July 8th, 2019 – the first day of summer classes. I took an open seat in an admittedly cramped conference room, unknowingly finding out it was the front next to my two professors. “Student Development in College Environments,” written at the top of the syllabus. You know what’s more anxious than your seventeenth first day of class? Finding out you have to introduce yourself first because your clumsy self decided to be an overachiever and sit up front.


“Hi, my name is Chi. I – I’m a Master’s student, by the way…” Ugh, Chi, everyone in your class is a graduate student, you didn’t have to say that. Must be the nervousness or something.


But that’s when it set in. No, not just the fact that some college in Virginia thought I was good enough to earn a degree. It’s the fact that my next path to finding more about what I loved just began. I was intimidated at first by my peers – many had job experience, life experience, or just anything that wasn’t “Yeah, I barely learned how to be an adult and not live on a college campus two months ago.” I was one of the folks in GSE that decided to enter the graduate student life right after undergrad. Finding friends in my cohort and GSE at-large really comforted that feeling. We knew this year would be another marathon, but we’re in it together.


Turns out all-nighters, going out both weekend nights, and relying on a meal plan won’t fly well anymore. Disclaimer: I didn’t engage in those activities…frequently. Penn GSE, and grad school life, in general, gave me a quick learning curve that summer semester (and now into the Fall). It was suddenly like, “Wow, all of my classes are really engaging – and deeply too.” It wasn’t like I just stumbled upon that one golden class everyone loved. I really value all five of my current classes, and those ‘golden moments make it all the better.


My biggest takeaway from this semester thus far, other than being told water is pronounced ‘wooter’ one too many times, is that time management is probably the most important learning tool in grad school. For the higher ed family, we balance a 15-20 hour per week assistantship, classes, a personal life – and that’s likely a schedule similar for many other in GSE too. Long story short, being told in September, “You need to stop cramming all your readings the night before class” was a wake-up call. That’s another learning lesson.


Don’t get me wrong – These anecdotes are things I learned, but aren’t emblematic of how everyone goes through grad school. I’m a big believer in the whole “Trust the process” motto, and that’s more than just because I became a Sixers fan last year. Sometimes this semester felt like a marathon – GSE doesn’t have a Fall Break in October unlike many other schools, so that mid-semester hump can really feel like a climb.


I promise you that, if nothing else, you’ll learn a lot here. Finding connections to your peers and learning to explore Philly with your newfound family makes this experiencing all the more exciting. This all might sound very cliché (that and I’m only 22 so what do I know), but taking advantage of different opportunities that come your way outside of classes or work is what makes the graduate life more all-encompassing.


And always remember, you are not alone in this journey. Whether you’re straight outta undergrad and ambitious, or returning with bundles of relevant life experience, your peers (and university resources) are here to support you.


By the way, that Student Development class? It was great. Take it if you can.