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I am a firm believer in the existence of the inside-the-Beltway phenomenon. Politicians who spend all their time cooped up together in the swamp of D.C. with their wonky staff members unintentionally lose touch with the rest of America. This is why the August recess exists: So that legislators can exit the morass and reenter the lives of the people they represent.

This inside-the-Beltway mentality is not limited to Washington politicos. Any group of people who self-select and spend long periods of time with one another can easily create their own set of standards. Penn fits the model perfectly. The Penn mentality, to which I admittedly subscribe, is one of high achievement: of getting the best internships and the best jobs, of making our resumes one line stronger and tying all of that into an immediate out-of-college job, competitive fellowship or top grad school. We're all highly motivated, and we all coexist within five city blocks. We spend most of our waking hours learning, eating and partying with one another.

Am I generalizing? Of course. Although, I think even those students who pride themselves on breaking from the Penn mold are more like us than the rest of our age bracket. The pressure to have a plan to utilize our $46,000-a-year education is extremely powerful. The vortex of the Penn Beltway sucks in even the most whimsical Art History major.

What to do then? Should we continue this hectic, competitive dash for the finish line? Try to extract ourselves and act like we don't care where we end up after graduation? A very kind Career Services counselor gave me a reasonable answer that blends these two extremes, after I rushed to her office mid-summer in a panic about what to do with my life. Her sage advice? Relax. I know that's harder than it appears. But in reality, most people do not know what they want to do at our age, and those who think they have their careers planned out (we all know someone) will likely change their priorities or be thrown an unexpected curve ball.

I love Penn, but there's a frustrating, if understandable, fixation on measurable achievement for many of the students who are qualified enough to gain admission. For better or worse, my semester abroad taught me a lot about how unusual Penn kids really are. Most 18- to 22-year-olds around the world do not apply for competitive internships over the summer or immerse themselves in activities to the point of exhaustion. At the Castle Rock Hostel in Edinburgh (which I highly recommend; you sleep in a CASTLE), there were upwards of 15 early -to-mid twenty-somethings just living there, working odd jobs and figuring out what they want to do with their lives. They cleaned the hostel to earn their board and, like most Europeans, spent a great deal of time traveling. It's not that these kids had money to spare and nothing better to do, or that they were dead-end teens with no job prospects. Many of them graduated from prestigious universities but without a clear idea of what they wanted to do with their lives. Living in a hostel for six months might not appeal to many Penn students , but it's a good example of how new grads who don't constantly push themselves to the point of exhaustion can still eventually be successful.

As everyone returns from high-end summer opportunities, keep in mind that Penn has an extremely cutthroat and competitive environment. It's important to calm down and remember that if you don't land that dream OCR job, you'll still be fine. If you're one of the kids who knows exactly where they're headed next year, kudos - hope it works out, but be prepared for the unexpected. If you're like me and have no idea what area of the country you'll inhabit when you graduate, much less what you'll be doing there, chill out: Remember you're in the Penn Beltway.

Lauren Burdette is a College senior from Overland Park, Kansas. Her e-mail address is

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