This post is anonymous to make everything a little more comfortable.
Often, around this time of year, you’ll see a whole batch of articles and listicles and other such forms of printed-word media that provide advice on how to start college (or how to start sophomore year, senior year, etc.) from people who have already been through it. I never got that much out of those articles, because it was hard for me to trust that the experience was universal enough to apply to a general audience of readers. I wanted to make my own contribution to the genre, but I knew I would bore myself to death if I didn’t put at least a little twist on it. So I decided to do what I was really doing in my head anyway, which is write advice specifically to my past self. Because, man, my first semester was not as good as it could have been. It was still fun, and I have plenty of fond memories looking back. But there’s no doubt in my mind that it was easily the worst of the four I’ve had at Brown so far and, barring my contraction of a serious mono-like illness this year, likely should be the worst of my first six semesters as well. There are a number of things I wish I’d heard from future me before I got started. Here they are, in no particular order. I doubt all, or even most, will apply to you, but I suspect that there are some people out there who will be able to relate to each one. Which would be cool. Here we go:
1. Don’t be a douche to your roommate. I’ve never been very good at first impressions, but I suspect that the one I made on my roommate was one of the worst. Even the messages I sent him in the Facebook exchange before school started were douchey, and then things got even worse when we met in person. I had an incredibly immature argument with my mom within a minute of entering our room, where he was waiting to meet me. Once we were alone, I bombarded him with inane, incredibly un-self-aware comments about my background and my views on college social life. I don’t know whether he remembers these interactions quite as vividly as I do–I hope not–but I would bet pretty confidently that they contributed a great deal to our near total lack of communication first semester.
2. But also don’t stress about whether you’ll be best friends. Even if I had been some sort of angelic incarnation of myself for the first month of my relationship with my roommate, I’m nearly 100% sure we wouldn’t have been more than friendly acquaintances anyway. He’s an incredibly nice and talented guy, but we just didn’t have that much in common. No matter what transpired between us, we would have found our ways to very different social groups pretty quickly. Contrary to what I thought when I showed up at college, however, becoming BFFs with your roommate just isn’t that important. Nearly guaranteed, everyone makes a few friends in their unit within the first week or two, and if they don’t, it’s usually because they’ve already formed a group around some other interest outside of the unit. A few people I know took a little longer to find their crew, but they found it eventually. There are so many cool people at Brown that it’s more or less irrelevant whether you hit it off with your roommate or your neighbors or even your hallmates. There are plenty of people to meet and opportunities to befriend them.
3. And remember, the friends you do make don’t have to be your friends for the rest of college. I recall that I put a lot of pressure on myself to essentially identify my senior year housing group by the end of orientation, i.e. I really wanted to solidify my close friend circle as quickly as possible. But that’s not how it works at all. Friendships in college are way more fluid (at least they have been for me) than friendships in high school, and you’ll make more friends as you try different things or take different classes. Some of them will stick around longer than others, and that’s not a good or bad thing–just a sign of with whom you really have a connection and with whom you don’t. I met my sophomore-year roommate (who was my next-door neighbor) and a handful of other friends who I see fairly often during first semester shopping period, but I didn’t even know a majority of the people with whom I’m in close contact until second semester or even sophomore year.
4. Also, this probably isn’t the time to find love and marriage. This one is a little embarrassing and personal, but at some point in the summer before freshman year I decided that the beginning of college would be an ideal time to experiment with a serious relationship. This became such a firm conviction that I tried to force something that, in hindsight, obviously didn’t make very much sense. Long story short, I ended up making myself very unhappy for (retrospectively) unnecessary reasons. Obviously, a few people will couple up during orientation and stay together for the rest of college but, just like friendships, romantic connections in college are pretty fluid. It’s best not to get hung up on any one thing, as I did more than once.
5. And, if you insist on trying, stay the hell out of your unit. What they say about unitcest is true. And no, you’re not special. And even if it’s working great, everyone around you is probably annoyed. So don’t do it. It will almost definitely end badly, and if it doesn’t, again, people will still be weirded out.
6. Be really deliberate about course selection. I really don’t know if this is how other people experienced the open curriculum to start off with, but I was like “Gee! Wow! No requirements!” and sauntered off to take the four humanities courses that sounded closest to my interests on paper. I hardly shopped anything else, I ignored Critical Review, and I barely even looked through the Banner offerings that weren’t English or Political Science. I ended up dropping one class, hating another, not liking the third, and really liking the last one (thankfully, the odds of taking four stinkers must be pretty low). I should have been way more aware of the benefits of shopping period, and, once I fucked that up, taken the S/NC option more seriously. You know nothing when you start school, so don’t act like you do. I would have been much happier if I had listened to the advice of–well…
7. Find someone with experience whose advice you trust. Part of the reason I had so much trouble picking good courses was that my faculty advisor, while well intentioned, wasn’t very helpful, and neither was my Meiklejohn. Having discussed this problem pretty thoroughly with a lot of other students, I can say pretty confidently that my experience with the faculty advisor holds true for most people at least regarding course selection–as much as they want to help, faculty usually don’t know or understand enough about registration and course offerings to help you beyond general life guidance (e.g. “Make sure you don’t spread yourself too thin”; “I really liked my art history class at Ohio State”). Meiklejohns run the gamut from useless to awesome; mine was more the former than the latter. So, my advising team wasn’t especially strong, and I didn’t really know any upperclassmen to help out. Still, I absolutely should have sought someone out–I could have seen a Dean, nearly all of whom tend to be extremely knowledgeable, or asked a friend if they knew an older student with interests similar to mine, or shopped around on the Meiklejohn front, etc. You’re not helpless in finding help. But I was certainly pretty helpless because I didn’t.
8. For the love of God, try new things. By the time I had completed my glorious course selection failure, I had three fairly easy classes and a whole lot of free time. Really, all I filled it with was writing for this world-class publication and singlehandedly accounting for half of YouTube and Netflix’s daily traffic. There are so many things to do at this school in the extracurricular world that it’s a sin to not try more than a couple of them. I experimented with maybe two others my first semester, but I didn’t really give myself a chance to get invested. The obvious and correct thing to do is find a more adventurous friend who’s doing something that maybe sounds unappealing upon first impression–e.g. going to dance class or trying club lacrosse or hey, maybe applying for Blog (!!!! email email@example.com for an application !!!!)–and just go with them. What’s the worst that could happen? I regret, beyond everything else from my first semester, the amount of time I spent in my room doing absolutely nothing. College is short, sweet, and ripe with opportunities. Seize them.
9. Know and trust your boundaries. Okay, this is kind of a cheap piece of advice that I’m throwing in because I feel like it’s both important and mandatory in a post like this. When it comes to things like drugs, sex, and alcohol, you’re the only one who knows what you’re really comfortable with (to be fair, other people can sometimes figure it out when you projectile vomit on their walls). Don’t do anything just because other people are doing it–but also don’t not do something just because you’ve never done it before. In other words, be bold but also be safe. The only additional thing I can add here is that you shouldn’t trust anything anyone says, even people who you think are your closest friends, about their levels of experience with illicit substances or behaviors. I found out quickly how much everybody, even the “baddest-ass” kids (or at least, all but the baddest-ass of the baddest-ass kids), was exaggerating.
10. Ask anyone anything. I hate getting cliche about Brown, but if there’s one thing we’re especially good at here, it’s being open. Administrators want to hear from you, badly. There are way more people than you could possibly believe who are paid by the school to sit in a room waiting for you to ask them for help (maybe that’s not their entire job, but it’s a huge part). Your advisors want to help, even if they’re not as good at it as you might wish (many of them are undoubtedly extremely good). Your RPC’s absolutely want to help. Most of your classmates want to help, although the only ones with any more of a clue than you are those with older siblings who have already gone to Brown. Even any random kid walking through the Main Green or sitting in the Ratty wants to help. Seriously–people love to be asked for advice. It’s a huge, subtle-ish ego trip. Why do you think I wrote this post? Advice is fun! So get as much as you need. Hopefully, this was an okay start.