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convocation-2019
Credit: Chase Sutton

Advance registration recently opened, allowing students to start scheduling courses for the upcoming semester. This is inevitably accompanied by stress, particularly for first-year students. While everyone has to figure out their spring semester classes, many first-years also feel a pressure to plan out their next four years here at Penn. 

This pressure stems from "Penn Face." This phenomenon — the tendency of students to act like everything is fine and that they have everything figured out when, in reality, they are stressed and struggling — is prominent here at Penn. It's a problem especially among freshmen, who want to act like they have adjusted to life at Penn very easily, when in reality, the adjustment period is rough.

Scheduling is just one layer of a person’s Penn Face. Students often feel like they need to figure out their major, minor, or concentration because everyone else has their four years figured out. While many of us came to Penn with an idea of what we wanted to study, it isn’t necessary to have a four-year plan that is set in stone. Throughout each student’s four years at Penn, their interests and goals can change quickly, and the pressure that we place upon ourselves to figure out our classes for the next four years is simply unrealistic.

Students also feel a pressure to avoid “wasted” classes. But there is no such thing as a wasted class. If a class interests you, I say take it. It may fill a major, minor, concentration, or sector requirement, or it may not do anything. Even if you end up hating it, it is beneficial to discover that you are not interested in a certain area of study before pursuing a degree, although monetary restrictions sometimes permit this from being possible. 

A first-year’s biggest worry should be the upcoming spring semester. The next four years at Penn should be a period of exploration, and I think that coming up with a “four-year plan” pigeonholes students. Trying to plan out the next four years can inhibit students from exploring other interests, and this can serve as a severe detriment in the future because they could miss out on major opportunities that may not fit with what they originally saw themselves doing.

Do not stress. I know that this is basic advice, and it's easier said than done, but it is important to remember. We have four years to discover ourselves and figure out what path we want to take ourselves down. Leave your options open, and do not get caught up in the idea that everyone has everything figured out; they do not, and it is not necessary to have your next four years planned out. Take the time to decide what truly interests you and what you can see yourself doing in the future, and go from there. For now, freshmen, plan your spring semester, and let the rest of your time here at Penn fall into place. 

CONNOR BRANDON is a freshman from Skippack, Pa. studying Nursing. His email is cgb2001@nursing.upenn.edu.

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