Widgets Magazine


To the class of 2021, from an almost-sophomore

Two weeks.

In two weeks, it will be finals week and then freshman year will be gone. People have told me that this first year goes by so fast, and I believed them, but there’s nothing quite like seeing it flash by for yourself.

People tend to be reflective at this time of year. It’s in the conversations I overhear in passing, and their heaviness with the past-tense. They start with “Remember when …” and end in a nostalgic glow. And it makes sense. High school seniors are graduating, college seniors are making concerted steps into “adulthood,” however reluctantly. Freshman years are ending. People are looking back and perhaps wondering if they have made the best use of their time so far, whatever that means for them. They might even find themselves fidgeting, waiting anxiously for what comes next. Bittersweet endings, new beginnings.

This brings me back to last summer — the summer before college. I poured over The Daily, taking in every tiny moment of access I could get into Stanford life. I would imagine that there are some new incoming freshmen here too, reading this and other articles, watching and rewatching Stanford student vlogs like I did. I decided that I couldn’t wait until NSO, so I started living vicariously through what I read and saw.

If this sounds like you, keep reading.

Freshman year is special. You learn a lot. But there are also some things you can learn from those that have come before you, some of which I have listed below.


1) Use this summer wisely.

The summer before college is more important than you know. You have worked hard to make it here, and that probably means you spent a lot of your time in high school being busy — please take this summer as a well-deserved break. Make the most of your Netflix-filled days, beach trips and the time with your high school friends. Spend time with your family. Stanford runs on a fast-paced quarter system that can be unbelievably demanding at times (trust me, I know. Finals are almost upon us). So relish the break. You’ll want to meet your freshman year, and all of your new experiences here, with a wealth of energy.  


2) NSO can be overwhelming.

You thought Admit Weekend was a lot? Imagine an entire week of it. As fun and exciting as it is to meet your peers and go to talks, it can be draining to be “on” all the time. Some alone time can go a long way.  


3) Take classes outside of your comfort zone.

Never coded before? Try CS106A. Want to take a class taught by a Pulitzer Prize winner? Take the amazing Thinking Matters class, Stories Everywhere. This is where Stanford’s motto “The Wind of Freedom Blows” could not be more accurate — you have earned the freedom to explore any discipline you want, as much as you want. So even if you’re sure you want to major in Physics, but have always liked to write, try out a creative writing class. It won’t hurt.


4) You will struggle. And you won’t be alone.

You are probably among the best in your high school; you did well in your classes, balanced an almost impossible array of extracurricular activities and still managed to find time to sleep. And then you come here and Stanford hits you like a brick wall. Stanford is hard. Really hard. People used to tell me that and I found myself secretly thinking “Well, maybe it’s hard for them. I know I can handle it,” citing my success in high school as a reason why I could handle the classes here with ease. I thought I was unbreakable. And then I took chemistry. High school coursework — even honors and AP classes — often do not compare to the rigor of some of the classes you will take here. In high school, you fall into a loop of positive feedback — you work hard, you get an A. Oftentimes here, you work hard, study all night, go to office hours and study groups and tutoring and maybe scrape by with a C. And when you are surrounded by some of the best and brightest minds in the world — when they’re sitting next to you in class with their aced exams — it can get pretty disheartening. The trick is to know that everyone struggles — just not everybody shows it. Working to redefine “success” as the number of times you get back up after you fail instead of the number of times you bring home A’s can help.


5) Reflect. And do your own thing.

You learn a lot about yourself when you’re away from home — how much interaction you need, how you handle freedom. FOMO and the pressure to always appear busy or happy can influence you more than you might think. You might find yourself adding a few extra units to your schedule because you think you “need” to — because everyone else on your floor is taking at least 17 units, when you had only planned on taking 14. Make sure to check in with yourself every few weeks and ask yourself “Why am I doing what I’m doing? Is it because everyone else is doing it, or because I want to?”


6) You will meet your closest friends. Just not right away.

The Women’s Center. El Centro. DGen Office. FLIP. There are so, so many places you can go to on campus to meet new people. You can carve out a niche anywhere you would like — it’s as easy as introducing yourself to people you haven’t met before. Think about it. The Admissions Office loves to say that every student it selects is at Stanford for a reason — the barely-there acceptance rate makes that clear. Maybe you think you got in because you are a world-class jump roper, or because you are a voice for your community, or because you write well. Aren’t you curious to find out why your other classmates were chosen, too? You can only do that if you get to know them, if you push through the small talk and dig deeper. Be open. People want to know you, too.


So sit tight until September, 2021. Stanford is waiting for you.


Contact Amanda Rizkalla at amariz ‘at’ stanford.edu

About Amanda Rizkalla

Amanda Rizkalla is a sophomore from East Los Angeles studying English and Chemistry. In addition to writing for the Daily, she is involved with the Stanford Medical Youth Science Program and is a Diversity Outreach Associate in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. She loves to cook, bake, read, write and bike around campus.