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What I wish I knew…

In the months between receiving your acceptance letter and actually arriving on the Farm, you have inevitably busied your mind with thoughts of what the next four years will hold. You’ve let your expectations run wild and have gotten simultaneously more nervous and excited.

Questions ran through your mind: Will I make any friends? What will my roommate be like? Will I party every night or lock myself in the library? Will I live off Ramen Noodles and Fruit Loops? Is the weather as nice as I’ve been told it is? Can I maintain my sense of self in a sea of unfamiliar faces?

Well, with all those questions, here comes my first piece of advice: Do your best not to have expectations.

Expectations can set you up for failure, or at best, a rigidity that your freshman year shouldn’t be liable for. Goals, on the other hand, are great — they’re broad and help keep you on track. So set a goal to be as happy as possible your freshman year, or as adventurous as possible, or whatever you want, but don’t let your goals box you in the way expectations might.

I’ll continue with a smattering of advice that I have collected from discussions with friends about what we wish we knew before we plunged into life as Stanford students. Please have your grain of salt ready, because these are personal observations based only on our experiences.

I’ll start with the topic of classes. Although we’ve all endured them before, they take on a slightly different flavor at college where you have a huge menu of choices.

If you can, take small classes. Some lecture classes are definitely necessary, but it’s easy to be passive in those classes. Smaller ones will probably challenge you more, and you’ll get to know your classmates and professors better. Many large lecture classes will only push you in the way you are all too familiar with from high school — hours of reading and attempting to absorb too much information too quickly.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to your professors. Whether in a small seminar or a giant lecture, it’s always worth a try — a personal touch can turn a good class into a great one. Shoot your professor an email or go to office hours. If you’re the only one there, then you’ll get to know your professor really well.

Balance your course load. Don’t limit yourself to classes falling under the major you have prematurely chosen for yourself. Throw some random ones in there. Stanford is full of people who are interested in a wide variety of subjects — engineers who love writing, readers who love math and many other combinations. Take classes that are necessary, but also take ones that aren’t, because both categories have about an equal chance of being worthwhile.

But even with all this discussion of academics, know that you will likely learn more from your classmates than your classes. Never think to yourself that school should come first, that school is more important than spending time with a friend, meeting someone who is really different from you or learning an impromptu lesson at midnight from a fellow procrastinator about his or her passion in life.

Don’t feel pressure to be incredibly busy all the time. It’s okay to have a little bit of downtime, whether or not it’s “productive.” At times it can feel as though there is a lot of pressure to take the maximum number of units, fill your plate with well-rounded extracurriculars and be both hyper-social and physically fit. All are worthwhile uses of time, but so is a bit of relaxing here and there to allow you to recharge and refocus.

Don’t let Stanford define you. Instead, help define it — start a new tradition, teach people what you love to do, influence a discussion inside or outside of the classroom, fight for institutional changes you want to see or go on weekend adventures. Aspire to do great things and bring Stanford along in your back pocket. Try to make your own fun instead of falling into the trap of thinking that there are specific things you have to be doing in college to have a good time.

Appreciate the natural beauty that is abundant on and around the Farm. Lake Tahoe is close by, along with mountain ranges in every direction, national parks and abundant farmland. Campus is beautiful, but it’s great to get out of the bubble and into nature, even if that traditionally hasn’t been your forte. You’ll probably feel more comfortable knowing the surrounding area and realizing that you’re not restricted to the boundaries on the campus map.

On the social front, the best advice is to give it time. No matter how adaptable a person you are, it takes time to make new close friends. If you think about it, you probably shared years of experiences with the best friends you had at home. It’s only realistic that it’ll take a few months to build a strong foundation with people you’ve just met. It might seem as though everyone has settled into friend groups immediately, but this often a façade. Hang in there — friendships are on their way; they just don’t always form overnight.

On a related note, if you’re thinking that everyone else at Stanford has their life figured out, realize that so many people at Stanford are just as lost as you are. We’re young, we have so much learning to do, and suddenly we are all thrown together with our insecurities and naiveties. It’s okay to be lost. If you can, talk about it; let other people help you through this and do the same for them. Trust yourself, and push forward with the strongest sense of self you can build. Don’t hold yourself to the vision you had of yourself in college — being in flux is part of the life process.

I’m no great authority, and neither are the many voices that helped put this together. Instead, the above are simply opinions and observations to help you learn from the successes and mistakes of those who came before you. Welcome to this institution of higher learning. Welcome to our dysfunctional but happy family. Welcome to Stanford. Welcome home.

Need more life advice or have some tips of your own to share? Contact Katie Kramon at ckramon “at” stanford.edu.

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