Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
February 8, 2023


Gahagen shares a variety of tips on how to have a successful freshman year.


  • A teacher’s assistant once told me: If you don’t like a reading, don’t read it!

This is a controversial point of advice, but I stand by it. If a reading doesn’t click with you, or you find yourself dedicating too much time to something you cannot comprehend at all, move on. Try to make a go of it but focus on what does make sense to you or interests you. If you have a large reading load, ultimately you won’t be able to do a close read of every text, so don’t get bogged down by just one item.

  • Don’t pull all-nighters.

My mom always says nothing good happens after midnight, and in this case, she is correct. I can guarantee you that your work quality will decrease the later you stay up. A strategy I like to use is to set working hours during the day to accomplish all of my to-dos and then set aside ample time to relax and wind down. 

  • Handwrite notes for subjects where memorization is important.

Despite the convenience of typing out your notes, I find that the act of writing notes allows me to memorize things more effectively. Additionally I will inevitably get distracted on my laptop during class, so this strategy eliminates that possibility.

Practicalities and life advice

  • Develop a routine.

Crafting a routine allows you to be organized and plan accordingly. I have found that situating tasks I need to do — laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning — in a set weekly schedule has not only helped me balance out my to-dos so no one day is too busy but has also held me accountable for doing them.

  • Don’t live off of ramen — plan your meals ahead of time.

One of my goals is to try to eat at home as much as possible. Eating meals out adds up quickly, and when you eat in, you generally have the ability to eat healthier. For mornings when I have class, I like to bake mini quiches or banana bread ahead of time and heat them up quickly. Similarly, if I know I’m going to get home late, I try to have something easy for dinner, like an omelette and a salad.

  • Check the weather forecast and always have an umbrella in your bag.

Baltimore’s weather can be unpredictable at times, and it is essential to be prepared for whatever could come your way. Coming from the Sunshine State, I had no idea how essential umbrellas are, especially when you generally have to walk everywhere.

  • Have something to look forward to every week.

Similar to developing a routine, plan to do something you enjoy every week. Some weeks will be rougher than others, and building time into your schedule for you helps prevent burnout. It can be as simple as getting coffee and catching up with a friend before class or treating yourself to your favorite Brody Learning Commons Café pastry every Wednesday. 

  • If you’re going to carry pepper spray, invest in one with a good safety.

Trust me on this — it is easy for a flimsy pepper spray to leak, especially if you just toss it in the bottom of your bag and carry on about your day. Don’t do this. It will leak, and it will hurt. A lot. Make sure to have one with a sturdy lock, as well as make sure it is locked at all times.

Branching out

  • It’s okay to stay in if that's what you feel like doing.

If fraternity parties aren’t your thing, or you’re just tired from a busy week, it’s okay to give in to your inner introvert and have a night in. Sometimes putting on your pajamas, rewatching your favorite romantic comedy and eating ridiculous quantities of ice cream really is what you need. Five days a week of classes, studying and extracurriculars are taxing so take time for yourself. 

  • Most people are in the same boat as you.

Nearly everyone is nervous about being in a new environment and meeting new people. You are not the only one. Once you realize this, it becomes easier to reach out to people and ask questions or start conversations.

  • Don’t play it safe — try new things.

If there is something you are drawn to doing, try it. Join the club. Change your major or add a minor. It’s okay to try new things, and it's okay to give up if it doesn't work for you. I joined The News-Letter on a whim, and I am so thankful I did. Similarly I took random classes that had nothing to do with my degree, and they were some of my favorites. Listen to gut feelings and don’t hyperfocus. Explore new avenues: You never know what you’ll find.

  • Actually use the library!

Yes, you can check books out at the library; it is more than just a place to stress-write your papers. Not only is there a great selection of novels and nonfiction books, but you can also request to borrow books from several other universities. As an avid reader, I highly recommend this.

  • Use your resources.

There is so much on campus to take advantage of: Life Design Lab, office hours, guest lectures. Don’t let your tuition dollars go to waste! Ask questions and listen to what others have to say. I know it can be daunting, and you can feel like you are wasting people’s time, but remember it is their job to help you.

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