Devon Fitzgerald: How to cope if GW wasn’t your first choice

If we’re being blatantly honest, GW was not my first-choice school. Nor was it my second.

In fact, GW was my safety school. It was supposed to be a last resort, but when things didn’t work out as planned, it became my reality. It was hard to accept, and even harder to watch my friends get into their dream schools. I never had that moment every high school senior dreams of: the open-your-letter-from-Hogwarts, is-she-screaming-or-is-she-crying moment.

Once I had my acceptance letters — which didn’t include one from my dream school — I decided to look at the numbers: acceptance rates, SAT scores and rankings. I ended up choosing GW not because I loved it, but because it was the best out of all my options. I wanted to study international affairs, and the Elliott School is ranked eighth on the top 10 list of schools to study international relations, according to Foreign Policy magazine.

My choice was one of logic, not love, and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t bother me. The summer before college began was the hardest, and I spent those months lamenting that I had made the wrong decision.

Some incoming freshmen are probably feeling the same way, and as someone who’s been there, I have some advice for you.

I’m not telling you to settle. But if you’re starting this week wishing you were somewhere else, don’t give up on the University right away. You may end up falling in love with GW, just like I did a year ago.

For those of you dealing with feelings of regret, resentment or lingering doubt, you are not alone. But I can tell you from experience, there are ways of adjusting — and that starts with finding a group and forming bonds.

When I arrived on campus, I began to love the life I was building here. I started my freshman year with every intention of transferring. But despite my less-than-stellar residence hall, I made fast friends within the first few days. Even within that first week I had begun to rethink transferring.

However, I still wasn’t completely sold. I was happy, but something was missing. My friends had all joined Greek life, but I knew I wanted to hold out for a professional sorority (which didn’t start the rush process until January). Once I had rushed a sorority and had found volunteer work I was passionate about, I knew I wasn’t going anywhere — I was all in.

Your friends and your group will make GW feel more like home, and they aren’t the only ones. Professors, especially those with plenty of experience teaching freshmen, are there for you, too.

“We know that students who have trouble adjusting to college have difficulty succeeding academically,” said Irene Foster, an economics professor who teaches hundreds of freshmen each year.

Foster told me that she and her teaching assistants track students’ grades in order to detect trends and figure out if any of her students are struggling. From there, she arranges meetings with individual students.

“Occasionally, they just need someone to talk to. The TAs and I sometimes fill that role. Many are surprised to learn that they are not the only ones who feel lonely or who have trouble adjusting,” Foster said.

Administrators are also tuned in to problems incoming freshmen may experience, especially for those who don’t quite feel at home right away.

“Any change as big as starting college, moving away from home and living in a new place will take some time to adjust to,” Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said in an email. “It may not be a matter of hours or days, but perhaps weeks or months.”

Konwerski also noted the abundance of resources available on campus for students, including the CARE Network and the Center for Student Engagement.

Of course, if you realize GW isn’t the place for you, don’t just stick it out. It isn’t worth being unhappy, and it’s certainly OK to transfer. But that doesn’t mean you have to waste your time while you’re here. Take challenging classes. Try to make some friends. Don’t avoid getting involved just because you think you’re going to leave.

What I urge you to do is to find what makes you want to get out of bed in the morning — the things that make you want to wake up and go to class.

Maybe GW is your dark horse, your true love, or maybe just your one-night stand. No matter how long, for this moment, you are here. Take advantage of it.

Devon Fitzgerald, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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