Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 20, 2021

Freshmen ask, an upperclassman answers

By LAURA WADSTEN | August 30, 2020

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ART BY SOPHIA LOLA

You asked, I answered — to the best of my ability. These are the most common questions The News-Letter received from members of the Class of 2024.

Q: How do I balance every aspect of college life — online school, extracurriculars and a social life?

A: There are 168 hours in every week, and the number of credits you take is approximately equal to the number of hours you will spend “in class” every week. I generally spend two and a half to three hours on coursework outside of class time per credit I’m taking (for example, 15 credits would be 15 hours in class per week and around 45 hours out of class per week spent on schoolwork). Your remaining time will be divided up between sleep, extracurriculars, socializing, exercising, cooking and/or eating, bathing and self-care. 

Self-care is absolutely non-negotiable as a college student. Remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup, so take time to relax and refill. This will look different for everyone, but I recommend trying out the Calm app; Hopkins students get a free Premium subscription with their student emails.

Q: How do I help my family understand how much time I will have to devote to classes, coursework, studying and extracurriculars?

A: Per my last answer, a lot of your time will be devoted to being a college student. My parents struggled to understand why I was always working when I first got home last spring. What helped me was reminding them that homework and studying are basically a full-time job on their own. Emphasize that although you are at home, you’re still taking rigorous courses, and you’re still very much part of the Hopkins community. I also recommend providing everyone who lives with you a copy of your schedule, so they know when not to interrupt you. 

Q: What is online learning like? How do I stay motivated while taking virtual classes?

A: Instructors at Hopkins are innovative, helpful and accommodating; they make online learning work. This summer, professors received more training on digital instruction, and the University invested in improving digital teaching capabilities. In terms of motivation, I recommend getting dressed every day — even if you just put on sweatpants or a different pair of pajamas, it helps you feel like it’s “work time” rather than just “chilling at home time.” Make sure you pay attention during class! Don’t text your friends or browse the web during valuable time with professors. 

It also helps to get into a routine; while this can be a challenge when working from home, it’s easiest to form habits right at the beginning of the semester. Another important thing is to remember deadlines — I mark due dates and exams on a calendar as soon as I get my syllabus. The worst type of surprise is a surprise test or paper!

Q: How can I avoid burnout and impostor syndrome? How do I stay sane this semester?

A: Students at Hopkins are passionate and driven, which can lead to overcommitment. Do you have enough time to eat, sleep, talk to friends and do at least one thing to take care of your mental health every day? If not, you’re probably overdoing it. If you can tell you’re not in a good headspace for studying, take a break — go for a walk, do a face mask, meditate, take a bath or a nap if you’re tired. 

If you want to talk to someone or you’re feeling overwhelmed, visit A Place to Talk (APTT) virtually. If you want daily content about mental health, impostor syndrome and self-care, follow @hopkinsbike on Instagram. Remember that you’re here for a reason, and we all struggle and do poorly sometimes. In order to perform at your best, you have to take care of yourself. If you don’t, you will be exhausted and hardly capable of studying by the time finals roll around (speaking from experience).

Q: What is one thing you wish someone had told you your freshman year? What are some pitfalls to avoid in freshman year?

A: If your class has a PILOT program, take it! You don’t need to commit to a major ASAP; you have plenty of time to explore and change your mind. Look at all of the different majors and classes offered — you might be surprised by what you find. Also, while office hours can be intimidating, I really wish I had started attending them earlier! Professors and TAs are incredibly useful, so take advantage of their expertise.

The main pitfalls of freshman year are not sleeping enough and partying too hard. While frat parties will not be there to tempt you this fall, video games and social media will be. Do things you enjoy in order to keep your sanity — just enjoy these activities in moderation so you don’t fall behind on coursework. 

Q: How do I decide what is worth pursuing, and what I should drop? 

A: What makes you happy? What has helped you grow? What helps you feel calm or at peace? What drives you to do more? What will help you accomplish your long-term goals? The answers to these questions are what you should keep in your life.

What feels more inconvenient than rewarding? Do you feel valued by your colleagues and peers? Has this activity become a chore rather than a joy? Are you only doing this because you think you have to or you’ve always done it or someone else wants you to do it? Drop these things like they’re hot. (I’m sorry for that reference.)

Q: How can I be less awkward on Zoom?

A: Oof, we all know how painful Zoom meetings can be, but there are ways to avoid uncomfortable silence. If you’re speaking, turn on your camera and look into it — facial expressions provide visual cues and help you seem more engaged in the conversation. If silence inevitably happens, ask questions to revive dialogue. Remind yourself that Zoom meetings are awkward for everyone, so don’t worry.

Q: Who can I talk to so I don’t feel isolated?

A: Your FYM, TAs, APTT, friends and classmates. For mental health support, you can make an appointment at the Counseling Center or through TimelyMD. There are also awesome staff in various offices across campus to speak with, like the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which includes the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Women and Gender Resources, LGBTQ Life, and Religious and Spiritual Life. 

Q: How can I make friends and get to know the Hopkins community virtually? 

A: One of the best ways to meet people is by joining student organizations, of which there are over 400 at Hopkins. Be on the lookout for information about the upcoming Student Involvement Fair, where you can learn more about the various groups on campus. You’ll also meet lots of people in your classes, so remember to participate when applicable. You can also connect with your classmates through your First Year Mentor (FYM) chats, GroupMe, Facebook, Discord and other social media. To stay up to date on all things Hopkins, read The News-Letter (shameless plug).

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