Biggest Mistakes and Best Decisions Freshmen Make at Swarthmore

Swarthmore Freshman

By Xiaoxia Zhuang
By Xiaoxia Zhuang
Unigo Campus Rep at Swarthmore

Freshman year of college can be rough—adjusting to living without your family, being bombarded with new, unfamiliar faces, learning how to live in an environment where your privacy is sometimes a luxury, keeping up with classes — it can be extremely overwhelming. That being said, the key factor in your transition to Swarthmore lies with YOU.

As clichéd and obvious as that sounds—it’s true. Freshman year was difficult for me because I hadn’t realized that I was ultimately the bearer of my own happiness. The College talks a lot about its “resources,” and the successes of current students as well as alums are well-publicized, which made me (then a naïve senior in high school) falsely believe that everything would be handed to me on a platter—friends, internships, “A+’s,” etc.

Well, it wasn’t.

First week of orientation, when the newly-arrived freshmen were out meeting each other, I found myself holed up in my room mindlessly surfing the web. My first week of relative isolation extended itself to the second week, the third, and eventually—when others had settled comfortably with their group of friends — I was struggling to keep the social ties that I had made with the few people whom I met. The point is, be social! The first semester is pass/fail for a reason—namely that you can make the transition from high school to college (academically, socially, etc.) as smoothly as possible.

Time management also becomes a key issue in college. Sure, you might only be taking two hours of classes a day—but there are so many other things to do. Hanging out with friends, going to Sharples (our one big dining hall) and getting wrapped up in an hour-long conversation, running errands or brainstorming about the non-profit you want to start—and of course, classes and the assignments and readings only add to this pile of business. Oh, and don’t forget to sleep either. Doesn’t this sound depressingly daunting? Well, it doesn’t have to be. Just make sure you get stuff done on time and I promise, life will be a lot less stressful.

Another bad decision? Treating every meal at Sharples as if it was my last. Freshman fifteen? With second helpings followed by two desserts at every meal, you bet.

It seems I’ve mostly talked about bad decisions that I made freshman year, but I was actually quite involved with extracurriculars. Word of advice though: resist the urge to sign up for the dozens of activities that you’re barraged with during the Activities Fair because you don’t want your precious e-mail inbox to get clogged with advertisements from Women’s Rugby or the College Democrats. Trust me, I know. After two years of getting emails from groups I wasn’t a part of, I just unsubscribed myself from their mailing lists.

Anyway, back to extracurriculars. Freshman year, I really found a home for myself in the Swarthmore Asian Organization (of which I’m still a member of), WSRN (Swarthmore’s self-proclaimed “fiercely independent radio”), and Spike Magazine (an off-beat humor magazine). Spike even held an event based off of my interest in Jewish culture (“Xiaoxia’s Bat Mitzvah”)!

My state of denial officially ended during the summer after my freshman year when I realized that I was at the center of all the decisions (both good and bad) that I had made in the past year. With that in mind, I resolved to make sure that all my time was used wisely, efficiently, and that I still had time left over to relax. I tailored my schedule so that I didn’t have much time idle dawdling. Classes only on Monday/Tuesday/Thursday meant that I would always have a three-day weekend. The rest of the time, I spent running errands, babysitting, studying, or hanging out with friends. My grades improved, my friendships blossomed, and I was feeling a lot happier and healthier. Now I’m a month into my junior year, and while school is getting progressively harder, I’ve still been able to manage my commitments (academic, extracurricular, etc.) with a healthy dose of fun and enthusiasm. Who knows what senior year will hold? With LSATs, grad school applications, and honors seminars, I’m sure I’ll be busy, but I’m looking forward to it.