This Thursday marks an unofficial holiday: Ivy Day. On March 30, the eight Ivies will unleash a slew of rejections, acceptances, and waitlist placements to the Class of 2027.
Stop any current student on campus and they can recount the moment they received their Penn decision: the blue and red animated confetti, the “CONGRATULATIONS” in bold font.
All 10,412 Penn undergraduates remember the relief of their Penn acceptance, knowing that all their hours, semesters, and years of hard work had paid off.
Here in the United States, the college prep industry sits at a net worth of $1,700,000,000 (yep, that’s nine zeroes). Disproportionate attention is placed on getting into elite institutions, evident from trending decision reaction videos on YouTube to the Lori Loughlin scandal.
Yet, not enough attention is placed on what happens after that acceptance. Sacrifice comes with expectation. For many, the motivation in attending a school like Penn lies in the status, wealth, and greatness that Penn can provide. Admitted students expect to continue their trajectory of excellence, with the pressure of perfection forming a suffocating force.
It’s not difficult to see why applicants expect Penn to be their golden ticket. The starting salary of a Wharton alumnus exceeds $85,000. The Penn endowment sits at $20.7 billion, the sixth largest in the nation, giving Penn the funds to spend $1.63 billion a year on ground-breaking research. With a Penn diploma, students have a leg up on top jobs and top awards, like the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.
However, the trifecta of unrealistic expectations — status, wealth, and greatness — compound into a delusion of what life here is really like. Expectations of college perfection are unattainable. Eventually, failure to live this dream can manifest into the infamous ‘Penn Face.’
Newly admitted students will soon face the eventual whiplash of aligning expectations with reality. Failure to live up to lofty expectations sparks disappointment and even adverse mental health effects. Admitted students — often valedictorians — expect to continue their trajectory of excellence at Penn, yet most end up as little fish in a big pond.
How can newly admitted students (and existing Quakers) combat unrealistic expectations of themselves and their college experience?
The secret to Penn sanity may lie within the Penn Admissions Office, in a digital dump of student essays.
In the fall of 2022, Penn launched a new supplemental essay prompt giving applicants the opportunity to write a thank-you note to an influential person in their life. In 250 words, students could express their gratitude for someone special.
At surface-level, this might seem like the latest excruciating exercise in college admissions. Yet, gratitude is backed by science, wrote the Dean of Admissions Whitney Soule in a blog post last fall. Research conducted on campus proves that gratitude can increase long-term happiness, part of the reason why Penn introduced this new prompt.
Gratitude is the ultimate weapon to wield off unrealistic expectations.
I speak from experience. On Ivy Day, I was not one of the few who received a ‘yes’ verdict; I was waitlisted. My life ran an alternate course as I paid a deposit for a different school, and the Gilmore Girls-esque expectations I had for college faded away. In mid-June, I was lucky enough to be admitted off of the waitlist.
I attribute the waitlist, and my resulting gratitude, as the reason for my happiness here. The waitlist altered my lofty expectations for what Penn was like because, truth be told, I was just happy to be here. The 391 waitlisted students who were admitted in 2020 know that same feeling. The waitlist forced me to think critically about what Penn can realistically offer. No school is perfect, and Penn is not the end-all-be-all for those that aspire to be great.
Where to attend college is an important personal decision, and it must be made with a realistic picture of what Penn can offer.
Newly admitted students, reflect on why you really want to attend Penn. Examine your expectations for who you think you’ll be here, and what you think Penn will bring you.
Current students, whether you love or hate Penn now, take today to think back to the magic of your acceptance. It is too easy to forget that life is not normal on Locust. Gratitude is the key to staying grounded.
Today, on Ivy Day, remember that presence here alone is a win. Remember what you did to get here, what you have done since, and what you plan to do with your Penn diploma.
To the Class of 2027, congratulations on your acceptance — but if you carry unrealistic expectations with you to Philadelphia, you very well may hate it here.
FIONA MILLER is a Wharton junior studying behavioral economics and social impact from Roanoke, Va. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.