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10 Pieces of advice for incoming first-years

Hello, Brandeis class of 2027! At this moment, you are probably feeling some strange combination of excitement, anticipation, anxiety, dread and uncertainty. At least, I was this time last year. If you are particularly anxious (like I was) you may have fallen down an internet rabbit hole of college advice. In my experience, a lot of this advice is neither particularly actionable, nor is it comforting. It’s one thing to be told to “have a growth mindset” and it’s another thing to actually navigate college. And so, I have taken it upon myself to compile this column for you, with the best advice that you can actually act upon, from someone who was in your shoes a year ago.

1. Talk to strangers!

In college, it’s great to meet as many people as possible. However, during the first few months of college, I noticed that many people instinctively tried to sort into high-school style friend groups. In college, social networks tend to be much more fluid and far-reaching. If you try to nail down a group of friends immediately, you may end up closing yourself off to other relationships. Definitely try and find your people, and cultivate friendships as they occur. But the odds of finding your people within the first couple days of college are low. Talk to new people in classes, in the dining hall, around campus and take advantage of all the mixers and orientation events to meet people.

2. Get at least six consecutive hours of sleep per night

Experts say you need at least 8-9 hours of sleep, but this is not achievable for many people, especially in college, when there is so much to do and so little time. In my opinion, six hours is the minimum amount of sleep necessary to be not just a functional but a contented and stable human being. Any less than that, and your mental health will probably take a dip, it will be harder to maintain a high academic standard, and you will just feel like crap. Now, where these six hours fall is entirely up to you. You can go to sleep at 3 a.m. and schedule all your classes for 2 p.m. or later. But don’t sacrifice your sleep, however tempting it may seem. Trust me. It’s not worth it.

3. Eat at least one serving of fruit and one serving of vegetables per day

Along with sleep, this is my major ‘physical health’ piece of advice. One of the things I wasn’t prepared for in college was how easy it was to stop eating well. Because college is so mentally and physically tiring, my instinct was always to load up on carbs, sugar and protein at meal times. However, especially in the dark winter months, keeping up your body’s supply of vitamins and nutrients is extremely helpful. You don’t need to become a quinoa bowl/chia seed/juice cleanse health nut, but getting at least some fruits and vegetables every day is essential. I have been known to throw raw spinach on top of my pasta and call it a day, but hey, I’m getting my daily serving of vegetables.

4. Sign up for all the clubs

The odds of “finding your people” are much higher in clubs where members self-select in, rather than in a randomized orientation group. So, go to the Involvement Fair during Orientation Week, and sign up for everything that interests you. It is much easier to drop a commitment than add one, and being on all the different club email lists means that you’ll have a constant stream of information for meetings, social opportunities, free food and more. Signing up for an email list is not the same thing as signing a contract, so don’t limit yourself. If you feel completely overwhelmed, then I suggest following this formula. Ten clubs total. Two that are things you did and liked in high school. Two that are things you dropped and want to pick back up in college. Two that are things you’ve always wanted to do but never had time. Two that would help you learn a new skill. And two just because they seem sort of cool. After a month or so, you’ll find the 2-5 clubs (or more, if you’re particularly industrious) that really suit you.

5. Do the reading

My dad is a professor, and this is the big piece of advice he gave me before I went to college. You will get assigned a lot of reading, and I honestly think it’s worth doing it, at least at first. After a month or so, you’ll get a sense of what is or isn’t essential reading, and know what class material is skimmable and what isn’t. But you will not get it right if you just guess on day one. Also, doing the reading when you’re supposed to will make class work and exams easier. Is it possible to learn all the class material the day before the exam? Yes. Is it far less painful to just do the reading in the first place? Also yes. Doing the reading is also a good way to have something to talk about in a professor’s office hours. Coming into office hours with a reading question will make a really good impression and make office hours with a new professor far less awkward.

6. Get ahead on work early

So, you’re doing the reading, but you’re scared you’ll get overwhelmed. Here’s a college hack for you to solve this problem. For the most part, the first week of classes isn’t very substantive. There will be “syllabus days” in which professors go over the course. There will be introductions. There might be some review of information you already learned in high school. During this week, look at your syllabus (which will usually have all the work and due dates for the semester listed) and start on the first assignments, which are generally due about 4-7 days out. Keep this up for the first week, and voila! You are now about a week ahead on your assignments without doing any extra work. This method doesn’t work for every class, but it will probably work for a couple. By doing this, you will build up a buffer week in case anything goes wrong, or just to make time for a larger research paper or project later down the line. If you continue doing your assignments at a steady rate, you will stay a week ahead on your work. Don’t get further ahead—you’ll probably forget essential information by the time class rolls around. But a week is good.

7. Invest in a good pair of boots and plan to dress in layers 

The Brandeis campus is a hill (which means wind). We have a lot of green space (which means mud). We are in New England. Weather happens. It will be windy at the top of the hill. And at some point we will experience the horrific November and/or March slush storm. There is nothing worse than cold, wet feet when you are trying to sit through an 80-minute lecture. A decent pair of comfy waterproof boots that you don’t mind getting a bit dirty are a lifesaver. Blundstones are very popular in Hillel. My boots last year were from some obscure German brand. But bring boots! And if you didn’t, find some. Along similar lines, New England weather is unpredictable, especially in fall and spring. It can be freezing in the morning and sweltering in the afternoon, so bring layers. Jackets, sweaters, sweatclothes, scarves, etc. It’s nice to be prepared when the weather randomly swings in one direction or the other.

8. Form study groups

One of my favorite things about academic life at Brandeis is how much everyone supports each other. There is very little cattiness, jealousy or ego in academic spaces. This means that it is super easy to find people to study with, you just need to ask. Midterms have a way of sneaking up on you, and it really helps to have people to work (and suffer) with. It’s also a great way to make friends in your major, in other fields that interest you and in other class years. Still find time to study solo (because studying with friends can quickly devolve into just hanging out) but don’t underestimate how helpful a good study group can be.

9. Leave campus sometimes

Because Brandeis is a closed campus, it sometimes feels like you don’t need to go anywhere else. While you don’t need to leave, I definitely advise taking advantage of being in the Boston area and going to explore. Moody Street has some cool restaurants and stores. The commuter rail goes to Porter Square, one of my favorite areas as a Boston-area local. The Branvan goes to Newbury Street, a trendy shopping/dining area in Boston. There are a ton of opportunities and fun things to do in Boston, and it can feel great to just get a change of scenery. If you don’t have much experience with public transportation, I definitely recommend learning how to use the T (Boston’s public transit system). It’s a great way to gain independence and being comfortable on public transportation is just a good life skill to have.

10. Schedule (and commit) to self care time

Self-care is incredibly important, and easy to forget, in college. Once you arrive at Brandeis, you will start using Google Calendar. Even if you’ve never used it and don’t think you need it, you will. Don’t ask why, it just happens. I find it incredibly helpful to schedule a couple hours of self-care time a week. I block it out in my calendar, and stick to it. It’s my time to read a book, watch TV and rest on my own while not pressuring myself to be productive or social. If I didn’t schedule this time, I would absolutely forget to take care of myself this way and have my “introvert time.” On the flip side of the coin, actively scheduling a few hours of self-care prevents those hours from becoming days, ensuring I still stay on top of my work and commitments. College can be overwhelming and taking some time to slow down to reset works wonders.

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