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deciding-college
Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

Dear admitted students, 

Congratulations on your acceptance to Penn! I’m sorry that you won’t be able to visit campus before decision day on May 1, but The Daily Pennsylvanian Editorial Board published a helpful list of things to consider about Penn as you make your decision. Along with that, I want to offer perspective on some of the things that you might be feeling right now.

Choosing where you want to spend the next four years of your life is really stressful, namely because of how consequential that decision is. Your decision to come to Penn represents the first of many to limit the number of potential paths you can follow in life. That’s a truly frightening prospect, and if you’re anything like me, one that will send you spiraling. This anxiety is exacerbated by many of your peers’ seemingly figured-out lives. Maybe they’ve told you about their dream to work at Google or their plan to become a human rights lawyer: these life plans might be fueling your insecurity. I want to tell you that it’s okay to not know what you want, and it’s healthy to find all of this overwhelming.

I was dedicated to becoming a data scientist when I first came to campus. I found data science incredibly interesting and it seemed like a field with plenty of career prospects, so I enrolled in the math and computer science classes needed to pursue this career, only to realize that they made me deeply unhappy. I found the material uninteresting and unengaging, and this aversion was woefully reflected in my grades. I felt lost: everything I was studying felt pointless and I simply couldn’t see myself doing it for another three years, let alone lifetime. Around the same time, however, I had been reading When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, an autobiography of a neurosurgeon who had to confront his own mortality. The purpose I had been looking for had finally arrived: I was introduced to the job of a physician author, and found meaning in medicine and in the written word. A semester later, I left my role in The Daily Pennsylvanian analytics team, became an opinion columnist, and declared a major in neuroscience. 

My self-discovery probably might not seem relevant to your upcoming decision, but I hope it conveys that the seeming immensity of your choice is enormous only in appearance. The idea that where you go to college is the first step in some long-term strategy is erroneous. Plans change … and they change again, and again, and again. I don’t want to labor under the delusion that my career plan is written in ink, because doing so may blind me from other opportunities that come up in the next few years. Any certainty you may feel right now (or think you ought to feel right now) might not be true, and that shouldn’t induce fear — it should actually do the opposite. It should assure you that even though this decision will close some doors, walking through one of them will open a new set of doors that you couldn’t even have imagined. Planning every single door that you need to go through is impossible, and choosing one door over another isn’t going to derail your life. So, how do you decide which door to enter?

Trying to rationalize this decision can only get you so far. There certainly is data that should be considered in your choice: financial and geographic considerations are important, and if those are at all concerns, know that Penn is there to support you. Perhaps it’s important to you to go to an Ivy League school, a brand that — for better or for worse — many consider to give students a leg up. At the end of the day, however, this should be a gut decision: where would you be the most happy? While it’s true that many students at Penn are unhappy, there certainly are institutions in place to help you manage your mental health and make the most of your time there. 

Your college experience is what you make it, and I promise that if you do choose to come to Penn (and I certainly hope you do), it has the potential to be an amazing four years. Consult your family, friends, and teachers to solicit advice, but know that ultimately, you should trust your intuition. If Penn really doesn’t seem to you like the place you can be the most content, do what you think will make you happiest. Good luck, and maybe I’ll see you on Locust Walk in the fall.

Sincerely,

Varun Saraswathula

VARUN SARASWATHULA is a College sophomore from Herndon, V.A. studying the Biological Basis of Behavior and Healthcare Management. His email is vsaras@sas.upenn.edu.

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