Being one year in, and feeling decidedly expert on Princeton now, I offer these sophomoric words of advice to my freshman self.
Dear freshman self, freshman week is free-friends week. Everyone is looking for a group to fit into, and most are feeling like the odd one out. Please don’t. Rip off the awkward band-aid and talk to your fellow freshmen. Yes, you will have to get through every possible iteration of name-hometown-residential college, but stay strong. Real conversations come soon.
On that note, freshman self, among the people you meet will be every academic, athletic and extracurricular champion you can imagine. Ignore that voice in your head that says, no matter what you accomplished in high school, you don’t compare to your peers. That national champion of ________ is just as thrown by the Princeton experience as you are, so use the opportunity to meet as many interesting people as you can face-to-face and not through a Google search or Facebook stalk. You will meet some of your closest friends during freshman week, and you will meet many others with whom you’ll lose touch as classes start. But neither group will solidify based on high school accomplishments. As people begin to carve out their space in Princeton, their Google-famous selves will cease to define them, so give yourself a head start and don’t measure yourself up to the pre-Princeton accomplishments of those around you. The competition is over; you all got in; cherish it. Together.
Dear freshman self, a Google search of your professor will turn up equally daunting results. Yes, she won that award; yes, he advised those presidents; yes, they discovered that cure. And yes, they want to get to know you. There will be those who tell you to go to office hours, to not be intimidated by professors and to ask a lot of questions. Listen to them. Freshman self, you heard this advice last year from your RCA, from your peer academic adviser, from non-frosh, from professors and still you ignored it for too long. Professors are here to teach you, not to judge you. The worst that can happen when you approach a professor is an awkward, brief encounter that quickly falls away from memory.
Dear freshman self, as you decide which courses to take this semester don’t be your worst enemy. Don’t shy away from courses based solely on what type of learner you think you are, or what prerequisites you’ve just barely fulfilled. You don’t need to take the hardest courses in the registrar, but you don’t need to short-sell yourself either. Freshman self, there will be classes that fill up just seconds before you sign up for them. Don’t despair. As students shop classes and shuffle schedules, spots might open up. Email the professor and ask to join the wait list.
Dear freshman self, don’t feel wedded to your high school study habits. There will be times when you need to buckle down and do work (read: writing seminar deadlines), and there will be times when lecture readings can be blown off in order to hang out with friends. And don’t feel wedded to the study habits you make in your first few weeks. You may study in your room for the first weeks and then find that readings go faster in Mathey common room, problem sets untangle themselves in Firestone and study groups focus better in Frist.
Dear freshman self, in high school, you were a big fish in a small pond; here you are just another fish in a large school. And that’s liberating. You can redefine yourself here, in the safety of the crowd. Take a few moments out of the craziness of the first few weeks of school to think about who you were and who you’d like to be. Nobody here knows you well yet, so the only thing holding you back is your own perception of yourself.
Now freshman self, I see you rolling your eyes at me. It’s true, I’m just a sophomore discovering new things about Princeton every day. Just know this, dear freshman self, a year from now you’ll return to the campus that looks so foreign today and find that it really is the “best old place of all.”
Rebecca Kreutter is a sophomore from Singapore. She can be reached at email@example.com.