Freshman Year at Princeton: Biggest mistakes and best decisions

07/10/18

By Hannah McDonald-Moniz Unigo Campus Rep at Princeton Freshman year is at once exciting, scary and overwhelming, no less so at Princeton than anywhere else. Most students arrive not knowing anyone, armed only with the comforting knowledge that they were one of the few lucky and talented enough to make it through the increasingly competitive admissions process. Once the freshmen step on campus, the importance of SATs and high school GPAs fade away and they are suddenly bombarded with the staggering amount of opportunities Princeton affords. While academics clearly play a central role at a school like Princeton, every student comes to campus with an amazing array of talents and interests that leads to hundreds of campus groups—from athletics to politics to a cappella. Finding one’s way amidst this barrage of choice is an adventure, and never easy. My freshman year I had trouble balancing my new social freedom and class schedule, and I still regret the fact that I didn’t take more advantage of all of the opportunities Princeton offers. I wish I had been more of an active participant in campus that first year, and not just by joining groups, but also by attending performances and guest lectures. Only at Princeton can you spend an afternoon listening to Kofi Annan speak, and then stop by a hip hop dance performance at night. I do feel as though I made a wise decision by not getting too caught up in academics that first year. Princeton can be such a competitive place that it’s easy to forget that college is not just about getting ahead, and I’m proud to feel as though I spent time freshman year really enjoying the people–my roommates, my new friends–and not getting too stressed. Whitney D., a junior history major, and one of my freshman year roommates, says that she most regrets not appreciating that particular aspect of freshman year—the total freedom one has, with three years still ahead, to not worry about classes so much. Other students confirm the importance of social life freshman year. Josh K., a senior aerospace engineering major, said, “I wish I had spent more time getting to know people outside of my particular hallway.” But he too emphasizes the value gained from joining campus groups, and says that his best decision was joining the rugby team. Sarah H., a junior history major, also found that joining groups was integral to expanding her friendships freshman year, and says that her best decision was signing up for OA (Outdoor Action) leader training, where she met most of the friends that she made outside of her dorm. This is not to say that academics have no place in life as a freshman, it’s simply a balancing act. While I’d say it’s important to not take them overly seriously during your first year, it is definitely important to be well informed about your options. I feel as though I made the mistake of not stepping out of the bounds of what I already felt comfortable with, and I wish that I had thought harder when choosing my classes for the first semester. Sarah H., a junior history major, echoes this sentiment, saying that her adviser talked her into taking a high level math class that she didn’t need or want to take, and that she didn’t understand the system well enough to know that she could drop it, or that dropping classes was a common occurrence. Making mistakes is somewhat of a freshman rite of passage. With so many new choices, it’s practically impossible to avoid. But with an open mind and willingness to try new things, freshman year can be an adventure, rather than an intimidating new world.

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