Every fall, high school seniors across the nation are inundated with mailings and brochures from colleges, encouraging them to apply. What I found most frustrating about the whole process was not the applying — while it was tough, there was a definitive end goal — but rather the choosing.
My final four choices were Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, Dartmouth and Penn. In choosing, I was most often told to simply visit the campuses and see which one “felt right.”
After visiting each, none of them felt like “home” — just cool places to live. I only committed to Penn a few hours before the deadline, based on a few haphazard assumptions that Philadelphia was better than Hanover, N.H. and that I liked Wharton’s practical, case-based curriculum over anything more liberal-artsy.
So Penn it was. It was a bit of an educated guess but also a shot in the dark.
Up until now, anything related to college can better be characterized as overwhelming rather than necessarily “the best time of my life ever” — New Student Orientation certainly is.
NSO was the quintessence of overwhelming. Your parents move your stuff in, then leave. Then you get ushered to a house meeting where the overwhelming impression is that whether or not you dispose of your trash properly will make or break the freshman experience (at least that’s all I remember the house dean emphasizing).
You have dinner. You get introduced to the concept of “late nights.” You get free shirts — at the rate I’m receiving free clothing, I don’t think I’ll have to buy another T-shirt for the next three semesters.
You go to the dance party at the Philadelphia Art Museum, where the actual art pieces receive only moderate interest. You go to the toga party — well, I didn’t go because I was so tired from everything else. You go to frat parties, learn about The Ratio and try to make friends.
Try to make friends. That’s the biggest paradox: Occasionally NSO makes you feel lonelier than before. It’s really about meeting dozens of people for two minutes. You exchange information about four things: your name, where you’re from, where you’re living and what you’re studying. Then you each part ways. Repeat.
An upperclassmen aptly summed it up for me: “NSO is about breadth, not depth.” There’s a concept in biology called r-strategy reproduction, where organisms like mice and insects breed hundreds of offspring. Because the majority of them won’t survive anyway, why not increase their numbers?
That’s kind of what NSO is. You probably won’t ever again talk to this person who’s from Dallas, but then again, he might become your best friend. It’s only four questions — can’t hurt to try, right? I should start buying lottery tickets, too.
Between the whirlwind of events, you’re craving some structure and the presence of the same people for more than five minutes. Rather than feeling more oriented to Penn, all of this has left me feeling a bit lost and confused.
Even after my first week of classes, I don’t know what to believe. I’ve heard that Penn classes have brutal curves so only the best of the best of the best get A’s, only for another student to assure me that if you work hard you’ll get what you deserve.
The cynical upperclassman in the next cubicle tells me that Wharton is basically about becoming a backstabbing Wall Street stiff who makes millions off the backs of the working poor, while the banner in Huntsman tells me to create economic and social value. What’s going on?
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know. Right now, I’m just trying to finish the copious amount of reading I have for next week’s classes.
The first episode of every TV series is always called “Pilot.” The producers have no idea what’s going to happen, so trying to characterize the first attempt is pretty futile. It’s much easier to label it as a prototype and find out what happens as you go along.
Throughout this column and semester, I’ll try to do just that. And I invite you along for the ride.
Arjun Gupta is a Wharton freshman from Matthews, N.C. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. “Frosh Quaker Oats” appears every other Wednesday.
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