Congrats on the exciting days ahead and on becoming one of nearly 2 million lucky souls to be starting college this year in the United States!
You’ve worked hard to get this far, and you have every reason to feel proud. We know you’re anxious. You’re not wrong to think that college is harder today than it was when your parents and teachers may have attended, (and not just the frenzied getting-in part that you can now happily put behind you.) Certainly, college is more nerve-wracking than it was in the zany days when Lisa Rothstein, the book’s illustrator, and I, its editor, each settled in to our first dorm rooms. (Lisa with her art posters, me with my electric typewriter.) The art of the job hunt has changed. Stress is lurking everywhere, and the glare of social media only magnifies the pressure to be perfect, one reason why we have created an all-new chapter in this edition all about “Coping.”
But here’s a secret the elders in your life may not appreciate. The Straight-A Life is highly overrated. Success depends on so much more than compiling that perfect GPA, as new research keeps finding. Failure has never been more fashionable – or helpful to your career. Robert F. Scott’s perpetual daydreaming may have made him seem lackluster as a student, though that same restless curiosity about what lay beyond his classroom walls also led him to glory in Antarctica (see image.) Steve Jobs’, George W. Bush’s, and J.K. Rowling’s spotty grades in college never held them back, either.
So, remind yourself to breathe, and give yourself permission to have some fun. College may or may not be the best four years of your life, but for sure it shouldn’t be the dullest, either. Sample new foods. Make some unlikely friends. Try out for an extracurricular group you think is way out of your league. You may surprise yourself (and the doubters back home who said you never could.) As a freshman, I tried out for an a cappella group, which quickly showed me the door. (To this day, I can’t believe the group did not explode in laughter upon hearing my first off-pitch note.) But I also auditioned for a dance troupe that I was sure I had no chance of making, only to be stunned when I got in. That ended up being one of the more thrilling experiences of my college years. By all means, take basic statistics because it’s good for you, and maybe a course in computer coding. But mostly take the courses that interest you. Yes, even philosophy majors can land big jobs out in the real world. Just ask Robert E. Rubin, the former Treasury Secretary who credits the time he spent studying philosophy at college for much of his success. Or Megan Rooney, the classics major who went on to write speeches for the White House. Challenge yourself, when you can, but if a subject proves too much, take it pass-fail. Worry less about having all the answers, more about asking the best questions.
Oh, one more thing. Try not to leave college without getting to know some professors. To their credit, most American colleges encourage this kind of up-close exchange. Take advantage of all those office hours. (Wish I had.) Your teachers could end up being your greatest mentors and champions.
Most of all, relax. This book and website have your back. Hundreds of contributors have generously drawn from their experiences, so you have the benefit of all they learned along the way. The chorus of voices you’ll hear in the book and on these pages will not always be singing in perfect unison (any more than I was years ago.) But the multiplicity of views represented will help you make more informed choices and take on ticklish situations with fewer surprises.
Meanwhile, we’ll be continuing the conversation over on Facebook @hundredsofheads, Twitter @FyHow2, and Instagram @how2survivefreshmanyear, not to mention Goodreads and Amazon. So, please check us out there, too. We’d love to hear about your new adventures and what’s on your mind.
Alison, editor of “How to Survive Your Freshman Year”