Advice for a College Freshman
Just 8 months, 10 exams, and a countless number of papers ago, I anxiously prepared to embark on this journey called “freshman year.” Suddenly, it’s over. As quickly as the year passed, though, there are still many lessons that I’ve learned, not only about life at Princeton but college in general. Now, I’d like to share these lessons with incoming college freshmen. Of course, this is just my insight on college life, but nonetheless, I hope that it’s still useful.
First, prepare for quite the humbling transition from being a high school senior to being a college freshmen. In just a matter a months, you’ll go from being the president and executive board member of every club to a clueless student wandering around activities fair. What can be even more intimidating is the fact that just about every single person you’ll meet has a “hidden gift,” as I’d like to call it. Never would I have imagined, for example, that my roommate was the world champion for doing the Rubik’s Cube blindfolded in 2008, or that my history professor was the founder of a national organization that helps teach kids algebra. It’s almost seems surreal.
At first, you might feel…useless, to the point where you feel that you can only sit back and watch everyone else take control. Don’t. You, too, have one of those “hidden gifts,” and it’s precisely why your college chose you. Particularly as a freshman, you provide a brand new perspective to everything you do, so don’t shy away from sharing your opinion and taking action. While the college experience certainly should be a humbling one, also allow it to be a time that instills confidence within you. Use the talented people around you to remind yourself that achieving greatness is undoubtedly possible, and let that be your motivation to settle for nothing less than excellence.
When striving for excellence, though, make sure you know what it means. Excellence is not to just achieving a 4.0 and getting into the best graduate school. To be excellent, you need to find your passion, cultivate it, and pursue it in a meaningful way. It’s easy (and quite tempting) for you to just take classes that will help your GPA and look good on your transcript, but in the end, that won’t help you at all as a person.
Instead, learn for the sake of learning. It’s so nice to take classes that you genuinely want to take. It makes learning the material (and studying) much easier! From debating Teach for America to discussing the true problems with education, I loved almost every second of my freshman seminar. And I realized that’s exactly what learning should be: loving what you do. Ultimately, the classes that you love should lead to your major. Sure, you may not enjoy every course that your major requires (Microeconomics and I certainly weren’t best friends…). But, ultimately, let your passion guide your academic path; it makes the learning experience worth it.
As wonderful as your learning experience should be, what should be equally fulfilling is what you do outside of the classroom. For me, being a part of student government has taught me so much about leadership that no class could teach me - the importance of approaching problems with curiosity and “meeting people where they are.” Because of my extracurricular activities, I definitely feel like I’ve grown as a person, and I encourage you to take full advantage of any and all experiences available to you in college. Sign up for every e-mail list at activities fair (you can always remove yourself later); attend random club meetings; and go to all the conferences that you can, especially if they’re free! Freshman year is the time when you can try just about anything - so do it.
Don’t take that last statement too literally, though. Freshman year, arguably more so than any other year, is when you’ll have the most temptations. Within just a few days, you’ll see a ton of underaged drinking, for example, and at first, it may seem like the only way to have fun. Rest assured that that’s not the case, though. Certainly, college is about new experiences and trying things you’ve never done before, but that doesn’t mean conforming to the status quo. Have fun in your own way. Some nights it might be dancing for hours upon hours until you realize that you have to wake up early the next morning. Other nights, it may be going to see a movie with some friends. And quite honestly, some of your best nights may be just staying in your dorm and talking with my some of your closest friends until 4 a.m. No matter how you decide to have fun, just do two things: be safe, and take lots of pictures! You’ll want to reminisce on the memories in the future.
In the midst of all your classes, clubs, and socializing, though, things will admittedly become quite stressful. But, you’re not alone. The stress, anxiety, worries, excessive studying, and packed schedules are all part of the common experience called college. As you undergo this experience, forge meaningful relationships. Find people that you can relate to, trust, and laugh with. However, don’t rush these friendships. It’s quite alright if you don’t know who all of your close friends are by the end of your freshman year. It takes time. When you realize who they are, though, there will be no question in your mind about it. Those are the people you’ll want to keep in your life: forever.
Lastly, no matter how many close friends you have, always be open to random conversations that challenge your beliefs. College is the time that all of your opinions will be solidified or changed. If not, you’re doing something wrong, or better yet, you’re not doing enough. The only way to truly internalize your beliefs is to learn how to defend them. Ask questions: learn what other cultures are like, how life is in a foreign country, and why some people believe in God and not others. Sure, it’s a scary thought to think that some of your beliefs and values after 17 or 18 years might change, but there’s no need to fear; it’s a part of growing up.
Freshman year marks the beginning of four years of your life that, quite frankly, you’ll never have again. Be grateful for the experience, and smile every day. Send a letter, e-mail, or card to those who helped get you to college. Watch funny videos when you’re stressed. Play your favorite song on repeat when you study for midterms and finals. Get a Mac (it’s pretty awesome). Sleep. And most importantly, eat all the free food you can get! Before you know it, after a countless number of exams and papers, you, too, will be wondering where the year went. But hopefully, you’ll love every moment, and have no regrets. Good luck!