Sometimes – a lot of the time, if you’re me – it feels like the moment something ends is the same moment you finally learn how to do it properly.
Unsurprisingly, school has been no different. I’m kicking off my final semester at GW and at last, I’m starting to feel like I’ve got this whole thing figured out – just in time.
I can’t go back and tell my freshman self these things, even though I know she’d benefit from them hugely. But amid all the advice I know freshmen are getting right now, here are a couple off-beat, lesser-known tips from someone who’s been there and finally knows better.
1. Embrace the kooky professors
Freshman year, if I had a professor who stumbled into class a few minutes late, encumbered with messy books and papers, who seemed unsure whether he or she was even in the right place at the right time, I’d roll my eyes and groan inwardly, bracing myself for a disorganized semester. These professors, I knew, tended to lecture off the cuff, picking a topic at random and waxing poetic about it for an hour and 15 minutes.
I was stuck up about it. I preferred my professors to teach by the book, stick to their designated lectures and never stray from the syllabus. I worried that I’d have a hard time learning any other way.
But after more than three years of classes, I’ve learned to let go a little. In the past year or so, I’ve found immense joy in the kooky, disorganized kind of professors I once scorned.
Rather than labeling a class as pointless and pulling out my laptop, I sit back with a notebook, prepared to let the bizarre, rambling lecture wash over me. Yeah, I may not be able to perfectly outline the information the textbook says I should’ve learned that day, but listening to a highly intelligent professor chat enthusiastically about his or her area of expertise is often even more rewarding.
2. Streamline the search for a student group
Freshman year – particularly its final few months – is crunch time for making the friends you’ll carry through the rest of college. If you haven’t done it by then, you won’t be able to do it at all.
Convinced that this over-exaggeration was gospel, I panicked as sophomore year approached. I had a great group of friends clustered in Somers Hall, but I worried that being scattered across Foggy Bottom the next year would cause our little clique to disintegrate. So I went to the spring student organization fair and signed up for dozens of listservs, determined to find a group that I could make my own for the rest of my college career.
It’s a natural inclination to cast your net wide, so I won’t fault my freshman-year self for that. But this strategy isn’t all that effective: I wound up going to a dozen general body meetings those first few weeks of the semester and finding each group interesting, but not committing in any real way because I kept thinking I’d find an even better group the next week.
Instead, I should have launched myself fully into just one organization that suited my interests. Student groups are what you make of them, and you can’t expect that a lackluster commitment will make you any lifelong friends. So if you’re on the fence about which theater group to join, which club sport to play or whether to apply to The Hatchet, just take a leap and commit. It’ll be a far more sensible use of your time.
3. Go random sophomore year
I’ve referenced it already – the other part that’s scary about the fast-approaching end of freshman year is the process of figuring out where you’re going to live sophomore year. My friends and I must have spent hours at a time talking about it and researching the different residence halls.
But you know what they say about the best-laid plans. Somehow, I wound up living in The West End with three – count ’em, three – randomly assigned sorority members.
Now, anyone who knows my feelings about Greek life – and sex-selective organizations in general – will understand that I was a bit wary of this arrangement. But when I think back to my sophomore year, I realize I actually had sort of a wacky, fun time.
Not living with my friends meant my room was my own – a quiet place to do homework, nap or just have some alone time. And even though I assumed I’d have nothing in common with my sophomore-year roommates, they turned out to be kind, caring people who, I realize now, maybe enjoyed the temporary break from Greek life they got at home as much as I liked using our place as a retreat.
So although it may seem like social suicide to end up with “randoms” sophomore year, it might not always be as bad as they say. I was placed with people I thought were my polar opposites and found it to be the very thing that made my year enjoyable.
4. Pick a hobby, and set aside time for it
This last one, I’ll admit, is something I know to be true but still have yet to fully master: It’s so important to find something specific you do just for yourself that boosts your morale.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day of school. You schlep from class to class to work to Gelman Library and then you rinse and repeat. You scarf down crappy meals in front of your laptop and chug cold coffee to try to make it through early-morning classes. You may go out on weekends, but that leaves you feeling gross the next day and behind on sleep for the rest of the week. And any morale you were able to build up over break can deplete very quickly.
I’ve only recently started to learn that you need to set aside one particular activity that you love and make sure you get to do it consistently. It’s why people have hobbies – a concept that seems to be forgotten in college.
This semester, I’ve resolved to watch more live TV. That may sound odd, but having something fun rigidly scheduled – “Saturday Night Live” every week at 11:30 p.m., for instance – is the best way to make sure I stick with it.
Yours can be anything: Set a weekly time to play pick-up basketball, read a few chapters of a book just for fun or even go see a movie by yourself – whatever activity unrelated to school or work you most enjoy. Scheduling time to get your spirit back is the best way to keep on keeping on for the rest of the semester.
Robin Jones Kerr, a senior majoring in journalism, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.