Been There, Done That
In the beginning, it may seem as if everyone else has everything in college figured out, from social life to academics. It is important, however, to be aware of the fact that Dartmouth is a new experience for all freshmen, as many often take a while to adjust to college life. This was the parting advice Sara McGahan ’17 received from her father at the start of her freshman year.
As you begin your freshman year, we offer you the advice of several rising seniors on The Dartmouth Senior Staff.
Michael Qian ’17, managing news editor, noted the importance of understanding that “it is completely normal to have bad days, bad weeks or even bad terms.”
Qian said that he himself did not always love Dartmouth during his freshman fall.
“It’s totally okay to not like Dartmouth all the time, even at all,” he added. “You aren’t required to like anything.”
Maya Poddar ’17, production executive editor, pointed out that while the transition to college can be terrifying and overwhelming, there is never a lack of resources available at Dartmouth for students who may feel homesick or are having trouble adjusting academically or socially.
Priya Ramaiah ’17, another news managing editor, advised freshmen to “take it easy” and not overload themselves academically during freshman fall. Poddar echoed this sentiment, saying that freshmen should spend some time “laying down groundwork,” getting acclimated to Dartmouth and figuring out what habits work best for them.
“You don’t always have to be full speed ahead, running into everything, because you’ll burn yourself out,” she added.
As a smaller academic institution with only a few thousand undergraduates enrolled, Dartmouth presents students with the opportunity to closely interact with their professors during office hours and programs like “Take a Faculty Member to Lunch.”
Poddar urged freshmen to not be shy and to talk with their professors, as “no one is more invested in your success than your professors.”
“Know that you’re not imposing on your professors [by reaching out to them],” she added.
Ramaiah said that it can often be easy for students to make excuses for not contacting professors, and that they should try to take initiative.
McGahan also stressed that freshmen should not panic if they do not perform as well academically as they had anticipated, especially in the fall term. She noted that many straight-A students in high school may not see the same grades in college right away, adding that grades do not determine one’s intelligence.
McGahan recalled that her freshman dean told her that during freshman fall, the burdens of making friends, finding out one’s academic and social interests and adjusting to living alone can provide a similar workload as taking a fourth class.
“In the beginning there’s pressure to find your people and your community,” Ramaiah said. “It’s easy to panic if you feel like you haven’t found anyone yet by the second week.”
She noted that forging friendships and connections can take time and that freshmen should not be overly anxious.
Qian and Ramaiah found themselves floormates during their first year, and both commented that the connections and friendships created within a floor can be long-lasting. Ramaiah added that regularly attending floor meetings and other floor events organized by your undergraduate advisor can help freshmen get to know their floormates and other members of their residential community.
Your freshman roommate and floormates are just another avenue and opportunity for you to make friends, McGahan said, adding that it is perfectly all right if you do not become best friends with those in your residential community.
“Be open to meeting people anywhere and everywhere,” she said. “It’s not always in the place you expect it.”
McGahan said she met some of her closest friends doing laundry or standing in line for food.
Dartmouth’s rural location also facilitates the creation of friendships and networks with other members of the school community.
“What is often overlooked is that there really is not as much of a central campus culture in city schools,” Qian said, basing his opinion on conversations with friends and acquaintances who attend schools located in places such as New York City.
He said that Dartmouth’s small and centralized campus facilitates connections among students.
The College’s rural location makes outdoor pastimes accessible. The Dartmouth Outing Club, for example, organizes a variety of outdoor activities such as hiking, biking and climbing.
“It’s nice to just have some of the best outdoor experiences at your fingertips,” Qian said.
Poddar expressed similar sentiments, suggesting freshmen take in the campus’ beauty through low-key activities like taking a walk around Occom Pond, around the Green or even just around Hanover.
McGahan spent freshman fall within a one-mile radius of her dorm. She had everything she needed at her fingertips, bu found that life in Hanover can get mundane.
McGahan noted that stepping away from campus and going for a hike or spending time in nature can be refreshing. She recommended Pine Park and Mink Brook as prime locations for reflection away from life on campus.
Most freshmen get their first taste of the outdoors during First-Year Trips. Thrown into nature for five days (don’t worry, the camping part is more like two nights) with a group of strangers, this experience can seem daunting for some.
Qian, who led a Trip last year, said that while the first day can be awkward, by the fifth day, students feel much more comfortable with their surroundings and with each other, and are more comfortable being themselves.
Ramaiah said students should keep an open mind about the program and its various activities.
“No one knows what’s happening and no one knows anyone,” she said. “All you can do is just bring everything on the packing list.”
Nevertheless, Qian added that freshmen do not necessarily have to love Trips.
“Trips is really hyped up but it’s fine if you don’t get along with people on your Trip,” he said. “A lot of people don’t.”
The outdoors is not for everyone. Perhaps echoing the feelings of many ’20s, Poddar was initially “so upset about having to go on Trips.”
The main objective of Trips, however, is not to prove students’ adeptness at outdoor activities, she added. She said that during Trips, freshmen should turn to their trip leaders if they need any help.
While many promote freshman year as a time for academic exploration, Ramaiah said that freshmen should put some thought into their academic plans and interests.
“There is a happy medium between exploring everything and having everything planned out,” Ramaiah said.
She added that freshmen should look to upperclassmen as mentors.
“The odds that [upperclassmen] know somebody involved with something you’re interested in is much higher than you knowing someone,” Ramaiah said.
For freshmen, the easiest way to make new friends is by joining clubs, student groups, sports teams or other organizations on campus. McGahan said that freshmen should try out new activities that they may not have done in high school, as they may end up uncovering new passions.
Ultimately, McGahan noted that when looking back on college, what one remembers is laughing with friends, jumping in the river or going out for a birthday dinner – not the countless hours spent hunkered down in the library poring over schoolwork.
McGahan’s final advice, echoing her father’s advice to give herself time to adjust to the College, is to take time for oneself to enjoy College in all its complexities.