“The Admissions Committee has met and regrets to inform you…” As many of us would watch the articles of that one high schooler who was accepted into every Ivy League, we were just hoping anxiously for one acceptance letter. Our entire lives up until now were created for this moment: The pee-wee sport you started playing that you would eventually join the varsity team in high school, the instrument you played before you could walk, the club you started, the organization you volunteered at. If you weren’t curing cancer or creating an algorithm to disrupt life, you had to have a fully packed resume justifying why. It is no surprise that a survey released by the American Psychological Association found that throughout the school year, teens report feeling more stressed out than their adult counterparts.
And then finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for comes. “It is with great pleasure that I write to inform you that you have been accepted…” and it all feels worth it. Fast forward to your first day of college as you scan into your dorm and feel as if you have just crossed the gates of heaven. Everyone wants to be your friend, and free food is everywhere. But after a couple weeks, the novelty starts to fade. Friend groups start to form, and it seems like everyone around you has the next 10 years of their life planned out. College was supposed to be the time to discover yourself and your passions, but these ideals are instead suppressed by a culture of pre-professionalism and competitive complaining. The intensity of college in every aspect starts to weigh you down.
All my life, I had to be one of the exceptions to be in this spot today; but here, now, I was sitting at average. Instead of “Where are you going to college?” the question changed to “What do you want to do with your life?” I was 18 years-old two minutes ago, how could expectations change so quickly? The goal of high school was to gain admission to an elite university, and at Penn, that goal had changed to a socially-acceptable job at a top tier firm. When was I supposed to have time to develop as a person?
But this story is not unique. For many high schoolers, getting into college marks the end of an eighteen-year journey of achievement driven towards college admission. However, once students come to campus, they find out that college is just the beginning to a whole new world- a strange purgatory between being a child and adult. Dear Penn Freshmen is a student-run initiative born out of Adam Grant’s Organizational Behavior class at Wharton in 2015, with the mission to create a warmer campus culture amidst Penn’s pre-professional and competitive environment. As part of ‘Dear Penn Freshmen’, upperclassmen write letters addressed to their freshman selves expressing their frustrations, gratitude, stress, and love for Penn. These letters are posted for freshmen to read anytime and anywhere; since the project’s inception in 2015, there have been over 120 letters added to the site, which has received over 27,000 unique visits, including incoming freshmen who have yet to step foot on campus, as well as readers from across the country.
As a freshman, DPF taught me that the upperclassmen who I had placed on a pedestal had the same insecurities I had and that many of them still did not have any answer to the question we were asked all the time. It taught me to find joy in not knowing, comfort within uncertainty, and innocence as a gift. As upperclassmen, it reminds us of our values and the mindset we should carry into our next step. The transition isn’t always easy, and that’s what Dear Penn Freshmen is here to help with – sharing experiences and advice from people who started in the same place and made it through the other side.
We have re-launched the website with new letters on to impact generations of Penn freshmen and would love to see this initiative continue to grow beyond Penn. Check us out at dearpennfreshmen.com!