Three Things I Learned at Penn

It’s okay to fail. At a school like Penn, everyone is smart. Everyone is accomplished. It’s natural that if everyone is the top of their high schools, then coming to Penn means that someone has to be humbled, because not everyone can be the best anymore. Turns out that that someone was me. When I first got to Penn, I was so intimidated. Everyone seemed ridiculously impressive. I questioned why admissions let me in. I wondered how I’d ever stand out at a school full of such accomplished people. I found myself shying away from opportunities to apply for clubs, externships, and other amazing opportunities, because I was sure I wouldn’t get them anyway. I was afraid to fail. I learned quickly that if I was afraid to fail, I’d never accomplish anything. So I started going out on a limb. Sometimes it went well, sometimes it didn’t. There was sobbing when one door closed. There was joy when I’d landed a summer job with the business school. I learned through all of this that it was okay to fail! It was completely okay to apply and be rejected, to try and not succeed. The merit came in the trying.

It’s okay (actually it’s awesome) to succeed too.
I was told college would be more work than high school, but I didn’t realize how much and in what ways. With a few exceptions, I’ve noticed that often what separates the A’s from the B’s and the B’s from the C’s is effort. Many classes at the college level become less about natural talent and more about how long you spend trying to understand the material. This semester, I had to take Calculus. Ugh. I didn’t do well on the midterms, but I was determined to do well on the final. I spent hours upon hours studying, doing practice tests, and receiving “tutoring”  from my hall-mate (bless him!). I can say I’ve never tried so hard to understand math in my life. While I didn’t do well enough to overcome my past grades and get an A in the class, I got an 89% on my final, which is a pretty high grade for a final. Receiving that grade was one of the most satisfying moments of my freshman year academically. I’ve learned that the hard work put into getting a good grade is worth the feeling of accomplishment. And it just comes down to that: work. Lots and lots of it.

Sometimes the “A” isn’t worth it. While it’s amazing to get an A and put in all of that work, there has to be a balance between getting good grades and working hard, and making yourself miserable. I watched many of my peers spend countless hours in the library, sometimes skipping meals and even sleeping in the library, just to get that grade. Their friends would hardly see them for weeks, and they found themselves surviving on Red Bull and prayers. I never want to be that person. College has provided me with so many opportunities to learn and grow outside the classroom, and I can’t imagine what my year would have been without them. It’s important to set time aside for friends, relaxing, and taking care of your basic needs (such as sleeping!). If giving up sleeping, extracurriculars, and my social life is what it takes to get an A, I’ll settle for a B. All of those things are incredibly important, and when I think back to high school, my most salient memories don’t have to do with my grades; I know my college memories won’t either.

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