Everyone tells you that your freshman year is one of the best of your life. Your parents provide you with everything you need, but you have the independence of making your own decisions. Yet, as a senior looking back, I’m not sure that freshman year is quite what it used to be.
Sure, it offers you freedom and new experiences, and you’re not faced with much responsibility. But for many students, it’s also filled with anxiety and uncertainty — which can be especially difficult when you haven’t yet found a support system.
The University of California at Los Angeles recently surveyed about 200,000 college freshmen who reported record-low levels concerning their emotional health. Though the results cannot be completely generalized to our university, it’s sensible to assume that there are likely freshmen enrolling at Penn who consider their emotional health to be lower than average.
“The reality is that freshman year is a tough transition,” Dean of Freshmen and director of Academic Advising in the College of Arts and Sciences Janet Tighe said. “This is a new environment. It’s a big city. It’s a research university. There are people from all over the world. All those things take some getting used to.”
Freshmen often don’t want to believe that they’re having a hard time, especially so early on and especially at Penn. After all, they just got to college, which is — from what they’ve been told — the best time of their lives.
They may often feel as though they’re alone in their troubles, particularly when they’re surrounded by peers who are not having any issues.
Tighe agreed that it’s a “very adolescent approach to problem solving. You feel like it’s just me and I’m the only one.” She emphasized that for this reason, programs like those in the college houses “try and build community so that [students] see in those more informal, off-the-cuff social situations that people are like [them].”
It’s true that Penn offers undergraduates many resources for dealing with their academic, social and emotional issues — like meetings with clinicians at Counseling and Psychological Services and supportive staff members in college houses and advising offices. While CAPS sometime offers freshman workshops, it could do more to promote its programs, as well as hold seminars throughout the year to demonstrate that freshmen are not alone in how they may be feeling.
In speaking with other students, I found that many were nervous to reach out to a service like CAPS so early in their Penn career. They didn’t want to come off as though they weren’t ready for college or they were struggling socially or emotionally. Though the bottom line is that no one on our campus is alone in what they’re feeling, it can sometimes seem this way.
Counseling and Wellness Services at New York University offers a weekly support group for freshmen that addresses common challenges experienced during the transition to college. A group like this may be useful to first-year students at Penn and could complement the current offerings at CAPS.
Meeta Kumar, associate director of CAPS and director of Outreach and Prevention, said that after conducting many focus groups with Penn students, CAPS has been working to develop a new pilot program that “encourages students to talk more about their experiences” and “teaches people to communicate more effectively.” A program like this may also be helpful to first-year students who feel alone in dealing with their issues.
Freshman year should serve as a buffer between high school and college, a time to sample courses that were never previously available, try out new extracurricular activities and begin to figure out what your journey through college is all about. If Penn offered more specific resources for freshmen having a difficult time, they could better ensure that this year would be the beginning of four of the best of their lives.
Sabrina Benun is a College senior from Santa Monica, Calif. Her e-mail address is benun@theDP.com. Last Call appears every Friday.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.