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Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

Everyone loves the feeling of checking something off. There is no denying that there is satisfaction in knowing that something has been completed and doesn’t need to be worried about anymore. But what if I told you that checking things off came at a price? 

Every Penn student remembers when they were a rising first-year student and had to pick classes for their first semester at Penn. Students in specific programs at Penn likely picked classes that they were required to take for their respective tracks, and it’s likely that some students in the College considered themselves pre-law or pre-med to give themselves peace of mind with a secure track of courses. However, as one of the many students in the College who did not know with certainty what she wanted to do after college, I was overwhelmed by the number of courses Penn offered, and found comfort in the idea of getting the College general education requirements over with.  

I came to Penn with interests in english, political science, communications, and music, but I figured, why not get the Physical World sector requirement out of the way with an environmental science class? What about checking off the Society sector with a sociology class? Why not take more than four credits of classes to fulfill even more requirements? 

I walked into my meeting with my advisor with at least five mock schedules, each with classes that fulfilled multiple requirements. My advisor in the Kelly Writers House, Al Filreis, was not pleased, and told me: “For your first year at Penn, just worry about taking classes you’re interested in. Worry about the requirements later.” Together, we picked out classes I was genuinely interested in taking, and some of these classes ended up fulfilling requirements anyway. I ended up loving my first semester classes, and decided to use the same strategy when it came time to choose classes for second semester. 

Now, as a rising sophomore, I have more certainty and security than I would have had if I had just focused on fulfilling every requirement for the College. At this point, not only do I know that I am interested in english and music, and have already declared a music minor, but I managed to fulfill requirements while doing so. 

First-year students should take advantage of the academic freedom that comes with their first year. Considering that approximately 75 percent of students change their majors before graduating, first-year students should take the time to figure out what they’re interested in, as opposed to choosing classes they know they aren’t interested in just to check off a box. First-year students are in a dualistic stage of development, meaning that they believe there is one right answer for everything. This leads to them often gearing their decisions toward what they think they are supposed to do, influenced by societal, parental, and economic pressures. With this mindset, students end up making uneducated, unrelated, and ineffective decisions that aren’t based on their personal interests.      

I know there is security in fulfilling general requirements, but please listen to me when I say to cut the “pre-” out of your interests, and think about what comes to mind when people ask you what classes you are taking your first year. Is it: “I’m so excited to take this class!”? Or is it: “It fulfills x requirement”? 

Spend your first year at Penn figuring yourself out. I promise you it’s worth it. 

ILYSE REISMAN is a College sophomore from Millburn, N.J. studying English and Music. Her email address is