We have a guest post this week! Toffy, who is originally from Thailand, started IEDP right after finishing her undergraduate degree in California. So for those of you still in college considering a graduate degree, this post is for you! (Though I think everyone else will find it useful too!)

We’re plummeting into week 7 of the semester and I still have trouble wrapping my head around the fact that I’m a graduate student. The semester started off rather slowly with Penn’s extensive add/drop period, compared to the quarter system that I’m used to, but it’s been pleasant easing into the semester and having time to familiarize myself with the campus, city, and of course, my cohort.

Upon entering the program, I was stressed (in the best way possible) by how incredible everyone was. I came into IEDP straight from undergrad and had expected everyone to have rich experiences, but upon meeting a good chunk of the cohort at our first potluck, I was blown away by the depth and hodgepodge of cultures and experiences present. Everyone brought to the table a hearty helping of experiences and backgrounds, and I truly admire everyone’s story.

I’ve decided to document my own experience transitioning from college to graduate school, and what I’ve learned from my journey thus far.

1. You can and should be picky in grad school.

I’ve realized that I’m no longer taking classes solely to fulfill the requirements to graduate, but I’m taking classes that interest me. Classes I take now should push me closer to my ultimate career goal. You should therefore be very picky and selective in course picking, especially in a relatively short program.

2. I’m engaged in class and have reverted to taking notes by hand.

I used to take notes on my laptop, which naturally meant I was less engaged in class. Whenever the professor became repetitive or lectured on a topic that didn’t interest me, I found myself digressing from listening. However, I now find myself much more involved in my classes. Taking notes without the distraction of technology helps me stay attentive and alert. This also stems from the fact that I’m invested in and devoted to the subject matter.

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3. There is so much to do outside of class.

If I didn’t have to go to class, I could easily keep myself busy with the events, opportunities, and happenings on campus. There is always an event happening on any given day, whether it be social, academic, professional, or cultural. Penn is equipped with a plethora of resources outside of classes, and I encourage everyone to take advantage of everything. To give an example of the caliber of events here, two weeks ago, a few members from our cohort listened to a talk by Joe Biden and Felipe Calderón, and even got a selfie with both!

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4. Conversations go beyond the weather.

I constantly have conversations that go beyond the weather and the casual, customary “how are you.” I believe one should surround themselves with people who challenge them, and drive them to be better. Everyone I’ve met has specific passions and interests, and discussing this with my cohort serves as an impetus for my own personal development. I leave conversations motivated to strive for the best version of myself.

5. People are here because they choose and want to be here, not because they think they should be here.

Talking to fellow cohort members about their interests, why they’re in the program, and what they hope to do next has been incredibly inspiring. I’ve never been surrounded by people that shared my passions and aspired to impact the world in a similar way. It is indeed a refreshing change to be around people who are here because they choose to be here. Students genuinely care and want to make an impact – they’re here to learn and work towards a goal, and they’re not just here to get a degree and move on with their lives.

The smorgasbord of tasks may continue to pile on and the hamster wheel may never cease turning, but overall, I absolutely love IEDP, Penn, and Philadelphia. I’ve adapted to embrace the busy and live in the now. Try to take advantage of all the resources and people while you’re here. Penn’s IEDP did a phenomenal job of building a well-rounded cohort, representing all corners of the world, and I am honored to be a part of it.