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Students walk through the Lower Quad on Oct. 31, 2021. Credit: Olivia West

My college trajectory rocketed me from a pantless, COVID-strained first year to a somewhat lucid senior who typically remembers to put on pants. Along the way, I’ve played party music and handed out peanuts in an elevator for three hours, interned for the moon (okay, maybe not literally — I worked at NASA — but you get the idea), and fallen victim to a prank by a professor. That’s my way of saying I’m still winging it and still want and need to grow. In the spirit of offering some unsolicited advice, here's my not-so-typical "Freshman 15." 

1 lb - Strategically underachieve: At Penn, the word “underachieving” is understood about as much as letting Wharton kids schedule class on Fridays. But it will be incredibly difficult to balance acing your studies, taking care of yourself, and having a blast. Strategically deciding where you’re okay with having an imbalance can take a lot of pressure off your shoulders.

2 lbs - Learn what to think about, not just how to think: The value of a liberal arts education lies in learning about attention. What you pay attention to defines your reality. I can’t recommend enough listening to David Foster Wallace’s 22-minute speech about this idea.

3 lbs - Never say no because of homework: Okay, maybe not “never,” but it’s generally a good idea to jump at and into opportunities. Prioritize the unforgettable by choosing lasting memories over lengthy assignments.

4 lbs - Break a few rules: For my own sake, don’t take this as me telling you to do something illegal. That said, “institutions” boil down to people, and those people say “no” less often than you’d expect. Bring a kiddie pool onto Locust Walk, ask for free food, and pretend to know a frat brother.

5 lbs - Seek discomfort: Novelty can lead to unprecedented levels of self-growth. One of my most uncomfortable yet rewarding Penn experiences? Taking CIS 1600. My next great idea: start a band with minimal music skills or audition for every campus performing arts group.

6 lbs - Experience the joy of missing out: There will always be a limitless number of fun things to do. Instead of agonizing over your absence, take joy in knowing that you made the decision to skip the activity. As author Oliver Burkeman writes, “It’s not really 'missing out' if everyone’s inevitably doing it; feeling bad about that is like beating yourself up for being unable to count to infinity.” 

7 lbs - Embrace yourself and your genius: Imposter syndrome can definitely feel real – look anywhere on campus, and you’ll find someone who’s cured some new disease or started a revolutionary new non-profit. Penn chose you for a reason; own and celebrate that.

8 lbs - Seek communities, not clubs: Clubs at Penn love their rejection letters. While clubs can provide close friendships, I’ve found my best communities through freshman seminars, religious groups, and semesters abroad. 

9 lbs - Contextualize: Before all four midterms in my sophomore year intro psych course, my professor would give the same speech: “This is one of four tests you will take in this class, one class of 5 you’re taking this semester, one semester of 8 you’ll have during your time at Penn, and one four-year blip of time in a long life.” 

10 lbs - Talk to strangers: I met one of my closest friends at Penn by asking them about rotten eggs. While not all interactions will work out like that, some of the best conversations and friendships can arise from the least expected places. After all, strangers are friends you haven’t met yet.

11 lbs - What the heck’s the Penn Bubble: Don’t just pop the bubble, burst it. While Penn and UCity have their charm, Philadelphia has many well-known corners and hidden gems worth exploring. Penn also offers a relatively underused, yet free transit system that can take students into Center City.

12 lbs - Say thank you: Penn students enjoy a caring community of security guards, dining staff, friends, family, and professors. Their impactful efforts, however, often go unnoticed. A brief "thank you" can heighten your awareness and enrich the lives of those who support you.

13 lbs - Read for fun: A great book not only provides solace from hectic days but also imparts knowledge. Try to finish just one book a semester by reading for 10-20 minutes before you sleep. 

14 lbs - Create class spreadsheets: Organize course requirements, track completed courses, and ensure graduation readiness. It’s not the cleanest, but feel free to use my template for inspiration.

15 lbs - Gain 15 pounds: Care a little less. Rare are the junctures in life that gift you both the opportunity to learn and the pleasure of having a fun, smart, and unique cohort of friends. Wear pajamas to formals, gain 15 pounds, and realize you’ll be fine in the end.

DANIEL GUREVITCH is a senior in the College studying political science and psychology from the mystical realm of Wynnewood, PA. You can drop him a message at, send a carrier pigeon his way, or just channel your inner opera singer and holler his name and the secret code on Locust. The pigeons might be impressed.