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As this academic year ends, I am confronted by a scary realization: My sophomore year is coming to a close. Nearly two years of my college experience are over, and only two years remain. Where did the time go? And more importantly, what did I do in that time?

A part of me is grateful for the decisions I made in what to get involved with and how I spent my time, but a small, nagging part of me also regrets not doing something completely new, or expanding beyond my comfort zone. What if I tried out for the women’s rugby team, even though I had never been an athlete? What if I tried out one more time for that dance group?

“Underneath the perfect facade of the superstar student, there are always doubts, and even regrets, about the choices they have made. There are infinite paths we can all go.”

It’s scary to think that even these small decisions to try random things have the potential to make an impact on the next few years of my life, and even the people I still keep in contact with after college. But it’s true: For better or worse, you never know where one decision can lead. 

As college students, we are often not cognizant of the true impact of our decisions, and how they affect our daily lives. Choosing to go out instead of studying, hanging out with certain people, applying for one club instead of another — the culmination of these small, seemingly minute choices ultimately determines our college careers. At the end of the day, college is completely what we make of it — and what that means is college is completely our choice. We never know the true impact of our decisions until later when we look back and reminisce. 

When we are unhappy with our college experiences, the easy route is to blame Penn. Pushing the blame on a singular institution is often easier than coming to terms with our own agency, the role we play in our unhappiness. However, as I sit on the cusp of the scary realm of being an upperclassman, I’ve found some truth in this cliche: We get out what we put in. The more effort we exert in whatever we do, the more value we see and the more value we get.

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At Penn, we’re surrounded by people that seem to have made all the right decisions. People that are involved with a million things, have leadership positions in a million clubs, and are satiated with their professional and social lives. But underneath the perfect facade of the superstar student, there are always doubts, and even regrets, about the choices they have made. There are infinite paths we can all go. How do we know we’re on the right path? How do we know that we’ve shaped our college career in the right way for us?

As a constantly doubting college student myself, I don’t claim to know the absolutely correct, straightforward answer. However, I do know one thing: There are passions within all of us that we can’t deny, no matter how small. When we act upon these urges, these things we cannot imagine ourselves not doing, that’s when we make the right decisions for ourselves. When we choose to dedicate ourselves to the things we truly care about, that’s when we feel fulfilled. That’s when we know we’re living our best college lives. 

At the end of the day, we are the only ones who can control our fates — how we choose to spend our time, who we spend our time with, how we change our situations. It’s scary, but in many ways, college is our first experiment in autonomy — how we deal with unhappiness, and how to make ourselves fulfilled and happy. However, as intimidating as this experiment is, I challenge all of us to embrace it and attempt to shape our time at Penn as best as we can, because everything — and I mean everything — is truly what we make of it.

JESSICA LI is a College sophomore from Livingston, N.J., studying English and psychology. Her email address is jesli@sas.upenn.edu.

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