Before Wharton, I had mentally prepared myself for mountains of work and cutthroat competition. Well into my first semester, I now realize that all that mental preparation had been for nothing. I balance three hours of track practice a day with school work and try to keep up the illusion of a social life—a difficult task in high school, let alone at Wharton.

After a few 3 a.m. nights, I finally figured out that sitting down and doing work before the eve of its due date is not a winning strategy—except for midterms. Nothing can prepare one for the nightmare of midterms. But midterms aside, my college classes are actually interesting. Some assign mountains of homework, yet I have never been so absorbed with my work.

Of all my classes, Management 100 has to be the most time-consuming, hands-on, exhausting and amazing.

What would an essay on the first semester of freshman year be without a mention of Management 100? As my professor, Dr. Anne Greenhalgh, Gr’82, says, this class is “upside-down and backwards.” We gain hands-on experience with management before learning textbook management. Everything we learn in class is applied to projects we work on with nonprofit organizations.

Working with nine other astounding students and the Philadelphia Futures organization, my team’s project is to put on a weekend event that will assist motivated, underprivileged high school students from West Philadelphia gain the tools needed to stand out in college and beyond. The class has a community-oriented focus, and it is this that makes it such an unforgettably gratifying experience.

Affecting the lives of others in a positive, meaningful way leaves me with a feeling I can’t quite explain. It is a feeling that makes all the countless hours of work planning the event, fundraising, budgeting and adjusting the plans worth it. It is a feeling that only my team and I share and one that brings us together like a family. The bonds I’ve built with my teammates are irreplaceable and will last a lifetime.

Outside of Wharton, my most significant chunk of time is dedicated to Penn’s track and field team. Here again, I was shocked by the intensity of the work required. After limping home from the first practice and lifting session, I wanted nothing more than sleep and a week off. But as with school, though the work is exponentially more intense than anything I’ve experienced before, the rewards are greater. My coaches and teammates are the most dedicated group of people I’ve ever met, and it is motivating just to be around them.

When I am not involved in practice or homework, I have found that Penn is a place of hundreds of clubs and activities and unlimited meal swipes. The proximity to Center City makes it easy to go to extraordinary events like the Made in America concert, Red Bull Flugtag and countless others.

All of my preconceived notions of Wharton were dead wrong. Sure, I’m working to the point of exhaustion in class and on the track, but it is rewarding, the people are amazing and I’m having more fun than ever before (provided the time).

Sam Mattis is a freshman from East Brunswick, NJ. He is undecided but will most likely concentrate in finance. He is a two-time national champion in the discus and a member of the varsity track and field team.