Knowing where you are going and where you have been: Students write a letter to their future self

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“Letter to a Future Self” is the culminating writing assignment that students participate in as part of completing their electronic portfolio. This assignment lives in San Francisco State University’s Health Education 450 class. This is the final course students take in their two-year participation in Metro Academies, a learning community for the first two years of college. Students may choose to write a letter to their “future self” about their educational goals, or to a future Metro student about what to expect in college and give them advice on how to succeed.


The Metro Academies Curriculum Team

Practice Identifiers


Currently located in the Health Education department at San Francisco State University, this practice is used in an individual class that is part of a first year program, a learning community, and is a capstone experience. Peer mentors are not involved in this practice.


It is used in all sections of a course with the Metro Academies program.

High Impact Practices

This practice is part of a program that also uses first year experience, learning communities, and writing intensive courses.

Helping Students Advance Their Learning

Reflection as a form of Connection (Integrative Learning) –  Students’ ePortfolios help them with the transfer of knowledge from multiple contexts and consider the relationships between classroom and outside the class learning.

  • Make connections within a course
  • Make connections across courses and semesters
  • Make connections across disciplines
  • Make connections among academic experiences, co-curricular & lived experiences

Reflection as Systematic and Disciplined (Inquiry) – Students’ ePortfolio reflection processes embody…

  • A structured and scaffolded process
  • The Reflective Cycle
  • Connecting their learning to Gen Ed or programmatic competencies

Reflection as Social Pedagogy – students use ePortfolio to share/peer review/discuss/collaborate/connect around course work, reflections, plans, goals, stories etc.

  • Sharing their ePortfolio w/ and getting comments from faculty
  • Sharing & engaging in integrative ePortfolio commentary w/ other students

Reflection as a Process of Personal Change  – Students use ePortfolio for inquiring into their educational and career development, integrative identity formation, etc., by…

  • Articulating their educational and career goals
  • Considering their evolving personal relationship to learning and education
  • Completing/revising a plan of study
  • Planning/preparing for transfer or advanced education


Practice Step-by-Step

This assignment comes from San Francisco State University’s Health Education 450 course (Policy Issues in Health Education). This course is part of a learning community with Mathematics 124 (Elementary Statistics) and is the last course students take as part of the Metro Academy of Health program (Metro). Metro is a learning community program that offers extra support to students and is designed for students interested in community/public health, education and social justice issues. In Metro, learners will become strong advocates for community health and social justice by learning to write effectively, speak powerfully, and think critically about community and public health concerns.

As part of their wrap up of their electronic portfolios, students are asked to create a letter to their future selves, in the spirit of an earlier reading from the Letters from Young Activists. This is meant as a final culminating writing assignment, after they have turned in their final projects, to give them an opportunity to reflect both on their past accomplishments and their future goals. In this course, students complete the entire ePortfolio they have been working on for two years in the Metro program. They do no specific peer review on this assignment; rather they engage in a peer review process on the entire ePortfolio three weeks before the end of the semester. This assignment, along with their completed ePortfolio is due during the showcase, which happens during final exam week in this course.

This page gives students the opportunity to think about their goals as they relate to their education. They may also choose to write a letter to their ‘future self’ (see details below) or to write a letter to a future Metro student about what to expect in college and give them advice on how to succeed.

The Role of Reflection in Advancing Student Learning


This exercise gives students an opportunity to think about what is really important to them and what their hopes are for themselves. They are asked to write about their own educational and career goals, but also about their goals related to their community. They use this practice for educational and career development and identity formation by articulating their educational and career goals, considering their evolving personal relationship to learning and education, completing/revising a plan of study, and planning/preparing for transfer or advanced education.


Faculty who designed this practice looked at the entire Metro program and wanted to create an assignment that allowed students to look forward, since so much of the work we did in the program required students to look at the past or present. We were excited about the opportunity to give them space and the ability to look forward a few years, or longer, depending on what they felt most connected to. We wanted to make sure that this had the chance to be a more creative assignment for students. We didn’t want to put parameters on length or number of years in the future they should be looking forward.


This exercise is designed to help students make connections between what they have been doing in the classroom and program with what they hope to do in their life and career. We believe this is also often closely tied to what they hope to do in their community.

This practice is designed to help students make connections across courses and semesters, across disciplines, and among academic experiences, co-curricular & lived experiences.

Evidence of Impact on the Student Learning Experience

As a program, we collect multiple types of evidence. However, this practice is bundled with several other educational interventions and high-impact practices. We do collect student feedback (via surveys and focus groups) on their experiences with ePortfolios in general. This assignment is evaluated and revised through a peer feedback process and is then assessed by the instructor. Students often also include this piece in their end-of-year ePortfolio showcase.

Connections to Other Sectors of The Catalyst



Professional Development

The faculty who designed and used this practice engage in a faculty learning community that meets throughout the year and attends a summer institute. Their professional development includes many components, such as ePortfolio training, critical pedagogy, peer mentoring at the faculty level, and using high-impact practices.

Outcomes Assessment

This assignment was used in the pilot of Metro Academies’ program assessment process in spring 2013. The development of this process and this practice’s role in program assessment is in its early stages.



Students post this assignment to their ePortfolio. The ePortfolio platform enhances the assignment because students can easily highlight their work at the end-of-year ePortfolio showcase. The platform can hinder the practice if the focus of both the students and instructors shifts to the logistics of using the technology and class time is devoted to lab time and dealing with logistics rather than on mindful pedagogy and reflection.

Scaling Up

We often refer to this assignment when talking to stakeholders on- and off-campus, but its role in scaling up has been informal and minimal.

Attachments and Supporting Documents: 

Assignment description:

Sample of student work:


We have found this practice to be an important piece of our program because it allows our students an opportunity to consider their future goals and apply the optimism they have after reflecting on their accomplishments over the past two years. Projecting a future self is a new concept for many of these students. Students have reported that this is a very uplifting and inspiring activity.

The creating of meaning out of experience is at the very heart of what it means to be human. It is what enables us to make sense of and attribute value to the events of our lives.

Rodgers, C. (2002) Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and reflective thinking, Teachers College Record. Vol. 4, Number 4, pp. 842-866.

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