10 Mistakes to Avoid Making this Freshman Fall

by Caroline Berens | 9/8/15 7:14pm

Welcome to Dartmouth, ’19’s! I hope that you all had wonderful summers full of anticipation and excitement for the whirlwind that your freshman year will be. After battling the elements and surviving the initial awkwardness of your trip, you’re well-equipped to tackle the start of your freshman year. As optimistic and gaffed as you feel, however, it’s probable that during your freshman year, like everyone else, you will make mistakes. Below is a list of common freshman fall blunders to help you better navigate the murky waters of your first term here:

1. Committing -cest(s).

Among the quirky Dartmouth vocabulary to which you’ll soon become accustomed are normal words affixed with “-cest” – tripcest, groupcest, floorcest – to imply so-called incest between two associated members. This can encompass anything from a DFMO (dance floor make-out) to a committed relationship destined for marriage. It’s likely you’ve been discouraged from participating in these “-cests” by wise upperclassmen — heed the warnings. They rarely do anything but create awkwardness, discomfort and, most importantly, inconvenience. Before you know it you’ll be unable to meet your trip leaders’ eyes, quitting your a cappella group or taking the stairs to your fourth-floor room, instead of the elevator, in fear of uncomfortable encounters. By the nature of incest, too, these kinds of relationships are also just considered blatantly wrong.

2. Eating too many FoCo cookies.

Let me authenticate a rumor — no matter how “athletic” and “active” Dartmouth students are reputed to be, the freshman 15 is 100 percent real. It’s usually attributed to unhealthy dining hall options and increased drinking, which certainly play key roles, but the real culprit is that freshman fall is ALL about food. You grab coffee and meals to get to know people, eat pastries and gelato at open houses and club meetings and munch on Doritos and pretzels that your undergraduate advisor brought during floor meetings. You devour the homemade brownies in your care package from home, order late-night EBAs with your floormates and down endless cups of beer as you practice pong. To boot, with the required meal plan, you’re probably eating most meals at FoCo, home to the heavenly but nefarious cookies. Decadent, rich and (seemingly) unlimited, these concoctions of sugar, butter and chocolate are likely responsible for 10 of the freshman 15. However, despite the harsh reality of weight gain, there are ways to combat it — utilizing Dartmouth’s gym facilities, eating from the various salad bars a few times per week, switching to water after a few games of pong. Don’t spend too much time worrying about food though — have fun.

3. Too much time on social media.

There is no time when people attempt to glorify themselves more via social media than their freshman fall of college. Come late August, my Facebook and Instagram feeds were clogged with endless posts from my high school and college classmates documenting their newly blissful, charmed, glamorous collegiate lives. Whether you are enamored with Dartmouth or rebuff all these sentiments, it’s natural to question whether your own college experience is measuring up in comparison. What I was too naïve to realize was that I was only viewing a brief glimpse into a person’s life, and a heavily edited one at that. Nobody makes statuses about feeling lonely and homesick, or posts a selfie crying on the phone with their mom, but those experiences are just as natural a part of freshman year as the happier times. So take every filtered photo and embellished caption with a grain of salt.

4. Taking difficult or high-level classes.

This is a common mistake that many overeager — and perhaps overconfident — freshmen make. Maybe you binge-watched Grey’s Anatomy over the summer and, inspired by Patrick Dempsey’s sublime hair, now want to pursue the pre-health track to become a neurosurgeon. Or maybe you got perfect scores on the Physics and Calculus BC AP tests, and are dead-set on the engineering track. Or maybe the idea of introductory classes bores you to tears, and you want to delve into more specialized subtopics right away. Whatever the case may be, your freshman fall is the time to play it safe academically and embrace your liberal arts education — your scope of classes is vastly more expansive than in high school, and perhaps you’ll find an undiscovered passion for a subject you’d never even considered. Be mindful that college classes are difficult, and with our 10-week terms, the learning pace is fast and intense. It’s recommended to take one class for your planned major, another to fulfill a distributive requirement and the last on a totally unfamiliar topic that piqued your interest (one of the latter two should be an introductory course.) Your GPA will appreciate the kindness.

5. Eating every meal at FoCo.

This is a common freshman faux pas, largely caused by the 20 meal plan. You’re still enamored with the novelty of FoCo, considering it a glittering wonderland full of infinite deliciousness and thinking economically, believe it has the best cost benefit of any DDS establishment. Plus, with its enormous halls and long tables, it’s the perfect place for large group meals, a trademark of freshman fall. But exploring the other dining options early on will open to your eyes to a happier, better and more gratifying world. After trying Collis Cafe’s omelets and pasta, the Courtyard Cafe (or “the Hop”) burgers and burritos and King Arthur Flour’s pastries and sandwiches, you’ll never look at FoCo the same way.

6. Trying to find best friends right away.

Throughout your entire freshman fall, you’ll be besieged with endless new faces, names and introductions, through roommates, floormates, trippees, teammates and more. The superficial nature of these interactions can be frustrating, and there might be times when you yearn for someone who knows you, not just your hometown or Trip section. Seeking reassurance and fearing loneliness like any college freshman, you’ll likely latch on to those who seem to share your interests and activities. But as the term continues and you become more comfortable with people, you might realize that some of your friendships lack depth or potential. And that’s okay — friendship is incredibly fluid freshman fall, and it’s normal if your social circle doesn’t fall into place right away. Finding loyal and true friends takes time and patience, after all, but it will happen eventually. And when you do find those select few, it will have been worth the wait.

7. Not asking for help.

A blatantly false misconception at Dartmouth is that everyone “has it together.” This can discourage students, especially freshmen, from seeking help, convinced they’ll seem weak or inadequate. But the truth is that Dartmouth, despite its picture-perfect brochures, is not a utopian paradise, and it’s perfectly normal (and common) to struggle here. If you’re floundering in a class, talk to your professor or teaching assistant. No matter how condescending, intimidating or even unreasonable they might seem, they are human beings too, and ones who were once undergraduates themselves. Blitz them, go to office hours, ask for extra practice work, arrange a tutor. If you’re struggling with transitioning to college, set up a meeting with your dean or UGA. If you’re battling mental health issues, see a counselor at Dick’s House. Open up to your parents, your friends, your teammates, your trip leaders, your coaches. Revealing your vulnerabilities will not only help to facilitate a solution and reassure you, but it will also strengthen your relationships and bonds. You are not the first or last student to struggle at Dartmouth, and there are endless valuable resources to utilize. All you have to do is ask.

8. Having a (very) premature life crisis.

Maybe you’ve dreamt of being a neuroscientist ever since you uttered your first word (“neuron”) but you’re unbelievably miserable in “Intro to Neuroscience,” and now you’re questioning whether or not your entire life has been a lie. Maybe, like me, numerous departments seem genuinely interesting to you and you don’t know how you’ll ever decide on a major. Maybe you saw your roommate Googling Stanford Law School admissions statistics and felt immediate pressure to make a detailed five-year plan. It’s okay; you don’t have to decide what you’re going to do with the rest of your life right now — that’s the exact purpose of college. Pursue the classes and activities you enjoy doing, and everything will fall into place.

9. Being hard on yourself.

Everyone at Dartmouth is an overachiever in at least one capacity, and that will prove to be both a blessing and a curse. Being immersed in such concentrated brilliance, ambition and talent is an incredible privilege, one that will likely inspire and motivate you. However, the inevitable freshman fall realization that you aren’t at the top anymore can be frustrating and disheartening, often spurning insecurity, self-doubt and envy. Accept that you might not have a 4.0 GPA anymore, or make the most eloquent points in class, or be the most auspicious athlete on your team. Keep in mind that you’re surrounded by some of the smartest students in the country — in the world — and it’s okay to fall short in comparison sometimes. Also remember that you were accepted to Dartmouth for a reason — something in your application suggested you had promise and potential. Admissions doesn’t make mistakes.

10. Changing who you are.

The beauty of starting college is that nobody has any preconceived notions, expectations or judgments about you. Nobody knows that you spent the first half of high school holed up in your bedroom writing Harry Potter fanfiction, or that you once had to wear teeth-correcting headgear. The potential to reinvent yourself at Dartmouth can be exhilarating, and there are countless chances to do so. Certainly, some measure of change your freshman year is inevitable, whether that’s developing a higher tolerance for subzero temperatures, adjusting your vocabulary to new lingo or simply learning to do laundry. By the same token, never deliberately change yourself to fit some notion of a Dartmouth student or Dartmouth experience, because neither such thing exists in a single form. If you think traditions like the Ledyard Challenge and Dartmouth Seven are bizarre, you don’t have to partake in them. If you think Keystone Light tastes like the love-child of sewer water and urine, don’t force yourself to drink it. College is the time to find out who you are, and it’s impossible to do that if you make decisions to appease others instead of to gratify yourself.