Dear Freshman March
By Obed Antoine
You’ve made it! After a grueling year of standardized testing, researching schools, applying for various scholarships/programs, and pressing “submit” on your Common Application, you’ve finally arrived at the school of your choice. As I write this letter, the coronavirus may have impacted your ability to be on-campus for a semester or an entire year, but a global pandemic can not diminish the magnitude of your most recent accomplishment 一 becoming a college student! Needless to say, with one milestone achieved, it’s time to get ready for the next one, that being graduating in the next four years. Although graduating from college may seem like a lifetime away, from my own experience, that date will come faster than you think. For now, it’s crucial that you take your college experience one step at a time. As a freshman, new experiences, opportunities, and people all become available to you from day one. From club fairs and sport team tryouts to new professors and a schedule of your choosing, you will be given a lot of flexibility in creating your freshman experience. With so much freedom given to you, there will be a plethora of moments where you may feel overwhelmed and time-constrained trying to fit everything you want to do into your schedule. There is also the challenge of determining exactly what you want your major to be and what career you want to pursue after graduation. To help you on your path towards that date, I offer you the following advice:
1. Devoting time to yourself is just as important as devoting time to others.
From my experience, it is easy in college to get bogged down with applying for clubs, teams, tutoring/mentoring peers, working on group projects, etc. Although it is crucial to set aside time to work with and support others, it’s just as important to invest time in yourself. One strategy I used for self-care and personal development was setting aside time for my passions and hobbies 一 going on walks, going to the gym, etc. However, in order to do that, I had to block out one hour of my day solely for myself. An hour to disconnect from my phone, computer, and others so I could focus solely on myself and my goals. Make it known to others that a certain time is for you. That strategy not only aided my physical health, but also my mental health and energy levels throughout the day.
2. Use two different lenses: keep both your short-term and long term goals in sight.
A huge key to the success I’ve found in college was identifying what my 6-12 month goals were and what my long-term life/career goals were. Having an honest conversation with yourself as to what your goals are for the semester, the year, next year, etc. helps to maintain your focus and motivate you to work for whatever it is you desire. Some short-term goals include: increasing your GPA from last semester, networking with 1-2 new people, exploring one new part of town, saving a certain percentage of your yearly income by X date, etc. Some long-term goals I kept included: landing an internship with “X” company, hitting “X” GPA by graduation, setting aside “X” amount of money by graduation for a trip/ future investment, maintaining close contact with loved ones throughout college, etc.
3. Don’t let the fear of missing out distract you.
One of the biggest challenges I faced freshman year mentally was the fear of missing out (FOMO) on social events, club/job applications, Fall/Spring Break trips, etc. Seeing your friends having a great time in your absence is hard considering you would love to enjoy that moment with them and others. Whenever I experienced FOMO, I tried to focus on my “why.” Why am I working late at night? Why can I not go to that event? Why should I not be with my friends now? Most of the time, after asking myself those questions, I found that there was a reason/objective I was trying to attain, which was more important than that one event. Keeping your goals, motivations, and “why” in mind will help you through the emotions of FOMO you may experience throughout your first semester.
4. Live in the moment as much as possible 一 you only have 4 years of college.
Reflecting on my own freshman year made me realize how fast it went and how much time I spent thinking about the future as opposed to enjoying each current moment. The COVID-19 pandemic made my sophomore year fly by and, oftentimes, I took for granted the moments I had with friends on campus. During your freshman year, instead of longing for the future/worrying about what’s next, take time to focus on the feeling/moments/memories made at that moment in time. Doing so will give you a greater appreciation for each year of college and more memories to reflect on when you look back on your freshman year.
5. Failure is inevitable, but the way you respond to setbacks is often more important than the setback itself.
As a freshman, I tried my hardest to avoid failing and letting others know that I failed. During my first semester I was rejected from 4 different clubs, struggled to balance my dual-degree program with a work-study job, and had no idea if I wanted to continue down the pre-med track. Although there were mini setbacks along the way (a poor exam grade, missing deadlines, losing touch with old friends, etc), it was important to keep a growth mindset perspective 一 valuing growth as a student and young adult despite small hiccups on the road. I encourage each reader, in the face of adversity, to start with some introspection as to why/how you failed. Taking a moment to reflect on what happened, the setting it occurred in, and what factors led to that moment is important for the next step: addressing actionable steps moving forward. In order to progress through the growth mindset model, one must work on improving oneself to ensure a different (not necessarily better) outcome occurs the next time a similar circumstance arises. Finally, looking toward the future to anticipate possible moments where setbacks can occur helps to prepare you for that outcome, whether positive or negative. For example, knowing the dates of tests, projects, applications, and events will allow you to not only anticipate what results can come from those situations, but prime yourself for the outcome you desire.
Best of luck, Obed Antoine
UPenn | Wharton 2022