Making the transition from high school to college is daunting. As my parents drove with me from Richmond, Virginia to University City, I considered just how different things would be. Having gone to a small magnet public high school with a graduating class of just 170, I would be in an environment surrounded by thousands of incredibly bright, motivated individuals. Every class would be a college-level class with a level of rigor I wasn’t used to. Beyond a handful of students I met at Preview Days, I was truly heading into the unknown.
Luckily, as a Wharton student, I had been placed into an undergraduate cohort, Yuan, before my arrival at Penn. Modeled after the successful cohort system of graduate business school programs around the United States, including at Wharton, the undergraduate version divides the roughly 520 incoming freshmen into nine equally sized cohorts named after currencies. As a freshman in Yuan, I got to Skype with my cohort director, a sophomore mentor, over the summer, as well as meet my cohort peers over a Facebook group. Upon arriving at Penn, I took the keystone course of my freshman fall, Management 100, with the students in my cohort. Going into the first day of class, I was able to finally match faces to the online personas with which I had familiarized myself over the summer. In the three years since, the cohort system has provided me countless unforgettable memories, from my cohort mentor, who has gone on to become one of my closest friends, to the annual Cohort Thanksgiving, to a collection of friends spanning the class years that I have gotten to meet through Restaurant Week events and study breaks.
This year, I am fortunate enough to serve as a Co-Chair of the Wharton Undergraduate Cohort System. Having watched cohorts grow incredibly in both scope and size over the past three years, I wanted to leave my own impact on an organization that has given me so much over the years. Cohort leaders work hand-in-hand with the Wharton Undergraduate Student Life administrators to enhance the undergraduate experience by promoting friendships and lasting relationships between undergraduates. The cohort mentor program pairs freshmen and sophomores with upperclassmen within cohorts for meaningful one-on-one mentorship and advice regarding school, internships, and life. Intracohort social events provide a venue for students in the same cohort and different class years to meet one another. Annual cohort-wide traditions, such as the Amazing Cohort Race, Hauntsman Halloween, and Winter Whartonland lead up to the crowning of a Cohort Cup victor, complete with bragging rights and a huge celebration. Every year, cohort identity becomes more meaningful as more as cohorts facilitate the formation of more and more lasting relationships.