To Each and Everyone of You that is About to Start Your Freshman Year at College

By Sam Rosensohn

Incoming freshmen at Princeton University are advised that the age old adage “well begun is half done” works wonders for college careers.

So I thought I’d pass along a loose assortment of useful insights written, rewritten, unwritten, and then re-rewritten by Princeton students and alumni to help freshmen get off to a super start.

The Student Guide to Princeton, which can be found in its unabridged from at http://www.princeton.edu/pr/pub/sg/index.shtml, often made me nod my head in agreement. See if you agree.

“It’s important that you don’t fall behind during the first three weeks of the semester – in the whirlwind of choosing classes, adjusting to your new friends and dorm, and finding your way around campus, this is very easy to do. If it does: run, don’t walk, to your professor or TA’s office hours. Every single instructor at Princeton sets aside time every week for this very reason.

“If they can’t help you right then and there, odds are they’ll be able to meet with you again later, recommend a tutor, or offer some sort of extension. And if their schedule is especially tight – try inviting them to a ‘business’ lunch. So long as they actually get to eat, many professors and grad students are more than willing to talk over chicken wings and fries.

“Lastly – to beat my favorite dead horse: get to know your professor outside of class! Curriculums are great and all, but there’s nothing quite like shooting-the-breeze-over-coffee for finding out what makes a subject truly fascinating.”

Chapter One addresses the start of school and your new roomie. “Unless you are a freakishly well-adjusted person, there will probably come a time during the year when you decide you don’t like your roommate.

“It might even happen by the second week of school, because sharing a room the size of a closet with someone you’ve never met before is bound to have its stressful moments. And let’s face it, we can all be tough to live with sometimes. But if you and your roommate are having serious trouble getting along, there are plenty of resources available. Talk to your RCA, college master, or even the people in the counseling center.

“If you can get past your roommate’s little quirks, you will probably find him or her to be a valuable resource. While you shouldn’t expect your roommate to become your best friend, many do (mine did – although only after six months of sibling-style squabbling), and it’s nice to know that someone will notice if you don’t come home at night.”

Chapter Three (now don’t you go skipping chapters but I don’t have a lot of space so I have to bounce quickly) addresses setting the alarm early, thinking long term, other academic resources (coffee), and finding cool classes.

“Cool classes – Looking for a sure-winner course? Check out the Student Course Guide for full descriptions of courses, plus cool recommendations. Remember, however, that there is nothing more subjective than opinions on courses: many people are very happy taking an all-physics course load and rate every class “splendiferous!” while others dread having to fulfill their science requirement at all.”

Now make sure you get this: “Thinking ahead during your first year will probably save you much agony later on in your college career. For starters, many departments require that you take classes in their field even before you declare them as a major. Furthermore, in departments that have a ton of requirements, taking classes there your first year helps ensure you have the freedom your junior and senior years to take classes outside your field of concentration.”

Chapter Four is an injunction to get involved. I quite agree. Study after study shows that kids who get involved in campus activities are the ones who make friends the fastest, set down roots the quickest, and live well-rounded student lives. Involved kids aren’t missing the house they couldn’t wait to bolt from.

“The easiest way to get involved in most of Princeton’s clubs and organizations is by going to the Student Activities Fair during orientation week (which brings us back to well begun is half done). Practically every club on campus shows up and tries to recruit new members. Even if you don’t join any clubs, you’ll probably be able to score plenty of free food. Don’t be shy. Remember, these people want you. Browse around, and put your name on any list that looks interesting. (Don’t worry – you’re not signing your life away – most groups expect a high dropout rate.)

“One final note on student activities: Try not to get overextended.  Organizations here tend to suck up much more time than comparable organizations in high school. It’s not worth failing economics because you really wanted to start a lawn bowling club.”

Chapter Five is entitled Just for Fun. As my grandmother used to say, all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy (and she was a tireless worker). Not that most of you need to be reminded of the importance of play; so map and execute properly and you will work hard and play hard.

Every school has its own culture and goes about life a little differently so make it your business to discover what fun-loving activities your school is big on.

Princeton, we see from the guide, is big on eating, playing and watching sports, movies, bowling, getting out of Jersey, getting to the Big Apple (food again) and I’m not making this up, the guide notes how big students are on Philadelphia, and the first thing it notes about the city is history and then cheese steak.

You get the picture; you’re going to gain weight if you go to Princeton so find a club sport to burn some of those calories. And if you’re not going to Princeton, find some good eateries (as if I had to tell you) and a few good friends who like pizza too.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at sam@satprepct.com