Top 10 tips from a senior to freshmen

Welcome to Hopkins! It feels like I was just in your shoes — or on your computer screens, I suppose — nervously reading The Cover-Letter. I had no clue what to expect from college, but I knew it would be different than anything I’d experienced before.

Well, three years later and here I am, a senior who’s getting ready to go. Looking back, I realize there are a lot of tips that I wish I knew before starting college. And there are also some that I was told that really stuck with me. So now, as a senior who vividly remembers my freshman experience, I hope that I can help you as you begin your college career. Forever a Blue Jay, after all (You’ll learn what that means).

1. It’s okay to be undecided about your major.

I know I just said it, and your advisor probably told you this as well, but I’m going to repeat it again: It’s okay to be undecided about your major.

I began at Hopkins pretty sure that I was majoring in Writing Seminars, but half-convinced I wanted to study Psychology, too. Truthfully, I just wanted to say I was undecided when asked what I was studying, but often felt pressured to have an answer.

Well, I did end up majoring in Writing Sems, like I planned. But I swapped Psychology for International Studies, and then for Near Eastern Studies. Then I dropped it, instead double minoring in Museums and in Marketing. It took four semesters to realize what I really wanted to learn.

Trust me: You don’t need to have your academic and career path figured out right now. I know not one, but two Neuroscience pre-meds who switched to major in Classics. My roommate moved from Krieger to Whiting during her first month at Hopkins. There’s countless other examples — lots of people hop around. Take your time.

2. Join clubs that you’ll enjoy…

Yes, it’s all online, for now. But don’t let that stop you! Clubs on campus love it when freshmen join — they want new students to be as excited about classic films/fire spinning/ballet as they are. You already know what you like. Join clubs that speak to that passion!

And if the club doesn’t seem like a good fit, take a step back. Freshman year, I overcommitted myself to too many groups. During my sophomore year, I dropped the political group I was part of — I wasn’t enjoying meetings, and I would hang out with my friends outside of club activities anyway. Getting on an email list during your freshman fall can be a great way to develop your passions, but it’s not a lifelong commitment.

3. ...and join clubs that you never considered.

One of the best things about college is the opportunity to explore. After 18 years, you know yourself pretty well. But there are also parts of yourself that you haven’t yet unlocked. A club that intrigues you, even though it’s different, can reveal a new, exciting part of yourself.

Example time: I made a friend during Orientation, who we’ll call Johns. Johns and I hung out a little, but weren’t especially close. One Wednesday, he announced that he was headed to the Stand Up Comedy Club (SUCC) meeting. I went with him.

Flash forward three years. Johns and I grew apart (hope you’re doing well out there!), and he no longer attends SUCC meetings. But I do! I began performing despite never thinking I was especially funny. It unlocked a new part of myself: I love making people laugh, and I love the confidence I get from performing onstage. So grab a friend and go to that club meeting!

4. Take classes that are completely new.

Don't be scared of upper levels. The designation doesn't mean that you're unqualified (usually). It does mean that the style of work is different, often discussion-based and with less students.

Class level aside, let yourself try courses that you never thought about. Freshman year is designed for exploring. Never taken anthropology or marketing, but figure both sound alright? Take both! I did that freshman fall, and hated one while loving the other. It doesn't always work out, but at least I learned what I didn’t want to do.

5. It’s okay to fail.

Every semester, I considered taking a computer science class. Every semester, I backed down because I was afraid I’d be bad at it. Finally, during my junior fall, I jumped into the Java pool, completely terrified. I hadn’t thought in a mathematical, logical way since high school. 

Well, I tried my best. But after a few weeks of failing quizzes and barely passing homeworks, I realized the class just wasn’t for me. I dropped Java in October, so my transcript looks as though I never took it.

I tried something new. I failed at it. But I’m glad that I took the plunge. Even though I’ll never be a computer science genius, I understand a lot more about coding than I did before I took Java.

6. Don't take classes that end late on Fridays.

Maybe this semester is the one exception, since there's not much going on at home. But on campus, being busy on Friday afternoons and evenings for a whole semester is simply unpleasant. There is nothing worse than watching people enjoying Spring Fair as you stare out the window of Introduction to Poetry, stuck inside for several more hours. But if you must do it, this is the time.

7. When you get to Baltimore, enjoy it.

It may be some time before you arrive at Homewood Campus, but make sure that you do make it here eventually! Baltimore gets a bad rap far too often. The city is like a chameleon. Each neighborhood has its own vibe, and you'll find ones that speak to you.

8. Everyone is nervous.

Yes, everyone everyone, whether they admit it or not. And it makes sense! You graduated high school just a few months ago. This is a big transition.

This year, you get a bonus: Upperclassmen are nervous with you. None of us know exactly what's going on. We're all confused and making the best of it, same as you.

9. It's okay to transfer.

I'm not recommending that you transfer schools. Especially not now, when you won't get a real feel for the vibe of Hopkins.

But keep in mind that transferring is always an option. Perhaps the only reason you chose Hopkins was for a certain major, and now it's no longer your passion. Or maybe you realized that a Big 10 school is much more of your weekend scene.

I spent a lot of my freshman fall grappling with the question of whether I should transfer in the spring. I ultimately decided to give my second semester some time and then decide.

Well, spring semester completely turned my Hopkins experience around. I took classes I really wanted to take. I got more invested in some clubs and joined new ones. I felt more connected to my friend group.

Ultimately, I realized that I could fit at Hopkins, even though it took time. But not everyone finds that feeling. If it doesn't feel right for you, and nothing you're doing seems to change it, don't be afraid of heading somewhere that's a better fit.

10. Be yourself.

Do it from day one, while you're at Hopkins and every year afterward. You've got this.

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