What I wish I knew as a freshman


Bianca Abbate, Editor-in-Chief

As graduation looms, I think back to my freshman self, partly with embarrassment and partly with nostalgia. I think back to the Eagles’ Super Bowl win. I also think back to the death of a classmate. I found myself in countless unprecedented situations and yet, here I am. When I was a freshman, I had the privilege of being surrounded by upperclassmen and professors whose mentorship enabled me to thrive in college. With an almost entirely virtual college experience, this year’s freshman class may not be so lucky. To the class of 2024, I may never meet you, but I see your struggle and I hope the advice to follow can guide your college experience as it did mine.

Never be a Jack of All Trades; be a Master of One. What makes a great student? We know it’s more than grades; it’s also extracurriculars (among a host of other attributes). I was that student in high school who wanted to be involved in everything: sports, theater, student government, etc. I thought that doing well in these endeavours was enough to land me a spot in an ivy league school. It wasn’t. Truth be told, I may have done well in these activities, but all I really needed was to be the best at one of them. In college, I took a different approach by involving myself in fewer extracurriculars. There were three things to which I wanted to dedicate my time: the newspaper, my Russian studies and mock trial. Though — like for many anxious overachievers — the idea that I could be doing more loomed, I no longer wanted to be a member of every club; I wanted to be the president of one. Diverting all of my energy into these areas enabled me to excel in these endeavours. I wrote consistently for the paper my freshman year, took over the commentary section sophomore year, assumed the managing editor role my junior year and finally became the editor-in-chief my senior year. The time and dedication that the editors and I have put into the Collegian has brought us a great deal of opportunities, new connections and pride. When I immersed myself in my Russian studies, I ultimately earned a State Department scholarship which landed me in Russia for a summer. For these reasons, people associate me with the paper and with Russia, and I have assumed that identity for my own professional development. An important piece of advice I would have for freshmen is to make a name for yourself in one big way: be the student who does one thing and does it exceptionally well.

Quit things. Of course, in order to have a niche, one must find it. This will require a great deal of trial and error. If you would believe it, I was once a D1 athlete (well, for a couple months) in my college days. My freshman year, when I saw that the rowing team was recruiting members, I walked onto the team bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The 5 a.m. practices and hours on the erg machines were a valiant challenge at first, but it was not long until I was so exhausted from my morning practices that I would skip classes later in the day. I was drained emotionally and physically from the commitment of being an athlete, but I was reluctant to quit because I thought it made me a weak person. Nonetheless, a tragic event in the university community brought me to my senses. I put aside my ego and ultimately abandoned the D1 lifestyle. Not everyone was supportive. An assistant coach at the time even texted me to tell me that “people were right about me.” That’s the thing, though; many people fear quitting because of what others will think about them. What is more valuable to you: your time, energy and sanity or the opinion of others? I chose the former every time. Never feel stuck in a college activity. At the end of the day, it’s a college activity. One of the thrills of adulthood is the freedom to choose one’s own path. If your current path is not serving you, ditch it.

Be your own advocate. Many barriers which seem to exist between students and professors and between students and the University are not actually there. Coming into college, we think that, if we get a bad grade on an assignment, we get a bad grade. We think that, if the University bills us a fee, we pay the fee. What they don’t want you to know (well at least one of those groups) is that there are nuances in this little system of ours and that, in order to get what we want from our college experience, we need to find the loopholes. We must be our own advocates. Grades and deadlines are not as final as one may think. The biggest tool one has in succeeding in college is using his voice. Communicate with your professor. So many times have I reached out to my professors to explain why my life situation may be affecting my coursework at that time. Almost every time the professor has been understanding in those situations. In other situations, I email the professor before the semester even starts: “Look, I want to give my best effort in this class, but this semester, I am working full-time and may not be able to give my 100 percent every class.” I have also said things like, “I will be applying to law school in the future and I want my transcript to be competitive. What are some things I can do to achieve an A in this course?” It speaks to one’s character and seriousness as a student to be able to communicate openly about their needs and capabilities. Keep it real with your professors, and they will return the respect. The University too is more accessible than people think. Sending an email or making a call to voice one’s concerns goes longer than a student may think. Many times, he will be able to get out of that one parking ticket or avoid that late fee by simply leveling with another human. Speak up for yourself and don’t be afraid to give some pushback. After all, you are the consumer.

Your college years will flash before your very eyes. Everyone will tell you that. Not everyone will tell you that it takes a bit of finesse and grit to actually be successful in that short amount of time. The aforementioned pieces of advice have served me well in my time on Broad and Olney, and yet there are a million more tidbits I could share. Put yourself out there. Be unconventional. Make a name for yourself. When you leave, do your alma mater proud. But most importantly, write for your favorite student publication, the Collegian.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s