Most of the students at Penn I’ve met can rattle off a long string of extracurricular activities that they participated in during high school: soccer captain, debate team, newspaper editor, Math League captain, Model UN, Mock trial, student body representative, etc. Penn students are often the type to thrive on being busy, having so many interests that it can be hard to choose between them. In college, realistically, no one can do it all. The older we get, the harder it is to spread ourselves thin between so many different activities, and it makes more sense to choose fewer activities to split our time between and really invest ourselves in those.
The question most Penn students face at the beginning of freshmen year is how to choose what to stick with. Everyone prioritizes differently, but I’ll share the thought process I’ve gone through when narrowing down the list of things I want to continue to pursue. There are so many opportunities here that it’s easy to continue to say yes, but I’ve learned that it’s really worthwhile to be thoughtful about the what you say yes to. Your time is so valuable; with everything going on in college, it can seem hard to come by, so you’ll want to be intentional with where you spend it.
In my time here, I’ve prioritized being involved in things that challenge me and help me to grow, provide me with a supportive community, and are fulfilling, rewarding, and fun. Your activities could fit all of these specifications or just one; for example, I am a teaching assistant for a class because it challenges me academically and pushes me outside my comfort zone and has provided me with a great community of fellow TAs, but I wouldn’t necessarily say grading papers and teaching recitation is always what someone would call “fun.” I’m involved in the Catholic community at Penn because it’s spiritually fulfilling, helps me grow in my faith, and has given me a nurturing, fun community. I always make time to run and work out because it’s enjoyable, pushes me physically, and is good for my mental and physical health. I’m in a social sorority because it’s fun and has given me a large community of friends. Whatever you choose to do, whether it’s new or old, make sure you know the “why” behind why you’re spending your time on it, whether it’s simply because you enjoy it or because it will benefit you academically or professionally.
I’d also encourage making sure you have a balance. After spending lots of your time on academic work for your classes, you’ll definitely want to find a change of pace with your extracurricular activities. One of the most interesting things about Penn’s student body is how diverse people’s interests are. One of my friends is a computer science and business student, but outside of class, he’s primarily involved in a dance group and volunteering group.
Where you decide to spend your time will define what your life at Penn looks like. You don’t have to choose it all freshmen year - your interests will likely change as you grow, and it’s great to try new things as you discover them. While it can be easy to see all the opportunities at your fingertips and want to dive into everything at once, it can be a really valuable experience to slow down and start off with just one or two things you can really invest yourself in while staying on top of everything in your life. Beginning your time at college can be an invigorating fresh start – you’ll be able to reevaluate your priorities, decide what you want to carry with you from high school, and challenge yourself to try new things and get out of your comfort zone.