Advice for New Students From Those Who Know (Older Students)
By The New York Times
New supplies, new clothes, new start. Freshman year is a chance to redefine yourself, to challenge assumptions, to lay the foundation for the rest of your life. Gee whiz, you say, I’m just 18! So we asked for help, from those who have been there, done that. Below are words of wisdom from 25 upperclassmen and recent grads. See the comments section for additional reader submissions.
As an incoming freshman I wish I’d known I didn’t need to know everything! I was so wrapped up in the idea that I had to know my major, how to navigate campus and the social scene, even how to do laundry. Sometimes the beauty is in figuring these things out organically. To be a successful freshman, you just have to be willing to learn as you go. — Grace Carita, Bucknell University, ’18
The first day of college I was a ball of nerves and I remember walking into my first class and running to the first seat I found, thinking everyone would be staring at me. But nobody seemed to notice and then it hit me: The fact that nobody knew me meant nobody would judge, which, upon reflection, was what I was scared of the most. I told myself to let go. I began to force myself into situations that were uncomfortable for me — for example, auditioning for a dance piece — and the performance was a highlight of my freshman year. Challenge yourself to try something new, something you couldn’t have done in high school. — Ria Jagasia, Vanderbilt University, ’18
DO THE WORK
Go to class! Seriously, unless you are half dead, go! — Megan Taylor, Salem College, ’15
Outline all your papers, and footnote everything. Even if you don’t “do outlines” or think they are a total waste of time, a quick overview of how the paper will be organized will help you loads in the long run. If you find yourself with a half-eaten pizza at 2 in the morning the day the paper is due (with no paper), hey, at least you have an outline. — Casey Chon, Hampshire College, ’18
If you ever feel like your classes are too difficult to handle, don’t worry, there is always help out there. Most schools offer a free tutoring service. Also, most professors are more than happy to help you during office hours if you ask them politely. If that doesn’t work, here’s my key list of places to go, free on YouTube: PatrickJMT (math), Mike Christiansen (organic chemistry), Bozeman Science (biology), Tyler DeWitt (chemistry) and Santa Barbara City College Physics. — Asad Mirza, Florida International University, ’18
UNDERSTAND THE SYSTEM, AND WORK IT
Expect the administration not to care about you. You’re a single yellow hanging folder in an ocean of student folders, so be ready to fight for anything you need, whether it’s permission to take a class, correcting a grade, navigating outdated online interfaces, registering for classes. Professors, on the other hand, can be your greatest allies, so link up with a few you can trust. They want to help you cut through the bureaucracy, so you can get to the thing you’re there for, learning. — Krista Cohen, Brooklyn College, ’18
The important people to develop relationships with? Department secretaries. One of them just might become your life counselor, spare mom and cheerleader. Guess who’s going to give you the best directions for getting to class? Help you reserve that classroom for a club movie night? Let you use the office phone “just this once” when your iPhone dies from Snapchat overuse? Tell you how to really win over your professors? These people may be your first real adult friends. They don’t think they’re ancient or disconnected from today’s youth and neither should you. — Victoria Zencak, Central Washington University, ’16
You know those tables set up by the student store trying to get you to sign up for a credit card? Those are a scam with insanely high interest rates. Take the time to go to your bank and sit down with a financial adviser and discuss what the best options are for you. You need debt to earn credit, but not 15k of credit card debt. — Brittany Nicole Brisson, East Carolina University, ’15
If you go to school in a big city, take advantage of internship opportunities during the school year when they are less competitive. … Walk your schedule before classes start. … There is an unspoken rule: The seat you pick the first week is your assigned seat. … Always take advantage of free food. — Alison Jones, American University, ’17
Don’t compare yourself to other students. It is easy to feel lost, especially when it comes to academics. Remember that everyone has unique talents, and you have four years to cultivate yours. — Shivani Dixit, University of Chicago, ’17
I still struggle with feelings of inadequacy and social incompatibility specific to my experiences as a low-income, first-generation student, and you will face similar challenges. Your more fortunate peers will frustrate you with their well-meaning suggestion to just “buy a new one” after you lose your coat; they may sadden you when they ask where your parents went to school, where your siblings want to go, why you seem so different from your entire family. Sometimes, you might feel you just don’t belong on campus. I implore you to extend grace to yourself and have confidence in the fact that you were chosen not only for your academic competency but also for the perspective you have to offer your peers and professors. You are now part of a conversation that would be lacking without your voice. Speak even louder, and help others understand a life story they may not have considered before they met you. — Brittanie Lewis, Amherst College, ’17
Throughout high school, I had been relentlessly bullied and criticized for who I was and what I believed in. Eager to prevent my problems from following me into college, I kept my hard exterior, overcompensating for my fear of being rejected. It took me an entire semester to realize this was the exact opposite of the approach I should have taken. What I hadn’t taken into account was that everyone I would be surrounded by would be in the same boat. Shed your inhibitions and prior conceptions of who people can be. College provides an environment that fosters creativity, friendship and acceptance. Don’t aim to prove those that doubted you wrong, but push yourself to prove yourself wrong. — Tom Diehl, University of Pittsburgh, ’15
TEND TO YOURSELF
College life is similar to what happens when you get high — i.e., you have a vague idea of your surroundings and forget who you are and where you wanted to go. Don’t make that mistake. It will cost you years. — Sangepu Ashrith, Indian Institute of Technology Jodhpur, ’17
Sometimes a mental health day is in order. Don’t go to class, sleep in, enjoy your favorite book, feel like a rebel. College is the last time in your life when you’ll be able to shirk off an entire day of responsibility. Do it, just not too often. — Michaela Eby, St. Mary’s College at Notre Dame, ’15
Some of you may face a difficult time during college. Whether it be failing where you’ve previously only succeeded or facing a family health crisis, know you are not alone and that the road to graduation does not have to be a constant path. It is far better to take the time you need than to push yourself to the edge of unraveling. I took a semester off to deal with the death of a friend, and I was able to return a stronger student. I know it’s considered taboo, but I am not sure who I would be today if I hadn’t taken time to heal. — Shelby Larkin, Purdue University, ’14
I have a few pieces of advice that helped me two years ago when I started school:
1. Feeling too stressed to take a break is a sign you need to take a break!
2. Schedule a regular time to call loved ones.
3. Sleep cannot be overemphasized.
4. It’s impossible to focus in class if you are “taking notes” on a laptop.
5. Talk through ground rules and personal living preferences with your roommates at the very beginning of the year. It will be a useful conversation to refer back to if/when issues come up. — Annalisa Galgano, New York University Abu Dhabi, ’17
I wrote this list — a compilation of things I wish I had known at the start of college three years ago — for my sister, an incoming freshman at Washington University in St. Louis.
1. When you are stressed, take a shower. You will feel productive and you will be clean.
2. Your grade in one class does not define you.
3. Make sure you check in with yourself now and then. How are you doing? If the answer is not so great, treat yourself. Prioritize your well being.
4. Some readings are more important than others. It’s O.K. to skim sometimes.
5. Don’t be afraid to call campus security if you or a friend is sick/feels unsafe.
6. Take naps. Preschool and college are the only times when napping is socially acceptable.
7. If you always have enough clean socks/underwear, your life will be so much easier. — Justine Goode, Oberlin College, ’16
DEVELOP PEOPLE SKILLS
It is taboo almost everywhere to talk about your academic/athletic/social achievements in high school. There’s a term for it: peaking. Someone who peaks clearly is on decline from high school. To put it frankly, no one cares about your high school “accomplishments.” — Mohamed Sharaf, Texas Christian University, ’17
Most students arriving at orientation have just left everyone they know behind. This sudden independence creates a mad scramble to replace the high school group they have left behind. As a result, freshmen quickly form close groups that disastrously fall apart in the coming weeks. Instead, I recommend getting to know lots of people and slowly and naturally form close friendships. — Grace Blackmon, Hendrix College, ’17
Don’t hook up with the boy across the hall from you on the first night of college. — Clare Gilroy, Binghamton University, ’16
For a hookup, check in with your potential partner by saying something like, “Should I get a condom?” If it’s someone you’ve slept with before, “Does that feel good?” “Should I do that again?” “Do you want me to … ?” can be good prompters for enthusiastic consent or opportunities for your partner to redirect the sexual experience. — Ashley Spinks, University of Virginia, ’16
Think about where you want to set your boundaries sexually. There will be lots of opportunities for casual hookups and one-night stands. Don’t let your standards slip just because you’re unprepared. — Madeleine Rowell, Stanford, ’18
DON’T GET STUCK
If you’re like me — meaning fairly driven and self-assured — you’re coming into college with a strong idea of what you’d like to do with the rest of your life. At 18, I was set on medical school, with the hopes of becoming a neurobiologist. When I got to college, however, a single freshman seminar showed me that both my academic talents and interests lay with religious studies and Spanish, of all things. At first, I was hesitant to pursue these fields because they didn’t fit the image of success I had imagined for myself. With time, I learned that interest and success are highly correlated — do what you love, and you’ll be good at what you do. Don’t be afraid to take classes that challenge your suppositions. A single course could be a game-changer. — Sasha Ward, University of Virginia, ’15, University of Oxford, ’17
I met a fifth-year senior in my first class and judged him. I finished in three and a half years. I wish I had spent five years in college. I wish I had taken my time, worked more maybe, joined a club. College is goal-oriented, but your career can wait two years. — Jay S. Raadt, University of North Texas, ’12
Having a set agenda for four years of your life does not usually go according to plan. If you find you are not having an exciting college experience, change something. Do not let the pressures or judgment of others keep you in a situation that isn’t ideal for you. The change might be challenging at first, but it will be worth it. — Claudia Siqueiros, Northern Illinois University, ’16