incredible mentors. My future job, my activities on campus, all of my major decisions, have been the amalgamation of the thoughts of those far smarter and more insightful than myself. If you think it’s important to find the right friends, it is even more important to find the right people to look up to. Mentors will help you without any expectation of something in return, so, when it comes time, you should do the same for your mentees. There is something so rewarding in watching a mentee grow and to know you made an impact. It’s something really indescribable.
2. Just Do It
When it comes to startups, I often hear people (myself at times included) say that they are waiting for the right idea. For us as students, the idea really does not matter. Studies have shown the vast majority of startups change their original mission, often multiple times. Twitter started out as a podcast compiler. Paypal started as a security software product. Youtube started as a video dating site. My advice: take whatever idea you have and start calling potential customers. One of the most useful skills not taught at Wharton is sales, how to deal with someone rejecting your idea and still picking up the phone again. Calling customers helps you learn how to sell yourself to your future boss, how to convince him/her to go with your idea, how to formulate a story to raise capital with investors. The first startup I launched with a friend at Penn was not an especially fleshed out idea. We wanted to charge companies to organize information sessions. Tons of organizations did it for free after all. It ended up being the most profitable idea I worked on at Penn and the most beneficial for myself personally because it taught me how to talk to and sell to customers.
Freshman summer/winter, sophomore summer/winter, even junior summer/winter if you can (of course balance travel with spending time with family). Apply to some of Penn’s summer abroad programs, and the university will help with financial aid. If you can study abroad, please do. I set time aside my sophomore summer to travel in Southeast Asia and spent a winter backpacking in South America. Those times remain some of the most memorable moments at not just Penn but my entire life. When you travel, you learn more about yourself and those you travel with than at any other time. You learn how to deal with being completely alone and how to find friends among strangers. Being separated from what you find comfortable (and mobile data) helps you think about your life from a distance.
4. Read and Write
The real world is much more interesting than business and engineering. Reading a new book every two weeks helps you stay grounded and thoughtful despite the chaos of school. I know a friend who I always see with a new book every week, and it inspired me to do the same. In addition to reading, write! There is no better way to reflect on your life than to write a few times a week. I have tried to keep a daily journal and failed, but even the one or two times I write every month have helped me tremendously. It’s easy to get sucked into routine, but writing about our lives helps us take a step back and reflect. Most positive habits in my life are a product of writing and the accompanied self-reflection.
5. Do Something You Never Imagined Yourself Doing
Please don’t break the law, but do try new things! It ensures that you are always learning and growing. I have danced in the VSA cultural show for four years now, despite being described, quite recently, as an awkward dancer, but I am incredibly happy that I joined. It’s something I never did in the past and something I will likely not do in the near future, which makes me all the more happy that I did it now at Penn. I encourage you to join student organizations and classes outside of Wharton and Engineering. A few of my favorite classes at Penn were in the humanities. Out of all of the pieces of advice, perhaps this is the most cliché, but certain ideas are popular for a reason. Go out and do something different.
Hopefully, some of these ideas resonate with you, and one day a sliver of what I say to you now will be passed on to you underclassmen. Enjoy the upcoming years! I can say with certainty that, for me, Penn will be missed.
Nick, originally from Raleigh, North Carolina, is a member of the M&T Class of 2015. He studies Materials Science within Penn Engineering and Finance, Management, and Entrepreneurship & Innovation in the Wharton School. After graduation Nick will join Apollo Global Management as an Analyst in the Opportunistic Credit Group.