This article is featured in the 2023 Freshman special issue.
Welcome, Class of 2027! Right now, you’re probably going to lots of orientation sessions and hearing countless tips. Perhaps a few upperclassmen have told you what they wish they’d done differently. Maybe you feel that this advice is cliche and doesn’t apply to your college experience. But the reality is that cliches are cliches for a reason.
I found writing a piece giving advice to freshmen more difficult than other articles I’ve written. I wanted to stress the advice that I wish I had listened to during my first year, but I was sure the messages that I wanted to pass on had already been said in a Freshman special issue from years past. I’ve realized that, even though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, the cliched advice I received from upperclassmen was truly important for making the most out of college. I want to impart on you all what I failed to realize during my own freshman year: The advice you are hearing is being said for a reason, and it’s important to humbly listen to it.
An early cliche I took for granted was to “try new things.” I figured that I was in college, and trying new things would be a given. You may think that certain activities simply aren’t for you. This could absolutely be true, but you could also be missing out on something that would bring you a lot of joy. Alternatively, it may be that you’re on the fence about joining clubs or organizations because you don’t feel qualified enough. Listen to those who are telling you to just try. What’s the worst that could happen?
Personally, I wanted to “try new things” when I came to school, but in the fall, I did not actively seek out clubs and organizations that drove me out of my comfort zone. I made limited contributions to The Dartmouth and joined activist organizations, and although my involvement with these groups had profound impacts on my Dartmouth career, none of the activities were new to me. Late into my freshman year, I joined the student theater scene on campus — something I had never tried before — and learned multitudes about things completely unfamiliar to me. I regretted not challenging myself to try new things earlier in my Dartmouth career, but that said, it’s never too late to try something new — and there are people who are rooting for your success.
Trying new things goes beyond just joining clubs and organizations. Take a class that you may not have initially thought about taking. If you have a set idea of who you want to be when you leave Dartmouth, I commend you, but remember that those ideas can change. Convincing yourself that these ideas cannot change will limit your opportunities.
As an example, consider my study abroad plans. Coming into Dartmouth, I wanted to take Spanish, go on the Buenos Aires Language Study Abroad and pursue a minor in the language. At the same time, I was slightly conflicted as my family originates from Egypt, and learning Arabic would be incredibly valuable to me. I spent a couple of days asking people for their thoughts, some of whom even connected me with upperclassmen who had been involved in the Middle Eastern Studies department. From then on, I had the intention of trying out Arabic for a term in ARAB 1, but I felt passionate about it and continued on the track. This remains one of my favorite decisions I’ve made at Dartmouth. A few of my closest friends at Dartmouth came directly from the class, and I chose to spend this past summer on the Middle Eastern studies LSA in Morocco creating long-lasting memories.
I also underestimated the value in the fact that every Dartmouth experience is unique. Thinking about my freshman fall, it seemed as if some people knew exactly which path to take, what classes to take and what their academic experience would be like for the next four years. Here I was, a kid who frankly hadn’t known much about Dartmouth when I applied. I soon found myself in Blobby looking into classes that sounded interesting, while some of my peers had their whole academic careers planned out. It is important to understand that people have different paths, and not knowing what you want to do at this current juncture is perfectly fine. It’s even more okay to reach out to those peers for help with your academic process. They can provide insight that you may have glanced over or may not be aware of.
I remember the open house the day before class registration. It seemed like my peers had very specific questions for professors, which was intimidating since I still didn’t know what classes I wanted to register for. Ultimately, I had a few conversations with professors which consisted of merely asking simple questions that I probably should have known the answer to. But this is where I’ll provide you a direct piece of advice: Don’t be afraid to approach conversations humbly and admit that you may not know something.Your peers and professors are smart individuals and have a great deal of knowledge to pass on to you. Dartmouth is a place to learn, and it is okay to not always know all the answers.
As I continue on in my Dartmouth career, I’ve realized how important discussions with those who have already gone through this process can be, especially those who have similar interests. While yes, we all have different Dartmouth experiences, we all certainly face similar challenges.These cliches are reiterated often because they are things that countless members of various Dartmouth classes fail to pay attention to.
It’s up to you to change this paradigm and listen to the advice that is being given. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and even more okay to admit it. You will sense this especially when using your upperclassmen as resources in helping guide your Dartmouth journey. It’s hard to describe how collaborative this community can be when you seek help in any form. However, it’s your decision to listen to that advice humbly and earnestly.
Upperclassmen are here for you. Reach out to that cool ’24 for lunch. I’m sure they’d be happy to provide you with some more cliches.
Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.