don't transfer | Mikaela G
Dear Freshman Self,
Don’t fill out that transfer application. You won’t need it.
I know that it’s tempting to just give up on the whole east coast college thing and transfer to UCLA. You’ll be right around the corner from home, you’ll have year-round sunshine, and you think it might be the only way to loosen that knot that forms in your stomach every time you wake up and think about the fact that you’re just not sure what you’re doing here. You miss your boyfriend (he won’t matter in two years, pinky promise) and your family (okay, they’re still going to matter) and you just don’t see the point of torturing yourself.
Hold on. Just hold on for a little bit longer because if you leave now you’ll never learn that Penn is the place that will let you soar to heights you never thought possible. You’ll meet friends slowly, but one by one you’ll build a collection of people you love and trust, and who love and trust you back. You’ll get involved with Penn Monologues and realize that storytelling isn’t just something you love, but also is something you’re sort of good at.
And you know those DP design training sessions you’ve been going to? Get up and walk around the corner to the 34th Street office. You’ll find your people there. They’re weird and they’re funny and they’ll end up being your family. Trust me on this one. And stop doing design— you’re never going to be that good at it. You’re a writer. You always have been. Street likes that about you too.
Tell your roommate how much you love her, and be honest with her when she asks you if you’re sad. It’s okay to be sad. Everyone is. Freshmen are really good at pretending that everything is fine when they actually feel terrified and alone. Everyone isn’t having the time of his or her life. Sure, some people are. But a lot of people are like you: sad a lot, scared always, and desperate to make friends and find their place here.
Write everything down. You’re going to want to remember the vertiginous effect that being totally new and totally lonely has on your life when you try to write about it later. Believe it or not, that feeling will be thrown into sharp relief soon enough when you realize that you’ve somehow managed to make friends and create an incredibly challenging but fulfilling life here. Sometimes it takes the darker moments to recognize the light ones.
Don’t lose your spirit. You’re not going to get into Onda Latina or West Philly Swingers, but whatever; you’re still cool for auditioning anyway. Break up with your boyfriend. You can’t be present at Penn when you’re in a long distance relationship, and I know you know that. You won’t take this advice for a few years, and that’s okay. You’ll learn a lot from that breakup.
Try not to let all the people who seem to have their lives figured out intimidate you, and don’t let your pre-major advisor talk you into studying PPE. You might as well declare your straight-up philosophy major now, because you’ll take ethics second semester and you’ll stay up late at night worried about trolley car problems and you’ll realize at three a.m. that you like the questions because they have no right or wrong answer. That very insecurity you’re feeling right now, the “should I stay or should I go,” and the “should we stay together or break up” and even the “do I want to try this or try that” of it all will get so much easier when you stop thinking about things in black and white.
There are no wrong answers in your choose-your-own-adventure story. There are just fears to conquer and anxieties to quiet. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to find a good therapist, by the way. You’ll be glad she exists when you go back to school after winter break and start having panic attacks. Those pretty much stop eventually, but you should try to be nicer to yourself when you’re having them. Anxiety doesn’t make you crazy, it makes you you. One day you’ll think about getting “anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity” tattooed on your ribs. It’s probably good that you decide against it.
But it’s cool that you thought about it.
It’s not worth worrying as much as you do about whether or not you fit in. No one fits everywhere. Coolness is highly subjective, and it’s okay to define it on your own terms. I won’t tell you to be yourself because that implies that there is a singular entity that is “yourself” when the truth of it is that you’re going to be in flux for a long time. You’ll find new books, spirit animals and people who oscillate in terms of meaning to you, and that all works in concert to weave together the fabric of your personality.
Try to mean what you say and say what you mean as frequently as possible. Don’t fixate on your mistakes. Buy a really warm hat because cold ears are the worst. Learn to take, and generously give, compliments.
You have so much ahead of you, and you’re going to fall so deeply in love with people and things that I can’t wait for you to discover. You’re going to feel pain more acutely than you ever thought possible, and you’re going to learn that you’re so much more resilient than you gave yourself credit for.
Oh, and that note you’re going to pass to that cute boy in your creative writing class about how it’s crazy that you’re both philosophy majors? Baller move.
All my love,
"Senior you" is still just as confused | galit k
You are me as a freshman. I’m about to tell you some stuff.
You, who have never dyed your hair, are going to go through six hair colors over the next four years. You, who came into school with a long distance boyfriend, are going to have your fair share of DFMOs and even a few long term “things” with people that you met completely unexpectedly. You, a straight A student in high school, are going to get your fair share of C’s and will be at the bottom of several classes. You, the English buff who planned to major in Communications, will end up studying Economics, being convinced that working in consulting in New York is the only option for you, and going through OCR. You’re also going to totally fail at OCR despite working your butt off every waking moment for 6 weeks in preparation. You’re also going to end up with a dream job (that isn’t consulting) less than two weeks after almost giving up.
If it feels like you haven’t really found your “crew” freshman year - it’s because you haven’t. Your group of friends will evolve and renew itself constantly. Midway through freshman year, you will break up with your long distance boyfriend, who also happened to be your best friend in the world, and you will feel lost. You will meet the first people you truly feel comfortable around during sophomore year. You will meet the majority of your best friends junior year. Senior year, you will realize that the person you thought was your closest friend since day one doesn’t actually accept you for who you are- and that’s ok, because you will find that it’s just as important to let people out of your life as it is to let people in. Every one of these moments is worth the wait.
If it feels like you’ve joined every organization you ever will and are a failure because you're not president of any of them yet - wait a little bit longer. Spoiler alert: you’re never going to be president of any organization (which is probably a shock to you, based on the number of clubs you ran in high school) but you will end up as part of numerous amazing organizations based on passions you don’t even know you have yet. Most of this happens your last two years. When the people that you respect and love immensely tell you to just try out, or to just come to the first meeting, listen to them. You will be introduced to places outside your comfort zone, and those places will become your home.
Never forget to love yourself and take time for self care. If you have to sleep in, do it. If you have to stay in and cry and eat all the ice cream, do it. Go abroad. Don’t take on positions of power for the sake of having responsibility. Only take on what you can genuinely do for numerous hours a week without hating your life. Explore your sexuality. Forgive yourself for not reading more, for not working out more, for making out with an asshole. Talk to a therapist. Be confused. Trust your decisions and feelings, because you are a human and you are valid.
And when you have dyed your hair into damaged oblivion, just cut it all off. Believe me, it’s better that way.
Your Senior Self
Navigating loss and late nights thru potato chips | Katherine C
Dear Freshman Self,
In 100 days, I’ll be wearing cap and gown, smiling, laughing, and probably crying at graduation. These four years have flown by, but not without making their mark. Luckily for you, you’ve still got quite a road in front of you. With this journey coming to a close for me, here’s a sneak peak into the advice, lessons, and growth that’s in store for you.
Try new things and take advantage of the chance to learn. This is one of the last structured opportunities for you to try something “just because.” Nowhere will you find a space more exploratory than college. All the activities that wound up defining me at Penn (Ice Hockey, the DP, chamber, ASB) were things that I’d never done before but figured “why not give it a shot.”
On that note, go to random events. There are so many cool talks or fun activities that I wish I had gone to. When else am I going to have the opportunity to see the President of Rwanda speak, or play laser tag (actually, jokes. Definitely going to find a way to do that in my adult life too)? This past year, I’ve found myself saying “sure, why not” much more to things I would have otherwise turned down and having a great time.
Meet people. Everyone has a story and a perspective, whether they initially share it or not. Talking to these people and befriending them is one of the things that’ll define your time at Penn. You’ll be hard pressed to find an environment with as much diversity in thought and as intellectually stimulating as Penn, even if you don’t appreciate it now. Relish the unknown and dive in.
More importantly though, take care of yourself. You can’t do it all. You can’t meet everyone or go to every event or try every single thing. As someone who likes to thoroughly exhaust all options, I initially struggled with this but slowly began to instead revel in the fact that the limit literally does not exist. But even beyond that, it’s not going to be healthy to attempt to do it all. I recently attended a CAPS (side note: don’t be afraid to use this and other resources!) workshop that included a self-care assessment. As someone who felt relatively satisfied with life, I was surprised that there were so many areas in which I was not fully taking care of myself; I don’t meditate, or write in a journal, and I eat enough potato chips to feed a small country, among other things. But I realized that that was my way of caring for myself. Checking off everything from the “self-care” list wouldn’t have let me be the person I wanted to be and would have instead induced unnecessary stress. Do what’s best for YOU. Happiness is different for everyone, but find what makes YOU feel content, not what makes everyone else.
That being said, don’t be afraid to mess up. It’s not going to be perfect. I’ve had so many missteps in the past four years, but I don’t think I would change them because they made me the person I am today, and it’s a person I’m proud to be. While I can tell you what I’ve learned, I can’t live it for you. It’s also these trials and tribulations that sometimes turned into the fondest (or silliest, not mutually exclusive) memories, through which I formed the closest friendships, and the experiences that have made me a stronger and more whole person once I stood back up.
If there’s only one thing I hope you take from this though, it’s to cherish the people around you (and that you are worth so much to those people as well). This was by far the most difficult but valuable lesson that I have learned here. My junior fall, one of my roommates took her life—one of many that year. Suddenly, the very ground I stood on crumbled. I was confused about how someone who seemed so perfect on the outside could feel this way on the inside, how I—as someone who spent time with her every day—didn’t see it, and what I should have done to be there for her. I felt completely lost. But the outpour of love from the people around me carried me through my darkest days. Friends stayed with me as I tried to fall asleep at night, cooked meals for me when I had no kitchen, chased me (by complete surprise) around Philly at 7am as I ran my first half marathon. It took the death of someone I loved to realize how much she mattered to me, but just as importantly, how much I mattered to those around me.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from these people. They love you. And if they’re not willing to take out the time to talk or give you a hug, then honestly, they’re not worth calling friends. On that note, don’t be afraid to cut off friends too. One of the most painful but valuable things I learned at Penn was that some friends just weren’t worth the energy. With some, it was that I realized they weren’t there for me when I needed them. For others, I knew that they cared for me and would be there for me if I truly needed it, but they would hardly ever reach out or would only sporadically respond to my messages. For all of these friendships, I learned that they were draining me rather than supporting me. And just like with other types of relationships, I learned to cut my losses. Thankfully, the other true friends were there by my side. It’s the people that defined everything from the worst to my best moments at Penn.
Last but certainly not least, HAVE FUN. Things might (scratch that, they will) get tricky along the way, but you’ll make it out just fine. Time flies. Savor the ups, the downs, (the mehs,) the people, and the experiences; make the most of these years. Live these four years to the fullest (in whatever way YOU define). In the words of our dear Ben Franklin (get used to the references to him): lost time is never found again.
All my love,
Katherine Chang ‘16
The world is greater than yourself | bryan c
Dear freshman Bryan,
Four years goes by in a flash – before you know it, you will be done with college and filled with the bittersweetness of leaving a place so rich with memories you have built with some of the best people you have ever met.
College will be the most definitive time of your life thus far, it will be filled with joy, heartbreak, sorrow among complexities of confounding emotions you’ll find tough to untangle at times. You’ll learn a lot from the amazing professors around you and your brilliant peers – the depth and richness of academic experience is unparalleled in so far as you choose to pursue it. However, it is the lessons outside of the classroom that will shape you in ways you wouldn’t imagine possible.
The world is greater than yourself – Always remember that there is so much more than yourself so think big and think long-term. Devote your time and energy to contributing to the community around you, even though it may seem thankless at times. Try to unlock the ways in which your strengths can best be put to good use. You’ll come to realize it is so much more rewarding to build something greater than the self, and even more meaningful if its sustainable and self-perpetuating – something that doesn’t revolve around your own ego. Impact starts from the people around you. Treat everyone with compassion and kindness, reach out to others – you never really can fathom the difference you can make in the lives of others until you try.
Take risks – Ask that guy or girl you are interested in out to lunch; at the very least, you would have saved yourself the agony of what ifs. On the upside, he or she may be your new partner-in-crime and bring you a new intensity of joy you hadn’t ever experienced. Challenge yourself to try new things – participate in activities outside your comfort zone, learn a new language, explore new disciplines. We constantly live in the fear that we will be judged by everyone around us, but really no one is noticing and for the occasional hater you meet, they can suck it.
Forgive yourself – you will be your own harshest critic and learning how to deal with that will be invaluable. There will be many times you feel like what you do, and in extension you, are never enough. Understand that everyone experiences these moments of self-doubt. We all make stupid mistakes along the way, don’t beat yourself up over them. We can only be the best version of ourselves, take a breath and move on. We cannot control the ways in which others treat us, however we can control the ways in which react to that. Don’t ever let others define your self-worth.
Self-care - In that same vein, take care of yourself. It is easy to feel like you’re invincible – there will be foolish times when you sacrifice personal wellness trying to do a million things while surviving on a perpetual four hours of sleep. Remember that there’s nothing selfish about taking time to rejuvenate oneself. You can only care for others and excel in the activities you choose to pour yourself into, if you’re well enough to do so. Learn how to say no. Commit with passion and discipline, but choose your battles wisely – we can only take on so much meaningfully.
Always treat others with respect – this seems intuitively obvious, but remind yourself that we never know the circumstances which influence the behavior of others. Don’t judge their actions and treat them with the same respect you would hope to receive. Part of being respectful is learning how to be honest – both with our own emotions and with others. There’s so much negativity that is generated when we try to circumvent the conversations about how we really feel. We are all adults now – we can talk about it.
Learn to trust – Have faith in the sincerity and qualities of the people you surround yourself with. It takes a lot to be vulnerable and put yourself out there, especially in this intensely competitive environment. But really there is little that parallels the depths of comfort and simple joy in the knowledge that you have your people to count on. Learn how to let others care for you, learn to create spaces with your most trusted friends which you can retreat into when life gets too overwhelming and learn to trust that they will be there to catch you when you fall.
Build an amazing community – It might be easy to default to ready communities that exist, but ultimately the richness of friendships is unlocked only by building your own. This is to say keep an open mind. It is incredible easy and comfortable to circularize ourselves around the communities we exist within. Be selective and deliberate about the people you spend your time with. Yet at the same time, take a chance and spend time with people you click with over a five-minute conversation. Some of your strongest friendships will come from these chance encounters.
Don’t take yourself seriously – Lastly, but equally important, don’t take anything too seriously. Make fun of yourself and how pretentious your activities sometimes are. Strive for the best you can achieve but be gracious when things don’t go to plan. There’s nothing more important than the people in your life, everything else is ancillary. Don’t sweat over the less than perfect team project or that test you could have done better on. Honestly, it isn’t worth the mental energy or the risk of ruining the relationships around you.
You will learn so much over these next four years. These are your years.
Your life is just beginning and the learning never ends. The narrative is yours to write now.
why it's ok to be undeclared | kelly h
Dear freshman Kelly,
First of all, kudos on making it to Penn. Your slightly cynical dreams of getting out of Virginia came true! Before you make your bed in the Quad with that Pottery Barn teen duvet cover, take a seat. There’s some things you should know.
First, you’re going to realize that you have zero interest in corporate law. No one really ever wants to be a corporate attorney, but it was something nice to tell people when they asked what you wanted to be when you grew up. You’re going to be so eager to check things off your list, academically. You’ll plan to major in PPE and realize you hate the E and one of the Ps, leaving you ~undeclared~. For the first time ever, you won’t have a plan of what’s coming next.
It will be terrifying, figuring out not just what you’re supposed to major in, but how you’re supposed to build a life and identity with so much less information than you’ve had before. In high school, you had it all compartmentalized into neat squares: flute player, robotics team member, science nerd, nursing home volunteer. Things are going to get a bit messy. You’ll try out all the majors under the sun, including criminology, anthropology, sociology, and anything else ending with “ology”. It will be hard some days to look around you and think you see nurses in nursing school, who will become nurses, or engineers in engineering school who will become engineers. I’d encourage you to look closer though. It’s not quite as simple as that.
Embrace this blank space like Drew Barrymore with her garage walls in 50 First Dates. Fill up your life with experiences that are new and rich and colorful. Take classes that challenge and interest you, but don’t be afraid to drop the ones that aren’t a good fit. Don’t worry about taking 4 classes vs. 5 classes, even if so-and-so is taking six credits and lives a breezy life complete with lots of sleep and meaningful social interactions. You will sometimes get sucked into that game, of comparing hours of work or how many parties you went to or how much you procrastinated that paper. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. Go to your classes, learn, and do your work for you. Try your best to avoid Penn’s toxic competitiveness. Your life will feel more peaceful and fulfilled.
Now let’s talk about friends. You are going to meet some of the most phenomenal, talented, caring, and amazing people. I’m almost jealous of how you get to meet them and experience this school and this city with them all over again (this is getting meta). Hold onto those people- they will literally save your life. They’ll be there with pints of ice cream and wallow in cliches with you after a breakup. They will be the people who are always down to venture to South Street or stay in and watch trashy tv for hours, there is no in-between. Life is better when they are around. One cold night in March, when you’ve lost all hope and feel overwhelmed by grief and fear, and can no longer see the value of life, your friends will pick you up and carry you until you start to put yourself back together.
The people that you have in your life will define so much of your Penn experience. Be brave and respect yourself enough to walk away from bad situations. Take care of yourself first. You cannot fix people, no matter how hard or how long you try. It will feel scary and weird sometimes, to feel things and be open. Other people might not like it and prefer that you stop feeling things so deeply. It would be a lot easier to shut down and sleepwalk into a future. I promise though, that if you stay open, believing that things can get better and things can be good, your life will be so much better. You have a capacity to care about people (sometimes too much). Use that in your relationships with others, but most importantly, in your relationship with yourself.
These four years at Penn will be beautiful, frustrating, heartbreaking, transformative, and all-around an adventure. The rest of what you need to know: don’t get that haircut because you’re upset about your ex-boyfriend. It’s not worth it and it will grow out poorly. Go to Lyn’s ASAP and introduce yourself. Get a spinach eggplant parm on a long roll, because sometimes money can actually buy happiness. Download a sleep cycle app- they’re really helpful! Spend more time outside. Get some plants and enjoy taking care of something for a while, even though they’ll probably die sooner rather than later. Explore the city and go to more museums. Call mom as often as you can, and keep in touch with your siblings. They’re going to be around forever.
And above all else, remember that there is so much more to life than these next four years. Stay humble, be kind, and take care of yourself. During the first month of school, you will wonder if Penn is the right place for you. You will be sad and worried about what will come next-- but have faith and keep going, because your life is about to be more incredible than you could have imagined.
No Silver Bullets | Bobby L
Let me start off by saying that I love you. There are so many people in your life who love you too. If there is anything to take away from this little note, I hope it is a greater sense of compassion towards others and yourself. As I remember it, I was exhausted from constantly worrying whether I was doing the right thing or not. I had (and still do) have difficulties with self-acceptance. Breathe deep, and slow down. Open those weary eyelids of yours, and appreciate who and what is around you. Cultivate all that love shared between you and the world by being present. Smiling will help too :)
In preparation for writing this letter, I have been revisiting your notes addressed to the future you (that’s me)! It seems like you were thinking about the following:
● Do I deserve to be here? What can I do to make the most of my time here?
● How do I meet people? How do I know if they are the right people for me?
● What am I going to do with my life? How do I want to live?
● How am I going to get everything done?
Part of that heavy weariness I remember feeling was from searching for answers to those questions and others. You won’t find answers here. You are already inundated with so much advice that it is hard to keep up. What you will discover in these words though, are questions and thoughts to lose and (hopefully) find yourself in. Remember that these are literally just words. Do not interpret anything here as objective laws— after all, you do have a history of taking some advice too seriously! Instead, I offer these points in the hope that absorbing some of them will give you the excuse to sit, slow down, and meditate on how you see the world. This could be one of the most perspective shifting actions you practice. If you can continually create a purposefully reflective space, you will better understand yourself and your relation to the world. All those questions that feel like weights to you might end up feeling a lot lighter.
My impression: you are an extremely eager and earnest person who cares most about the work that you can do to appease everyone and everything around you. You do your best to accept everyone else as they are; yet you set sky-high expectations for yourself. Because of this dichotomy it seems to me that you are (and will be) constantly dissatisfied with who you are because you always imagine a better version of yourself. It feels difficult to hold in harmony becoming better, but also honoring who you actually are right now. You may not be writing it or saying it out loud, but I’ll make a solid guess that a voice inside your head is communicating, “I’m truly not enough; I should be better than this” quite a bit. “YIKES!” It’s not that working towards becoming a better person is an unhealthy endeavor; it’s your refusal to accept yourself along the way that is the issue. How are you treating yourself? Where will that kind of self-communication lead you? What does that better version of you look like anyway? Why have you constructed that image?
There are no silver bullets. In your efforts to become a better person, are you focusing on immediate or long-term changes? Quick fixes, aka band-aids to problems, are easily undone, and don’t heal the sores they temporarily covered. Meaningful, lasting change within you will probably happen slowly. Be patient. Develop your principles. Build character.
Pursuits of perfection can be poisonous. What does perfect look like anyway? Why might you (or anyone else) push towards perfection? You are not perfect, yet you are all that you have. Accept and appreciate that. Observe the gaps between your reality and your expectations for yourself with a sense of humor. Your “flaws” make you wonderfully human. Why hide them?
Confront the culture of comparison. How does everyone else have everything together and I don’t? You can’t hide forever from comparing yourself to other people. How might you confront this toxic cycle? Labels used to describe people (e.g. an occupation) mean incredibly little. What someone is working towards reveals much more. For example, your label as a college student doesn’t say much until we know what you are trying to get done with the knowledge you are gaining. Think of it as a personal mission statement. Finding this out about yourself and others may allow you to form more meaningful relationships with others because you will be one move closer to an awe-inspiring form of love— that is, a sincere exchange of ways of seeing.
Presence over productivity. How much do you miss when your mind is elsewhere? What can you do for others and yourself by being here now? Focus on the process rather than far away outcomes and expectations. The future and past are both mental constructions used to rationalize that you are based on where you’ve been and where you are going. They are unfortunately all too easy to get lost in. Cultivate an authentic positivity and presence, right here and now. You’ll never be anywhere else. Live in the moment; don’t try to make it yours.
Do it, and then learn how. Ever find it easy to get stuck deliberating with yourself? Weighing pros and cons? Doubting your capabilities enough to talk yourself out of doing something? Don’t be afraid to jump in and take risks. Experiment to find out what fits and what doesn’t. You will figure it out along the way.
Commit to what you care about. Remember the advice to “stretch your rubber band” and to “be the point person” in order to grow? Reflect on this extension: “be the point person for what you care about most.” Where does taking on responsibility for responsibility’s sake leave you? A full Google calendar doesn’t make you anything but busy and less likely to do well because you will be tired and not present. You are limited in your time and energy. You may care about a lot of different things. Don’t throw that passion away, but recognize that you can’t do everything. If you try you are likely to spread yourself too thin and burn out. A good rule of thumb: when your workload is so much that it consistently keeps you from treating others and yourself in a truly kind and compassionate manner, you’ve taken on too much. It is an amount that not even enough rest will fix. Focus your passions. Do more by doing less.
Listen. How do you listen? How sincere are you with others and yourself? Beware of the weapons of mass distraction. Whether those weapons are your phone or your very own limited perception, your ability to relate and serve others well depends on you overcoming those barriers. Remember, learning starts with listening. Always listen to understand first.
Surround yourself with nourishing people. How do the people you spend time with shape your perception of the world? What do they bring out in you? Everything that you do is akin to feeding yourself. You choose whether it is more toxic or nourishing. Who you surround yourself with the most, and how you spend time with them works the same way.
Wake up. How are you privileged? What do you have access to that others do not? The sum of all your experiences literally frames how you perceive the world. Don’t let your identity be a barrier to exchanging with others who aren’t clear reflections of yourself. What will you do to leverage your privilege to increase the well-being of everyone? How? Who will you work with and what is your role?
Pessimism of the mind, optimism of the will. Investigate for yourself. Be empirical, not cynical. Don’t give up hope that you and others can get meaningful work done.
Nature of nurturing. What kind of physical, emotional, and mental habits do you practice towards others and yourself? Which are more toxic? Which are more nurturing?
How you do anything is how you do everything. Do your best to do well. If you ask yourself, “do I respect myself?” and can answer, “yes!” then you are well on your way. Bring an open mind and a whole heart to each moment. I have faith in you. Have faith in yourself.
Thank you for reading.
The path to becoming a fully evolved pokemon | Jane C
It has only been two and a half years since first arriving at Penn and this experience has already changed you in previously unimaginable ways. The people you’ll meet, the clubs you’ll join, the mistakes you’ll make, and the blessings you’ll encounter…None of it can be premeditated but everything can be appreciated in its own way after the fact. You are nowhere near the level of a fully evolved Pokemon – perfect, powerful, poised - but the fact that you can practice self-awareness and collect your thoughts into this installment is a step in the right direction. To not bore your impatient, 17-year-old self, I’ve boiled down my takeaways from first-hand experiences into three nuggets.
Let these experiences guide you now and into the future.
1. Success comes in many different shapes and sizes and is written by the individual. Don’t let external standards define you and squish you into that cookie-cutter Wharton/Penn phantom-personality, or any societally derived mold for that matter. Likewise, never impose your standards and definitions upon others to then compare each other or heaven-forbid judge. Your English major friend capable of pulling together a six-part A Capella arrangement is an equal to your friend who has quit school to paint murals who is also an equal to the kid who ruined the STAT102 curve and just got hired by a tier-1 hedge fund. We are all talented in our own ways and can thus add value to this society in unique ways. You are never “better” than someone else by way of meaningless titles and superficial human constructs like race, nationality, number of degrees, GPA, job title, or affluence. Stay true to who you are and take pride in your unique strengths, weaknesses, and conception of success while celebrating what others can also contribute - no matter how big, small, or different. Don’t let human worth be described by arbitrary societal standards and proscribed by external validators. You, as someone who has been blessed with the gift of education, are better than that.
2. You are not perfect by any measure and thus failure is both pervasive and inevitable. This you cannot control. What you can control is how you approach and recover from failures. Yes, Jane - you will fail. HA yep, you will get a bad grade (by non-asian standards), you will mess up a relationship, and you will #Feelthebern of rejection. But you will then face it courageously, accept it graciously, and grow from it. Sure a night of wallowing in your sorrows with some Half Baked ice cream and an emotional skype session with your parents won’t hurt – you’re only human. But then suck it up and move on – it’s a new day that shouldn’t be wasted on the past. Every door shut is another step closer to finding the door that matches your unique key. These next four years of discovering yourself will be an iterative process of highs and lows, but thankfully you should not have to brave it alone. You’d be surprised by the number of kind people who care. Help others find themselves and invite others to help you. Prioritize people over all else besides your health & happiness. This is a society built upon human interaction and relationships. When surrounded by the right kind, people turn out to be the greatest source of strength, encouragement, happiness, safety, and solace. Don’t let other trivialities distract you from the bigger picture and tunnel-vision you into walking a lonely path. Similarly, don’t let others wander by themselves. You’d be surprised by how much tiny acts of kindness and checking in on people can affect their wellbeing and happiness. Share the love and show that you care. Let companionship prosper. Only then will failure be bearable and easy as the recovery becomes quicker and well-supported.
3. Last, but certainly not least, people will come and go in your life – the ones that matter stay, through thick and thin. These people will define your college experience – not your grades, not OCR, not Rumor, not Brunch (although a close second). They say you can really only be close to five people. I don’t know how “they” came to that number, and “they” may be wrong, but it does highlight a truth you’ve experienced. If you want genuine, unabashedly raw and potent relationships – I’m talking people who will pull back your hair and nurse you when you’re throwing up Sunset Blush, warm your feet when you’re cold, go out of their way to help you on your exam, wake up at 7 am to accommodate your “busy schedule”, bring you food when you’re sick – those are the people worth investing in. Let go of the people who cannot prioritize you, and embrace the people who take you for all of you – the good and the bad. Let go of the people who put you down or cannot be there for you, and embrace the people who cherish you deeply, face you honestly, and push you to live harder and become a better version of yourself. It’s okay – you cannot have everything and everyone, but investing in those five or so people will lead them to giving you their everything. At the end of the day, five impactful Everythings has infinitely greater worth than many blissful Nothings. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there to find these people as there are so many gems at Penn – ya just gotta dig past the immediate circle. Give people a chance to make a change in your life, and give yourself that fulfilling opportunity as well. It will be draining to share yourself and be that rock for others, both emotionally and physically, but the greatest sense of fulfillment and happiness comes from both receiving and giving. So shout out to mah mainz - you know who you are.
You’re on the right track. Every day is a gift to be thankful for. So for the next year and a half, take full advantage of life and the protected bubble that is college. Don’t be afraid along the way, stay true to yourself, and always kick ass.
an amateur's account of heartbreak, major failure and eating ice cream once a day | Lauren M
Hi there little one,
Welcome, welcome. You are about to embark on one of the most challenging, confusing, erratic, yet somehow, meaningful and joyful adventures of your short life. Do not let the weight of that wash over you lightly.
These next 4 years will push you in ways you can’t even yet imagine. You will explore some of the most amazing places on Earth, your brain will be constantly reeling as you are introduced to interesting, endlessly fascinating ideas, and you will learn to love friends and individuals so deeply that you become a completely new person in the process.
So, while that all sounds like a lot, relax. You’re at the onset of something truly beautiful. Here’s my advice on how to start:
1. Say hi to the girl across the hall. She will become your best friend, your biggest supporter and your adventure partner for life. She will make you a kinder, happier and truer person. When you get into that silly fight 2 years from now, just apologize. Learn to accept that you're wrong - literally all the time.
2. Smile at the boy two rooms down. He will become the best part of your everyday. He will love you in those moments when you can’t even love yourself. When he breaks your heart a few years from now, it will seem as if your entire future is falling apart. You will admittedly be inconsolable for a while. But, in the end, you will be able to love others stronger, deeper and with the fiercest loyalty. You will always hold him close to your heart, no matter how far you grow apart.
3. Make that weird joke to your PennCORP leader. He will be the highlight of your freshman year, playing the role of your best friend, your first love, your biggest cheerleader and your constant inspiration. Don't worry - you'll still talk every week even after he graduates.
4. Don’t be too distraught when you get that C in calculus. Go grab some ice cream with friends instead. You’ll be fine, I promise.
5. Do not buy into the idea that you're a total failure when you don’t get that OCR job. Or the 45 others you interview with, for that matter. If you consistently stay true to what you love and work really, really hard, you will get there. Patience, young grasshopper. Oh, and remember to tell that interviewer from Microsoft to politely fuck off when she says you wouldn't fit in because you care too much about social good/making the world a better place. That's garbage.
6. Don’t fall into the alluring idea that your time is any more valuable or important than anyone else’s. I can promise you, it’s really, really not. And please don’t put up with anyone who thinks that either. Always be generous with your hours, your resources and your thoughtfulness.
7. Surround yourself with good humans and spend every possible second with them. Allow them to challenge you in your stubbornness, hold you close in your weakness and love you even when you're probably being a little snot. They say you are a combination of your 5 closest friends. Better make em count!
8. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. It’s the biggest gift you can ever give yourself and others. Don’t put your true emotions in a box for the sake of convenience. Have those awkward conversations. Go out on a limb. Be unabashedly honest, even if you wind up hurt in the end.
9. Let go of any preconceived notions of just how your life will pan out - job wise, relationship wise, and anything otherwise. Just trust, you will wind up exactly where you are supposed to be. Being confident in your uncertainty is the bravest thing you can possibly do.
10. Little known secret? Your GPA really doesn’t matter that much.
12. Penn often only affirms two career paths - consulting and banking. Yet, please don’t lose sight of the fact that there are so many unique, interesting and legitimate ways to be in the world. Go and find them. You'll thank me later.
12. Relax. Don’t take yourself so seriously.
13. Needlessly and extravagantly celebrate your friends’ and acquaintances’ birthdays, as odd as that sounds. Trust me, people will never forget that time you surprised them with cookies even though you weren’t really very close friends. Seeing others happy will make you happy.
14. Be a good friend. Show up to shows. Throw ‘Friend Appreciation’ parties. You can never say “I love you” too much. You can never listen too well.
15. Be kind to others and be kind to yourself. All you see is not all that there is. You are more resiliant than you ever imagined. Prove them wrong.
16. Read everything you can possibly get your hands on. It will broaden the tiny perspective you have of this world and all that’s in it.
17. Be sure to eat ice cream at least once a day. You friends will mock you for it. Your heart will love you for it.
In short, stay true to yourself, your values and the ideas that most excite you in the world. Life is far too short to spend time on things that don’t set you on fire.
Keep exploring, keep it weird,
On Losing Parents, Leaving Hawaii, and Living Up to Legacy Status | Isabelle O
Dear freshman self,
Do you remember the day you got accepted to Penn? It was a Cycle 7 week, because even though you were done with classes before lunch, you stuck around at senior benches and refreshed the decision page about 50 times. Your laptop was muted—which is probably why you were so confused when that Early Decision acceptance video started playing. That was one of the first times I ever remember crying out of happiness. The few students that were also at the benches started clapping and congratulating you. And do you remember what you kept repeating, over and over?
“I’m going to Penn. I’m going to my dad’s alma mater. I’m going to my dad’s school.”
You’re about to start the hardest four years of your life so far—and that’s an understatement. You will be challenged academically, socially, emotionally, and physically. You will be thousands of miles from homey Honolulu, and learn the hard way that it’s actually rarely ever sunny in Philadelphia. You will pass your breaking point more times than you can count. But I’m here to tell you that I don’t regret a single moment of it—you will be so much wiser, so much stronger, and so much more full of life. You may find it hard to believe me now, but try to keep the following in mind:
1. Take care of yourself first. Always. You will help so many people during your time here, as an EMT with MERT and as a nursing student, but you can’t do that if you’re not okay. Take some vitamins. Sleep more than four hours per night. Eat some salads—Sweetgreen is actually really delicious. Keep in touch with your friends, no matter how near or far they are.
2. It is okay to run away sometimes. Go to Toronto for a weekend (Canadian Netflix has better movies than American Netflix), or spend Thanksgiving in Los Angeles. Get out of the Penn Bubble—because its a real thing—and breathe. You are a wanderer at heart.
3. Don’t go pre-med. Remember that crap you wrote in your application essay to nursing school about wanting to make personal connections and change the world one patient at a time? Turns out it’s true, and it’ll change your life.
4. You will meet some incredible human beings here. They will not only put up with you, but they will laugh with you, eat pizza with you at 1 am, and remind you that you’re beautiful and strong when you can’t see it in yourself. They will smile and nod when you talk about “that boy” for the 20th time that day (even though they probably want to sucker punch you). They will also literally sit in bed with you all day and hold you as your world falls apart.
5. You will also meet some not-so-great people here. It happens; it’s part of life. Be kind, be compassionate, but be brave enough to cut out the bad influences.
6. Be nice to your liver. Stop drinking for the wrong reasons, and stop drinking alone. However, do look into the concept of a shower beer—this is a positive thing, trust me.
7. Delete Tinder from your phone. You will make some surprising friends from it, but you also don’t need a man in your life to be happy. Go out and meet some living, breathing human beings. Most of them don’t bite, I promise.
8. An empty schedule is a blessing, not a curse.
9. Don’t flunk. That’s it. Your worth is not measured by your GPA. Your worth is measured in the kindness you show to others, the passion you feel for your work, and the effort you put into every task.
And finally, here’s the most important thing I want you to remember: Penn is YOUR school. These next four years are for you to learn, explore, and grow. You came here for Dad—I know. It’s been seven years, but I remember everything like it’s just happened. The day he was diagnosed, the chemotherapy sessions, the nausea and nerve sensitivity, the night he spiked a 104 degree fever. Holding his right hand as his breathing finally slowed, and slowed, and stopped. I can’t yet tell you that it hurts less after time, but I can guarantee you that you will make it through. Dad would have been so proud to see you here, on this campus, but I don’t think he’d want to see you following in his footsteps. Take your own path, and blaze your own trail. You came here for Dad, but stay here, excel here, and persevere here for YOU.
I feel like if we ran into each other on the street, you wouldn’t recognize me at all. Not just because I look different—my hair is longer and a different color now, my eyeliner is way darker (or maybe its the dark circles from sleep deprivation), and all I ever wear are scrubs or exercise clothes (I go to the gym now—possibly the biggest surprise of this letter). There’s more knowledge in my eyes; both wisdom and sadness have sunken deep into them. There are new scars on my body, from the physical and emotional falls that I’ve taken time and time again. Most of all, though—I’m happy, and I didn’t think I’d ever see that in myself again.
Best of luck in your time here at Penn. I’ll be seeing you on the other side. It’s going to be a great ride—embrace it.
Love and airplanes,
Wharton Misfit to Aspiring Chef & everything inbetween | Vera K
Dear freshman self,
Bask in your ignorance and let it drive your quest to learn. No one expects you to come to college knowing everything about yourself or your surroundings. Use the next four years to learn, whether in the classroom or outside of it, about the things you’re curious about. Use clubs and courses to discover your inner passions and what subjects truly fascinate you and which work you find most rewarding – you’ll often be surprised by what catches your interest the most.
Don’t be afraid to cry hard and laugh loudly. The best of times can be sandwiched by the worst, but don’t ever think your emotions are unjustified. Talk to someone if you need to, keep it to yourself if that feels better, but always remember that college is supposed to be a whirlwind of emotions – you’ll have the highest highs, the lowest lows, and everything in between. This past year, I’ve laughed more than ever and cried more than ever, but I wouldn’t change a minute of it.
If you want something, ask. Cold calls, cold emails, do it all! I have gotten the most amazing opportunities by simply reaching out to those who I have an interest in working with and expressing to them how I enthusiastic I am about their publication, business, restaurant, etc. Worst-case scenario, they politely decline you, best-case scenario, you get the chance to work on something you are really freaking exited about.
Don’t do anything simply to “fit in” or because “everyone does it.” I’m in Wharton, but loathe even the thought of working in finance or consulting (gasp!). What I love is marketing and food, so I’ve worked to carve my own professional path combining my two passions. Penn has the most amazing resources and access to a vast network of fascinating people doing such varied things, so find those who will help you achieve your goals and go for it – you won’t be disappointed that you chose the path less traveled.
Always listen to yourself first and pay attention to your own needs before those of others. Putting your own mind and body first means staying attuned to when stress, sleeplessness, and anxiety get the better of you. If your friends are pulling an all-nighter to study for a final but your brain is crying out for sleep and your stomach for food, take the time to rest before tackling the next day. In a competitive environment like Penn, you’ll be tempted to wear yourself out, but never let yourself get so worn down that you feel like you can’t pick yourself back up again.
Lastly, be willing to accept the help of others. I never fathomed that I had an eating disorder until my friends realized something was wrong and raised the issue with me. I was hurt at first, but now can’t even begin to express my gratitude for their help in making me realize that I was breaking down my own body with obsessive exercise and hyper restrictive eating. At Penn, with so many brilliant and hard-working students around you, it can be difficult to admit to yourself that you’re not perfect and require help, but know that no one is perfect. Everyone has their own self-doubts and weaknesses and no one goes through college alone. Ask for help when you need it - it won’t make you any less of the talented, driven, extraordinary person that you are.
Explore, eat adventurously, and take care of yourself. You’re about to start the best four years of your life.
Wharton, Class of 2016
Cherish everything | Vid M
You might find this hard to believe, but soon, you’ll be three years away from graduating. And time flies: Three years blur into three months; three weeks; three days; and, inevitably, three hours from the end of your time at Penn. I know what you’re thinking—hell, I told myself the same thing three and a half years ago. College is long, and I’ve got plenty of time. You’re not wrong: Four years ago, you were a naïve freshman entering high school, looking to become an astronaut after your stint at professional cricket. The next year, you hoped to write the next great classic from a cabin off the coast of Indonesia, and the following year saw you dreaming up your future as an incorruptible politician. Yes, it’s been four long years. But it still feels like yesterday, doesn’t it? College is much the same, because your time disappears before you know it, between the snow storms and the parties and the midterms and the vacations and the…everything and anything, to be honest. But these four years will probably be the most transformative of your life, more so than your transition from a lanky five-four teenager to a lanky (some things just don’t change!) six-two adult, so prepare yourself for the most difficult and inspiring journey you’ll ever take. And know that this journey never ends; indeed, real life is starting; and, your story is just beginning.
As you embark on your journey, understand that success, in any shape or form, is arbitrary and meaningless. Over the next few years, you will meet people who will, in ways you can’t possibly comprehend, blow you away. Yet their intellectual, professional, or personal successes do not define your failures. Their achievements are incredible, really, and deserving of praise—but entirely independent from you. You are no more, and no less, because of what someone else can or cannot do. Your successes are yours alone, and as such, they should be defined by you. In high school, you defined success through high test scores and college acceptances, or a popular social life and leadership positions in extra-curricular activities. In college, define success in a way that you—and only, you—can achieve. Explore as many things as you possibly can, and don’t be afraid to let go of things you dislike. Say yes to everything, and fill your time becoming a better person, not a better student. Be flexible, and let your definition of success change each and every single day. Though it may seem hard, try to forget grades, clubs, and external validation. Ignore stereotypes and the mainstream definition of success. Drown out the noise from the crowds—you were never part of the herd, anyway. That’s what got you here, remember?
You’ll soon realize, perhaps even a few days into college, that this journey is not yours alone. You’ll share it with your roommates, peers, and everyone else you have the privilege of meeting. Your experience is defined by the people around you, and, in turn, you define this experience by choosing those who will join you in your journey, as you join theirs. And people come and go: Those you swear by freshman year may not be those you miss most on your last winter break before graduation. And then there are those who will stop you in your tracks and change the way you see the world—don’t let them go. I can’t stress this enough: Don’t ever let them go. This squad, crew—whatever you call them—will make college. They’ll laugh as you puke Chinese takeout and then carry you to your bed. They’ll surprise you on your twenty-second birthday and then drink with you until daybreak. They’ll travel to the moon and back for you—and you will do the same for them. It may sound cheesy—and, believe me, it really is—but it is too real. The people you meet over the next four years—and those you choose to become your best friends—will shape who you become and how you experience college. You will never forget them; chances are, they will never forget you. These are your friends for life. Get stoked, because it’s as exciting as it sounds.
Spend the next four years with an open mind. Meet people who shock your system, and do things that frighten you. Push yourself to become better; and then, be better. Don’t try to find yourself—there is no one college formula. Find out how to find yourself, and set yourself on a path towards self-awareness and personal development. Be there for your friends, your peers, and yourself. Thank your family, and remember that this is all temporary. College, like life, is fleeting. Soon—be it thirty years or three years or three months or three days or three hours—this will all be over. Enjoy the journey—forget the destination—and cherish everything.
P.S. This is important. Listen to everything below:
1. Plug the hole next to the heater under your freshman year bed as soon as possible. You’ll soon learn that rats love heat almost as much as they love your room and your suitcases.
2. It’s not okay to wash those free colored NSO t-shirts with your whites. If you do, it’s not okay to wear the former-whites anyway.
3. Don’t chug from the bottle just because you can. It’s impressive, just like the amount you eventually puke.
4. There’s only one way to roll it down.
5. Don’t walk down Locust Walk during your second semester with your sleeves rolled up and no jacket, as cool (stupid?) as you may look. Pneumonia, despite what you may think, is not fun, especially when you’re seven-thousand miles away from home.
6. Free food is not necessarily good food. And food that is not necessarily good may poison you.
7. Sign your lease on time.
8. On study-abroad, try to remember that the front desk of hostels literally shut down after ten at night. Avoid flights that arrive after midnight to avoid standing (sleeping?) outside the hostel until daybreak.
9. Avoid the dry-cleaning shop on fortieth street. Suppose you do visit, realize that your shirt buttons are half-broken before the morning of your first job interview.
10. Scrap paper cannot replace toilet paper, no matter how you fold it.
savoring optionality & asking better questions | angie t
Dear freshman self,
In three years, you still won’t like coffee, although it sure would make finals season easier if you did. You still won’t know how to drive, even though your dad has nagged you about your inability to do basic three point parking every time you go home. And don’t worry, you’ll still keep all of your Canadian-isms, from the u in colour to zed-not-zee, despite the best efforts of everyone around you to make you think in miles and Fahrenheit instead.
Here are some things that will have changed: you’ll go from being convinced that you’re going to be a lawyer (complete with an annotated five year plan) to having absolutely no idea which city you’ll be in or what job you’ll have in two years – and be surprisingly okay with that. You’ll learn how to cook something other than tomato-and-egg with rice. You’ll also have opinions on life and school that you’ll feel the urge to impart on young, impressionable incoming college students, like an old cranky man trying to convince his grandchildren that no, really, you youth these days should really listen to your old man.
Here’s what I wish I knew (or did) when I was where you are:
Don’t be in such a hurry to grow up. There is something you have at this moment that you will increasingly have less of, and that is optionality. The world is still your oyster, so many paths are still possible, and you still have all the time in the world to learn and to grow and to develop. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t commit to things, because at some point you will have to choose, but what it does mean is that you should always try to keep as many options open as possible, and to cherish this state of almost-adulthood (and all its benefits) instead of trying to be the Real Adult you most certainly are not.
What this more concretely means is: there is real value associated with the possibility of choices. Don’t restrict yourself early by overplanning for three concentrations, because then you might not take that class on Asian-American history that makes you completely rethink your own sense of identity. Don’t be afraid to do internships in fields you’re not sure about, because when else are you allowed to try out a job for 10 weeks and dropping it with no consequences? Don’t be so sure so early on that you’re a “qualitative” or “quantitative” person, a Finance person or a French person, because you’ll be surprised how interdisciplinary your passions or dream job might end up being. Apply for and drop by for anything you might be even remotely interested in. Don’t do activities in college just because they’re similar to what you did in high school. Freshman year is the perfect time for serendipity to strike, because that’s when you have the ability and the flexibility to pursue unexpected opportunities.
Everyone tells you that college is a time when you will make many new friends very quickly. This is true. Everyone will also have advice on how to make friends when you first get to Penn, like joining clubs or making sure you meet all of your hallmates. This is also true. Yes, you will meet people who will change the way you think and stay up all night to talk with you and remind you about all the things you should love about yourself when you can’t see beyond the next midterm.
What no one will tell you is that college is also a time when you’ll lose friends. There is so much ink spilled over the end of relationships and breakups, but I wonder why there isn’t a corresponding amount of spilled ink on the end of friendships, which is its own special brand of sadness. In an episode of Girls, Lena Dunham’s character writes, “a friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance.” I wish there was a word in the English language for the dissolution of a friendship (frakeup? frivorce?) but I do know that it is also grand and dramatic and tragic. What I want you to remember is that no one owes you ongoing friendship no matter how long you have known each other, but that on the flip side, it is okay to leave people who chip away at your happiness, no matter how close you once were. It doesn’t make you or them any less, and it doesn’t reduce what you shared and lived and dreamed together in the past. I want you to know that sometimes it is Mother Time and growing (changing?) apart, and that sometimes it’s distance, and that sometimes it’s a conscious choice, but just because no one will make a blockbuster about the end of a friendship starring the young, white, Hollywood it-girl of the day (it’s Jennifer Lawrence now, by the way) doesn’t make it any less of an important experience that you’re going to have to learn from.
3) Ask better questions (and self-reflect)
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but challenge yourself to ask better ones. I think I started out asking questions like, “what are some ways to make sure I do well in college?” and “what is OCR?,” but I wish I had focused more time on asking better questions like, what would it mean for me, personally, to be a better person? What would the metrics be, in order to measure relative or absolute progress? What does it mean to lead a good life?
We know to eat good food and get enough sleep to keep our bodies running smoothly, but I think asking good questions and blocking off time for self-introspection is key to helping our minds running smoothly. I know I would have been a lot happier, and probably achieved more important goals, if I held my questions to higher standards and by extension forced myself to be more engaged and present.
I hope this doesn’t make college sound too scary – because sometime it is, but more often than not you’ll stumble across moments that make you happier than you thought you could ever be. I hope you jump right in and make the best of your years at Penn.
(Oh, and study abroad. It’ll be one of the best semesters of your life. And make sure you get off campus and get to know Philadelphia – you’re not just a Penn student, you’re also a Philly resident, so do try to build a life outside of 34th and 40th St.)
essentially a poorly-written Thought Catalog article | kristen d
Dearest Freshman Self,
Freshman year is a crazy time, chock-full of new surroundings, new friends, and new experiences. Though I’m sure you’ll get through your time at Penn just fine, below is a little advice to guide you along the way. Some of this may sound trite, but I earnestly mean each and every line item.
#1: Surround yourself with people who make you feel loved, happy, and comfortable
When asked about my most significant achievement in interviews, I always pause to think of something professional to say. In the end, however, I default to my truest personal belief: my proudest achievement to date is undoubtedly the rewarding relationships that I have poured time and effort into over the years. I am my truest self when I am with my best friends, and they bring me endless joy. Sometimes I’m so moved by what they say that I tear up out of pride. They are the most beautiful people, inside and out, and they make me the best version of myself.
#2: Get off campus (both East and West) and investigate Philadelphia
Penn is great and all, but a lot of students truly miss out on the Philadelphia experience by staying on campus their entire time in college. Make a point to go to other parts of the city to experience art museums, historical monuments, restaurants, and so on. Philadelphia has so much to offer, and students often do not take advantage of the opportunities a brief subway ride away.
#3: Take classes entirely outside of your major
I love my major; it meshes well with my interests in groundbreaking technology, mathematics, and helping people. That being said, my favorite classes at Penn have certainly been outside of my major, often outside of engineering entirely! Try to take classes that broach extraordinarily varying topics—American Sign Language, Law & Criminal Justice, Samba Drumming, Archaeology, whatever. You get to meet a whole new slew of students you wouldn’t have known otherwise, and you develop a much broader knowledge base encapsulating a bunch of interesting topics!
#4: Try not to wear pajamas to class
This one’s pretty explicit. Just don’t dress like a bum, even if you’ve been wearing a uniform for all of high school and honestly dgaf.
#5: Utilize naps
Naps are the greatest thing ever conceptualized!!! It’s so easy to lose track of time when you’re doing work or hanging with friends, and I often feel like I’m running behind every schedule I make. This condition naturally lends itself to sleep deprivation, and the perfect remedy… naps! A mid day nap can set me right for the rest of the day.
#6: Audition for things!
One of my biggest regrets freshman and sophomore year was not auditioning for a group—be it dance, a cappella, or public speaking. Regardless of my success in entering (or not entering) a group, at least I could say I tried. I, unfortunately, came to this realization a little too late, and did not audition for City Step until my senior year. I had an awesome time and became friends with many members, but my seniority unfortunately was a strike against me, and I didn’t get in. I don’t regret anything about that experience except having done it too late in my college life.
#7: Give yourself a break
Living and working in a high stress environment like Penn most definitely takes its toll on people. Sometimes, friends are fake. Sometimes, you feel like everyone else is doing amazing things and you are absolutely unremarkable in comparison. Sometimes, you feel like you have all the things in the world to do, and absolutely none of the time to do them. If you don’t ever step back and take a break from this environment, you will burn yourself out and be the unhappiest person. Deep down, everyone feels like that sometimes, and you have to remember that Penn isn’t the end-all be-all. Taking a step back and just chilling out is necessary and encouraged! Not all the time, of course, but each day you should take at least a moment to think about that.
#8: Say yes to life
How else can I put this? When an opportunity presents itself, and you want to turn it down because you’re a little nervous or a little lazy, surprise yourself and say yes! Say yes to that date night with the guy down the hall, or say yes to stopping your homework early so that you can check out First Friday downtown. There are so many cool things to do in this world, if you only give yourself the chance to do them! Obviously, use your common sense (i.e., maybe don’t buy drugs from the sketchy stranger who just tried to sell them to you), but try your hardest to say yes to the reasonable opportunities that life throws your way.
#9: Do things outside of your comfort zone
In the same vein, actively pursue opportunities to do things outside of your comfort zone! You’ll never truly grow if you don’t try to extend yourself beyond your limits of comfort. Be brave! Go sky-diving with your best friend, try new foods, party more than you ought to your first week of school, whatever-- do something a little wild that two-years-ago-you would’ve thought was crazy. You’re braver than you think, you just have to give yourself a chance to prove it.
#10: Maintain your dental hygiene
Enough said. The weird diets people find themselves adopting when in college are alarming to real adults. No milk, lots of sugar, whatever it may be, don’t forget to stay on top of brushing, flossing, and rinsing. The only cavities I’ve ever gotten in my entire life have been during college, and I’ve had a lot.
#11: Don’t refrain from doing something because you’re concerned what people will think
Don’t let your concerns about how you’re perceived affect your willingness to do something. If you want to go see that movie or go to that cool new restaurant by yourself, go for it! If you think you might like someone, but are concerned about what people will think, be bold and make a move! Your true friends will support you, and that is what counts. The very last thing you want is to look back on your college experience and say, “I wish I cared less what people thought of me then. I wish I had ____.”
#12: Remember that everyone has their shit
By this, I mean that everyone has problems, stresses, issues in their life or with their family or surroundings. Be tolerant and understanding of that. Some people are much closer to the cusp of something not good than you realize.
#13: Know that it’s okay if you haven’t found your calling (yet)
So many students seem to know exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives, who they want to work with, where they want to be, etc. Know that it is entirely fine to not have an idea of that right now! Sometimes it takes people well into adulthood to find what truly makes them happy, and that is okay! Living your life—having new experiences, stepping outside your comfort zone, trying lots of different things—that is the way to find out what you’ll be happiest doing. It may take time, but I’m sure it is so worth it.
#14: Be kind
Last but most certainly not least, be kind to those around you. According to George Saunders, in their old age, looking back on their lives, what do old people regret most? Being poor from time to time? Working shitty jobs? Making silly mistakes? Not really. What people tend to regret most are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of them, suffering, and they responded… sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly. Who in your life do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet.
Some of these pieces of advice I have been fortunate enough to follow unintentionally, while others I have learned by failing to do so. In the end, all you really want out of college is to look back on your days at Penn knowing that you made the most of the time you had, the great minds to which you were exposed, and the opportunities you were afforded. In living your life, you will undoubtedly uncover other tidbits of advice to become a better person, lead a more fulfilling life, achieve your dreams, lose those last 10 pounds, whatever you want. I may not yet be an expert on any of those things, but this is certainly a good place to start.
All my love,
86,400 Seconds a day | Amy Z
Dear Freshman Self,
During your first year at Penn, there will be 3 crucial pieces of advice given to you by upperclassmen. You will do your best to follow them, but it won’t be until later years that you realize just how right they were.
1. Relationships matter more than anything else in college.
In 30 years, you will not remember anything to do with academics at Penn. You won’t remember your classes, your grades, (most of) your professors, projects, or even what the campus looked like. But if you do it right, you’ll still be in touch with your best friends from Penn. They will have been the people to support you and keep you sane through all the trials of college, and post-college life. They will have been there for you during every important step and you won’t be able to imagine your life without them. Invest your time in building relationships, getting to know as many people as you can, as well as you can – because the truth is, Penn kids are amazing individuals and you will never be in a community as extraordinary as this one again. Talk to the person next to you in line or in the elevator; get to know your RA and everyone on your floor; have coffee chats with as many people as you can and follow your curiosity to let yourself get inspired.
2. Get involved and take advantage of everything Penn has to offer.
Go to as many information sessions as you can, all the speaker events that pique your curiosity, and try to join all the clubs that you are even mildly interested in. Penn’s resources are unlimited, and to find what is best for you, it’s important to know about the opportunities you have right in front of you. Join different communities, go to conferences, career treks, and random events your residence holds. This is where you’ll meet people who have similar interests, and how you’ll get closer to figuring out your path, your place at Penn, and in the world.
3. Explore Philly. It’s an amazing city!
I’ve been to over 50 cities in 30 countries and Philadelphia is STILL my favourite city in the world (at least for a university student). The Penn Bubble is real, and DON’T get sucked into it. A huge reason that every day was filled with excitement during my freshman year was that I was able to go out of my comfort zone in a different way all the time. Adventure awaited me just across the bridge, and I loved that. Make a Philly bucket list. Go to Old City, South Street, Fishtown, West and North Philly, and Center City. Get to know the community via clubs or volunteering or community based courses. Get to know your home for the next 4 years, and try to find a way to contribute to it.
During your second year, real life is going to hit you – GPA, internships, etc. Everything will suddenly feel more serious, and everyone around you is going to be stressed out about it. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of thinking that this is the be-all-end-all. Some of your friends are going to be depressed; some of them are going to change dramatically. Your job is to be there for them, or if you’re feeling down yourself, to rely on your friends. Don’t overcommit yourself just to boost your resume, and don’t forget that you have a bright future as long as you work hard and are kind and generous (karma is real – when you help others, they tend to help you too).
Lastly, study abroad! I am taking a gap year to travel and work around the world, but I knew that since my freshman year (and have been planning it for a while). Follow your heart, your dreams, and never let anyone dissuade you from tackling a challenge head-on. Start a business, if you’re inclined to! I did in freshman year, but it didn’t work out. That won’t stop me from trying again when I come back as a junior. You have 86,400 seconds in a day. Don’t waste a single one.
Preemptive Nostalgia | hannah f
Dear freshman self,
At your graduation party you will be told that you’re about to embark on the best four years of your life. You can smile and nod but don’t internalize it; you don’t deserve to have that much pressure on yourself. I can make this promise though: you will experience ecstatic joy and pure misery, sometimes in the same week. A better expectation to have is that this will be some of if not the most challenging years of your life, intellectually, emotionally, and in terms of personal growth. Before you have an existential crisis at this thought, calm down and try to take in this advice:
This year, you will get dumped by someone you though that you couldn’t live without. It will be heartbreaking and then numbing and then you will be fine then honestly (really not lying here!) you will be happy. Let go of the people you have to. You can want, miss, and love many but you are never in need of any other person. Savor this newfound independence, and reflect on how hard you have worked to get here. Spend time alone without feeling lonely. However, put a value on the relationships you make above most else. The people you surround yourself with will define who you become as a person.
Fall in love with learning. Fall in love with literature, with art, and with history. Don’t let any engineer or business major tell you that what you’re studying isn’t important. Fall IN LOVE with Cicero, with Baudelaire and with Tolstoy. Cry in front of the Manet because it is so fucking beautiful and gasp when you step into Napoléon’s bedroom, because you can feel the forces of history upon you. The greatest intellectual gift you will get from Penn is the need to think, to think critically, and not in a pretentious, dogmatic way but because you are genuinely passionate about the material you are engaging with.
You are in control. Get the help you need because no one will come along and fix you or give you exactly what you need. Your mental health is more important than anything else. Don’t be afraid to tell others when you’re anxious or depressed. You will get rejected by clubs, boys, and internships. Forgive and don’t be so hard on yourself.
Get radicalized. Be a cynic but then do something about it. Learn where your beliefs and values lie and then learn how to defend them. Be tolerant: family members, old friends, and the “real” world in general aren’t as liberal or progressive minded as the communities you become a part of at Penn. Even when it’s frustrating, learn to listen and recognize the limit when it is impossible to change someone’s mind.
Make the city your home. Philadelphia doesn’t exist in a five by five block radius. Go to flea markets, galleries, and restaurants. History and art are all around you.
Remember your privilege. Don’t make excuses when you fail in this, instead admit fault and learn to do better.
“And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.” –Kurt Vonnegut
for the love of god, just do what you want | reilly m
Dear Freshman Self,
Assuming this message comes to you from the future, you should know that the following stocks are good investments—Ha! Just kidding! You don’t end up being an econ major so don’t take advice from future me about that (how’s that for a surprise?).
Your four years in high school you did everything that you were supposed to do, which meant that you were doing pretty much everything you could do. When you get to college, that’s definitely not possible anymore. (It probably shouldn’t have been allowed in high school either, but hey, we all had to get into Penn somehow.) Now, it’s time to focus on what you want to do. What will make you happy? When you have to stay up until four in the morning to finish assignments after meetings run late, what will make you say, “it was worth it?” College is a time in your life that you get to focus on pretty much only yourself. So take the time and use it wisely. Listen to that faint whisper somewhere deep in your mind that you want to be a comedy writer with a certain all female comedy group (go Bloomers!) or take voice lessons or try to work on a TV show or whatever it may be. Find your niche interests! This is how you’ll find your people, who will bring you more happiness than you can even imagine. It’s fun to imagine how things would be, but it’s way more fun and fulfilling to actually do them. Sometimes it’s also scary and hard and maybe it turns out that you don’t like whatever your whispers were encouraging you to do. That’s good! It’s important to know what you’re not interested in! Do not under any circumstances study that (bye econ!) or limit yourself because you had some idea of what your life should be. Or maybe you’re thinking, “what if I don’t have a whisper?” Just keep trying new things and eventually some little guy in the back of your mind will start jumping up and down and saying “pick me! Pick me!” I promise.
Like many of your peers, you think you know what to expect at college. You’ve all read about it online, for god sakes! While knowing facts and figures about the student body calms your nerves, nothing will prepare you for what college actually is—amazing, challenging, rewarding, frustrating, and more. Still, you’ll be right about a lot of things; the first floor of Hill will be like living in a prison cell, sharing a room is hard, and your mother did not raise you to enjoy dining hall food. These are all good for character building (I know, I sound old). But just about everything else, from who you’ll be friends with to what you study should be left to a certain extent to chance. There will be some missteps— figuratively and literally (sophomore year you slip on ice and take a tumble so awful six people come to your rescue)— but eventually, you’ll become comfortable with not knowing what will happen next. You’ll still always be a control freak (I don’t think we’re ever gonna shake that), but you learn to figure out what is under your control and what is not. (For the record, being a good person and friend is always under your control.) For someone who was once told by a high school teacher that she would hate probability because it “wasn’t concrete enough,” this is pretty good. Embracing the gray space is important, and I’m still getting better at it.
As I enter my final semester, there is still so much I don’t know. But that’s ok. As of January, I have no solid job prospects, but I’m pretty sure it’s all going to work out because I’m a hard worker with many applicable skills in my chosen field. As long as you trust yourself, it will be fine. There are a lot of expectations about what the college experience should be, but it’s important to realize that whatever your experience organically becomes is what it was meant to be. Oh and always choose spending time with friends over studying; grades don’t actually matter that much.
College ’16 — History
Turning empty hellos into honest conversations | hosun c
Letter to my freshman self.
Summer of 2012. You are now ready to leave your all-boys high school of 70 other students to join a class of 2,500 students at Penn. I know you are super excited for college, but there are just a few words I would like to share. The letter is not too organized, but that’s fine. You’ll get the message.
Truly explore Philadelphia. Yes, New York is a bus ride away and DC is close too. But, Philadelphia is an amazing city. There are great exhibits, so many good restaurants, amazing coffee shops, craft breweries, and endless places to explore. Except, better sushi restaurants need to pop up in this city.
Take random classes that don’t fulfill your requirements and get to know your Professors. They are actually really cool. Also, don’t be fixated with the GPA number – think outside the 4.0 scale. They are not that important anyway.
Enjoy the honest and genuine relationships you have with people here. It’s easy to be swept in the quick pace of the school that you only hit the surface level of many people. Even if you don't get to know all the people in your classes and ten thousand other organizations you want to be part of, value those few people you can open up to. Also, don’t join ten thousand organizations.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. You will go through difficult times during college. Whether it is school-related or non-school-related issues, you are never alone when you are going through hardships. Trust that group of friends and don’t be afraid to share what you are going through. Vice-versa, always be there for your friends too.
Be Present. Be Curious. You may be busy some weeks, but you can always make time. Do not be so caught up with yourself or what you want to do or what you want to do after Penn. Those thoughts will just waste your precious time while in college. This is such a precious moment in our lives to have so many intellectually curious and amazing people on the same campus. Get to know them and cherish them as a person, not as a business contact. Go beyond the surface level. Stop associating people with their Majors/Concentrations/Minors, find out what their major concentration is that keeps them up at night. What seemingly minor issues are they passionate about?
Do not close off your “friend group” early on. You will continue to meet so many genuine and amazing students. Actually, you will meet many of your closest friends even in your senior year. Always be open-minded and continue to learn from other students.
Whatever happens, it will be just fine. Have fun and explore.
Hosun Chung / firstname.lastname@example.org
On Friendship, Personal Growth and French 140 | calvin j
Dear Freshman Self,
Having spent four years at Penn (yeah, it’s not Stanford, but cry me a fucking river), I feel entitled and obligated to pass on some wisdom that will make your college career even more life-altering than mine has been. Such as telling you to move on from your high-school girlfriend. But I digress.
I’m hesitant to tell you too much, as most of my greatest experiences resulted from blind wandering or accidental mishaps. (Concerning these cases I’d just tell you to Carpe the crap out of the Diem and you’ll be happy you did.) But I do want to help you choose the right path when you meet some seriously difficult situations.
Most importantly, you’re going to face a constant struggle between being a good friend and being a good learner. Your friends will often be disappointed with the amount of time you spend studying rather than hanging out. On the flipside, you’ll feel the need to cut back on social time not only to get good grades but also to quench that thirst for knowledge that inspired you to go to an Ivy League. Embrace the tension. Constantly ask yourself whether you’re attending to both (very important) aspects of your life in a sufficient and sustainable way. This questioning should inform a lot of your other decisions, such as whether you can afford to join yet another club and whether it would be detrimental to join Greek life. I don’t always get the balance right, but I have become a better, more satisfied person by regularly assessing the inevitable Friends v. School conflict.
Also, you’ll have to figure out what you will do with your scarce supply of free time beyond hanging out and studying. Student clubs are great: join at least one. But make sure you get involved in the surrounding Philadelphia community. Because of Penn’s location, you have a unique opportunity to step beyond Penn’s stuffy atmosphere and learn from marginalized populations. Become a tutor, a mentor, or a volunteer at a homeless shelter. My most rewarding responsibilities have come from interacting outside the bounds of the Penn bubble.
Now, let’s move on to some of my regrets. You’ll cock up a lot, but please do it for reasons other than the following…
Numero uno, please, please get your language requirement out of the way in underclassmen years. You do not want to be a second-semester senior who has to re-learn a language that he hasn’t spoken in five years in order to graduate. Idiot.
More substantially, don’t try to plan out your entire Penn career during your first two semesters. I wasted a lot of time figuring out all potential major/minor combinations—even planning out every single course I would take—while I ended up taking a totally different academic route. I am no longer an econ, poli sci, or PPE major, and I could not be happier. Gradually develop your academic plan by exploring a vast array of courses that tickle your fancy.
Finally, you will come across stages where you have no idea what you’re doing with your life. These are experiences to grow, so don’t try to escape from your true self during the process. I found myself in this position during my search for internships. With such little confidence in the direction that I wanted to head, I threw my hat into the investment banking application pool. As a philosophy & history major who wants to remove structural barriers toward creating just societies, I should have punched myself in the face. Nothing wrong with IB—it just isn’t remotely for me. Be confident in yourself, even when ‘yourself’ is constantly evolving. You’ll eventually wind up with more concrete plans if you can maintain your general interests and hopes. If you’re interested, I’ll be going to grad school for social policy.
I hoped this helped a bit—but not too much. You’ve got a lot of learning to do on your own, buddy. For now, just focus on moving on from that high-school girlfriend. You’ll thank me in three months.
You In Four Years
p.s. Time travel has been invented by now.
p.p.s Go to DKE’s annual Bruce Springsteen live cover band party without fail.
Do you | Rolanda E
Dear freshman self,
It's been 3 ½ years since you've stumbled on Penn’s campus, the college of your dreams- yes it’s really happening. And let me tell you, boy are you in for an adventure, possibly the best adventure that you've had thus far. There are so many things I want to tell you to look out for but I also want you to make mistakes and learn on your own as well. As I write to you from a Chicago airport (more on that later), here's a small compilation of the things I'd like to pass to you knowing what I know now:
1. Surround yourself with people that'll make you a better you: People that'll challenge your opinions, disagree with you, call you out on your shit, make you laugh, make you smile, make you cry (b/c crying isn't always bad). Seek out these people and don't be afraid to ask them out for coffee or lunch People that you can be real with. You always gotta keep it real. Don't be afraid to speak your mind or ever feel that your opinion is less valid than others. It can be really hard to be a brown faced girl at a predominantly white institution like Penn, but you'll learn to be unapologetically black.
2. Related to 1, those who don't do the above feel free to drop. There's no need to hang on to excess people just for the sake of it. Snip snip. For those who do fit into #1-- hang on to them. Hang on tight.
3. Don't sweat the small stuff: Econ 002 finals, geology exams, psych quizzes… Really it all doesn't matter that much. I can't even remember the exact grades on those assessments and it wasn’t the end of the world. It always works out. So just try your best and that's the most anyone could ever ask of you, including yourself.
4. Take risks: obviously easier said than done. Go abroad (one of the best decisions you’ll make in college), apply to the leadership positions and internships you think are interesting, take that class everyone told you not to, and follow the dreams you always had- don't be afraid of failure. You'll end up loving that you did! (that's how you end up in Chicago and that’s how you’ll start your blog)
5. Take advantage of all the opportunities that Penn has to offer: those free classes at the library, discovery days through career services, the marketing case challenges through baker retailing center, the trips to the academy of music with Rodin, the speakers that come to penn, the retreats to outside philly, etc. apply to everything take advantage of everything even if you don't know who else is going or you don't think you'll get it. (Hint: You’ll meet really cool people and you'll almost always get it. You’ll be surprised at what a positive mindset, a little dedication, and just a sprinkling of luck can get you).
6. Keep an open mind: you may think you know exactly what you want to do post college but trust me you have lots to learn- the aspiring buyer at a huge department store dream will surprisingly become a product marketer at a huge tech firm. You also think you want to do a dual degree-- but you'll learn that what you actually want to do is minor in consumer psychology (b/c it's okay to say that the only Wharton classes you want to take are in the marketing department). So keep an open ear when people give you advice (even if you may not like it) but also listen to your heart and that feeling you get on the inside (you know exactly what feeling I'm talking about).
7. You don't have to do everything: yes you may be able to but you don't have to. No competing for who slept less hours or who was more busy. Essentially, make sure that everything you do you genuinely love. And when you no longer love it don't do it anymore. It's as simple as that.
Remember that this was- this is- your dream everyday. You are beyond lucky to be here so make the most of every single moment and live infinitely. You won't regret it.
You're in for the best time ever. I'm almost jealous that you have it all ahead of you.
the best laid plans should be ignored | emma c
To my freshman self-
This is a funny letter to write; because although I feel I’ve learned a lot in college, I also still have a sneaking feeling that I have very little “life knowledge.” Either way, I can tell you one thing for sure-- any upperclassman you see that seems to have their lives together probably doesn't, and that's okay. In fact, I think it's a good thing. But even though I don't have everything together or know where I want to be in six months, a year, or ten years, I definitely have some important wisdom that I wish I knew when I got to Penn.
First, here’s a shocking idea: don’t stick to the plan. I know, that’s way easier said than done for someone who was a perfectionist for the first 18 years of her life and came into college with a plan for her next 18. I’m not saying don't have one, that would be nuts! But there are going to be bumps in the road and all plans aren’t going to work out. No, you don’t have to go to med school right after college. It’s okay if you don’t meet your best friends during NSO. You might not meet them until a month in, a year in, or even 2.5 years in. This is all OKAY. Plans need to change. Take a class just because it’s interesting or because you’re low-key in love with the TA. Guess what? You might find a new passion (for a subject, not the TA, although that too).
Next, and here’s the big one, take a deep breath and relax. Enjoy college and stop taking everything so seriously. If there’s one thing I know right now, your four years at Penn will fly by. That doesn’t mean every semester or year will feel short. There are going to be some that are difficult, but it’s not the end of the world. When things get hard, remember you’re not the only one struggling. Remember that getting the worst grades you’ve ever gotten in chemistry doesn’t mean you’re an incapable idiot or you’re not cut out for doing something you care about later, whether that’s med school or not. I’m not saying things like that don’t suck, they do. A lot. But when you’re endlessly second guessing yourself, go take a breath, relax, and do something that will make you happy.
So what are some ways that you can treat yo’ self and focus on enjoying college? First, surround yourself with the right people. Join groups that make you laugh and have amazing empowering communities (shout out to Bloomers). And leave groups that aren’t right even if you think they’re what you’re “supposed” to be involved in. Find friends that will talk to you about the most random things for hours on end. If you need a day of sitting on the couch and watching 10 hours of one of the many TV shows you love, DO IT. There’s always time to get work done later. You can always finish that paper at 4 AM if you have to (see earlier point about being a competent, intelligent person and not the opposite). Leave the Penn bubble and explore, especially if that means going abroad. And ignore the judgment of others and make your abroad blog. It’ll remind you of a lot more than all the food you ate for three months.
This is long so I’ll stop. But long story short? Enjoy your time here. Let your plan go off course. Mistakes or failures aren’t the end of the road, they’re just bumps in it. Try new things and have fun. And when you’re a senior, appreciate everything around you, because the plan you were never able to completely let go of is telling you all these wonderful things will soon come to an end.
Love & other drugs | michelle r
Welcome to this amazing chapter in your life! Here is some wisdom that I have collected since I walked through the doors of Butcher 408:
Believe in yourself.
Just because you come from a small school in a small country doesn’t mean that you can’t excel at Penn. You were admitted for a reason, so don’t cut yourself down. Don’t be intimated by others who talk a big game. In the end, everyone is just as lost as you are. All you can do is try to be the best version of yourself and embrace every moment to its fullest. This mindset will carry you through four years at Penn with happiness and success.
But, don’t get me wrong, the journey isn’t always easy—no good journey ever is. Your heart will hurt. Your trust will falter. Your head will feel lost amidst a sea of questions. Just know that you are stronger than you give yourself credit for. You will grow from each adversity—big or small—and, as long as you stay true to yourself, all of the love, excitement, and discovery will outweigh those fleeting bumps along the road.
Relationships are everything.
Miles away from your parents, there are two types of relationships that will shape your college life: friendships and romantic partners.
Some friendships will stick with you from freshman year while others will gradually fade. But, if you put in the time and effort, you will continuously meet amazing new people. Of course, not all friendships are perfect. Talk through your differences, let go of grudges, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. By the time you reach senior year, you will have friends across all different social circles and maybe even a group of loving misfits to call your own.
With no rules or curfews, your romantic intrigues will have no bounds. Be honest about your feelings, even if they are cloudy. This will avoid uncomfortable confrontational conversations later on. Likewise, if a guy is honest with you (e.g. says he won’t make time for you), then run for the hills. However, the greatest pain comes not from rejection, but from losing a person that you love. In college, serious relationships reach a new degree of intensity. Even if you end on good terms, a breakup leaves you feeling utterly powerless as your best friend becomes a stranger, taking with them a piece of your heart. As you struggle to move on, show yourself grace. It’s okay to be confused, to feel exhausted of loving and losing, and to have feelings for more than one person at the same time. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Through these romantic experiences, you will slowly come to reconcile the past while also bracing yourself for a long and exciting future.
Just do it.
I am proud that you have always made an effort to venture into Philadelphia. But, even within the Penn bubble, never stop exploring. If you hate a class, drop it. Take advantage of the opportunity to meet great professors and be inspired by new topics. In your free time, keep trying different activities. Its okay if you don’t find a fit right away—opportunities will continue to present themselves. Instead of stressing about resume building and leadership positions, just focus on filling your time with things that excite you. The rest will come naturally.
As for jobs, you’re not going to have an “aha” moment about your life’s calling. In fact, you will continue to have a diverse array of interests that pull you in seemingly different career directions. This can be frustrating and overwhelming. But, don’t let this paralyze you from action. Just keep talking to people and testing out different paths. Separate yourself from the endless chatter and stress of Penn pre-professionalism and dedicate yourself to applications that you really care about. Work hard, don’t give up, and you will find your way.
Above all, trust yourself. I have learned and grown from my many experiences at Penn. My perspectives have been deepened and my horizons broadened, but, at the end of the day, I am the same person I was four years ago. I liked who I was, so college didn’t need to “change” me. Find solace in this. You are doing everything right. Be thankful, be loving, and don’t forget to keep smiling.
Your truly, M
Be Patient with Yourself | Gina D
Dear Freshman Self,
You came here with so much Type-A zeal to suck the marrow of Penn and to let your voice come out with full courage and confidence for the first time. Don’t ever stop. You absolutely hated how quiet and shy you were in high school—that was what you hated the most about yourself and what was holding you back—and that was the first thing you will change in creating your identity at Penn. Unleashing your reserve will onset the development of who are you are within the full complexity of the world. You’re going to accomplish so much. Don’t ever hold back, using your judgment wisely and sensitively. Your greatest struggle will be patience with yourself.
You will do it—that thing you set as a goal today and all the other things on that to-do list, too. You will do it all. You will do some of it so soon, and with so much conviction, that it blows some people away in your storm of dynamic energy. Many will follow your lead. Some will not. Some will even try to pull you down, but you’ll learn that integrity is a large part of what it takes to be a leader. You’ll succeed in your leadership because you know what is right in your mind and heart. You’ll succeed with what you create, with the sleepless hours you put in, with the countless people you’ll talk to. You won’t know how hard it is going to be, how much you will fall, how much time it is going to take, how it is easier to neglect yourself and your health than stay attuned to it. You will be very tired. Sleep! You must learn to slow down and be patient: take care of yourself first. Learn priorities. Your expectations of who you are and where you’re going will shift based on some outward circumstances (yes, people you meet and experiences you have in college will change your life!), but you must always stay centered with your values to stay true to maintaining you. Your values only deepen as experience enriches your life’s tales. The struggles, the waterfall cries, the damned feelings of “is this worth it” will always, always be worth it. Just wait—yes, be patient with yourself.
Don’t ever feel bad about being different! Doesn’t everyone feel different, but some wear pretty masks to hide it better? You’ll never put on one of those masks. You actually are a fan of tearing off other people’s masks, too, and they’ll thank you for it later! Keep clouding out those voices of doubt—those aren’t your voices, those are only voices of social pressures and conformity—and they’re the ones that will dampen your happiness if only you let them. Your uniqueness is your best asset in life. You will have brilliant ideas that you will execute in your artistry. Stop thinking you have to explain to people that you’re something else to fit their expectations. Making lots of money, for example, is not what life is about, so don’t ever think that a fancy, high profile career is what you’ll ever be happy doing, even though you could probably do it from your Penn education. Prioritize your happiness by carving out your unique path. You’re proud to be nonconformist and your identity will only keep developing as one, as you continue to travel wonderful places in your mind, abroad to London (and greater Europe) for as semester, and in your passions of art and writing. Let the things that are different, unusual, or unexpected help shape your world.
Keep cultivating that garden that you’re growing. Make friends with individuals from all different places of the world. Make friends with the people you never thought you would talk to. Learn from them. Stop thinking that you missed out by not joining a sorority—you always know that the groupthink rules and exclusivity offered by all the various clubhouses and societies at Penn would never make you happy. A lot of people at Penn are extremely privileged. Many will flaunt their privilege as an indication of power and importance. Don’t let that bother you, either. Power and prestige never runs dry at Penn, so instead, look to all the humble people who are passionate about their own ideas, too (there are so many wonderful, plentiful ones). They will become your best, loveliest friends. You’re never alone. You’ll do a lot of bringing people together yourself—and you’ll be more concerned about how people can be very inclusive. Keep doing that.
Be vulnerable. That’s a biggie. You put up walls for so much of your life before college because you were hurt. But being distant and guarded will also hurt you if you don’t open up. When you indeed break down your walls, you’ll experience many great joys along with the disappointments. Those will only make you learn more about yourself and the world around you. So, keep going at it.
No one is perfect, so throw the perfectionism out the window. Make many, many mistakes. Fail often. In your intellectual and artistic endeavors, you’ll learn that sometimes 90% of something is bad and 10% of something will be incredible. You had to go through 90% of shitty stuff in order to get the 10% amazing stuff. So, learn to love the entire process: give it 100%. Oh, and the professors who will challenge you and break you down—the ones you idolize but are terrified of—they will be some of your best mentors that you will be honored to ever know. Use them. They do, and always will, help. Ask many questions. Be patient with yourself.
Cheers to the adult you’ll become. You are who you were as a child, just as a version that has realized her full potential. You’ll be very happy, so learn to relax and indulge in all that Penn offers. Four years at Penn will flash by as just another chapter of your life book, full of some of the most transformative times you’ll ever have. You will look back with deep adoration on what you did and created for yourself.
transforming a BA into a badass | alex s
Dear Freshman Alex,
The premise of this letter relies on a time-traveling fax machine or something of that nature (ridiculous, I know. Who uses fax machines?), but humor me for a minute. College is an incredible time to challenge the fabric of who you are. You’re surrounded by incredible people who will question what makes you “Alex” as well as show you who they are in a hope that both of you can grow. Good and bad things will happen over the coming years, but those events are auxiliary. In fact, “good” and “bad” things don’t happen; simply, things happen. How you react to those things will define and refine who you are. That being said, you shouldn’t take life as seriously or philosophically as those musings above. Instead, have fun J smile and follow the checklist below:
Listen to more punk rock
- Going to college is an amazing experience where you get to reinvent yourself. While it’s great to experiment with different aspects of yourself, the motivation for doing so needs to be solid. Not openly jamming out to an angsty song just because you are afraid that others will judge you is NOT a solid reason. In fact, some of your best friends will support your love of all things rebellious: requesting playlists from you, singing with you in GSRs, and making sure that each karaoke night has a minimum of two Blink 182 songs with your name on it. Rock on, you teenage dirtbag, rock on!
Take that ridiculously hard class
- You know which one I’m talking about: the class that all the seniors say is the hardest yet most rewarding class at Penn. If there’s an amazing class, you are an absolute fool to let it pass you by. Worrying about your GPA is an extremely small downside risk compared to what you can learn from a course you’re truly passionate about. You’ll learn from the material, grow from being challenged, and bond extremely close with classmates, even more so than normal due to the difficulty of the class.
Rejection will affect you; choose to have it be a positive effect
- You’re going to apply to a LOT of clubs at Penn. Some are bound to say “no” to you. When it happens, reflect on why it happened. If you’re passionate about the club’s focus, there’s probably other opportunities to get involved. Trust me, that very same club will be begging Junior Year Alex to join; hard work pays off!
Tell people how much they mean to you
- This one goes for both Penn people and people back home. It may seem like a no-brainer that your family deserves to know that you love them (although you may forget this, so schedule time to call!). This same logic applies to people at Penn. Friendships may start by a crazy, random happenstance, but they are sustained and grown through effort and intention. MAKE TIME FOR THAT EFFORT AND INTENTION!
Go to Dirty Frank’s (and other dive bars), dueling piano bars, and farmer’s markets
- Penn can easily feel like a routine; get yourself out of it as much as possible. You’re here to meet amazing people and grow. Those two things are certainly not bound to textbooks, residential halls, and classrooms. Find places to go regularly where you can make random, beautiful connections. One of them will explain to you that “Strangers are just friends to be made.”
Grab ice cream with that person who appears to disagree with you at every turn
- When someone doesn’t see eye-to-eye with you, they have a lot of ways to express it. When someone openly expresses their disagreement, you should thank them! If you think someone “hates” you, take them out for ice cream. Odds are that their perspective is just different, and different perspectives is why you chose Penn. In a funny sort of way, the people who “don’t like you” are your best tools to improve and grow. All you need to do is ask them.
Become a badass
- This doesn’t necessarily mean learn krav maga, speak Russian, and order your martinis shaken. When you reflect on your life, there are going to be some skillsets that you always considered badass. This is your chance to learn them! Want to make fresh ice cream flavors? Buy an ice cream machine! Want to learn to mix drinks? Take a bartending class! By the time you graduate, you shouldn’t just be smarter, know amazing friends, and have a better perspective on things. You should also become your own definition of a badass.
One last thing that I’ve always wanted to do:
At 8 A.M. today someone poisons the coffee.
Do NOT drink the coffee.
More instructions will follow.
Know Yourself | Prashant R
Dear Lil Prashant,
I know you're tired. High school was exhausting and you are ready to party, chill, and have the best 4 years of your life. But let me shatter your dream right now: college is hard, dude. Way harder than high school. Don't take it lightly and retain that drive that propelled you through high school. You're going to want to jump in to a million activities... Don't. Relax. Think hard about what you want to do and focus on those things. It's easy to lose track of the things that actually matter. Really spend your time enjoying and making the most of the few important things that you choose to focus on -- academics included. Don't overload your courses. Choose them selectively and take the minimum you can each semester so you can truly enjoy and appreciate each one rather than being in a mad rush to keep tabs on all of them.
Also -- learn how to say no early. Again, if you stick to fewer things and really make the most of them you'll be all the better for it. Trust your heart and take risks when they feel right. And for gods sake don't be too stubborn to change your major. If you find you don't like it (which you will), then have the courage to explore other majors. And join a research group early and actually devote effort to it -- it'll pay off more than you know and you'll grow to enjoy it.
The one thing I'm sure you'll do right though is your relationships with other people. You've always been pretty good at that so just continue to follow your heart when it comes to that. Be good to others and cherish your friends. Honestly, looking back, Penn wasn't so bad because of the people. So while I can give you all this advice, as long as you surround yourself with good people and treat them well, you'll be fine regardless.
Enjoy it. You'll miss it when it's over.
Peace and love,
At the End of the Road | michael d
Dear Freshman Self,
It’s difficult for me to write a letter of advice because thinking back to when I was you, I don’t know how much of what upperclassmen told me sank in. At the time, I didn’t think the advice entirely relevant, because they were logistics, things meant for surviving college like “make sure you get enough sleep,” “don’t be afraid to ask for help,” and similar bits of (perfectly legitimate) advice. These were common sense to me, though I ended up ignoring some of them throughout my four years in favor of performing what I felt to be my duties as a student.
What I wish I was told, now that I’m here, is how to prepare for the end of my degree. Everyone emphasizes the importance of going to college so you can get a good job after, but no one tells you what job to take, what degree to pursue. Today’s society, much as it was four years ago, still claim that a “practical” degree is what any student with common sense should pursue; business, finance, engineering, nursing, any field that has a clear demand and you can make a generous, stable income from should be prioritized over history, literature, or the arts. These “practical” degrees are useful, certainly, and play important roles in society. I respect those who go into medical fields, who design new computer systems or revolutionize manufacturing, those who create start-ups and nonprofits that work to improve the world around us, and hope that their numbers continue to grow. But sometimes there are those who study these things for the wrong reasons, and that is where problems begin to arise.
Penn is a difficult place. College itself is a challenge that some find insurmountable, but my experience with Penn has shown how beliefs can influence behaviors in ways that aren’t healthy. The pressure to perform and do great things is high; students who engage in research, who win prestigious prizes and internships are lauded to the point of making you wonder what you’re doing with your life. There is an unspoken competition about who is the busiest, who’s taking the most classes, has the most jobs, published the most papers. There is pressure to know what you will do with the rest of your life by your sophomore year, and to have a plan on how to do it. It becomes easy to feel like you’re a failure before you even graduate, because, after all, if someone is publishing research papers, the head of three different committees or clubs, and taking seven classes that count for their dual degree and sub-matriculation program…why aren’t you?
It might be clichéd to say that you “should” enjoy the college experience, that these will be some of the best years of your life. The truth, however, is that it will be as enjoyable as you make it; it can be filled with some of the fondest memories of late night chats with friends you meet during NSO or it could be filled with weeks spent locked away in the library, pulling multiple all-nighters in preparation for exams and writing essays.
My pre-major advisor gave me the best advice for this decision: you are perfectly capable of graduating with a 4.0, but what are you willing to pay for it? Our discussion at that meeting centered on the anxiety I was feeling with the transition to a college-level curriculum, and it began to enlighten me about what really matters in life. I didn’t want to spend all day studying in my dorm room, the library, or somewhere else because though I enjoy learning immensely, I have limits to how much I can process. I didn’t want to graduate without having made a friend, without having a meaningful relationship for four years. For me, people are far more important in life than how much I can earn as a professional. It is the relationships you build that will give you comfort when life throws you a curveball, not the quantity of things that you possess.
Making money is important, and the pragmatist in me calls for maximizing my salary as much as possible so no one can say I can’t have something. I cannot tell you to not study, to shirk your responsibilities, or not have an eye on the future, because having a place to sleep, clothes to wear, and nutritious food to eat are important. Your health is the greatest possession you can have, followed by friends and your education. What I want for you is the ability to look yourself in the mirror and say with confidence that you are happy with the life you chose, regardless of whether it is business, nursing, engineering, or music. In my freshman or sophomore year, when I listened to the then undergraduate chair of the English department at an English major’s event, I was told his story of how he majored in finance as an undergraduate in an attempt to be practical and get a job after graduation. Later, in turning to a field he enjoyed, he ended up becoming an eminent professor of literature for the University of Pennsylvania. He advised us to study what we enjoyed during our four years in college, because it is better to get out of bed each day excited by your classes than having to drag yourself to them day in and out.
You will get a job. You have worked hard to get to Penn and that work ethic will not disappear if you don’t want it to. Employers want employees who can work hard and learn quickly, two things that you will cultivate further as you progress in your education. That being said, you don’t have to have everything figured out yet. As graduation draws nearer and the dread of the “real world” grows, I try to remember my high school principal’s advice: you don’t have to have everything figured out now, you just need to figure out the next step. The advice was given to him when he was graduating college by his father and I think it is something that every college student could benefit from hearing, rather than the emphasis we place on achievement over wellbeing.
Perhaps this advice is useful for you, or you still perceive yourself as the exception. In the interest of providing some pragmatic advice, allow me to recommend the following: become familiar with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and take Introduction to Positive Psychology or its equivalent as soon as you can. Of all the things that can trip you up at Penn, it won’t be the work. Work is easy to find, easy to prolong, and relatively easy to master. What isn’t is figuring out who you are, coping with a problem that you feel no one else has because of the Penn Face phenomenon, or feeling alienated by others because every application to an extracurricular group has been denied.
CAPS is here to help you. I hope the school culture changes and it isn’t needed as much as it is now, but asking for help when you feel distressed is not a sign of weakness. Another high school teacher of mine who taught health and physical fitness as well as acting like a second advisor described it perfectly: if you get sick or hurt, you would go to a doctor. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and it is a tragedy that we as a society do not give the same weight to the former as the latter. If stress, anxiety, or sadness is hurting your wellbeing, there are resources for you to use, with CAPS as the ultimate tool. I know it seems like everyone else has their lives ordered, and that they’re able to do so much without consequences. I don’t know how many people this is actually the case for, but as I said earlier, everything has a cost. Everyone assumes that everyone is fine, and so don’t want to admit that they’re suffering. You don’t have to succumb to this Penn Face.
Introduction to Positive Psychology will help you understand how to prevent stress from causing problems. It is a highly complex field that I cannot summarize here, but taking it earlier in my academic career at Penn would have helped me understand sooner just what mattered in life. If I had, perhaps I would have had a better understanding of how to make the best use of my time.
There is much that I wish I could impart to you, but some things can only be understood by experience. I wish I could make it so your time at Penn will be some of the happiest years of your life, without having to think about how you’ll remember it years from now, but I can’t. I can only say that life is short when it comes to things that matter like family, love, and friendship; it’s over before we realize just how little time we have here. Our jobs, our careers, our means of paying for a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, and food on the table? We have all the time in the world to figure out where we want to end up. Right now, you just need to figure out the next step.
Success is a holistic idea | Saanya O
Dear Freshman Self,
You poor, unassuming kid- you have no idea what you’re in for. The next four years are going to challenge you, amaze you, amuse you, and shape the person you’re going to become. I’m so excited for how much you’re going to grow and learn, and so jealous of the incredible journey that lies ahead.
Here’s some wisdom I’d like to pass down to you so that when you’re in my place, you don’t have any regrets!
1. People are key
I cannot emphasize this enough. The greatest value Penn can add to your life is the friendship, warmth, and wisdom of so many wonderful people. Remember to prioritise people and carefully cultivate the relationships you value.Your peers are going to be your professional network and personal support system in the future. The job search process, classes, life- everything becomes easier when you have people to go through these experiences with. They’re going to be your most reliable resources in life.
2. Take people’s advice with a grain of salt
Life isn’t long enough for you to make every mistake yourself so be open to learning from other people’s experiences. Ask for a lot of opinions and advice from trusted people around you when making big life decisions… But always remember to discount their words a little! Don’t follow someone’s advice just because it worked for them. Everyone has a unique background, experiences, and perspective that mould their point of view. We’re (flawed) products of our circumstances. It’s very easy for a senior to give advice in hindsight and reverse-engineer a narrative for why they did what they did- even though it might have been completely incidental and chance-based when it happened.
Be wary when people don’t stop at sharing their experience and advice but try hard to convince you to follow their path. They may be trying to validate their own life choices through you.
Basically, ask many people for advice, listen with an open mind, and then follow your instincts and best judgement.
3. Embrace being alone: Find quiet, me-time
College can be a lot. It’s a time of great transformation and deep uncertainty. We are trying to figure out who we are even as that person keeps changing. Between classes, clubs, sleep, and maintaining a social life, it is easy to ignore the need to spend some time with yourself. Go for a walk alone, have a quiet cup of tea by yourself, take the evening off, grab a book and go to a coffee shop- Find a little way to give yourself some time off to think and just be with yourself. It allows the little voice in your head time to tell you what it’s really thinking. Technology detox for a day every few weeks really clears your head and allows you to reconnect with yourself.
4. Come up with your own definition of success
Whilst in college, take some time to ponder on what success means to you. It is easy to fall into the trap of chasing someone else’s definition of success if you don’t define it for your own self. When we don’t think carefully about what we want, we default to chasing the most coveted things, assuming that other people must know what’s right. The most ‘popular’ professional and academic choices become a proxy for the ‘best’ one and we get involved in a race that we didn’t even choose to run.
Success could be a holistic idea that means being a good person, having loving relationships, and doing meaningful work. It could means constantly growing and challenging yourself. When you define success like that, things like a bad grade on a quiz or a club you didn’t get into, stop bothering you. Since the metrics for that kind of success aren’t GPAs and job offers but how people view you and how you view yourself. Your perspective shifts and you see the bigger picture.
5. Go to Office Hours
One of my biggest regrets at Penn is that I didn’t get to know my incredible professors. Penn is home to some of the finest minds in the world and you’ll probably be taking classes with these people. Make it a point to get to know them! Go to the office hours at the beginning of the semester and develop a relationship with them. Penn has a program where you can take a professor to lunch. Be sure to take advantage of that! You’ll learn so much and maybe even discover a lifelong mentor.
6. Dive Deep
Penn has so much to offer! Incredible classes, weekend workshops, speakers, conferences, events- Try to really benefit from the opportunities that you have in the next four years. Too many times too many people (including myself) have done the bare minimum for a course or taken an easy class just to get done with a requirement. Fully explore all that Penn has to offer and try not to cut corners. Laziness is inexcusable given the world of opportunity that we live in.
This is a time like no other. Make the most of it!
ok. yeah i've only been here for a year, but... | avikar g
You’ve just gotten to Penn. You’ve stepped foot on the beautiful campus. You’ve moved into your freshman dorm, a place you will call home for the next year. You’re excited. You’re nervous. You’re confused. You have so much you want to do these next four years, but you likely have no idea where to start.
That is where I can help you. Though I cannot tell you exactly where you should start this four-year journey, I can give you some advice that will hopefully make this first year an easier transition.
First, start this year off with a clear and open mind. Coming into Penn, I had already researched a number of “top” and “prestigious” clubs and “cool” organizations that I wanted to join. I came into Penn thinking I had to join these groups or my life would be over. Fast-forward a year and a half, and I am not part of a single one of those organizations. I got rejected by all of them, yet my life is not over. Case in point being, do not restrict yourself to just a few options and believe that those options will make or break your time at Penn. The clubs that I’m in now have challenged me in ways I’ve never been challenged before, taught me more than what a number of my classes have taught me, and have enabled me to meet some of the most fun, talented, and bright people that I can happily call my best friends. I can confidently say that if you take the time to explore everything Penn has to offer (Penn has hundreds of clubs and organizations so it has a lot to offer!) and give a bunch of places a shot, you will meet equally awesome people and be beyond satisfied with what you’re a part of!
Second, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and try new things. Play a sport you’ve never played before. Try out for a dance team even though you’ve never danced before. Take a Spanish class even though you could never see yourself needing to speak Spanish. Ask the cute girl down the hall to hang out even though you’ve never been very good with girls. College offers so many opportunities to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. The more of these situations you put yourself in, however, the more expansive your comfort zone becomes. It’s ok to get rejected, fail, or fall flat on your face (I’ve included my contact info at the bottom if you want to ask me all about the stupid stuff I did Freshmen year). Just remember to laugh it off and try again. Sooner or later, something is going to work out for you and you will love yourself for staying at it!
Finally, hang out with the people you want to hang out with. Don’t worry about whether or not other people think they’re “cool” or not, and don’t worry about whether or not people think you’re “cool” based on the people you hang out with. Especially at Penn, it’s easy to think people are “cooler” than others purely because they’re affiliated with some group that is deemed “cool” by a select few people. This is a trap because Penn has so many unique and talented individuals worth knowing, and it’s actually a shame that you only have four years to meet these people.
Therefore, I advise you to branch out and talk to anyone and everyone. Surround yourself with a variety of people and make an effort to establish deep and meaningful relationships with these people. If you’re going to be studying for that BEPP final until 4 am in Huntsman, ask your friend in that class to study with you. They’ll make the stress more bearable and you both can smile together when you’re done. If you’re planning on going downtown for dinner next Friday night, ask your buddies and their buddies to go with you. They’ll make the experience more fun and memorable, and later on you’ll always remember that night you tried a new restaurant with some awesome company. If you’re planning on starting up a new workout regimen at Pottruck, ask a couple of your friends to do it with you. They’ll make the grueling workouts more fun and keep you in line when you’re too lazy to go to the gym.
You never know if you’ll have another opportunity to spend every day with the people you call your best friends. So take these four years and make as many memories as you can. These memories and friendships will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Best of luck,
Stop Motion Animation and Other Things I Wish I Figured out Earlier | adina l
Oh hey there,
Tomorrow is February 5th, which is normally inconsequential, but this year, for me (slash future you), means that it’s 100 days until graduation. Staring down the barrel with about 3 months to go, I’m trying to give you advice that you probably aren’t going to come to quick enough for your liking. You’ll probably get there on most things, but I’d like to help you by focusing in on those little things—things I figured out a little too late or am stilling figuring out today.
THING #1: Take weird classes
There are classes that you’re required to take. There are classes that challenge you intellectually. There are classes that boost your GPA. Take those if you want, but also, make room for weird classes totally outside your wheelhouse. This means different things for different majors, but the point is, to check out those things that you’ve always been meaning to try. I love being the only Wharton kid in my fine arts classes. I wish I had known earlier about these worlds beyond my major and those majors adjacent to it. Thus far into the semester, I’ve spent countless hours taking photos of construction paper for the purposes of stop motion animation this semester, and I’VE LOVED IT. My only regret is that I didn’t start earlier.
THING #2: Explore the campus
Now, I don’t mean “explore the campus” in a checkbox sort of way. This isn’t your type A vacation through Europe (which you shouldn’t do either... take time to experience and absorb when you explore). This isn’t about places you’ve visited or things you’ve seen. This is about finding your corner, or desk, or secret hideaway on campus. This is your new home. Make it your own. When I think about my time here, I have places on campus that they feel like mine. When I visit that one desk I was obsessed with that one semester in Fisher Fine Arts, it feels like I’m legitimately traveling through time. It’s pretty magical, and I would give you more hints as to where they are, but you should find them yourself.
THING #3: Show your gratitude
This is my one piece of truly people related advice. To be honest, I’m still working on this one. The people at Penn are awesome. Your friends, your classmates, and your professors are some of the coolest people you’ll ever meet. Of course you should go out there and make the most of it and them, but I’d also take the time to make sure they know just how much they mean to you. I’ve never found much benefit in being stingy with compliments, love, or gratitude. Make sure the people, who are making your life more awesome, know it. Tell them! Send them a text, write them an email, or buy them a drink. It’ll make their day, and it’ll probably make yours also.
All in all, these 4 years are magic. I can go on and on about the people and the memories and the things you’ll learn and the places you’ll go, but you have a bunch of other letters and Dr. Seuss for that. Now that I’ve given you my weird slice of Penn advice, I hope that it, in conjunction with the overdose of advice you’ll inevitably get from other people, will help you make the most of this time. I mean—it is the best time ever.
PS: You know how you’re obsessed with fonts? That doesn’t change. But this is the best font ever. You’re welcome.
Remember that things take time | Sandhya J
Dear Penn Freshmen,
Hello! Below are some random pieces of advice I wish I had taken more to heart, and some others that I'm really glad I somehow had the sense to follow (in no particular order):
· Not everything that's assigned value is truly valuable and not everything that's truly valuable is assigned value. You could put that extra club, minor, leadership position, etc. on your resume, but you can't put sleeping 8-10 hours a night, planning a surprise party for your friend, or getting coffee with someone you really admire. Do more things like the latter category and you'll have an infinitely better college experience.
· There is no one objective definition of success - learn to embrace multiple definitions of what success can be, figure out what you think yours is, and don't let the goals and paths of others dissuade you from doing what you want to do. But be happy for your peers as well.
· Explore Philadelphia and the east coast! The city has so many amazing museums, restaurants, historical sites, etc. and 4 years is definitely not enough time to see them all. Boston, New York City, and Washington D.C. are also short bus/train rides away and are well-worth the journey.
· Grad students (especially MBAs) are cool! Some of them have incredibly interesting backgrounds and life stories and they can serve as invaluable resources and mentors.
· Engage with the West Philadelphia community - whether through a club or a class (check out ABCS courses), I think putting yourself in situations that force youto think about the world outside of Penn will have a profound impact on your well-being and help you keep things in perspective. Before class one day, I received an email that I had not been selected for an academic award and was pretty upset; during class, I learned how only 26-48% of seniors in two neighboring high schools attend college and that the difference of just a few hundred dollars of tuition could force them to drop out due to financial difficulties. We are incredibly fortunate to be at a place like Penn that offers countless opportunities and it can be easy to forget that; take advantage of every opportunity and make a point to contribute to those who are not as privileged.
· Seek out mentors. Don't ever be afraid to reach out to people and ask for advice- there's only upside! And remember to pay it forward when you're that cool senior who freshmen reach out to.
· Go to speaker events! Penn brings so many amazing speakers to campus every year and I have never regretted attending a single one. The extra 1-1.5 hours out of your day are always worth it.
· Don't be afraid to quit things. Your time is both valuable and limited, and you shouldn't waste it on activities, classes, or majors that you don't get any value from.
· Remember that things take time - I honestly don’t think I was happy at Penn or even liked the school very much until near the end of my sophomore year. Some people will come into school and immediately find best friends, a family on campus, a club, a major, etc. and others will need some time. As someone who was in the latter category, it definitely wasn't easy or fun all the time, but it all worked out and I wouldn't have had it any other way. As trite as it may sound, things will work themselves out and you will be okay.
I'm incredibly jealous that you are only at the start of what will be an amazing four-year adventure and I hope you make the most of it.
P.S. Don't hesitate to reach out at: email@example.com
A Pragmatist's (Overly Compartmentalized) Guide to Penn | ben f
The purpose of this letter is for me to lay out several recommendations for your college career based on the lessons I have learned during my time at Penn. A word of caution: the advice I present here is very biased. It is based on decisions I have made during college and the outcomes of those decisions. If the outcomes had been different, I am sure that my advice would be, too. With that said, enjoy. You have a deeply enriching four years ahead of you.
Your identity is one of the few things that you are entitled to during college and for the rest of your life. Know you who are and be confident with this; nobody can take it away from you. You will meet hundreds of people during your time here and may, at times, feel pressure to be someone you are not. I encourage you to resist this pressure and be proud of your own unique identity. Be kind, genuine, curious, and never take yourself too seriously. Be a good listener. Respect others and they will respect you. Finally, remember that it takes years to build a reputation and a moment to ruin it. Always keep this in mind.
Take care of your mind and body. This may not seem like a priority when your schedule starts to fill up and assignments are piling up, but it is. Follow a normal sleep schedule and try to exercise at least three times per week. Eat three meals per day, two at the very least. Doing these things will not only make you feel physically healthier, but will also make you feel like a productive adult. These are important skills to build as you transition towards the working world.
Your parents and brother are the most important people in your life. Nobody loves you more than they do. Even though they are over 500 miles away, always make an active effort to keep them close. When you are struggling at school, they are the first people you can call. When you are proud of an accomplishment, they are also the first people you will want to tell. I have found that talking on the phone for an hour once a week is a good amount of time, but know that they are always there for you. I would also encourage you to go home over breaks as much as you can, and have them visit you on campus often. It is fun and will feel like a change of pace to show them around and introduce them to your friends.
Pursue quality over quantity. Work to create meaningful relationships with a handful of people over your four years. The key word here is “work.” The best friendships require continuous contact. If you do not live with your friends, you will have to make an active effort to see them regularly. Make dinner plans, explore downtown, and set aside time to focus on your friends even if other things seem more pressing. During senior year especially, don’t be afraid to let your guard down once in awhile. Go out on weeknights every so often. Be spontaneous. You won’t regret having spent this quality time with people you care about.
For better or worse, my personal opinion is that the culture at Penn makes it such that joining a fraternity will make it easier to cultivate a group of friends. It is perfectly possible to have a thriving social life without being involved in Greek life, of course, but a fraternity enables you to develop friendships with people over three and a half years and live with one another, among other benefits. I should also add that, if you decide to join a fraternity, you do not need to be best friends with everyone in that fraternity (you won’t be, in fact). But as long as you find a few people with whom you genuinely enjoy spending time, I think this is enough.
Take a diverse set of classes that interest you. You may not know exactly what interests you at first, which is why I would encourage you to take a broad approach to start. Don’t take classes because they are easy or because other people think you should take them. Be creative and keep an open mind. During my four years, I majored in Philosophy, Politics & Economics, minored in the Engineering School, took seven classes in Wharton, and a class at the Law School. I chose these classes because I found them interesting and they made me think deeply about important ideas in the world. When you are shopping for classes, look first at how the professor is rated. This will make or break your experience. Also try to take as many seminar classes as you can; these are more engaging and breed a more intellectual classroom environment. Finally, work hard, but not too hard. College is about a lot more than your GPA, and you will have many regrets if you spend your entire four years locked up in the library. That said, set reasonable goals and work towards those. If your goal is to attend law school or medical school, for example, recognize that GPA is important. Again, balance is everything.
Unlike in high school, the goal in college should not be to rack up a dozen extracurricular activities to put on your resume. Find two or three different groups that you enjoy, and focus your energy on those. I have found that a creative outlet (namely, the orchestra) is especially meaningful, as it allows me to disconnect from the real world for a few hours per week. Aim to become a leader in the two or three groups that you choose. You will find this rewarding. It will also afford you an opportunity to mentor younger people, which is an important life skill and will teach you a thing or two about yourself. As soon as an activity feels like a chore, either because you dislike attending meetings or you feel like you are writing emails for the sake of writing them (with no sense of their greater importance), stop doing that activity. Your time is valuable.
Love & Relationships
I come at this with more bias than any other category here. I spent the first three years of college deeply in love in a long distance relationship, and I don’t regret a single second of that. Being in a serious relationship teaches you an enormous amount about how to be caring, empathetic, and vulnerable. For me, at least, it was the most rewarding thing I have done with my life. My first piece of advice, then, is to never be afraid of entering and committing to a relationship, whether that person goes to Penn or not. If it feels right, you will know. My second piece of advice is the following. One of the unadvertised benefits of dating long distance is that you have a lot more time to yourself. I have seen many couples (ones in which both people go to Penn) that become physically inseparable from one another, and I would recommend against this. Spend time with other friends, and cultivate those friendships. If you wind up getting married to that person, you’ll be glad you made other friends. And if you don’t wind up getting married, you’ll be even gladder that you did.
Penn is an extremely pre-professional environment. The reputation you heard about when applying is true and more. This comes with its advantages and disadvantages. On the bright side, no doors will be closed to you because of the school you attend (yes, even if you’re in the College). If, after working hard for two or three years, you realize that you want to find a job in finance or consulting, that opportunity will be available to you. Additionally, I have found that upperclassmen are a highly valuable resource and are almost always willing to mentor younger people in the job search and interview preparation process (again, for better or worse, being in a fraternity helps with this). Use them to your advantage.
The downsides of this pre-professional environment are significant. You will find that your peers will place a large emphasis, whether it is spoken or unspoken, on prestige and brand recognition when it comes to post-graduation plans. You may find that you suddenly become “interested” in consulting because everyone else seems to be, but you may not actually be interested in those things at all if you really look inside yourself. This is tricky. Most importantly, you should take a job that you will enjoy in a field that excites you. On the other hand, I do think that there is something to be said for working at a brand name firm, especially early in your career. This will give you “street cred” as you move on to other jobs. If you can somehow blend these two by finding a job that you will genuinely enjoy at a large, credible firm, this is the path I would recommend. That said, chances are you will spend no more than two years at your first job, so don’t stress too much about this.
Someone recently described curiosity to me as a sense of “discontentment” with the limits of what we know or with the way our world currently is. Embrace this discontentment. Over your four years, you will find that your peers are all smart in a myriad of ways. At the same time, though, you may also find that there is an element of intellectualism that is often missing here at Penn. I would encourage you to go against this grain and actively seek out conversations and experiences that make you think critically about the world. Go to office hours, get to know your professors, and talk with them about what you’re learning. Read the New York Times on a regular basis (or any other publication/s) and share articles with your family and friends. Try to move past “small talk” quickly and instead strive for meaningful conversations. Do research with a professor at some point on a topic that intrigues you. Write a thesis during your senior year; this will be rewarding and will serve as a sort of capstone intellectual experience.
I never like when people describe college as “the best four years of your life.” This is rarely true, and depends entirely on whom you ask. What I will say, though, is that the past four years have been the most enriching of my life so far in terms of the range of experiences I have enjoyed and lessons I have learned. I have built lifelong friendships and thought critically about topics that are meaningful to me. I have been in love, learned about failure, and discovered a career path that energizes me.
Most importantly, I have developed a strong sense of who I am. I am proud of who this person has become, and I have all the confidence in the world that you will find him along your journey.
Take a Deep Breath, Relax and Smile | Alex S
Dear freshman me,
Welcome to one of the greatest places on Earth -- the University of Pennsylvania. You are about to experience some of the most challenging, emotionally demanding, yet extremely exciting and rewarding four years of your life. You will sit in classrooms learning from renown professors, immerse yourself in intellectual and fascinating conversations, and meet life-long (even bridesmaid worthy) friends.
Before you start to stress -- take a deep breath. I’m here to help. Here are some practical words of advice from me to you:
1. Everyone is lost and confused. You are not alone.
2. Be as open-minded as humanly possible - you will thank me in the long run.
3. If you’re passionate about something, start a business! I will never regret making the decision to open The Spada Kitchen. It’s hard and a lot of work but it’s one of the most rewarding experiences.
4. SMILE! You never know who you will meet (or see) on campus. First impressions are everything.
5. If you are struggling and need help, ask for it. There is no shame in seeking help. You will be proud of yourself for getting the help you need.
6. Take advantage of all the opportunities given to you. You have very limited time at this amazing school.
7. “YOU DO YOU” - my motto for life. Do not conform to the norms of this school if it’s not suited for you. Take your own path and create your own journey. You will be happy you did in the future.
8. Please be on time. Enough said
9. Always make time for yourself. There is nothing more important than quality YOU time. Your mental stability is key to succeeding at this school.
And most importantly…
10. Be grateful. You are at one of the most prestigious universities on this planet. Never take it for granted.
I have no doubt in my mind that you will succeed. BE AWESOME. BE YOU. KILL IT.
The unexpected matters most | nick z
Dear Freshman Nick,
You will change a good deal in the next four years. It might surprise you, but you will not solve the world’s economic problems through high-school level economics and a quick reading of Hayek. Even more surprising, they will not be the center of your life. All that confidence about how your future fifty years of life? Gone…and that is a great thing.
1. It is okay to be different: If you haven’t realized it by now, you are a bit weird. You have different motivations and aspirations than most of your peers. And that is completely fine.
2. Grades matter, but people matter more: Taking six classes each semester seems like a fun idea and classes are why universities exist. Yet, don’t allow your potential grade in a class dictate what you will learn; you will regret it. Take the time outside of class to be with your friend; you will learn far more from your hall mate that publishes a book by twenty and your roommate who researches at Harvard than any introductory class.
3. Become a good person: Penn and Wharton have so many great things, but often it is easy to forget that being a good person matters most. Prestige means nothing if you are a prat.
4. Be prepared for finding out that you wrong: By the time you graduate, you will be on career path number four. Academia? Research doesn’t interest you. Politics? You feel like you would not make a significant enough impact. (As a heads up, you do accomplish your dream of interning in DC) Investment Banking? Not the fit you wanted.
5. Call home more often: You will be really busy at Penn; you will see the sun rise over Huntsman far too many nights. However, still call home to your parents and grandparents. They really do want to hear from you and how you are doing. You will be at Penn for four years, but you will have your family more often.
6. Embrace uncertainty: You hate uncertainty. It is scary to not know where your future goes. Or if you made the right decision. However, you cannot allow that fear dictate your future and take a path you do not want. Learn to embrace the uncertainty.
One last thought: ditch the daily tie and sweater combination. It looks pretentious. And don’t be afraid of waking up at 7:00 am for important things; it typically leads to the best things possible.
You'll probably never feel like you have it together | Erica L
Dear little one,
If there's one thing I've realized from my 4 years at Penn, it's this - you will probably never feel like you have your shit together. A few other things I could tell my freshman self...
1. The status quo isn't more comfortable than the place youre meant to be. It might seem like you need to take the same path as everyone else, whether that's to Wall St or grad school, but really don't be afraid to shop around and find a path that's yours to walk comfortably - that feels better than the status quo.
2. You do not need to ace every class to be a success story. Heck, you can get a few C's on your transcript and still"make it" in life. Just google "failure success stories".
3. What feels really big now is really pretty small in the overall picture of your life. Remember that the next time you're hardcore stressing out about one exam.
4. Value friendships first and foremost. Sometimes, before school and work. You won't be able to remember the grade you got in a class 5 years from now, but you will remember the people you met along the way who helped make your days brighter.
5. You'll get there. No matter what happens today or tomorrow, you will get to where you're meant to be.
Keep going and stay true to yourself.
Join Penn Quidditch. Yes, quidditch. | Isabella G
Dear Penn Freshmen,
Don't idolize your grades. Half of you will be in the bottom half of the class. All of you are smart kids. Focus on getting an education and studying something that interests you. Take courses outside of your major. I highly recommend taking Negotiations at some point before you graduate.
Don't worry about getting rejected from clubs that require applications. I applied to the same organization(Philo) 4 times and was rejected each time. Another reason I kept applying was because I found the application process great preparation for future job interviews as it forced me to think on my feet and conquer my fear of public speaking. Better to screw up now than after I graduate.
Join Penn Quidditch (yes, quidditch is the only full contact, co-ed sport on campus). It's by far the most loving community and the least judgmental group of people on campus. After all, if you're running with a broomstick between your legs, who are you to judge? My favorite quote of all time is, "It takes a certain kind of person to run around on a broomstick. Stick with it, and you'll realize that is exactly the kind of person whom you want to be friends with." No experience necessary! Fun fact: quidditch is my maiden sport -I became the athlete I am today through quidditch.
Keep an open mind. I hate to admit this but when I came to Penn, I had a lot of narrow minded viewpoints. Take advantage of your brilliant classmates and hear their perspectives. Be kind -you never know what hardships they are battling at any moment and you never know who will make it big in the future. ;)
Remember that every embarrassing moment or bad moment will become a great story to tell in time.
A little bit about myself so you can reach out to me for advice if you're ever in a similar situation:
I came to Penn as a pre-med. Took some courses that went over my head. I changed my major to Computational Biology after doing well and loving CIS110. However, I was heading in a downward academic spiral which compounded when 2nd semester of junior year started off with Penn Housing accidentally throwing everything in my dorm room out. Despite parental pressures, I changed my major to Cinema Studies towards the end of the semester, and am still able to graduate on time. I used to be an atheist(was raised a non-believer) but started believing in God that semester. As a freshman, I would've never guessed any of that would ever happen to me. As a senior now writing this letter to you, I'd say, yes, I had an amazing, transformative college experience, even if it isn't the way I imagined it would be.
Remember you are so so lucky to be at Penn. Never lose sight of this, even when things get tough.
Feel free to reach out to me @igongphoto on Facebook. If you any questions/comments, don't hesitate to ask. =)
Have a fun year!
College, Class of 2016
Dear Penn, Thanks for the adventure. | Marykate S
Dear Penn Freshman,
CONGRATULATIONS!! You have worked so hard and now you’re here, so before you read anything else in this letter, remember – YOU MADE IT! ENJOY! Now to dig a little bit deeper…you are about to begin a journey that is one of the most important of your life. Over the next four years, you will be challenged in ways you never have before - you will grow, you will change, you will stay up far too late, sleep way too little, watch WAY too much Netflix, but also laugh so hard you’ll cry. If you’re a little nervous, that’s normal, but most of all you should be unbelievably excited. As a second semester senior, I would just about give my left arm to be in your shoes. However, there are definitely things I wish I knew starting out. So if you are still interested in this SWUG’s advice, please read on:
1) Treat all people you meet as friends. Everyone is talented and everyone is “cool” in his or her own way. Go to acapella shows and dance shows and plays for those kids down the hall. They will really appreciate the support and the shows are AWESOME.
2) Hang out in the common room. Your hall-mates can be your biggest supporters your freshman year as well as your life-long friends.
3) Don’t be too hard on yourself when you don’t get the grades you got in high school. C’s (or B’s…) are in no way the end of the world. You do SO much learning in college OUTSIDE of the classroom, that stressing too much about life inside the classroom is only doing yourself an injustice. (With that being said, set high expectations for yourself because you will be surprised what you are able to accomplish over the next four years. Don’t sell yourself short. However, remember no one, I mean NO ONE is perfect. I repeat: C’s are a-oh-kay.)
4) Don’t overbook yourself. However you choose to spend your time, spend it with meaning. The allure of so many clubs, Greek organizations, performance groups and classes is unavoidable. Try new things, but make sure you don’t join so many things you end up stretching yourself too thin and missing out on things you really love or letting down the people who are counting on you.
5) Find your people and make them a priority. You will need your friends and they will need you. Listen deeply, make memories, watch funny SNL videos on Tuesday nights, sing Happy Birthday and in Cristina and Meredith fashion: dance it out.
6) Even though this is way off into the future for your freshman selves, don’t freak out about OCR. Everyone is talented. Everyone will get a job. Don’t sweat it.
7) Don’t be afraid to meet that person that tells you how awesome you really are. They will become your best friend, your deepest love and your greatest confidant. They will learn a lot from you, but you will learn even more from them.
8) In all of the hustle and bustle of life, remember to be kind to yourself. Go for a run, eat a salad, get a haircut, hang with people who make you better, lose those people that don’t.
9) Make mistakes. It will happen and be okay with it. That not-so-great-grade, that night that got a little out of hand. Be safe and say you’re sorry, but make mistakes. They are the best and fastest way to learn and grow. (See #3: NO ONE is perfect.)
10) Embrace each and every single day. Don’t look forward to the next big thing, or wait for X day to be over, because before you know it, it’ll be your last semester at Penn and you’ll wonder where the heck has the time gone. (If you have any idea, please let a girl know.)
In short, ADVENTURE IS OUT THERE!! Embrace it, cherish it, breathe it in. And most importantly, have SO MUCH FUN!
shut up and breathe | annie z
Dear Freshman Self,
Congratulations! I am so excited that you are starting college. College was the best, but there are some things that I wish that I had known back then, so here’s some advice for you and I hope that you will have a great ride!
Enjoy College. And I mean, truly enjoy it. There is nothing that will ever be like it. College is a bubble that is almost too good to be true: You have all your friends within walking distance, and most of the time, you don’t have responsibilities – at least not as much as you will after graduation. When you look back, these will be the best years of your life. It might not seem so right now, when you are desperately trying to study for the Econ 101 final at 3 AM in the morning, or when you are swamped with 10,000 meetings. But trust me, these are the best years of your life.
Take time. This is related to the point above. Amidst the frenzy of Locust Walk and the rush to make it to back-to-back meetings on time, take time to breathe. Don’t rush so much that you forget to experience college. Take time to think, take time to read, take time to hang out with friends, take time to do nothing and just be in the moment 100%.
Allow for uncertainty. At a place like Penn, it may seem like everyone wants to do finance or consulting. It may seem like everyone has got their summers and future lives planned out (“This year I’ll do my summer internship in consulting, next year in finance, and then I will go into private equity and make lots of money.” Whatever.), but do not feel compelled to follow the herd if you don't know what to do or do not want to follow them. It is painful to do something that you do not love but that everyone thinks you should do.
Lastly, don’t be afraid. It is ok to struggle. You may have read about the “Penn face”, or the duck analogy (peaceful above water, but paddling like mad underneath), so don’t be fooled by everyone’s Penn faces. Someone once said, “If people are being honest, everybody is struggling with something – and if you are not, you’re dead.” Someone else (famous) also said, “Don’t compare your insides to somebody else’s outsides.” I’ll leave you with these two quotes, and wish you all the very best at Penn. It was the best time of my life, and I am sure it will be yours too J
Learning to be unabashedly and positively me | melanie s
Dear freshman self,
It is time. Time to drive 8 hours north to a foreign city, move too many clothes into a small shared dorm room, leave a life of comfort and familiarity, and begin a process known as college to most people. You’ll quickly realize this process can’t just be called “college” for you, it will come to be known as the most earth-shattering, life-shaking four years of change you can’t even begin to imagine; but, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. You have a lot to learn before you can call it that…
Here are a few lessons to pick up on your way:
1. Join that freshman bible study. The girls you meet there will become your best friends, the people who know you inside and out, the people who make you laugh til you cry, and the people who you will cry with. They will make you strong, weak, and happy all at the same time.
2. Remember that 5 year and 10 year plan? Well screw it. Like right now. It’s not going to happen. You will be infinitely better if you just throw it in the campfire before you leave.
3. The jobs you thought you’d have, turns out you aren’t passionate about them. Learn this, grieve this, and get over it, there are a ton of amazing jobs out there. Don’t let money, a lack of comfort, or fear hold you back from what you are truly passionate about.
4. Learn to love yourself. In the times where you are falling apart, the world is crashing in on you, and you have nothing to even like about yourself and your actions, love yourself. Without this it is hard to love anything else.
5. Stick to the faith, but open your mind. College is all about soaking in new ideas and mindsets while forming and strengthening your own.
6. Be the initiator. People have a lot on their plates and you never know when a text saying “I love you” or “You’re awesome” can be exactly what they need. Be that sort of friend even when you “don’t have the time.”
7. Don’t be afraid to end that high school relationship, as much as you love him, it isn’t healthy, and you have so much to learn from dating right now. So date and don’t feel bad that you are, you are becoming better through this process.
8. On the flip side, realize when being single is the best option. Give yourself time to learn and grow through being 100% blatantly single.
9. Make friends who will tell you the truth. True friends are the ones you can fight with, yell at, and be mad at, but on the other side of the fight be so much closer and more understanding of their beauty and personality than before. Embrace these friends and hold them close.
10. Adventure well. You’ll have opportunities in the next four years to live on the other side of the globe, travel to new places, and do crazy activities you never thought you’d ever be brave enough to try. Embrace each of these moments and laugh through them all.
11. Be unabashedly and positively you. You are beautiful and sparkling, don’t let the world get you down.
These four years may seem long at times, but they go by faster than you think. Feel everything, love with all your heart, and remember regret does nothing for you. Change is painful at times but feel it fully. Mistakes are inevitable, dive headfirst into them. Happiness comes when you let sadness go and wisdom comes from lessons. Learn them all, and change. After all, when you look back on who you were, you won’t even recognize yourself. Embrace yourself, after all you are the most you you’ve ever been. Go tackle this thing.
You don't really know yourself yet | Mark H
One piece of advice I would give to you is that you need to realize you don't really know yourself yet. Perhaps you have an idea of where you want to go or who you see yourself becoming, but right now you can be whoever you want.
Don't box yourself into one group or clique. Join as many clubs and friend groups as you can. Try to build good relationships with people of all cultures, religions, races, sexual orientations, ages and social classes. This will give you more perspective and teach you how to love others despite how they may look/act/etc.
Be smart about who you spend your time with. Surround yourself with people who have good values, who you can trust to keep you safe and support you when you are in need. Remember to give back to these people and verbally express your appreciation for their love.
Lastly, be constantly looking to improve. Always refine yourself to becoming the best version of you. Be open to the idea that you may have flaws, take criticism and work on them. Let people see you as a person who really cares about others and how others view you (within reason).
remember what peace there may be in silence | jack g
Approach school with an even head. Both academically and socially, there will most definitely be ups and downs. If something goes well, don't let your head swell; make an extra effort to keep up the work ethic that got you there. If something goes badly, don't despair; strategize about how you might do better next time.
Find study partners and a strong support network. Mine has been absolutely invaluable to me. Friends and family are crucial.
Don't cheat. It isn't worthwhile. Your reputation and integrity stay with you long after your grades stop mattering.
Soak in the academic part of school. I am a firm believer in the fact that you get out of it what you put in. Don't get lost in the distractions and opportunities that abound around you. Take it all in and get involved, but don't bite off more than you can chew.
Don't compete with others. Socially or academically. Learn from the people who are better than you and help those who need it. The only one you need to compete with is yourself. Measuring your achievements against those of others will leave you unhappy.
Cultivate, appreciate and cherish relationships with others. Those relationships are the most important things you will take away from your college experience, more important than any single assignment. The friends you make and the network you build (with both other students and professors), especially at a school like Penn, are crucial. Have impromptu lunches, surprise dinners and gym sessions. The expense of spending extra time on relationships is negligible and the benefit to you, your friends, and your family is enormous.
When you set up goals for yourself, make sure they're actionable. Setting a longer term goal like straight As is unrealistic (for most). Failures on the way to larger scale goals are more likely to cause you to lose steam. Set smaller, daily goals like working out 2-3 times a week, spending a certain number of hours every night on homework, don't drink or smoke the night before a test, things like that. As you accumulate a bunch of good small habits, the larger changes you desire will follow naturally.
The final piece of advice I have which coheres all of the above is that you need to hold yourself accountable. Whenever you are making decisions, think ahead. At the each juncture along the road (the more frequently you do this, the better I think), ask yourself: If I had put forth more effort over the past few days/weeks/months, could I have created a better outcome for myself today? If the answer is yes, you should sit down an rethink your priorities. The last thing you want to do is look back and realize that with a little bit more effort, which, in the scheme of things, wouldn't have cost you much, you could have ended up happier/more satisfied. Keeping that question in mind will keep you happier in the long run.
I hope this "advice," which has made a world of a difference to me, can make a small positive difference to you too. I will leave you with "Desiderata," a beautiful poem whose spirit my words try in some way to echo.
"Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy."
Best of luck,
Don't blink! | jenn g
Dear freshman self,
Hello, it's me (please tell me you understand this ;))! Crazy to think that I'm more than halfway through. Someone once said to me, don't blink, because if you do, you'll miss something. Well, freshman self, don't blink. Time flies and soon it'll be over. Enjoy every minute with your eyes wide open because these will be the best, but the fastest years of your life.
Freshman self, don't be afraid. Everything is about to change, but you're going to be amazed by the person you become. You're going to be stronger, braver, more outgoing. So take risks. Don't put yourself in a bubble or feel that you have to check off certain boxes. The world is your oyster right now! Try everything. Find out what you love and who you love. Give everyone and everything a chance, because you never know where you'll end up (perhaps in a Jewish acapella group that sang for the president!).
Freshman self, don't forget to take a deep breath and smile. There will be days where it seems hard or you have so much work and you're not sure how it will get done. Know that it will be done. Know that there are people who want to help and who are there to support you. You, many times, will be that person for someone else. Be someone’s cheerleader. But also reach out. Never feel like you have to figure it all out on your own. Even adults don't do that.
Freshman self, the world is out there for you to take. Go introduce yourself to someone new. Say yes to something that is out of your comfort zone. Go to office hours and make friends with your professor. He or she is not only a great resource, but actually has a cool story. Get to know it! It's going to be a blur but it will be an amazing 4 years. Know that you'll meet your best friends (even when you're panicking during NSO that you don't know who you'll find), you'll take amazing classes and you'll do things that you'll remember forever.
So remember to put down your book sometimes and go out. Enjoy parties, enjoy coffee chats. The people you meet are making your experience. Freshman self, you got this. And I'm here looking out for you.
the learning curve never ends | kate m
Welcome to Penn! By now, you've started to settle into college life with classes, clubs, going out with friends, and more. Over my past 4 years, I've had my ups and downs at Penn, and I found it difficult freshmen year to find my sense of self. Here are a few tips I've learned along the way to help you have a happier, healthier, and more meaningful time in college.
1) Take care of yourself
We've all heard this more times than we'd like: go to the gym, get sleep, eat more vegetables. And sure, there will be plenty of late nights with pizza at college. But, if you notice that you always feel tired or mentally sluggish, re-evaluate your daily routine. While that one person who seems to survive on nothing but red bull and adrenaline will always exist, the rest of us need sleep, exercise, time to relax and laugh, and a variety of food in our diet. Don't compare yourself to everyone else, and find a routine that works for you. As for friends, spend time with friends that make you laugh and push you to be better. A friendship that causes you worry only adds more stress into your life.
2) Remain open and enthusiastic
At college, there's a plethora of classes, activities, and social groups to get involved with. Remain open and enthusiastic over your next four years for the amazing opportunities presented. Get to know your professor during office hours and hear about her fascinating sabbatical experience. Be willing to try out a difficult class or make a new friend regardless of your year; in my opinion, every semester becomes better than the last because you have the option to meet more of your peers and try out great opportunities (like traveling abroad with a school group). Capitalize on all that Penn offers!
3) Ask yourself: Is this actually important to me?
Oftentimes, we can get bogged down in the small details of the day - a midterm doesn't go so well, or you feel frustrated that you didn't make the cut to join a club or team. Try to keep the bigger picture in mind, and ask yourself if what you are doing truly matters to you. Sure, there will be some required courses you just need to get through, but make sure to spend your time where it matters. Ultimately, this is your chance to push yourself in a direction that you want to follow; make sureyou are driving your actions, not those around you.
The next four years will be full of good and bad memories, and truth be told, the learning curve never ends at college (I'm still learning about college life in my last semester at Penn). That being said, I hope these points can help guide you to make the most your next four years. Enjoy!
if you don't want to go to something, don't go | becca b
Dear Freshman Self,
At the end of your freshman year, you will receive advice that you wish you had gotten at the beginning of freshman year: if you don’t want to go to something, don’t go.
Though this advice doesn’t sound particularly profound, it truly is. The hardest thing about college is figuring out how to manage time. There are so many options, so many people you could choose to be around. How to decide?! This advice sort of decides for you – if you want to go, go. But don’t just go because you should be going. Your friends will rag on you for not being a “team player” at times, but almost always they will wish that they had done their own thing, too. Because being a follower, well…sucks.
Spend time in places where you’ll learn. This doesn’t just mean “school”. You’ll look back and realize that you learned just as much at sweaty frat parties, BYOs, and club meetings. Sometimes, the people in these environments will be difficult (or drunk). But that’s probably why these places end up being as educational as school. I mean, it’s way more likely that you’ll have to take care of a drunk person again than that you’ll have to cite specific examples from one textbook.
Remember that if you do go to something, and it stinks, you probably won’t care five years from now. “Going to something” also means “investing yourself in something.” For instance, trying really hard in a class and getting a C, or applying for a position and getting rejected. These things feel big at the time, but in reality, they’re not important. Also, no one is getting everything they want. Just because everyone around you is having an #amazing time doesn’t mean they’re actually having an #amazing time! And even if they are, remember that there are enough #amazing things in the world that everyone can share. It’s not as if their being #amazing means that you can’t be #amazing.
Form relationships that teach you about what you value in others. It may take spending time with a Republican to realize you’re only into Democrats! If someone rubs you the wrong way, say peace out and find people whose company you enjoy. Don’t waste your time on people who bring down your vibes. Remember: if you don’t want to go to something, don’t go.
Lastly, don’t be spoiled. Complainers are unlikable, and while you will be tempted to complain a lot about your future roommate’s 6 AM alarm snoozing habit, resist the urge, and buy her a freaking vibrating alarm clock.
Here’s to four years of only attending things you want to attend, finding great peeps, and not complaining!
take ownership or get out | alex m
My biggest piece of advice is to take ownership of your education. College is the first time that you can choose what classes you want to take and pick your major. I think too many people follow a “typical” path or are influenced by their friends/the norm. My suggestion is to be bold, take classes just to learn something interesting, and develop relationships with professors who you find fascinating. This isn’t going to come easy. I tried to create my own major and failed. I had multiple professors who weren’t interested in talking to me because they were too busy or just didn’t care. However, with a little persistence, I found some incredible mentors who truly care about my well-being. Most importantly, every time I walk out of a meeting with my mentor, I rediscover why I came to this school and the power of an education. He motivates me to want to keep learning for the rest of my life. I hope you can find someone similar in your time at Penn.
Second, college is the first time age doesn’t matter. Make friends with students who are two years older and younger than you. Not only will it give you a new perspective on the world, but it will also likely set up an opportunity for you to be both a mentor and mentee. In my opinion, there is no better feeling than helping someone else have a better experience than yourself and ensuring that they don’t hit the same roadblocks you did. Although it can be scary to ask for help, upperclassmen love talking about their experiences and giving advice. Don’t be afraid to reach out. You can achieve this through clubs, classes, fraternities/sororities, etc. Two of my best friends came from a study group in a class together. None of us thought we would become friends outside of our class. However, we started to spend more time together, and even though both of them graduated, we still keep in touch to this day.
Last, it’s critical to know that you’re not going to be the smartest person at this school. The sooner you accept this fact, the easier college will be. Even if you were top of your class or even number one, there will always be someone here who is more intelligent than you. And guess what? That’s fantastic. You have an opportunity to be surrounded by hundreds of brilliant and unique minds. You’re going to be constantly pushed intellectually to think and create arguments outside of your comfort zone. I’m not going to lie and say GPA isn’t important. But rather than obsess with it or let it dictate your life, set a realistic threshold for yourself based on if you want to go to grad school or get a certain job. Then, do your best to achieve that goal (note: I said realistic). Besides, nobody is going to care what your GPA was in college after your first job or after you get into graduate school.
Good luck with college, and most importantly, have fun!
"Whatever you are, be a good one" and other platitudes to get you through | anna r
Dear 18-year-old Anna,
First off, congratulations on getting the fuck out of Michigan. That place is freezing, and even though your friends who stayed there for college are happy, I promise you will be happier. I don’t know if you realize this yet, but high school was not your prime. You spent wayyyy too much time drinking Popov in Peter’s basement, and not enough time fostering relationships with the bright, mature, interesting people around you.
But don’t worry- you’re at Penn now! The average intelligence of your peers is higher, and there are so many amazing, nerdy, passionate people you have the chance to meet. Unfortunately, the vodka is still really shitty.
I know it doesn’t all feel easy right now. You may not feel like you’ve met “your people,” yet. You will. Get over the notion that your hall mates will be your best friends, because they absolutely won’t be, but I promise you will meet people who change your life for the better. That boy you met during NSO who definitely was trying to hook up with you and then told you he thought you were rolling? He’s going to be your best friend. Like, he will bring you Jimmy Johns at 3 in the morning when you break your wrist and end up at HUP—that kind of best friend. (Also- wear wrist guards when you roller skate). The girl from Penn Dems initiation? She will always be willing to talk on the phone for as long as you need, will always have a good story to tell, and will have you to her home every year for Passover. Basically, she’s on the short list for your bridesmaids.
And here’s the even better news—you can still make friends after freshman fall! Suck up your pride and rush, because it’s going to be the right decision for you, as much as you will hate to admit it (but don’t get to attached to your National chapter, that doesn’t work out so well) The sorority will introduce you to people you would never have know existed otherwise—basically people who aren’t Jewish—and most importantly will give your future housemates/the best people in the world. But give it time, because despite how it may look on social media, you don’t automatically get 50 new bffs. Seriously though, never shut yourself off to meeting new friends. Once you can get into Smokes, the opportunities for new friends are endless!
I know the thought of writing real research papers is daunting (Not gonna lie- public school education really let you down on that one). This too shall pass. That seven-page paper you spent three weeks working on? That won’t be the norm. You’re a pretty good writer, and there are some really good writers on this campus who exist as a resource for you and your lack of understanding of footnotes. The papers won’t slow down, in fact they will increase dramatically, but you will improve. And keep enjoying them! Don’t deny the fact that you’re a huge nerd who actually likes what you study- embrace that and all the office hour chats that come with it. But also don’t feel tied to your chosen field of study—who knows, maybe you’ll find out you kinda like econ? Spoiler alert- you will. This school rocks, and is filled with academic opportunities unlike anything you’ve experienced and probably ever will- take advantage! You could do fine doing the minimum, and honestly sometimes you will, and when you do you will feel like you let yourself down. Try to avoid that.
Ok, so school- check. Friends- check. I guess it’s time to face some harsh realities. Unfortunately, at least as this piece goes to print, you will still sometimes fail to drink the appropriate amount at the pregame. Don’t stress. Try to be around people who care about your well- being, and always own up to your stupidness. It’s not cute to be too drunk, but it’s even less cute to try and pretend you weren’t that drunk. Avoid taking shots—I’ll try to do the same.
Also, sometimes things don’t work out. You will apply to many clubs at Penn, and you will get rejected from some of them. Keep applying. And start your own! But also, don’t join clubs for the sake of joining them. Your future employer probably doesn’t care if you were on the history major advisory board, and you’ve got other shit to do. That brings me to an important point- it’s ok to quit things. This applies to all facets of your life. Just like you shouldn’t be in a club you don’t care about, you don’t need to be friends with people who don’t add to your life- no matter how close you were with them at some point. I’m not saying you should actively dump them, but you are allowed to prioritize other people. As the Fat Jewish posted in a rare moment of poignancy- “You literally don’t have to be friends with people you don’t like.”
Last summer, I met someone I believe has genuinely made me (you?) a better person. See- new friends at age 20! Ground breaking! I want to share with you what she describes as her vibe- I think it should be yours too: “My vibe is like yo fuck shit up and mess up and be nice and hope you turn out ok and do good for the world.”
You’re going to be good, I promise.
6 Gems of Wisdom | amanda r
Dear Freshmen Self,
Congratulations on getting into to Penn! You worked so hard in high school, so cherish this opportunity you now have. Get ready for an exciting, inspiring, eye opening, enriching, challenging, and motivating four years. I know you are scared and nervous but so is everybody else, so do not worry. Relax and enjoy the ride!
Here are six important tips I want you to keep in mind:
1. Meet everyone. No one forgets freshmen year, and no one has friends freshmen year. Everyone is looking for people to sit with in Commons. Do not be embarrassed. Introduce yourself.
2. Form study groups. The most effective way to study is to make sure you are on the same page as somebody else. You will also meet some of your best friends studying together. Nothing bonds people like STAT101 study sessions.
3. Go to office hours. You will learn from the person who writes the exam, and form personal relationships with some of the most brilliant people you will ever meet. You will also encounter a variety of Penn students who are all going through the same experience.
4. Have grit. You are going to succeed at some things and fail at others. What separates the long-haul success stories and short-term success stories is the ability to keep fighting. Don’t get upset. Get motivated.
5. Find a mentor. Everyone is older than you now. Cherish it. They are full of advice about classes, friends, careers, and so much more. Also, they probably will be sitting at the other side of the table during Career Fairs.
6. Be generous. Penn is full of busy people without an ounce of free time. You will definitely feel like you have so much to do at Penn. However, some of your best memories will come from helping your friend with their homework or attending a friend’s dance show. These acts of kindness are amazing study breaks, and your friends will never forget it.
Freshmen self, get pumped for all the four years ahead. It will be an experience of a lifetime.
Your future self
I wish someone had asked me | jonelle l
Please, friend, ask me to finish this sentence:
“I will be successful if…”
Please, friend, challenge me. Ask me to consider.
When I am charting out my life and feel a little lost, ask me,
“What would you consider a good, meaningful life?
What kind of person do you need to be to achieve it? Do you like that person?
Who will you surround yourself with? Is anyone missing?
What are your deepest values, the things you prioritize, the anchors that guide your decisions?”
When I search for career direction and start job applications, ask me,
“What do you want to spend your life on?
What makes a fire in your belly?
What experiences have shaped you?
How will you use your strengths and privileges to serve others?”
When I feel hopelessly pressed on all sides, ask me,
“What are your expectations of yourself, and others’ expectations of you?
Are they realistic? Perceived? Which ones do you need to let go?”
When I am stuck in comparison and feel inadequate, tell me,
“Whether you match your peers is unimportant.
Think about why you want what you want.
What influences your desires? What is you, and what falls away?”
When I put on a mask and try to retreat, find me—
“Does anyone know you well enough to challenge you, help you, hear you?
Who will you let in? For whom will you do the same?”
When I get a little too smug—and I will—ask me,
“Friend, what happens if you fail?
On what, or whom, will you lean?”
Please, friend, ask me, “What will make you successful? How will you live your life?”
MIMOSAS ARE A GREAT SOURCE OF VITAMIN C | Niki G
They say every road comes to an end, but sometimes the end feels just like the beginning. I waited until my favorite time of the year, the start of summer, to write this letter because let's face it-you're a romantic. You can make all the checklists and pro and con lists in the world, but in the end, it's your heart that rules. But don't beat yourself up, you're in a constant state of improvement. You'll soon learn, everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing herself.
Until the last month of my college career, I didn't understand what this journey culminated to. I was finishing my foreign language requirement in my second semester. I turned down a summer internship to travel the world. I'm not sure where I will be in a few months. This definitely wasn't part of the plan.
But that was Option A which was a really just a rough outline of what people told me was the right thing to do. This whole time I was trying to fit my life in to this romantic narrative where everything would work according to what my freshman self had dreamt of. Needless to say it did not and what is infinitely more important to read is not what did happen but how I reacted. Sheryl Sandberg posed a very important question to the graduates of 2016, "We all at some point live some form of option B. The question is: What do we do then?"
What did I do then?
The first day at Penn, the Dean of Engineering will tell you about imposter syndrome: an inability to internalize accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. You will dismiss your acceptance to Penn, your research position, your academic achievements, your past as luck. So you can never shake off the annoying feeling of being part of something you don’t belong in. That you were a mistake. Don't transfer because you don't think you are capable. Don't transfer because you don't fit the stereotype. Don't transfer because your mind hasn't learned how to be this flexible to new challenges. It will be hard-you will feel out of breath and frustrated because it will overwhelm you. When that happens, don't fight it-quiet your mind and have faith in yourself. It's okay to not understand right away. But if you do transfer-just love what you learn.
You'll be accepted by Penn, only to be rejected again and again. Ask yourself: what value would you have truly derived from this? Usually the answer is pretty simple and there's no need to stay upset about it when your time and energy can be focused into something else. You reject people, you get rejected, so why fear rejection? There were moments where everything went to shit, you slept in your best friend's bed for weeks, and you felt so up against the walls you could hardly breathe. So take some time to cool off, collect yourself, break down, eat a pint of chocolate fudge brownie, binge watch Game of Thrones, go to New York, whatever it takes. But when the time comes, forgive, let go, work harder and earn your shit. Resilience is like a muscle, built not by when you fell down, but when you stood back up again and again. Remember that no feeling lasts forever. Hold your head up high, wear lip gloss, and pretend to be psyched because after all, everyone loves a great comeback story.
Justin McDaniel, Professor of Intro to Buddhism, is one of the most profound thinkers you will come across. He will tell you that the hardest part of life isn't necessarily a tragedy…it's living. In your very last class at Penn, he will further explain that everyone deserves to be acknowledged. And there it was in all it's simplicity. In my wondering of why I would at times feel inexplicably lonely, there it was. It's not good enough to send a text with a heart emoji. People want to know how much you mean to them. There were many moments at Penn where I was deeply impacted by another student expressing gratitude. It was while grabbing late night study snacks at Fresh Grocer where she told me I had changed her Penn experience. It was during Walnut Walk where he said that he was going to miss me while I’m on the other coast. It was on my couch where we decided this friendship will last beyond college. It was at graduation where you noticed the bittersweet tone of every goodbye because they all at once wanted the moment to last forever, but would survive the pain of this loss because it means you are reaching your goals. It was, it was, it was…the list goes on and every time I am overwhelmed because I never thought that kindness could permeate my life at Penn so effortlessly. I never thought compassion would be my strength.
In the process of finding my Option B, I became the best version of myself. Sometimes you need to step outside, get some air, and remind yourself of who you are and where you want to be. I didn't get the A, relationships were broken, opportunities missed but it was okay. It was okay because I said no to good things to say yes to the best things.
Whatever you do, put your heart into it and never look back.
To kicking the shit out of Option B,
Proud Penn Alum
P.S. Have a lot of faith, and if that doesn't work-have a lot of mimosas.
Reality Check | Sandra L
You had a lot of offers from different schools. You could have gone anywhere – UT Austin, an hour from home, or NYU, lost in the city lights, or Cornell, forever instagramming “Cornell is gorge-ous,” or Brown… the list goes on. But you chose Penn, because something resonated here when you came to visit campus as another minority college-hopeful looking for a place to belong. You got out of the taxi at 34th and Walnut and said in a gasp of awe, “This is what an Ivy League school looks like…”
You ignored the warnings you found on student chat forums of people saying that Penn was viciously pre-professional. You told yourself that you wouldn’t hang out with those crowds, that college is what you make it. “Timshel… thou mayest;” the quote from your favorite book (East of Eden, John Steinbeck), summing that all up. And you’re going to pack up your life and head to Philadelphia, 2000 miles from the South Texas sun. It was going to be amazing – you were (are) going to be one step closer to becoming the physician you’ve dreamed of being for so long, to scrub into a surgery with a surgical cap featuring a dog pattern, and to pull 36 hour shifts, rounding on patients and drinking a lot of hospital coffee. You want this. So bad. And you still do.
But, three years later, your eyes are encircled by the darkness of poor sleep (sleep tracker app says 80% quality, but it feels like less), your shoulders weighted with expectations you don’t know how to handle (first generation student whose whole family expects a Harvard MD degree – not likely, and not what you want, but you don’t have the heart to tell your family that). Those forums were right. Penn is so pre-professional. There is a cut-throat culture here, a desire to excel and surpass regardless of what it takes. There are people who believe you don’t belong here because you checked the “Hispanic” box on the Common App, because the Admissions Office pitied you and your culture that you so love. You went from being top of the class to doubting yourself. There are days you don’t want to do anything but lay in bed and cry, and disappear into your pillow, or run away and get lost in the world, leave your life behind and start anew, just a random small human amongst another 7 billion.
There’s another but to this. There always is.
I want to tell you it’s going to be hard. But I need you to leave the expectations of others behind, in a grave for all the bad juju people throw at you. I want to tell you that even though the thought of transferring to UT Austin has crossed your mind so many times – yes, even as a junior, when transferring would be a nightmare – that you’ve come so far, and if you’ve survived this long, you can keep on surviving. When you think it’s tough, when you’re sick to your stomach from the toxic culture of Penn and how unhealthy it is, to leave University City, leave the bubble and breathe in the air of sincerity, of calm; to enjoy. You don’t have to indulge the Penn Monster. Focus on yourself – your health, your dreams. Leave the expectations of others buried, and realize that you don’t have to be like them – you don’t have to be anyone but who you want to be. And yes, you may have to tweak that as life happens and throws you curves, but don’t be afraid of the changes you encounter: I guarantee, you’ll find who that is on this journey.
Remember how you used to be afraid of everything? You’d be so surprised to hear the things I’ve done, the personality and outlook changes I’ve experienced – and still am experiencing. If you had gone to UT Austin, you would still be the same person you were in high school. You’re going to start fresh here. You wouldn’t recognize me if you saw me now, because who you are and knew is a shell, an outer layer to a much richer inside – much like a Ferrerro Rocher chocolate. I’m slowly chipping away at the shell of our fears to reveal the sculpture that is the real us underneath. And once I get there, it’s going to be amazing, liberating, and the scars will be worth it. I promise. I’m still not there, but I have to keep reminding myself of that. I look forward one step at a time, and it’s the only thing that keeps me from going insane sometimes. But just breathe and put one foot forward. The world is much more than the space between 34th and 40th Streets.
I’m not doing the chipping on my own. I’ve met so many people here who listen, who understand, who are supportive, who care. You have people here; you’ll make people here. Not just during NSO, but during the years to come, too – peers, TAs, professors, advisors. It’s going to be hard, but creating a masterpiece is, isn’t it? It doesn’t happen quickly, it takes time, blood, sweat, tears.
Don’t forget why you’re here: because you have something to give, and the experience has something to return. This isn’t a warning, but it’s a reality check: Look at who you were, and look forward to who you will become. Stay strong. “[The human soul] is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed— because ‘Thou mayest.’”
You may conquer. I give you permission to.
Welcome to the Deep End | Fabian S
Dear 19-year old me,
I’m you, but future you. Three years from now. Believe it or not, I’m happy when I wake up in the mornings. I know you might not be at the moment. But it’ll get better soon, I promise.
Welcome to the Deep End. I’m not going to lie, this shit is tough. But you’ve never been the one to shy away from a challenge, so why start now. By the end, you’ll be in a good place, and, dare I admit it, pretty damn happy.
Let me start off this letter by saying this: I have no regrets and neither should you. Nevertheless, the following is a list, in no particular order, of things I wish I would have known three-odd years ago.
· You’ll find friends, and they’ll be great. They’re really smart, they have a wide variety of interests, and they’ll be there to comfort you when you need it. Don’t take them for granted though, be there for them, and do what you can to help even if that means doing something you hate – like the dishes – from time to time.
· Don’t forget Mama and Papa. They’re the ones that brought you this far and always enabled you to follow your dreams, so the least you can do is skype them once a week. Also, even though they struggle with their iPhones, they actually know a lot about “life things,” so value their advice. Oh yeah, and now that you’re through puberty, you can accept that they’re actually pretty cool people.
· Get up again. You know that song “I get knocked down, but I get up again, ���”? First college realization: it’s about alcohol. Second college realization: getting up again is pretty damn hard. Yes, you’ll be knocked down during college. Sometimes you’ll have to say no to a BYO because of money, sometimes you feel like you’ve been backstabbed by your best friends, sometimes McKinsey will ignore you, sometimes the guy you’re really into will decide to end things for no apparent reason, sometimes you’ll get really bad grades. Yeah it sucks. But don’t let it keep you down – you will be able to prevail and come out stronger.
· Don’t be afraid to burn a bridge or two. There might be people you think are important now, but that make you unhappy. Your most important currency here at Penn is your time, so don’t waste it on people that you don’t love being around.
· Take SEPTA, explore Philly: You don’t like Philly right now, I know, and the MFL seems sketchy. On top of that, it always smells funky out of the gutter in front of KCEH. Well, you’re wrong. Philly has so much to offer – great food, concerts, museums, art galleries, ... Get out there and start exploring!
· Study Abroad: Yeah, it really is that great. To give you a brief excerpt of your time abroad: you will rent a Toyota Yaris and take scenic pictures of it in Patagonia, you will take your first business trip, you will have a view of the Eiffel Tower from your “bedroom,” your shower will be in the kitchen, you’ll see hospitals in many different countries, your host mom will be a total boss, and you’ll fall in love with a foreigner who you may never see again.
· Oh, and on that note, come out already, will you. You’re lucky to have parents that will accept you no matter what. Also, despite all of its flaws, Penn is incredibly accepting. You won’t lose friends because of your sexuality – and even if you do, are those the kinds of friends you want to have?
Yes, Penn is stressful. Yes, the Core sucks. Yes, MGMT 100 is absolute B.S. Yes, you’ll have your heart broken once or twice. Yes, you’ll be unhappy from time to time. But let’s paraphrase our friend Dory for a minute: just keep swimming, and you’ll be more than fine.
Degree of Impact | Julia P
Dear Penn Freshman,
It’s a couple of days after the end of junior year final exams. I’m en route to a conference, sitting in New York JFK, super annoyed at my delayed flight, and typing this letter to you. So much has changed since freshman year, but so much remains the same. At Penn, the days are long, but the years are short. 4 years may seem like a long time to you now, but trust me when I say it passes by in a flash. And with 3/4 of this college career now in the past, here is what I want to say to you:
1) You will not fit into the Penn mold - and that’s ok. The reality of Penn is a lot different than what you’re expecting right now, as is the ideal Penn student. Consulting & investment banking are not the only two career choices in the world. You don’t have to be in charge of three clubs. You don’t have to go downtown every Thursday. It will take a while for you to realize this, but when you do, it’s a very freeing moment.
2) Go to office hours. You’ll thank yourself when exam time comes. Also, get to know your professors, because they’re usually a lot cooler than you think. Teaching is only one of the things they do - get to know the super interesting research they’re involved with.
3) This is only the beginning of your successes - but also your rejections. Congratulations on your acceptance to Penn. But it doesn’t stop with the acceptance letter. As you’ve probably found out by now, all the campus clubs have interview - and the more exclusive ones have several rounds. Your first rejection will be a shock. You won’t stop asking yourself, Why didn’t I get chosen? What did I do wrong? How could I have not been good enough? And you will feel worse because the rejections come from your own peers. However, keep in mind that you won’t be the only one doubting yourself. Everyone gets rejected, statistically speaking. And 3 years down the road, you’ll laugh as you remember how much stress that one club rejection caused you.
4) Penn can be very status-driven, but that doesn’t mean you have to be. See above advice about rejections. Every student wants to belong to the most exclusive groups - whether that is academically, extracurricularly, or socially. You will eventually find yourself seeking exclusivity. Comparing yourself to others constantly. And that’s fine; that’s a part of human nature. But it doesn’t have to be the most important factor driving your decisions. In fact, a lot of things at Penn are constructs that only exist on campus. Remember that there is a world outside Penn - one with issues beyond downtowns, societies, and the Penn Face (which is very real, by the way).
5) Don’t ignore emails from the International Students’ Office. Their emails may be in small font, and may be the last things you want to read. But you’d much rather take the 10 extra minutes out of your day to read them, than to face the possibility of deportation. Guess which option is more stressful?
6) It may be tough to make time for people that matter, but that shouldn’t stop you. Skype with your sister every day, grab coffee with friends to catchup, don’t say you’re too busy to help someone. As cliche as it sounds, at the end of the day it’s the people and the relationships that make this place great.
7) Sometimes Penn will support you tremendously. And other times, it will tear you down. This institution is not perfect, and we sometimes have to fight for what we need - mental health support, administrative support, an under-represented voice. Penn’s job is not to coddle you. Its job is to provide a world-class education - which it does. But as students, our lives exist beyond just classes. And if you do not fight for your cause, then no one else will.
8) Never underestimate the power of napping. Live as close to Huntsman Hall as you can, and find all the opportunities to take naps and recharge between classes.
9) Realize that at the end of the day, your degree is not only for yourself. Yes, you’re dedicating 4 years of your life to this institution. Yes, you’re paying tuition. Yes, it will be stressful and sometimes the lows outnumber the highs. But what is more important is what you go on to accomplish with your education (and the plethora of Penn graduates I’ve talked to probably all agree). Penn will help you jumpstart your career, but things like your GPA do not define you as a person. There are so many global issues that need solving in the next few decades. There are also so many ways you can use your degree to impact the world. Your goal in the next 4 years is not to be caught up with the small things, and instead try to figure out how to position yourself to make an impact with your degree.
With all that being said, HAVE FUN. These next 4 years are yours to experience. You’re going to meet a lot of amazing people and become friends with them. Your perception of the world is going to change so much. You’re going to learn from what life throws at you. So sit back, kick your feet up, and enjoy the rollercoaster ride.
See you in 3 years,
Julia Peng firstname.lastname@example.org
PS: there are also a lot of rooftops to watch sunrises from
Be Your Own Hero | Emily C
Dear Freshman Self,
Congratulations on getting into Penn! Starting now through graduation, you’re going to notice the universe sending you the same message over and over again…
You know nothing, Jon Snow.
And every time you do think you understand how the world works, you’re thrown another monkey wrench. Embrace it. Here’s a quick snapshot of some of the wakeup calls you’ll get, followed by the 8 most important lessons I’ve learned at Penn. I hope they’re helpful!
At Penn, you’re going to learn how to study—I mean really study—and you will cry because you think you were admitted by accident and you will accomplish things you never thought possible. Keep going.
You’re going to learn the difference between hi-how-are-you-we-have-to-get-lunch-some-time friends, and friends who show up to your room when you’re locked away for OCR and make you get-some-freaking-Sweet-Green-with them-or-else.
You’re going to watch helplessly as your 5-year career plan enters a phase of continuous fluidity – constantly modifying itself as you take in new information, meet life-changingly inspiring people, and learn to ask the right questions. Embrace perpetual uncertainty.
You’re going to learn that things and people are not always who they seem at first. Sometimes they’re better, sometimes they’re worse. You’re not in Kansas (er, the Appalachian Mountains) anymore—you’ll have to learn how to navigate a more complex world. But this is good! This means you’re up for a lot of surprises! So open those big eyes, roll with the punches, and embrace the unexpected joys life will throw your way.
1. Cherish your people.
At Penn, you will find true gems. Do not lose a second with them. It’s so hard—I know—but despite that paper or interview, find a way to go out to the mixer or birthday party or movie night. These are the people who will make you laugh until 4am. The ones who love you and accept all your shortcoming and quirks. The ones who show up to your dorm with soup when you’re sick. The ones you’ll watch Frozen with while eating Honest Tom’s. The ones who see you at your darkest moments and pull you back up. They are everything.
2. Work hard and be kind.
My #1 advice for everything that lies ahead: work hard and be kind. Always bring your A-game, and always act with compassion. Hold the door, share your notes, strike up conversations, give up your spot in line to someone in a rush… Put positive energy into the community.
3. Express gratefulness regularly.
Because we have so much to be grateful for. In times of stress or failure, it’s easy to lose sight of all of our blessings. I highly recommend journaling five things you’re grateful for everyday. It’s one of the most powerful changes I’ve ever made in my daily habits.
4. Let whoever think whatever.
Be your best self and exist on your own terms. Refine your own definitions of success. Decide for yourself what is ‘good’ and admirable. Be brave about what you want to accomplish. Don’t become confused between what people say you are and who you know you are. Set goals so challenging that you cannot achieve them until you grow into the person who can.
Constantly strive to improve—not all at once, but gradually and continuously through incremental efforts every single day. That is all you can ask of yourself—be your very best and kindest.
You can’t make everyone happy—you are not Nutella. Focus, instead, on making yourself proud of who you become. The more you love your decisions, the less you need others to love them.
5. Learn from your failures & be your own hero.
There will be dark days. Things won’t always work out as you hope. But mistakes are proof you are trying! Penn can place a lot of pressure on perfection and living up to expectations—it’s up to you to find beauty in the ugliest of days. Courage is waking up to aiming to succeed against all odds. Courage is going to sleep after failure saying, I will try again tomorrow.
You will face rejection, and it will hurt. But then you’ll realize those things were never right for you anyway. Whether we’re talking clubs, jobs, people—say adios to things not meant for you so you can seize the bigger, better, badder things life sends your way. Sometimes things will feel like they’re falling apart, but everything will be FINE (eventually.) Take a deep breath and just keep swimming. With friends by your side, family cheering you on, determination in your eyes, Disney movies in your room—you’re fully equipped to take on whatever challenges life hands you.
Find a way to turn your setback into a comeback. Let go of what is out of your control and focus on what is in your control. Attitude is everything. When putting on the gameface you wear everyday, choose wisely.
On the grind: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. (If Kanye said it, it has to be true, right?)
On attitude: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” – Albus Dumbledore (the ultimate authority on all subjects)
6. Put yourself out there.
Be proactive. Show up. Soak in your classes. Sign up for events and committees and get to know the world. Apply as a sophomore to junior internships (it's good interview practice, and you never know!) Apply to women's and diversity programs. Attend guest speaker events on campus. Explore and learn as much as you can!
There will be obstacles, so you must push for what you want. Do not be afraid to ask for help or advice—but learn how to be conscientious of others' time and ask the right questions.
As my favorite fortune cookie ever once told me:
DO IT YOURSELF
DO NOT DOUBT
YES YOU CAN
YES YOU CAN
7. Say yes to adventures.
Let go of your need for control. Have faith it will all work out.
The little girl who showed up to the Quad with her Eyeore stuffed animal hated surprises and wanted to plan everything. She quickly became afraid of this new, unpredictable, and overwhelming world. …One day, she made a New Year’s Resolution to go on adventures—and despite being scared, just say, “Yes.”
I could proceed with the long list of the new cities discovered, the new friends found in unexpected places, the secret trip to Europe, the near-crises (always averted in the nick of time!), the hopes that became realities all from saying, “Yes, I’ll go for it” – but telling you would ruin the surprise, wouldn’t it?
In all respects of life, I urge you to go all in. Work relentlessly, dream fearlessly, love passionately, adventure boldly.
8. Enjoy every second.
My final, and perhaps most important, quote:
“I never look back darling, it distracts from the now.” – Edna Mode, The Incredibles
I met myself at Penn | Monica W
Dear Freshman Friend,
During my last year in high school, there was one phrase that seemed to flow so naturally from the lips of every adult I spoke to: “College is the best four years of your life.” As a senior still riding the roller coaster that is college life, I think I have a slightly different perspective. College might not exactly be the best four years of your life, but it is the most needed.
The life transition to college can be very difficult. It certainly was for me. Senior year of high school, I was on top of the world. Sports awards, salutatorian, best friends for life. And then BAM, graduation came and it was all over.
The first week I was at Penn, an alumni group was giving out pins on Locust Walk. My already anxious disposition deepened when I read what exactly these pins were showing: “I met my best friend at Penn”, “I met my husband at Penn”, “I met my wife at Penn”. Wow, four years to find best friends and a soul mate? As if all the change I was already dealing with wasn’t enough? Talk about pressure. I thought I came to Penn to pursue the subjects I had been passionate about, to find a career I would enjoy, to discover a calling. But then again, there were no “I learned more than I ever thought I would” pins. Everything was out of my control and everything was ending. I was lost. Surrounded by people, I often felt alone in the world. But in reflection, it was during this lonely time, that I met someone I am thrilled to be spending the rest of my life with. No, not my husband… Myself.
Looking forward, I’ll try to remember that sometimes we need to get a little lost to find ourselves. I’m sure I’ll have a whole lot of difficulty adjusting to life after college as well. But what I have truly internalized throughout my life, and these past four years in specific, is that it’s okay to be afraid. Uncertainty might be unpleasant in the moment, but when viewed from a different perspective, it can just as easily be defined by a different word: opportunity. And ultimately, uncertainty (and the anxiety that so often accompanies it) is no match for the healing powers of optimism, hope, faith, and self-compassion that lie within.
This I believe: It’s really difficult to be okay with getting lost and spending time getting to know yourself. It’s even more difficult to verbalize what you believe. But it’s sure good to try. There’s a whole world of opportunity outside. I wholeheartedly hope to keep exploring this my entire life. But there’s a world of opportunity inside as well. Despite my internal uneasiness at the moment I saw the “social pressure” pins, I do have to admit that I took one of each. Sure, I’ve definitely met some best friends (and who knows, maybe I’ve already met my future husband here too) but in the end, I won’t be donning either of these pins on graduation day. Rather, although there might not be a pin to prove it, I met myself at Penn. I’m not perfect, but I sure am proud.
All the best,
It's the climb | Kevin Z
Dear Freshman Kevin,
I’m so proud of you. Being thrust from the caring bosom of Alabama into the frigid clutches of Philadelphia is not the easiest transition, but you’ll call this place home soon enough. Congratulations on your success so far by the way! You got into your dream school and you are about to start another four year journey. Understand, however, that this journey at Penn will be completely different from what you experienced in high school. Your graduating class of 100 students will now swell to over 2000. The classes here will push you to think in ways you never even considered before. Club activities actually brim with passion and purpose. You won’t get to meet everyone, take every class, or join every club, but I’m proud of you for trying. It’s probably not healthy for everyone to be as restless as you are, but it makes you happy. It’ll be another few years until you are able to reflect as a senior again, but as long as you keep trying your best, the feeling of having no regrets about college is incredible.
You might think you will regret not having higher grades, but I’m proud of your mediocre GPA. You worked hard to get it. Yea, you probably could’ve spent a little more time hitting the books, but you won’t regret how you used that time on friends and other meaningful activities. You might think you will regret not having prestigious internships, but I’m proud of the ones that you did have. It doesn’t matter where you are so long as you keep moving forward. 2016 may feel far away, and admittedly, the school weeks can pass by very slowly sometimes. The years certainly fly by though. Here are some of the things that you will come to realize along the way:
- Each semester will feel like a whirlwind of activity, and never before have you micromanaged your day down to each hour. Be careful not to get lost among the strong currents. Take a moment once in awhile to reflect on where you are and why you are doing what you are doing.
- The most indelible experiences you’ll have here will involve the people in your life. Make time for meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends. Additionally, don’t take your family for granted. You haven’t yet realized just how lucky you are to have them.
- There are a ton of wonderful communities at Penn. Don’t feel like there is one you are supposed to be in, or that there is one that will make you look the best. Find the ones that you truly feel comfortable in. You won’t be involved some of the best ones until a few years in.
- You are just as capable as everyone else. Everyone is on the same playing field, and no one has a significant ability over the other. It is merely about how you choose to spend your time.
- Your experience at Penn is however you decide to frame it. Penn can be an absolutely wonderful place, if you let it be. It can also be a poisonous place. “This person is the president of this club, why can’t I be like that?” “She got this amazing job, what am I doing with myself?” You’ll ask yourself these questions many times. Instead, be proud of your friend for being awesome and be proud of yourself too. Let it motivate you, not bring you down.
Just because I am telling you these platitudes doesn’t mean you should necessarily believe them yet. The only way to truly internalize these thoughts is to learn them for yourself.
Finally, this is the most important thing I want to say: the real pleasure is in the journey. There won’t ever be a time where “you’ve made it” or a time you can stop striving. Of course, there will be times where you find success, but the process of growing never ends. No matter where you are, you will still need to work hard. You aren’t waiting for your life to begin, it is already very much in progress. You will have the rest of your life to think about being in college again, so enjoy every minute of it now.
In the words of your girl, Miley:
There's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose
Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waitin' on the other side
It's the climb.
Sometimes you’re terribly flawed. It doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to more | Praneeth T
Dear Penn Freshman,
You’re coming into a very formative period of your life. That assertion has been reiterated to you so many times that you’re probably sick of it. You bring with you all your hopes and expectations, desires and ambitions. Standing at the altar that is the University of Pennsylvania you pray that all of these elements of your character will be shaped into the ideal persona you clearly long for. Yet in doing so you forget so quickly that your essence is not summed up by the five to ten things about yourself of which you are most proud. Insecurity and vanity will come at you from different sides and leave gashes on your soul that probably will never fade. It’s interesting how two forces so different in nature can affect you so similarly.
They too are a part of you. Until you accept that your expectations for yourself will not be reasonable. You’re not perfect and you’re never going to be perfect. You’re not going to have a perfect life with a perfect job and a perfect family.
Until you understand that happiness will elude you.
Love yourself as you are. Love your flaws and imperfections because to some degree you have to live with them. It shouldn’t be more complicated than that. Looking back you won’t be proud of every decision you made over your college career. You won’t be happy every single moment of every single day. If you think you’ll be smiling because you’re so fundamentally happy between classes for no reason at all – I urge you to manage your expectations. College isn’t like what the brochures would have you believe.
You do find solace in the people who matter though. You do eventually pursue the projects that excite you. In hindsight there is some sorrow that you spent so long coloring within the lines instead of finding those things that make you tremble with excitement. Acting to manage pedigree or manage the expectations of others is a disservice to yourself. Try and catch that earlier rather than later. You do eventually develop into someone that you’re proud of. Interestingly it’s not for the reasons that you’d expect. It’s not because you work hard and accomplish every single academic or professional goals that you’ve set for yourself. It’s not because you wreck the curve or ace the presentation. It’s because of the relationships you build and the people in your life that matter. It’s about the pursuit of your passions even when they don’t make sense using the conventional heuristics which you have set up.
You have the potential to fly inherently because you were born with wings. That’s fundamental. Don’t waste it and certainly never forget it.
Lots of love (because everyone needs that),
Focus on Others | Arjan S
The next four years are often referred to as a journey and a discovery with the ultimate goal of “finding yourself” — who you are, what you want to do, what you’re good at, what you should improve, and so forth. And you should, but that’s not the point of this letter. You already know that. What I am going to encourage you to do here, my friend, is slightly different: focus on others, not just yourself.
People around you will be worrying about themselves. They’ll go through existential crises, they’ll get mad at people walking slowly in front of them on Locust Walk because they’ll be late to their classes, they’ll get frustrated at others for interrupting whatever it is they are doing, and they may secretly, or not secretly, get upset at others for “being better” than them. I’m asking you to take a step back. If my own — and soon to be yours — experience serves me well, at the core, people here (read: and everywhere else, too) want to be understood, they want to feel appreciated, they want to feel loved. Be that person that connects with others.
Put yourself out there. Maybe you’re afraid, but be afraid and embrace it, and do it anyway.
Enjoy other’s success. It’s important to be there for people when they are in times of conflict and despair. Equally as important is the way in which you celebrate other’s wins — no matter how small or how big. Take a genuine interest in others, congratulate them, celebrate them, promote their well-being. And don’t underestimate the power of the high-five. Maya Angelou was right — they’ll likely forget what you said, they’ll probably forget what you did, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.
Listen to those around you. People move towards those that listen to them, attentively, thoughtfully and curiously. It’s a magnetic force that will draw people to you, make them unfold and expand. You’ll be amazed by what this will do.
Make it a goal of yours to understand people both alike and different from who you think you are. I used to tell myself “talk to everyone.” And by that, I did not mean I should not let one person go by without saying hello, but that I should go a little out of my way to chat with a classmate I haven’t met, the security guards on campus, the person whose interests are totally the opposite of mine. But, what you really should be doing is this — don’t just talk to “everyone”; try to understand them. I think some of the most important words you can tell someone is I get you. You’ve also recently heard and will continue to hear people push you to realize something along the lines of “your GPA does not define you” or “don’t let a fraternity put you in a box.” But, most people will not tell you, “don’t define someone else by his or her GPA” and “don’t allow yourself to put others in a box because of who they hang out with or where they are from or what they look like.” While it is important not to let yourself become defined by outward, easy-to-observe associations, it is even more important (and harder) to not define others in that very same way.
I’m not going to tell you how to specifically do these things or any concrete steps to follow. Because that’s on you, my friend. Though you should know this — at a time when figuring out who you are is put on a pedestal as the most important goal, it can actually be really hard to find yourself. You cannot just go look for it as if it were a coin you dropped on the floor.
Focus on others, get to understand those around you, radiate, radiate, radiate, with integrity and effort and love — and I promise you, that through that, you’ll come to a better understanding of yourself.
With much excitement for you,
PS — hang this up on your wall:
“Admit something: Everyone you see, you
say to them, "Love me." Of course you do
not do this out loud, otherwise someone
would call the cops. Still though, think about
this, this great pull in us to connect. Why not
become the one who lives with a full moon
in each eye that is always saying, with that
sweet moon language, What every
other eye in this world is dying to hear?”
On vulnerability, etc | Nicole J
(Freshman) Nicole –
Where do I even begin? It’s been such a whirlwind and you’re about to embark on the most challenging, memorable and special four years of your life. I remember back when I was in your shoes, arriving on campus early for Pennacle as an eager, naïve freshman impressed (and, not to mention, intimidated) by everyone I met: high school valedictorians with perfect SAT scores, authors of published books, entrepreneurs with their own companies… What was I doing here??
Penn is full of perfectionists and overachievers, and sometimes it can be so easy to forget that you’re good enough, smart enough, beautiful enough… I want you to remember that you’re more than an exam score or a number on the scale. At the end of the day, what do those numbers mean anyway? The only number that matters is the number of people you will love and impact here over the next four years. So stop comparing yourself to others and stop worrying about what people think. Nobody cares that you spent last night being a hermit enjoying some good old Netflix and chill (with grubhubbed Mizu) by yourself. Nobody cares that you’re not tall/skinny enough, or that you’re single – after all, dating at Penn is hard and there is no better place or time for you to discover and love yourself first. Everybody is insecure and nobody is perfect. Just remember that confidence is everything, and that you gotta fake it till you make it.
I know it’s easier said than done, because there are a lot of bumpy roads ahead too. Sometimes it’s okay not to be okay. Heartbreak, betrayals and late-night binges will happen – maybe more than once. But that’s what friends are for – those late night talks on the hallway floor, those desperate calls to Dad and last minute flights to your best friends in LA… It’s okay to be vulnerable. After all, everyone is fighting their own battles…
… but those battles are what will make you stronger. Those are the times that will remind you of what matters. You will grow a lot over the next four years, so cherish and make the most out of every moment: snow days in the quad and not making it to the Spring Fling concert; reunions with freshman hall mates and celebrations with seniors at Feb Club; midnight birthday surprises and weekend brunches in Center City; throwing toast at football games and heckling at dance/acapella shows; learning from mentors and watching a group of ten Sigma babies grow; Morocco with your roommate and Iceland with your little; spontaneous day trips to NYC and weekend trips to Berlin; attempting at start ups with NiViNi and eating away at your friends’ thriving cookie company; going to concerts at Soundgarden Hall and putting together Soundcloud playlists for late nights in Huntsman… Those are the memories that matter, the ones that will define your next four years at Penn. I know that freshman year can be tough, but it’s also just the start of the time of your life.
So have fun, love lots, and enjoy the ride.
You're going to transfer to Penn and other surprises | Tilyn B
Hey bae (you’ll learn what this means in a few years),
As you tape up the first box you packed for college (which is full of shoes, naturally) and prepare to leave for college, you have no idea the whirlwind that is awaiting you over the next four years. You are excited but nervous to leave your family farm and hometown of 160 people to what you currently consider the “city” of Lawrence, KS, and you’re also a little hurt by the still-fresh sting of rejection from Penn. There are so many lessons you’ll learn during your time in college, but I’ll try to clue you in on the major ones.
First thing’s first (and I apologize for the major spoiler alert), you’re going to apply and be accepted as a transfer student to Penn. This day will be the greatest rollercoaster of emotion you will have ever experienced and there’s nothing I can say or do to prepare you for it. Just enjoy it. You deserve this. Don’t let anyone – especially yourself – ever convince you otherwise. Never believe for a second that you are less qualified than your peers to be there, or that you somehow “snuck into Penn.” You will eventually come to find that this is an insecurity that most, if not all, Penn students struggle with, and it’s a) untrue, and b) a waste of time to dwell on.
Now that that’s out of the way, here are some lessons to look out for:
Take risks. Apply for internships that you’re severely underqualified for. You will learn that the worst thing people can tell you is “no”, and there are a lot of times where you’ll expect a “no” and be shocked and blessed by a “yes”. When taking a risk does end in failure, shake off your hurt pride and keep moving forward.
School isn’t always the most important thing. Skip class, take the train to DC, and watch your former boss argue in front of the Supreme Court; your professor will dock your attendance grade way too much, but there are some things that you can’t learn in a classroom. When you’re having a breakdown over a fight with a friend, it’s okay to email your professor and tell them you have to submit your paper late; your self-care is more important than any assignment. Neglect your responsibilities for a couple of weeks and watch all 10 seasons of Friends when they’re released on Netflix; I don’t really have a justification for this one, but I still think it was worth it.
Don’t give in to peer pressure, do everything in your own time. You will feel like an outsider for not wanting to drink, and it will take you much longer than most of your friends to experiment with alcohol. When you do get drunk for the first time, forgive yourself. You will have many more experiences with alcohol after this – there will be some times you’ll regret, and some memories you’ll cherish. College is a time for making mistakes, and while this doesn’t mean you should actively go out and look to make them, every experience up to this point has made you who you are, so appreciate the not-so-good decisions for who they’ve shaped you to be.
You’re going to get some B’s, and that’s okay. Also – don’t freak out – but you’re going to get a C and that’s okay too.
Embrace Philadelphia. You’ll hate it when you first get there and the big city will terrify you, but you’ll soon realize that Kansas never really was what Philly has become: your home. Embrace the city, its people, and its culture, as early as you can, because it will become a major part of your identity.
Continue to prioritize church. You are lucky to have found incredible church communities both at KU and in Philadelphia. When you stop going, your life starts to suck. You’ve known this since you were a kid, so don’t be stupid and stay involved in your church community.
Be spontaneous and a little reckless. Buy concert tickets and plan road trips on a whim. These are the some of the best memories you’ll make.
Apply for ASB. Little do you know, you’ll become one of the co-directors and your journey with the organization will be one of most fulfilling parts of your college career. Your ASB family will help you grow and mature, they will support you in your various struggles, and they will only judge you a little when you dance on an elevated surface every time you drink together. Cherish this community and look forward to all it will teach you. Becoming co-director will be the most transformative experience you’ve had as a leader, so prepare for a wild ride. You’re going to make mistakes, but you will become better from each of them.
When you start to struggle with your mental health, don’t wait to start seeing someone. Your laptop has a “destigmatize mental illness” sticker on it, for God’s sake, it’s both annoying and unhealthy to be talking-the-talk but not walking-the-walk on this one. Admit to yourself early on that you need help, and then go get it.
You’re not going to date during college. There are plenty of times that this will seem unfortunate, but looking back, I don’t regret the decision to stay single. It has given me the freedom to do so many things that I couldn’t have done otherwise, so be happy and enjoy this stage of your life.
Learn to recognize and accept your privilege. This is a lesson that you will never stop learning. During your time in college, you will learn what microaggressions are; the mere fact that this is something you learn about in college is proof of your privilege. Having conversations about race, gender, identity, power, privilege, oppression, and the many social justice issues that exist in our country and world, is one of the most difficult things you’ll do in college. That being said, seek those learning spaces out – take difficult classes and join organizations that challenge you and make you have those discussions.
Don’t be afraid to change your mind. Your perception of the world will change, your political views will change, and change can be a good thing.
Fulfill the Physical World sector before senior year. I know you hate science. But I promise you’re going to hate yourself a lot more for putting it off and having to struggle through Geology as a senior when you have much more important things to focus on.
Rejection sucks but you’ll get through it. And you’ll become stronger because of it.
Cherish your friendships, but also learn that it’s okay to let them go. During college, one of the longest friendships you’ve ever had will end. It sucks, it hurts, and you’ll still think about her all the time. But at some point, you will accept the loss as something that is probably best for both of you. Just because you thought your friendship would last forever, doesn’t mean it was meant to. Remember and respect the times you had together, the memories you shared, the lessons you learned, and then let the rest go. Look around and realize that you have healthier relationships now and that holding on to something of the past is negative energy that you don’t need in your life.
Throughout your four years, you’ll have thirteen roommates. Four will be awful, three will be okay, and the rest will become some of the best friends you have. If you never had to deal with bad roommates, you wouldn’t appreciate the good ones. Plus, the bad ones make for great stories. Side note: you’ll also have some unwelcome critters as roommates in the dorms, so you should learn to deal with that unpleasant reality now.
You’re going to take a gap year before law school. Get over it. Accept it sooner rather than later – it will save you a lot of stress. While law school has been your dream since fourth grade, that doesn’t mean you have to go right away. You will come to realize that waiting is the best decision, but that you’re too afraid to admit it to yourself because the idea of law school has become a crutch to continue school, something you’re comfortable with, and avoid “the real world” (whatever that means).
Graduation is in less than 100 days and I still don’t have it all figured out – thank God. Imagine how boring life would be if I did. College has been a crazy, beautiful, wonderful journey, and I know that life post-graduation will be as well.
The last thing I’ll leave you with is something that I wrote down and taped to my wall this year: “My worth isn’t in my grades, my GPA, law school, the prestige of my job, or the amount of money I make, but in Christ alone.” I think this is the best piece of advice that current me has, so don’t forget it.
All my love,
You think you're hot stuff | Ashna B
Dear Baby AVB,
I feel you, you think you’re hot shit. Let’s be honest, you probably are. But here’s some advice to get that big head of yours out of the clouds:
Friends will come and go. I know you’re rolling your eyes right now saying things like “We’re going to be friends forever” but let me tell you, you aren’t. Living situations and friend groups will come in the way, so be careful. And don’t worry, you’ll find your core friends. They might change every year and maybe you’ll never have a ‘group' or an active GroupMe, but you’ll have those true few who will literally do anything for you. Give people a chance to show you how deep and amazing they can truly be. And when they come back again after leaving, give them another chance. Also, don’t think you are missing out because you aren’t part of the cool kids. You’ll soon realize that instead of having one group on campus, you’ll rather have a handful. Also get excited for your linages- they will save your lives more than you can count.
Forgive easily. For the sake of your sanity, forgive easily. Whatever they did, whoever they became, whatever they said…it’s all fine. You cannot have the same expectations out of others that you have from yourself so forgive them. I know it’s not easy since you have the loyalty issue but just really take humans as humans— and nothing else. Take them as the imperfect beings we are created to be and don’t hold those grudges. It’ll only weigh you down.
Shut up sometimes and listen. You’ll see how this works out but when you feel you have something snarky to say, think about it first. There will be a times when you say things and it all works out…but then other times when you just wish you had closed your mouth and maybe given the other person a chance.
It’s okay to say no. Please learn this soon, it’ll save your life and sanity. Think about yourself first sometimes and do what makes you feel good, not what is the good or right thing to do. Say no to people and don’t let them fill up your voids.
Love a little less. Yep, right there. You’ve met him on Day 1 and he’ll be great. He’ll buy you things, be sweet, make you think your thoughts are valid, and it’ll be amazing. Guess what, the break up? Not so much…but I promise you, you will be fine. When it seems like all your walls are being crashed and smashed, YOU WILL BE OKAY. Don’t let it creep into your pores and make you any less of the person you are. Don’t let it degrade you like it wants to. And lastly, don’t let it kill the love you have for others and for yourself. Give yourself space from it all and fill your voids with better things. You’ll learn that confidence is more than having a smile on your face. You’ll learn that loving yourself is more than speaking up for yourself…sometimes it’s being quiet and allowing things to just happen. You’ll learn that life truly goes on and the only person you owe anything to is yourself. You’ll also learn that you can’t help everyone and that hurts the most. Get excited though, you’re going to learn so much from being in love and then even more from being hurt.
Please study, please. That first semester GPA is going to hurt you like a rock and as much as we know college is all about the experience, just crack open a book for once. Don’t go to Huntsman to talk but go to study. Also, get off of Netflix, right now- this isn’t CHS.
Travel out of here. Mom and Dad might hate you for it but it will change everything for you. So apply for that class, for that WIP trip, for everything. Try looking for cheap flights every week if you have to. Travel and let the world show you just how big it is. Pop the Penn bubble often.
Don’t talk to people who stress you out. It’ll be a while till you get the hang of this, but you are in control of your surroundings. You get to decide who affects you and who doesn’t. You don’t need to talk to anyone you don’t have to, so when OCR comes along, don’t talk to anyone recruiting.
You’ll never have your shit together and that’s A-okay. The people of Penn will make you feel like you need to have it all together by the time you end freshman year, but let me tell you- you don’t. Some people in life just don’t have a direction until they live some of their life and that’s fine. Enjoy the fact that you aren’t stuck in a mold, that you can switch labels, that you have that privilege. (Side note: mind your privilege)
Family is everything, always. Family stuff is going to rock your world junior year. Things you never thought could happen, will. Hold them tight and always remember they are first.
Pray. I know, life is great- why do we even need to pray? It’s all working out and it’s not like the heavens did all of this, you did right? Pray because there is more to it than just that. Pray because it gives you peace and allows you to put things in someone else’s hands when they get tough. But always remember- pray like you want to pray.
And lastly, you are more than a position, a number, a date night, a boy and a club. You will not be in the same circles that you are in right now…and honestly it’ll all work out. Remind yourself when you get rejected from a ton of things that you are more than all of that. That you are a person and not being on a team or in a leadership position does not make you anything less. It does not mean you are a terrible dancer, singer, person, or leader. It does not mean anything you don’t want it to mean. You’ve never been afraid of trying but stop being afraid of failing.
Right now, I’m proud of you. You’re going to face a ton of shit and handle it all like the badass woman you are. You’ll survive Penn, this I know.
Love yourself, be happy, and be humble.
an older, slightly less of an obnoxious mess, still insanely talkative AVB
P.S. Drink wine, often.
Make Yourself a Happiness Wall | Krusheeta P
Dear Little One,
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably walking down Locust Walk feeling like you were accepted to Penn by mistake. Everything here feels bigger and more intimidating than you think you’re cut out for – the people are bigger, the streets are wider, and the buildings are taller. But I’m here to remind you to embrace the feeling that you are smaller than the community that you’re a part of. It’s nothing short of magnificent that there are so many people here to learn from and to grow with – you should spend every moment of every day of every semester of every year that you’re here appreciating that fact. Not sure how? Hopefully, these small tidbits will help.
“Let’s get lunch” often.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been part of the classic conversation that starts off something like, “OMG how are you? Let’s get lunch sometime!” Don’t fall victim to the bad habit of making hollow plans for coffee dates and lunches. Make yourself a promise to get lunch with someone new once every week – you’ll learn so much from people who you never would have even talked to otherwise.
It’s okay (encouraged) to stay connected to home.
From the moment you wave goodbye to your parents after they move you in, you’ll be encouraged to forget about them for a while and just focus on getting accustomed to life at Penn. “It’s time to let go,” they say. I say don’t do it. Stay connected to home and to the people who carried you this far. Call your family often, and not just when you need something. Text your friends from home, and not just when you go home for winter break. You’ll make new friends, I promise. Just remember to keep the old.
Make yourself a happiness wall.
The very best part of every dorm room or apartment I’ve ever lived in at Penn is what I call my “happiness wall”. Your wall can be made of anything that you love, but my happiness wall is a collection of quotes. One reads, “Anyone can be cool, but awesome takes practice”. Another one asks, “When was the last time you woke up and thought this could be the best day of your life?” This wall is basically my daily source of the “warm and fuzzies”: it keeps me going when I’m running on fumes and reminds me that even in the darkest of times, there’s always a little bit of joy to be found.
“Sleep is not an indulgence.”
Russell Foster, a neuroscientist at Oxford University, reminds us “sleep is not an indulgence”. I still don’t understand why there’s an unspoken competition for the person who gets the fewest hours of sleep (as if how little sleep you get is some measure of how smart or hard-working you are). Believe me - it’s never cool or fun to be the person who sleeps for three hours a night and then feels like a zombie every morning. Sleep at least 7 hours a night. I promise that you will be fresher, happier, and more emotionally and mentally stable if you treat sleep like the non-negotiable necessity that it is.
“Do small things with great love.”
I’m borrowing from one of my favorite Mother Theresa quotes of all time for this one. “Do small things with great love” for others – hold the elevator open for someone when all you feel like doing hitting the close button as many times as possible, send your friend a quick text to see how they’re doing, smile to the stranger on Locust, listen when your friends are upset. They deserve all this and more. But also, don’t forget to “do small things with great love” for yourself – buy yourself flowers every once in a while, laugh often, take naps, eat pizza, treat yourself to Taco Bell, take a walk outside, watch a little TV every now and then. You deserve it, too.
In closing, be kind to your mind and your body. In return, they will serve you when you need them the most. Spend as much time as you can with friends – old and new. In return, they will hold you up and carry you through your time here. And most importantly, work hard to build your home here at Penn. In return, it will welcome you with open arms.
All my love and best wishes,
Penn is like a walk through the woods | fifi y
Dear Freshman Self,
I wish I could tell you everything, I wish I could share every piece of knowledge I’ve learned here at Penn over the last 4 years, but that’s not really possible to do in one small letter. Instead, I think I’ll give you a preview and the guiding principle I wish I had followed more.
A few weeks ago, one of my professors said that when people teach, they either focus on the whole forest or on just one tree. An effective teacher will look at both the forest and the tree to understand the details of the tree, but also how the whole forest works together as one living system. This is great advice for how to approach your studies, but also to life. So as Forrest Gump said “life is like a box of chocolates”, I’ll make my own quote: “life is like a walk through the woods”.
Until Penn, life for you might have been a pretty straight path, but now you’re coming to this forest and you feel like you have to navigate it alone. You’ll meet some friends at the beginning and embark on this trail together. At first it’s really because you crave company and friendship to live up to the expectation of this being the “best four years of your life”, but you quickly realize some of you don’t get along, and maybe some of them want to take different paths. Your group changes shape and size all the time, but things are good.
Lesson number one: the path isn’t always straight. This is something I really have to repeat to myself when things get bad. Things are sometimes going to be great, and sometimes things are really really going to suck. One of your best friends will tell you that the only way you can appreciate the good in your life is in contrast with the bad… (you’ll call bullshit on him, but realize it’s really true). There isn’t a straight line to the goal… in anything really. The last 2 years of Penn, you’ll struggle with overcoming depression and anxiety. On some weeks, you’ll feel like you’re getting so much better, but on others, it will feel like the world is ending, life is pointless, and there’s no reason to keep going. Getting better takes so much effort, and when it feels like it’s not working, it may seem easier to just give up and stop trying. You can’t do that. You just can’t.
Lesson number two: don’t get stuck on the trees. Things will happen to you, some good and some bad. You can’t dwell on the bad things. That’s easier said than done, but here’s some secondary advice. When you are stuck looking at the trees, don’t ignore the people around you trying to help. More than a few times at Penn, you’ll get really stuck on bad things that happen… whether it’s a boy dumping you, or something worse. You’ll continue staring at that tree, thinking about it, what you did wrong, how you can “fix” it. You can’t let it consume you. You also can’t keep pushing away the people around you. Some of them might watch you staring at the tree and eventually just walk away... and that’s okay. (You’re probably better off without them.) But some of them will stay there with you, getting you to move past it. Those are the people worth keeping in your life - the ones who don’t give up on you when you’re down. Don’t be afraid to open up to them. You never know when one of them might have gone through something similar and can help you too.
Lesson number three: look at the forest. In the roll of Penn life, it feels like you’re just going from midterm week to midterm week, barely holding on with academics, clubs, and friends. You haven’t gotten a moment to yourself in the last month. Take some time for yourself to step back and look at your life. Reflection is the key to becoming a better person. Look back at the forest you’ve been walking through. What mistakes did you make? What would you have done differently? Now look forward to the forest ahead. How can you learn from those past lessons and apply them to the next stretch of path? It’s in these moments of reflection that you grow the most as a person.
Lesson number four: don’t let other people invalidate your struggles. The “other people” also includes yourself. When you’re on this forest path, sometimes we take the problems we’re dealing with and compare them to those of the people around us. Other people might say that your problem is “nothing compared to what I’m going through”, and tell you that you aren’t entitled to feel like you’re struggling. That’s not healthy. Your problems are just as real to you as someone else’s are to them. You can’t compare to anyone else because you are your own unique person. Instead of being told you shouldn’t feel the way you’re feeling, go back to lesson three, and reflect on the feelings. Why am I upset? How can I fix this? Maybe it’s not something that’s fixable, but you can still fix yourself. What support do I have? How can I cope with this?
Lesson number five: you don’t have to be invincible. By your senior year, you will become someone who many people seek help and support from, as an RA, TA, mentor, peer advisor, and friend. Just because people seek help from you doesn’t mean you can’t seek it from other people. Going to CAPS is really not enough to fix all your problems - it’s not like a one stop shop and everything gets better, you have to actively seek out help from the people around you and build a support network. It may seem impossible at times because you’re “supposed” to be the one who “has it all together”. Get rid of that idea. Just… throw it away, never think of it again. No one has it together. Actually, as a mentor, talking about these problems is the most powerful thing you can do to break the cycle.
I’m currently on leave from Penn. When I left, I had a conversation with my floor’s GA to decide how I was going to tell the floor I was leaving. I hadn’t planned on giving any specific reason, but she told me that the best thing I could do as an RA was be honest and set an example. If I said it was for mental health reasons, it removes that much more stigma on the subject. It’s okay to say I’m not okay, and it’s okay to say I need a break.
Get ready for the rollercoaster that is college. Keep an open mind as you start this adventure, and make sure you leave time for yourself in the whirlwind that is Penn.
Throw it all to the wall and see what sticks | alex g
Dear mini me,
Welcome to college, or rather your beloved four-year-long quarter life crisis. This will be a bit all over the place, but hopefully you’ll find it helpful. The past four years have been by far the craziest of my life, filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows I could have imagined. From these experiences, I have a few pearls of wisdom to share with you.
Rule #1: School is just school
I know you’ve worked your ass off over the past few years – I mean, hey, that’s how you got into Penn – but you don’t need to hole up in Van Pelt for weeks at a time. College is hard, but no matter how much you study, you will have one class per semester that just doesn’t click. You’ll get your first B. Life goes on, you’re an engineer and your GPA doesn’t matter half as much as you think it does. Definitely don’t listen to your advisor when he tells you that you won’t get a job unless you have a 4.0 GPA. He’s wrong and he sucks, and honestly so does the cutthroat nature of Penn at times. It’s one of the things you will learn to love and hate about being at this school. I mean, with so many super-involved geniuses in only a few square blocks, everyone’s competitive edge comes out. It’s motivating as hell. That being said, don’t let it overwhelm you. Be confident in your intelligence and make sure to #treatyoself every once in a while. Don’t be afraid to to class late if you’re exhausted, take a long walk downtown for brunch with friends, or drink a glass of wine at 3 p.m. because you feel like it, damn it. Yes, there will be a few nights where you’re up working until the sunrise; but when that moment comes, grab a coffee, sit back and just enjoy it for a few minutes. These little things will do wonders for you, I promise.
Rule #2: Make new friends, but keep the old
I’m probably one of the few people who can say that I met most of my college best friends during freshman year. The people you’ll meet during NSO, PennQuest, and rush (yes, Greek life is actually fun) will stick with you through thick and thin. They’ll never forget the obscene number of ratchet hookups and other questionable activities you did freshman year, but they will love you nonetheless. These people are worth more than their weight in gold. Continue maintaining these friendships throughout your four years, but don’t forget that there are 10,000 undergraduates at Penn. Don’t be afraid to say hi to someone new, even when you’re not a cute little freshman anymore. A smile and a wave won’t hurt anyone.
Rule #3: “Dating”…lol
For lack of better terms, dating at Penn sucks. As a serial dater, I know it’s hard to picture yourself outside of a relationship, but this environment will push you out of your comfort zone and teach you so much about yourself. I’m not saying you’ll like it at first, because you won’t. Spending a night home alone Netflix binging may not sound as good as going on a date (at least not now), but I swear that it’s incredibly liberating to be single. Once you finally break up with your boyfriend from high school, freshman year becomes ten times better. You’ll meet so many new people and become so much more outgoing because you won’t feel restricted. You’ll have a little serial dater relapse sophomore year, when you think you’ve met a complete catch. You will live, sleep, and breathe this guy for a full year. You’ll go weeks without seeing your closest friends and they will bitch and complain for months on end about how they never see you. They think the boyfriend “kind of sucks.” If this starts happening, wake up and get out. It’s kind of annoying at the time, but your friends are saying these things because they genuinely care about you. Listen to them, even though it’s so easy to stay in the comfort of a (dysfunctional) relationship. They will help you learn one of the hardest lessons of college – it’s okay to be on your own.
Rule #4: It’s “me” time
On that note, college is the one time in your life where you can genuinely be selfish. Don’t be afraid of that. You’re not living at home any more, you aren’t married or with kids, you don’t have a full time job: you can basically do whatever you want. If there are people or activities in your life that aren’t making you happy, get rid of them. In the words of my beloved Mean Girls, you just need to “suck the poison out of your life.” It will take you a couple years to truly be comfortable with this, but that’s okay. Find something or someone that makes you excited. For you, this will mean going abroad. Go to a place you never visited and go without any friends from school. Never stop traveling, either. Whether it’s with friends, complete randos, or alone, it’s worth it. The experience will shock you in good and bad ways, and it will be the hands-down the most revolutionary part of your time in college.
Last but not least, don’t forget to take care of yourself. You’ll spend your entire freshman year fighting cold after virus because you refuse to take a day off. Sophomore year is just more of the same. If your body isn’t happy, listen to it. Don’t shrug it off and assume the problem will fix itself, because sometimes it won’t. This will come back to bite you in the ass your senior year and you’ll learn the hard way, but at least you learned eventually.
TL;DR – College is the best, worst, most exciting, scariest shitshow of your life. Embrace it. Cheers to a happy, healthy four years ahead.
Don't get jaded | Jialin Z
Dear freshman me,
To be honest, the next 2.5 years are not going to be anything like you expected them to be. This is the first time you’ll have the freedom to make independent choices about how to fill your time, without limitations that held you back in the past, and might hold you back in the future. Realize that you have a hold on real life for 4 years; you’ll have countless opportunities to really grow into yourself before you start the day-in, day-out. Do us both a favor and take some time to mull over some advice in that big head of yours.
College is a rare time in which your primary job is learning. Take classes in subject areas that you have purely non-practical interest in. Don’t falter from taking a course because your friends said it’s too difficult; do what interests you. You might find a new passion in it (or you might just learn a lot more about comparative literature). During the summers you spend working, you’ll realize you love learning random stuff a lot more than you like right-aligning slide decks.
That being said, also realize that in the future, you will remember the (weird, deep, hilarious) conversations that you have with some of your future best friends at 2am rather than the time you spent perfecting an essay. Find your people and keep them close to you. This will take you some time to do, but don’t worry, they’re a lot closer than you think. (That skinny/tall/awkward boyfriend your freshman year roommate has around? He’ll become one of your best friends shortly after they break up. The girl you ignored at your program retreat? One of your future roommates.) These people will show you how to be more compassionate and understanding, how to listen, and how to feel comfortable literally skipping down Locust from unexplained happiness. Drop those friends who say, “you’re too much”. There is no need to let other people create self-doubt from thin air. Consider the advice given by people who have your best interests at heart and invest in relationships with those who love you for who you are already.
Third piece of advice, please, please, please don’t get jaded. Many things will seem to go wrong for you, especially that first year. You won’t win the class board election, you won’t get into many of the clubs you apply for, you’ll hate how the Panhellenic rush process breaks you down, your heart will get broken; inexplicably, you’ll even end up in a wheelchair for 2 months (during that awful first winter). You will make many, many mistakes in your academic and personal life. With everything that seems to not go your way, it will be easy to become guarded, to fear failure, and to focus only on the bad. If you do this, Penn will become a prison that you reluctantly return to after each break.
Please don’t let this happen to you. As cheesy as it may sound, things happen for a reason. Remember that your heart is a resilient muscle and will bounce back time and time again; don’t close it off because you’ve been hurt. You’ll end up finding groups that you love being a part of, with people who will become some of your closest friends at Penn. You’ll also find that you have friends who love you enough to 1. spend 10 hours in the ER with you when you break your ankles, 2. brainstorm about stealing a wheelchair from HUP for you because you’re cheap, and 3. push you in your shitty wheelchair (found in Hill) up that steep bridge to get to Commons dinner (because even though King’s Court has a dining hall, you’ve been going stir-crazy staying indoors). If you can’t pick yourself up after a hard fall, don’t worry – people are watching out for you.
Take a deep breath. In. Out. I promise that you (we) are going to be fine. Enjoy the crazy, turbulent times ahead. Eat plenty of ice cream, drink more wine, go for long runs outside, find new music you love, dance alone more, and laugh lots. Don’t forget to be humble, keep your mind open to trying new things, and always be entirely comfortable being yourself.
All my love,
Please reach out to me if you ever want to chat: email@example.com. J
The Power of Saying No | Alex A
Dear Penn Freshman,
I spend a lot of time pontificating, but when I am asked to give advice about college life (as I have for this blog), I struggle. Four years go by quickly, and I cannot say I am any more prepared to meet the challenges of adult life than you are.
Sometimes, when I am lying in bed unable to sleep, I find myself thinking about the role chance has played in shaping my college experience. What are my chances of meeting someone I like at a concert? Or someone with similar interests? Or someone I can recommend music at two in the morning? I asked myself these questions during my freshman year, because I was unwilling to reach out to these people directly.
Indeed, some of the most interesting people you will meet at college, many of whom will become your best friends, you will meet by chance. This fact sometimes alarms me, since the decision to go to one party over another could change my life. I attended a very small private high school with around 200 students, and chance usually brought together people with shared aspirations, hobbies, and outlooks on life. You will soon discover waiting for chance is futile.
Be selective in choosing how you use your time. Do not commit to more than you can handle.
I overestimated how much I enjoyed chasing down clubs, and looking back, I find myself wishing I had spent more time with those who were important to me. Learn to say “no”, otherwise you will end up stressed and overworked.
Invite friends to lunch as often as possible. Do not second guess when reaching out to people you suspect share your passion. The worst that could happen is that they will feel bothered for a few minutes, but they will go back to their lives. Many of the students you will talk to during your first few months on campus won’t talk to you since then, and that is okay. Freshman year is when a lot of college relationships take shape, and only you have the power to revive them.
Do not think you are alone. You are very bright, and you are going to be studying at one of the best universities in the country. Tomorrow, you might find yourself riding a punt in Oxford, attending a Bob Dylan concert, or watching Casablanca with two great friends. You will meet some of the most intelligent, passionate, beautiful, thoughtful, creative, and honest people in the world in the next four years, as well as some of the most important people in your life. You have a lot to look forward to, I’m certain.
This letter is as much for me as it is for you. I am writing this in the early hours of the morning, before I go to sleep, because writing this letter is itself a small way of making time for myself. Being a junior, I still have one more year to make up for time wasted. Hopefully, you will have gleaned a kernel of wisdom by the time I finish my penultimate year at Penn.
Wishing you best of luck,
Find your happy place | Megha K
Dear little Megha,
Welcome to Penn! You’ve been visiting Penn your whole life, but this time is different; you’re officially a Penn student. As you walk down Locust Walk, pay attention to the awe that you’re feeling because you will spend the next four years immersed in it; in awe of your brilliant peers, in awe of passionate professors that reshape the way you think about the world, in awe of all that Philadelphia has to offer, and most of all, in awe of everything you have the ability to accomplish here. As you begin this whirlwind of a journey, let me impart some words of wisdom.
Go on as many coffee chats as humanly possible: Penn is filled with the most intelligent, interesting, and inspirational people you have ever met; get to know as many of them as possible. Sure, you may not become best friends with them after an hour of chatting, but more often than not, you will find a world of similarities and connections that you never could have imagined. Don’t make the hollow promise of “we should grab lunch sometime”; you may never be surrounded by people as diverse and accomplished, so make the most of it. And who knows, you may actually end up learning to like coffee by the end of college!
Don’t be afraid to say no: It doesn’t mean you are a quitter, it just means you’ve realized what you want in life. College is for learning about yourself and who you want to become, so don’t waste your time on anything that doesn’t have value. It is never too late to try something new, so explore your options and give yourself time to find what you’re passionate about.
Don’t be afraid to say yes: Right now you may be thinking that you’re here to study hard to prepare yourself for the real world. But that’s only half of the story; you’re also here to build life-long friendships and make memories. Some of the best memories you’ll make will be having a 3 hour long heart-to-heart conversation the night before a final, wandering into Center City during your one hour lunch break, or belting out Bollywood songs until 3 AM with friends. Never prioritize classes over adventures, studying over friends, or commitments over experiences; the fun will always be worth it.
Find your happy place: You’re about to enter such an exciting stage of life. So much will be happening at once that it may sometimes get overwhelming. Find the things that put your mind at ease, bring a smile to your face, and help you forget about Penn for a little bit. Go for a walk to clear your mind, find a new quote for your “Quote of the Day” board, spend the weekend at home, research Center City restaurants, go to the gym, watch an episode of Friends/Parks and Rec/Brooklyn 99/(insert comedy show), you get the idea. Find those happy places and never compromise on them.
Be your own person: One of the realest quotes that I have ever read is “comparison is the thief of joy” by Theodore Roosevelt. Penn is an incredibly competitive place, and it will initially be a culture shock. But trust in your ability and don’t waste time comparing yourself to others, because nothing good will ever come of that. Trust me when I say that you will be happiest when you don’t worry about what others are doing. You do you.
No matter how busy college gets, always make time for family and friends; their love and support will get you through everything. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t be afraid to make more. Smile freely, laugh often, and love unconditionally; there is no such thing as being too happy. Perform random acts of kindness, because god knows sometimes you will need them too. And above all believe in yourself, you are capable of so much more than you know.
Remember, you are lucky to be at Penn, but more importantly, you DESERVE to be here. So make the most of every day, every experience, and every opportunity. Because before you know it, college will be but a memory. Make it the best one possible.
Taking it all in (or not) | Catherine P
Congratulations on getting into Penn! All of your hard work paid off and now you're here at Penn. Breathe it in and remember this moment. Remember the feeling of having your dream came true (or the sigh of relief you got from finding out you have a college). You now have a chance to reinvent yourself, do whatever you want, and just explore everything and anything. As everyone will tell you, make the most of it.
So here are my three pieces of advice of getting through life at Penn: Savor it. Figure out who you are. Account for variable change.
1. Savor being at Penn.
It's easy to get lost in everything that's stressful about this place - clubs, academics, OCR, greek life and everything else in between. But every once in a while, savor the fact you're here. Remember the joy you first had when you found out that you were coming to Penn and celebrate that! As far as your high school self was concerned, you made it. Remember everything you were excited about - the people you're going to meet, the classes you get to take, and the cool opportunities that only Penn has. Don't feel down about the fact that you're not in five million clubs, and instead remember just how lucky you felt to be here in this school.
This also means putting your failures into perspective. That low exam grade in MATH104 or BEPP305 is not the end of the world, even if it feels like you won't get that job you wanted or you're no longer on the Dean's List. Instead, like everything else, it's just another story to tell. Through MATH104, I met some of my closest friends because we struggled through the mess together. As I'm about to graduate, I flirted with the fact that I could petition my grade. Now, I realize I don't want to because those grades are a part of my Penn journey. I wouldn't give up those late nights and those tears for anything.
2. Figure out (as Wharton-y as it sounds) your unique value proposition.
You can't do everything at Penn. It's literally impossible to be the best at everything. Someone out there will always be better than you at finance or dancing or art history. However, with that being said, no one is going to be better than you at being you. And that's what will carry you through the roller coaster that will be OCR, and club interviews. Over and over again, you will get rejected from clubs you thought you were perfect for and jobs that you thought would make everything worth it. You'll feel inadequate as a person, like you could have done so much more with your life. But at the end of the day, something out there will always be more perfect and more worth it for you.
The best advice I've ever gotten at Penn is to take a piece of paper and write on it who you think you are. Write down your values, write down the things you love, write down the relationships you care about. Those all make you you and whenever you walk into an interview or just feel down, remember all those things about yourself. Somehow - it's such a calming and reaffirming experience to remember what makes you you. More importantly, any club, sorority/fraternity, job is going to choose you based on your entire package (not just one aspect of your resume).
3. Account for variable change.
In life, you can never choose when to go through a loss or when you need to overcome setbacks. They all just sort of happen, and you need to deal with it no matter what else is on your plate. In sophomore year, in my effort to keep up with what I perceived as success, I decided to take on seven classes and join the board of three different clubs. To some people, this is their normal. And so, I thought I could handle it too. I just didn't realize what price that came at. That semester, a good friend of mine from back home died in a freak accident. That was the first time I ever faced death in my life and I didn't know how to cope. I somehow got myself to go to board meetings and go to class. I told only a few friends but I refused to let anyone help me. And so this all came at the cost of my mental health. I won't go into the details of what that meant. But, in those moments, I truly felt lost and overwhelmed. I just didn't have the space I needed to process everything going on and still keep up with everything I had. Had I only left myself time to breathe, maybe things would have turned out differently.
At the same time, it's also important to never be too busy for your friends. Many people at Penn have the sickness of "busyness." They can't make lunch with you cause they have so much work, or they can't stop for five minutes to say hi, how are you, because they need to finish something. Don't let yourself be infected by that. Instead, always make time for the people you love. It's so easy to get stuck in the short-term of papers and exams and interviews, but in ten or fifteen years, you're going to remember most the people who changed your life at Penn and beyond.
And so looking back at my Penn experience, I still remember the first time I stepped onto Locust Walk. Like many others, I didn't think I belonged. There had to have been some mistake at admissions because I was not shiny enough to be here. I wasn't smart enough, sociable enough, or accomplished enough.
Yet, somehow it's been four years. I still don't feel shiny enough to be at Penn. What's changed though is that I learned to be okay with that. I'm never going to be the smartest or most accomplished person in the world. Instead, I've learned to love myself and respect myself for who I have become.
I hope that you too have the best time at Penn. It's going to be rough at times, but the highs make every moment definitely worth it.
So here's to the craziest and most awesome four years of your life (so far),
PS please please please feel free to keep in touch :) Whether you just want someone random to rant to, get advice from or even just to listen, would love to be of any help!
Talk, Talk, Talk | David T
Dear Penn Freshmen,
As I am not well-equipped to impart wisdom upon you since I do not have as much as one would believe, I have summed up my advice to all of you in a few bullets listed below. Take these and use them as you may. Note, however, I wish I had known all of these when entering Penn for the first time.
1. Talk, Talk, Talk - The number one piece of advice I have is to talk to everyone. Be nice to them, get to know their stories. This will be the last time that you’re surrounded by such wonderful individuals of the same caliber as you: take advantage of it. Not only that, but when you’re feeling down (as inevitably everyone does), talk to someone. Go to your peers, advisors, supervisors, anyone you trust. The important thing is that you have a friend to talk to, and be upfront. Talk, talk, talk. I can’t tell you the amount of life talks (aka heart to hearts) I’ve had with multiple friends over the past, and each time I left them, I felt so much happier and relieved. Believe me or not, everyone stresses and is going through something -- don’t be afraid to open up.
2. GPA is not the only thing that matters - Being in a very fast-paced environment like Penn, you may tend to lose sight of this fact. I did not have a great GPA my freshman year, and I just continuously worked to get it as high as I could. I still made it, and so will you. Don’t worry about grades. Strengthen your personality, leadership skills, and make friends. People will hire you because they like you.
3. Take Breaks - My Italian professor at Penn once told me this piece of advice, and I took him ever so seriously. This paid off huge dividends. I encourage you all to take breaks in between studying or going out or exercising. You should take time for you, even if it’s 10 mins every 2 hours.
4. Imagine your past and future self - The most powerful exercise I did this year was sit across from an empty chair and pretend to have a conversation with my freshman year self about how proud he was of me (or not), what changed, and what he would/wouldn’t have expected to happen in four years. Try the exercise each year: it is SO powerful.
5. Be you, and have fun your way - You only have one life, and it would be ashamed if you didn’t live it the way you wanted to. Don’t fall to peer pressures. Make decisions for YOU and stick to your guns. If people dislike you or poke fun, they aren’t your friends.
6. Pat yourself on the back - Every now and then, celebrate your short term victories. It means a lot to give yourself the confidence you deserve.
7. Make a Difference - Be nice to everyone and let other people matter. Give your time to others and make a positive impact on the lives of others. You won’t regret it.
Feel free to contact me if you need anything: