When I arrived at Penn, I had fully bought in to that uniquely American, ubiquitous cliché about college: it will be the best four years of your life, so make the most of it!
But the truth is, that concept is actually harmful. We tend to put so much pressure on ourselves to “make the most” out of college and to enjoy everything we do. We feel FOMO when we aren’t living it up like everyone else seems to be doing.
At Penn, the need to have a stellar college experience manifests itself deeply in our social atmosphere. Social life can somehow start to feel like a competition: who can have the rowdiest St. Patrick’s Day, go out on a Wednesday and still ace their classes, and have the most Instagram-worthy formal pictures? Yet this ignores the deep loneliness that so many students feel. In between the competing priorities of classes, extracurriculars, jobs, and just the everyday demands of adult life, it can be incredibly difficult to prioritize maintaining friendships.
Additionally, consider what the notion of college being the best four years of your life implies: it’s all downhill from here. We like to joke about this, but it’s a profoundly negative way to view adult life. If we truly buy in to the idea that our lives peak in college, we have no motivation to follow our passions, take risks, and make the rest of our lives great.
For many students, college — and Penn in particular — seems designed to alienate them. Although I cannot speak to this from personal experience, I know this is especially true for students of marginalized backgrounds since American colleges have a long history of primarily catering to the needs of rich, white men.
Far from being a wonderland of fun experiences and incredible opportunities, college is actually a time where it is very natural to struggle and fail. Becoming an adult is hard. For many of us, college is the first time we have to be truly independent. Our decisions start to seriously matter. Expectations and responsibilities only increase as the years go by. We will almost certainly make wrong decisions, miss deadlines, disappoint ourselves, and face rejection and criticism.
I don’t mean to get too negative, however, I think the struggles of college are actually beneficial. Failure makes us better people. Embracing the growth that comes from our struggles is far more valuable than pretending that we are living it up 24/7.
And in the end, missing out is not so bad. I have found that missing out on social events has helped me clarify my values and priorities. The events I went to purely because I was afraid of missing out turned out to be some of the least memorable.
If there’s anything that I’ve learned in college, it’s that nothing is black and white. College will not be the best time of your life, nor will it be the worst. It will just be a unique four (or more) years.
In a lot of ways, the so-called “real world” after college is a more enjoyable place. I have found the time I have spent away from Penn doing internships to be quite relaxing. We often speak of escaping the “Penn bubble,” but ultimately, the best way to do that is to no longer be a student at Penn.
The bottom line is, you don’t have to like college, and you certainly don’t have to like Penn to get a lot out of college. I spent so much of my time here fretting about the many issues I have with Penn, worried that my life would forever be inferior because I did not go to the “right” college for me.
So, instead of trying to make the most out of Penn, just try to make it through. That is an accomplishment in itself.
TYLER LARKWORTHY is an Engineering junior from McLean, Va. studying Computer Science. His email address is email@example.com.