“Do you have any questions about college life?”
I stare into the crowd of senior high school students. Silence. A few blank stares. A handful of awkward coughs. One person in the corner pretends to pay attention while testing out a new Snapchat filter.
I empathize. Asking questions is daunting, and receiving advice is uncomfortable- especially about a personal topic like college life. But, after my first semester in college, I wish someone had given me advice.
So please, graduating seniors, keep reading! I promise to keep it interesting and relatively painless. I won’t tell you to focus on studies, to “be yourself” (whatever that means), or repeat an old cliché that you’ve heard time and time again. Take this as a guide, not a prep book: pick and choose what you like. You certainly don’t have to do all of them and, rest assured, none of this will be on the test.
Coming into my freshman year, I thought I had everything ready. I walked through the Quad gates fully armed with too many t-shirts, an excessive number of highlighters, and my trusty mattress topper. What I didn’t know was no matter how prepared I was, college was infinitely more prepared to surprise me.
College has a way of making you learn about yourself. During those first days on campus, I had no idea I’d enrolled in one class that didn’t show up on my schedule: ME 101. I knew I had shortcomings, but being in an intensive environment accentuated those traits when left unchecked. On the flip side, I learned skills I didn’t know I had- like the fact that I could handle rigorous classes and manage a schedule well- something I was very concerned about coming into Penn and M&T.
Do college on your own terms
The first semester at Penn passed by incredibly quickly, though at times it seemed to drag on. I certainly had my fair share of late study nights. But, for every tough night, there’s an experience I love to remember: evenings at the Philly Art Museum, going ice skating with friends, helping fold clothes for a nonprofit with my Management 100 team, and so much more.
One thing I gathered from that semester was the importance of taking college at my own pace and on my own terms. For me, that meant spending some evenings relaxing and painting rather than going out and focusing on my academics rather than joining too many clubs. I made sure to make time to do the things I enjoyed at home, rather than worrying too much about what others expected. And I’m so glad I did. It allowed me to live the college experience on my own terms, not by expectations held by others or my idea of what it meant to be a college student.
The classes at Penn come with their own learning curve. I’m not going to sugarcoat it: as an M&T student, the courses you take will challenge you. Whether you’re rolling your eyes at this or have descended into an existential crisis, remember: you are 100% able to handle it. Trust me. You got into Penn. You got into M&T. You’re ready for this. You wouldn’t be an M&T student unless we, the M&T community, were convinced you could face the challenge, and grow from it.
Embrace the tough stuff
Be ready for failure. I know I’m dangerously close to cliché, but here’s why failure is important: if you aren’t constantly falling and getting back up again, you aren’t trying hard enough. In high school, I could pass a course without doing much work. However, when I got back my first Chem 101 midterm, I’d never seen numbers so low!
But I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and worked harder on every midterm after that. I consulted others for advice, attended every recitation, read the textbook, and ended up getting an A in the class. Failure is a natural part of life, and you’re going to encounter a lot of failure at Penn. What matters is that you don’t let those small failures stop you from the big successes waiting ahead. So I encourage you to fail and fail smartly. When you do, know that you have a community here to support you and help you grow.
The M&T community, and Penn as a whole consists of countless talented, inquisitive, and amazing individuals. This can be daunting at first! You might meet someone and find out later they own a number of companies or walk by a student on your way to class who has patents on medicine currently used to save lives around the world. The natural logical next step is to think: “Crap. How on earth am I supposed to compare with these individuals?” With all of these mind-blowingly gifted peers, it’s easy to lose perspective. It’s important to remember, as before, that you are here for a reason.
Lean on M&T
In the M&T Community, we cherish you and value you. You are welcome here. You are welcome to learn about yourself, about the world, and to get the answer to that one question you were always curious about but too afraid to ask. You are welcome to come to class fully armed with a battalion of highlighters and pens of every color and to challenge yourself to push the limits of your knowledge. You are welcome to hone your skills, pursue your passions, and embrace your talents. You are welcome to admit you don’t know, to fail, and to ask for help. You are welcome here.
And when you come on campus, we’ll be here to welcome you in. I’m already excited to meet you all! I can’t wait to hear your story, ask you questions, and get to know you. Because, at the end of the day, no matter what questions you may have about college, one thing remains unquestionable: you belong here. Welcome to the M&T family.
Jordan Lei is a computer science major and member of the Class of 2020. He’s excited to explore all that Penn has to offer over the next three years, especially within the M&T community. Feel free to reach out to Jordan with questions, concerns, or just to say hello! You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.