I got an email from my editor. Ryan, the frosh are coming, he said. We need some articles for them. So that got me wondering, what exactly could I tell the incoming (and great) Class of 2021, because I can tell you all this right now — you all know jack. To prove my point, soon you will all be partying at Colonial. Ah, the blissful ignorance of youth.
Really, understand how difficult this article is to write. How do you talk to people who don’t know anything? So, what do I know? I already know what the administration will be worried about. Administrators will be bending over backwards to ensure you are equipped with the rudiments of what it might take to survive at Princeton.
Step 1, don’t cheat. Step 2, do not take more than four classes your first term. Step 3, use your resources!
My problem is, I was a frosh once, and I’ve done some orientation for frosh too. I can tell you simply, the amount of information that you will receive from the administration is huge. It’s big-league. It’s simply too much for you to digest. But more importantly, because you’ve yet to experience the context that information is designed to help you with, the nuances of that information are useless.
I won’t give you advice, because you won’t take it, because you don’t think you need it. Even if you do, you’ll have so much sensory input over frosh week that I might as well have taken a fountain pen, dumped it over a piece of newsprint, and turned it in to my editors. I know your type, because, my soon-to-be-slightly-younger peers, I’ve been in your shoes. I rocked out of my IB-World School public magnet high school as the first kid to go to an Ivy since the school had been open, with the highest scores on final exams. The following year, we were ranked #12 nationally for our first time in U.S News and World Report. I didn’t think I was ready for college — no, I thought I was going to kill college. After all, I got into Princeton! And I won’t lie, it was okay at first. Why? Because Princeton puts a lot of emphasis on trying to keep its freshmen from overloading.
Listen, I’m not speaking from some holier-than-thou attitude. I’m being earnest, and I’m being honest. As a frosh, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I wasted valuable GPA and time figuring that out first, and I was stubborn about it too. I humbly suggest you use your resources like office hours, the McGraw Center, the Writing Center, your residential college offices, because I didn’t touch them freshman year and it was just that side of hell. Sophomore year, I did more and it was easier, strictly because I started applying lessons I learned the hard way freshman year. But you don’t have to learn things the hard way! I just made it really easy!
Depending on where you look, Princeton either has a stress culture where people are trying to constantly outdo each other in terms of pain inflicted on themselves, or Princeton has a culture of “effortless perfection” (a term you will hear roughly 3,000 times in the first month alone), where it’s all about looking as calm as possible on the outside, while on the inside, you just refuse to get help. Having gone home a few times to saner colleges, the fact is, Princeton is ultra-competitive, and you’ll feel it. Don’t buy into it. You can be better than that and help make this university a better place. Question your peers' motives and never put anything but your own health first. When someone tells you, “Yeah, I got 2 hours of sleep the last two weeks!” and you can respond, “Please look after yourself, I’m concerned for your well-being because nothing is more important than your own health,” that’s the moment you begin real and important change.
If I’ve painted a bleak picture, that’s because I’m purposely trying to provoke a reaction from you. Welcome to Princeton. You’re lucky to be here, for the simple fact that this place has more money and more prestige than any colleges outside of Boston and New Haven [your new least-favorite cities]. There are good people here and bad people here. You’ll make what you will of it, and so on. Also, probably every single one of you will be successful, so relax. All I’m saying is the faster you realize what you don’t know, the faster you will start making changes, the more successful you will be, the more successful you will feel. Honestly, Princeton isn’t even that hard! But it definitely will be unless you realize that frosh know nothing.
Ryan Born is a junior studying Philosophy from Washington, Mich. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and looks forward to your emails about how the first three weeks were easy, with a sudden drop-off about a week before midterms. He has nothing against Colonial Club.