As an incoming transfer student last fall, I came to Penn with all the enthusiasm I could. In particular, I thought I was finally going to participate in extracurricular opportunities — the main facet of the American educational system that brought me all the way from Tunisia.
After attending many information sessions by student-run organizations, I selected the ones offering hands-on experience that resonated with my interests. Then I started applying. I expressed genuine interest, emphasized my eagerness to learn — thinking it was important — and answered questions about relevant experience, etc.
However, I was slammed by one rejection after another. At first, I was just surprised. I couldn’t understand how I wasn’t able to access my university’s resources. Then, I simply blamed myself for not putting in the necessary effort. I decided to take advantage of my experience anyways and try again in the spring.
Come the second semester, I applied to a few student-run clubs and other Wharton initiatives. I put in more time and effort — and yet I was snubbed again. For the first time since my arrival, I was angry. I was given a strong impression of exclusivity and even inequality. Those with resources are those able to solidify their experience and unlock more doors, while others only have to watch.
In fact, applications and interviews are all about past experience, not intellectual curiosity or eagerness to learn. We are expected to talk about leadership experience and answer recruitment-like questions.
But, wait ... if you don’t give me opportunities, how can I ever gain experience? If the criteria is to show what I already know, then how is the experience educational?
Many students at Wharton silently undergo an inner fight because of similar frustrations. They just hide their struggle with the “Penn Face” because speaking openly about failure is a sign of weakness. From several conversations, I learned that some try to move on by looking at “less competitive” clubs that do not necessarily reflect their interests, as this is their only way to get involved. Others decide “not to be much of a Wharton person” and look for their interests — and merit — elsewhere.
Mental health, of course, is at the heart of this response. Regardless of the outcomes, students question their merit and capabilities and become prone to negative comparison to others. The worst part — nobody talks about it because everyone wants to seem “on top of it.”
We are on a dangerous path. If students send sterile rejections like recruiters, not as empathetic classmates, then of course we will have a selfish culture. If we are not given the opportunity to try what we really like, then of course passion will vanish. Between the lines of attractive resumes, there will be forgotten interests, disconnection with the University — or both.
We need to make clubs more accessible and re-evaluate exaggeratedly pre-professional practices, such as coffee chats with club recruiters and second-round interviews. Sending constructive feedback to rejected students could be an example of alternative practices to promote a culture of support. Competitiveness can be beneficial, but only if it serves as motivation for students to push themselves further. Undermining others might help with short-term success as measured by starting salaries, but no further.
I wrote this column not only for myself, but for all those who can relate to it. I wrote this column because I believe in the potential of my classmates and my university. I know we can change things so that everyone gets the most out of their experience.Comments powered by Disqus
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