Monday, March 7, 2016
Having been involved for years in the college admissions consulting business it is always difficult for me to understand why perfectly smart young people who are admitted to the very best colleges and universities are fearful of the campus experience. These students speak intelligently, scored off the board on admissions tests, and are ranked at the top of their high school classes.
Why then, do they freak out at being on their own for the first time?
Here is a suggestion about how to avoid the freshman jitters and have fun doing it. I take as my guide, the helpful experiences of a freshman at Harvard who wrote about her experience in an alumni newsletter. We will call her Carol.
Carol's first weeks at Harvard were packed full of activities. Placement tests, proctor meetings, dorm socials, losing her cell phone and finding it, choosing classes and generally feeling lost, overwhelmed and homesick. These comments pretty much summarize the experiences that many college freshmen have during their first weeks on campus.
To add to Carol's stress, she ran around frantically auditioning for a number of different singing groups. She was accepted by several and then faced the "agonizing" decision of which one to choose. As fate and good fortune would have it, something happened that made her selection obvious and easy. It was called a "sing-in."
As Carol told it, one Sunday night, two students she had met at her singing auditions knocked on her door and invited her to join them for the evening. They led her outside where 60 or more students stood holding candles and singing Claude Goudimel's "O Combien est Plaisant," a 16th century setting of Psalm 133. The three then went to a reception for more singing. Carol returned to her dorm that night knowing she would join the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum.
The "sing-in" was only the beginning. She met a wonderful group of friends and decided to live with some of them her sophomore year. She became involved with the Collegium Executive Committee and later auditioned for and joined the Chamber Singers, a 12-person subset of Collegium.
The point is that it is easy to get lost in the whirlwind of first-week college activities and intimidating, brilliant colleagues not to mention the universal difficulty of making a transition to college life.
To any incoming freshman Carol has this sound advice: "Find an activity you love doing and to which you can wholeheartedly devote your time." Immersing herself so completely in Collegium provided relief from the stress of academic work, gave her insights into the field of music administration and a possible career path. Most of all she met a wonderful group of friends and found her place at Harvard.
It is important to be active socially when you arrive on campus — do not isolate. Find a study partner in your chosen field of study. Attend as many orientation events as you can so that you can make informed choices about clubs you may wish to join and other extra curricular involvement options. Know that this is a tough transition for everyone and that a constructive response in adjusting to your new environment will enrich the college experience.
Gerald Bradshaw America's top college counselor offers academic college admissions guidance.
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