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Swarthmore College

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What should every freshman at your school know before they start?

If I had one piece of advise to give a student making the transition to college it would be to not drink alcohol during orientation or the first weekend of the semester. Students often get excited about college night life, which is understandable. Don’t worry, you will have plenty of opportunities! During orientation and the first weekend of college, you will meet many new faces and begin to create extremely important relationships that will last over the next four years. Although substance did not interfere with my creation of relationships, I saw it happen amongst my piers. Substances can hinder developing relationships in two ways. The first occurs when a student gets too drunk at a party and does things he or she would never do sober. Although judgement is frowned upon, it is difficult to ignore terrible drunk first impressions. The second, and equally troublesome instance, occurs when a student creates friends but only feels welcome while drunk. Now, I am not saying to not go out, as it is a great opportunity to meet new people. Instead, my advice is to stay away from alcohol and give yourself a chance to create meaningful and long lasting relationships.

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I chose Swarthmore after many campus visits and overnight stays at a host of different institutions. This, for me, was the best way to go about the college selection process because it allowed me to find my "fit" in the most organic, natural way possible. Given how prominently one's 'college experience' figures into the grand arch that is one's life, the veritable existential crisis one goes through when choosing a school cannot be understated. Under such circumstances it is hard to "follow your heart" or "go with your instincts," especially when it seems that statistics are screaming the obvious superiority of school X over schools A,B, and C. With all that said, though, I think that finding one's fit is the best way to go. Discovering and choosing a school that really speaks to you, strikes a chord with you, or just has a "je ne sais quoi" appeal to it, and then going with that inclination, paves the way for a college experience in which you are engaged daily, and in a substantive way--not just by the classroom experience, but by the much more important stuff that goes on outside the classroom as well.

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It is extremely important to know yourself and what YOU want, not what other people tell you is best. Because ultimately, what other people think has no effect on the mini-roadtrips you will take, the sports games you will go to where you will try to decide whether to paint your chest in your school colors and freeze in November. Given the right environment, people bloom in college. Think about size. Do you like knowing everyone on campus or being able to be anonymous? Visit unofficially so you can see how it feels there and whether you would be comfortable there. On a more practical note, do consider money. Debt may not seem like that big of a deal to you now, but it builds up quickly, and can lead to college being less enjoyable. Sometimes it is worth it to go somewhere cheaper, or with more financial aid (though some seemingly expensive schools can give amazing financial aid). And when you get there, don't be so rigid about what you want out of the experience that you miss opportunities to experiment. Some of the most rewarding classes are unexpected, as are some of the most interesting friendships.

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Make sure you visit Swarthmore, take a tour and stay over night if you can to make sure the atmosphere is right for you. Political activism is very big at Swarthmore, as is reverse cultural trends such as promoting homosexuality and race by putting it RIGHT IN YOUR FACE. I'm neither homophobic nor racist, but after a while such militant accept-us-and-everything-we-say-or-else-you're-a-terrible-person becomes grating. The liberal stance works both ways for Swarthmore, as the drug and alcohol policies are virtually non-existant. I have drank and played beer pong on main walkways as tours have navigated around us. People have smoked pot openly on the steps of Parrish, the main administrative building. Swarthmore is not that small of a school--1400 enrolled, if I remember correctly--but after the first month or so of freshman year it will seem smaller because students self-segregate. Many Swatties don't do anything but study. Most of the crowd that goes to frats are athletes, which is good & bad, as you will probably get along with them as they are normal, but there is not exactly a ton of athletes.

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After nearly a year and a half at my present college, I've realized that there are two questions that the student needs to ask his or herself before selecting colleges. Those questions are, "What do I want to study?" and "Do I know what my true interests are?" If you know what you want to study, then pick the schools with the best programs in your field of interest, and then narrow down the schools realistically, considering your gpa, SAT scores, size preference, location, etc. Skip to the next question if you can't answer the first. If you know what your true interests are, then pick a school based on those interests. If you are like the hundreds of thousands of students who can't answer either question, don't panic. In order to make the most of your college experience, you need to select the school which will give you the most space and flexibility to find yourself, and that is going to depend on the kind of environment in which you best thrive. Speak to students at schools and gauge the range of modes of existence and lifestyles those students have. Can you see yourself there?

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Stop being such a sheep! Don't just blindly go to college because that's what's expected of high school graduates these days. Think about things first, take a gap year, figure out what you love, and grow up a little. College is an exceptionally wonderful experience, but one you need to be ready for. If you go into it feeling forced-- just going through the motions to get a piece of paper to hang on your wall-- it will never provide you the social, academic, and personal growth it otherwise would. The most important thing is being happy with who you are, what you're studying, and your direction in life; without confidence and optimism, you will slip into a downward spiral and graduate feeling completely unaccomplished and unsatisfied. Do what YOU really want to do, do what makes YOU smile when you wake up every morning. No, it might not make Dad happy, but the only person you're living this life for is yourself, and you only get one chance, so stop worrying about everyone else, and just DO it. Oh yeah... and PLEASE don't check off ?Sci-fi/Fantasy Lover? on your roommate form.

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Relax, relax, relax! My advice would be to not stress about college admissions. There are students who are unhappy at their "dream schools" and students who love their "safety schools." It's less about the name of the school and more about the experience. I would tell myself to get involved early, but not overdo it. Sleep is important but hard to come by in college. It's more important to have a few close friends as a support group than dozens of friends. It's also more important to be committed to a couple sports or clubs than to be involved in many. I would tell myself to start thinking, but not stressing, about the future early. The four years fly by and it is important to think about potential majors early. However, it is important to take a few classes in something new. Take a dance class or a poetry class or perhaps even join a new club. I would tell myself to try new things but also recognize when I need a break from campus. Mostly, I would tell myself that college is a privilege and to enjoy every moment. Not everyone is so lucky.

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Applying to college can be one of the most nerve-wraking experiences of your life, and there are bound to be a lot of people telling you what to think. Always remember that you are the one making the decision. No one but you can tell what school is right for you, so always listen to yourself. It is often difficult to verbalize exactly what about a school feels right or wrong to you, but usually you know. Follow that feeling, and don't let anyone tell you that it's wrong becuase it's not quantifiable. That being said, always make educated decisions and do your research; know what is important to you and don't give up looking for that. Be idealistic in looking for a college, but pragmatic when you choose. Another important thing to remember is that people are flexible; chances are you'll be happy at a couple different schools, not just one. So if you don't end up at your "dream school," don't worry and keep an open mind. You'll probably love whatever school you're at. After all, the school chose you. Once you're there, love every moment.

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Look around a lot. Try different kinds of schools, even if you think you know what you want, and do overnight visits. While you're on the visit, see what people do with their time, what they're interested in, how they feel about their school. Don't go somewhere because it's where your parents want you to go, or because you have friends already going there; go somewhere where you like the people, where you think you'll fit in. Don't compromise on academics if that's what's important to you, but then again, don't go based solely on reputation about academics, either -- you may well get a better academic experience at a small, less well-known school than at a "brand-name" school. Look at the course book, sit in on classes. Even if you're absolutely sure you want to do a certain major or kind of major, pick a school where you won't be stuck interacting only with people doing the same thing: exposure to people with different interests is key. In the end, trust your gut -- it's ultimately about finding a place that feels right to you.

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Don't be so hesitant to join clubs due to fear of adjusting. Be confident, you're smarter than you think and the high level of intelligence around you should not prevent you from adding to discussions or participating in class. Try to plan out your course load for the next four years because there will be a lot of overlapping courses you'll be interested in. Try to sleep a bit too, it's important. I know this is not where you want to go but don't fret, you'll make some amazing connections and ties if you open yourself up a bit to vulnerability and uncomfortable situations. Make sure you're priorities are lined out from the beginning--it could be clubs, sports, academics or social life... just know what you want to focus on and think about how that will affect the other things you do. Don't get down on yourself for a less than satisfactory grade on a paper or quiz,--the professors can be a great resource if you seek them out. Also, don't let your pride get in the way of seeking help-- it will save you from struggling later on.

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