Classes are back in session as the spring semester kicks off for the 2023-2024 academic year. Students are gearing up to join new clubs, audition for arts groups, and rush Greek life. Meanwhile, club leaders are suiting up for recruitment.
Notable for its distinct pre-professional atmosphere within academics and extracurricular activities, Penn offers approximately 205 clubs categorized as pre-professional on Penn Clubs. These clubs often require arduous applications, with written components and interview rounds. This emphasis on pre-professionalism is appealing to individuals seeking to acquire skills and networking opportunities in preparation for the workforce. It also offers them a taste of real world experience on the track they are seeking, providing essential insight in the difficulty of deciphering what appeals to them most.
However, with extreme pre-professional emphasis, there is the potential downside of inadvertently overshadowing the significance of creative outlets by undervaluing non-preprofessional involvements. In turn, this may foster a damaging habit of solely prioritizing career-oriented pursuits to the exclusion of engaging in alternative interests – in particular, those that enable one to channel expression beyond the bounds of their prospective field. This can lead to a narrow college focus thereby limiting well-rounded development. By extension, this hyperfocus on pre-professionalism may misconceive Penn as akin to a vocational school, which is more restrictive of exploration and diametrically different from a liberal arts education’s intended approach.
College and Engineering sophomore Iniyaal Raguraj said, “Without dance or comedy, I don’t think I’d feel, I guess, complete, to use a cliché, as a person. My time at Penn has been molded by the friendships and joy I’ve got to experience because of Masti and Bloomers, and oftentimes, even though they fall in the non-preprofessional category, I find them helping me keep attached to my values, interests, and even professional aspirations.”
When I first transferred to Penn last fall, I became involved in activities predominantly centered around my career goals including dabbling in journalism as a columnist at The Daily Pennsylvanian and becoming an associate for Penn Policy Consulting Group to explore student-led efforts for political action in collaboration with legislators. And although these efforts brought a sense of fulfillment to an extent, I couldn’t shake the feeling that a piece of me was missing – the more creative element. I missed making music with my peers – a common denominator in my life since third grade. So why was I giving that up now?
Last year, the absence of rehearsals throughout the week was an unfamiliar break from my routine. I assumed that, without rehearsals, I would be granting myself more time. But in reality, I was removing myself from activities that reenergized me in ways that could not be satisfied through my other activities despite their time demands. Consequently, my mental health felt the burnout. I missed having that allocated time for me, for music.
So last semester, I set a goal to become part of an arts group. I joined the Shabbatones, Penn’s premier Jewish a cappella group, allowing me to find a community resonating with both my ethenoreligious identity and love for music.
Within the first month of joining, I noticed my mood boost exponentially. If I was having a bad day, I thought to myself, “I just need to get to rehearsal.” There, all of the noise in my mind would quiet down, instantly soothed by the music and environment we were collectively creating.
Additionally, I discovered a community providing me the unequivocal sense of belonging I was searching for since my freshman year. There’s an immeasurable beauty in meeting weekly with others who share your creative passions while each carving out time to celebrate our abilities in music. The uplifting atmosphere we create is a testament to the power of communal expression.
Although rehearsals demand a time commitment, it's time where I allow myself to indulge in an activity I have always enjoyed, surrounded by others with the same desire. The commitment feels lighter compared to activities that are more taxing or resemble work.
While non-preprofessional activities are labeled as such, this phrasing is misleading. Similar to pre-professional clubs, those deemed the opposite also cultivate crucial life skills: leadership, teamwork, time management, confidence, and most importantly, mood enhancement. And in collaboration with peers, students are broadening their perspectives, an essential life skill even if these insights are not directly applicable to a specific career of interest.
The freedom for exploration we have as undergraduates is unparalleled compared to when we enter the workforce. These brief four years are a unique window of opportunity for you to pursue your more creative passions, or experiment with new ones. I implore you to not close yourself off to these possibilities. You might just find the deeper sense of belonging you’re looking for.
Despite time constraints, granting yourself time for enjoyment of hobbies does not disappear post-high school or after you walk across the stage for graduation. Humans are not meant to be robots pre-programmed to only engage in activities aligned with their prospective career. We are creative innovators with meaningful talents to be shared. Do not prematurely sacrifice these interests now under false notions that you're wasting your time. It’s only considered a waste of time if you fail to seize the opportunities available to you.
“Dance and writing have always been my outlets to my emotions and the places where I feel like I’m the most honest with myself,” Raguraj said. “And being able to engage with that while I’m going through my 20s and learning so much about myself and my professional goals as I navigate college has been nothing but a crutch for me to lean on, in the best way possible.”
So lean into your joys wholeheartedly and alleviate some of the monotony in your life. It is commendable for someone to dedicate time to engage in activities for enjoyment. It’s self care. It’s investing in yourself.
RIANE LUMER is a College senior studying political science and journalistic writing from Huntingdon Valley, P.A. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.