So, here we are again. Or, for many of you, for the first time. Summer is officially over, Princeton is hurtling into its fourth week of classes, and tourists are flocking to Blair Arch as a part of the ritualistic tradition of creating an obstacle course for students rushing to class. As a member of Mathey, I learned early on in my first year to allot a five-minute grace period when leaving for my classes, just to avoid getting caught in a mob or — God forbid — getting asked to take a photo of a visiting family.
But becoming aware of these small Princeton quirks wasn’t the only thing I learned from my first year. Rather, it was a year of learning through mistakes and adjusting expectations of my abilities.
Thus, my gift as a wizened sophomore to you, class of 2023, are my top five regrets from last year.
#1: Poor time management
Right off the bat, I would say my biggest regret is having poor time management. Coming to Princeton, I didn’t realize the heftier length of politics reading assignments or the difficulty of chemistry problem sets as compared to high school. Some assignments that I expected to take an hour instead took three or four. I would misjudge how much time I needed to put aside and ended up doing work until 3 a.m.
Additionally, I constantly felt a need to be with friends or to go out. Even when I knew I had an obscene amount of work to get done, I would prioritize my social life because I was worried about missing out on fun and friendship. Sure, I have a lot of great memories of doing exactly that last year, but at the end of the day, my GPA suffered. So, make sure to remember why you’re here at Princeton: to get a really incredible education. Your friends will still be there when you’re finished studying, and there’ll always be another night on the Street.
#2: Not taking advantage of office hours
If you’re at Princeton, you’re obviously capable and smart. So, why would you need to go to office hours? That was my attitude for a lot of my first semester. I believed that if I was confused in a class or was struggling, I could just put in a little more effort by reading the textbook or going over notes in order to finally understand it.
Unfortunately, at Princeton, it doesn’t quite work like that. The level of understanding professors require from their students really does necessitate that students seek out help when there is any sort of confusion. Office hours are essential to just that. I finally realized how helpful office hours are at the end of the semester and made a pact with myself that I would attend office hours during the spring, even if I didn’t have a serious question.
I wanted to make sure that I would not only be surviving but excelling in class. Obviously, dedicating multiple hours a week to go to office hours can be a timesink, but at the end of the day, you’re much more likely to do well in class if you take the time and seek out your preceptors and professors. Even if you don’t need help, they can be great resources as you begin to think about your path here at Princeton. Take advantage of the expertise and passion our instructors have for the classes they teach. You’ll be glad you did, and you might have an A at the end of it all.
#3: Feeling discouraged at every “bad” result.
Ok, I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes right now. I mean, how could you not feel discouraged when getting back an assignment, quiz, or exam here at Princeton and seeing a non-perfect score? That was definitely how I felt when I picked up my first serious graded assignment and was shocked to see a concerning percentage. It was easy for me to not only experience imposter syndrome but also to become increasingly anxious about any sort of evaluation, whether it be an essay or an exam. At the time, I got caught in the vicious cycle of doing poorly on an assignment, feeling bad for myself, not being motivated to prepare adequately for the next assignment, and doing poorly again.
Looking back at it all, I now know that by allowing myself to spiral essentially created an attitude that I didn’t belong at Princeton, and that I had peaked intellectually in high school. I should have seen these “failures” as learning opportunities.
Of course, it is completely appropriate to give yourself a minute to be disappointed, but then it’s important to view it as a informative glimpse into your weaknesses as a student in that class. The only outcome then is focusing on addressing those weaknesses and making sure you become a more well-rounded person. As easy as it might be, try not to blame yourself or convince yourself that you aren’t as smart as you once thought. Take a deep breath, watch some Netflix, and create a game plan for doing better next time.
#4: Missing out on programming like guest lectures, special events, and shows.
One of the best things about Princeton is the variety of events it puts on. From speakers to movie nights to concerts, there’s always something unique and interesting on campus. Unfortunately, I only really got to experience that side of Princeton at the end of my first year, when I went to the end of year showcase for one of my friend’s dance groups. I couldn’t believe the energy throughout the theater and how much fun both the audience and the dancers were having. Up until that point, I never really considered going to those sorts of events. In my mind, they were always “oh, well if I have the time” experiences. Afterwards, I was hooked. I went to a variety of shows, some because they involved my friends, others simply because I was fascinated by the level of talent all of these groups displayed.
The same goes for speakers that Princeton invites, as well as special events, such as Undergraduate Student Government (USG) movie nights. Sometimes it’s nice to step out of the usual routine of a student and get to hear a talk by someone like Alice Walker or to go to a movie with your Zee group just out on Nassau Street. The caliber of programming Princeton presents is exceptional, and it would be a shame not to experience it. You’ll be glad you did.
#5 (And by far my biggest regret): Wearing white shoes to the Street.
I can’t emphasize this enough. Don’t do it. I remember my first weekend at Princeton happened to be Frosh Weekend — something of a legend now to first years, and I give my sincerest apologies on behalf of the class of 2022 — and I decided to wear my white canvas platform sneakers to the Street. My only concern was to make sure I would feel comfortable enough to dance and walk, and of course, have a cute pair of shoes to complement my outfit.
Little did I know that would be the last night those shoes would be presentable. When I looked at them in the light the next day, my once white sneakers were gray. They never were white again, and I eventually turned them into my Street shoes for the year. So, unless you want your new pair of white Air Force 1s to be massacred during a night out at Tiger Inn, I recommend using a pair of shoes you would be happy to discard at the end of the school year.
There you have it. My top five regrets from my first year. They may seem pretty straightforward, but trust me, they’re important to pay attention to, and I believe are essential to your success at Princeton. Yes, even number five.
Brigitte Harbers is a sophomore from New York, N.Y. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.