Friedman ’19: Facing freshman fears

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Three weeks ago, I signed up to offer advice and tips to my advisor’s incoming first-year advisees over an hour-long meeting. In preparation for the discussion, he sent me a couple of New York Times articles: one about how one’s perception of their own intelligence can have a dramatic effect on GPA and the other a compendium of advice for incoming college freshmen written by college students from across the country. The process of reading and reflecting upon these articles caused my own dormant memories and takeaways from freshman year to resurface.

Last year, I was a bit too fatalistic about the whole college experience. Every detail of the first week of school was extrapolated to the point of meaninglessness, and it seemed as though every occurrence would have dire consequences for the next four years. Within two weeks of the beginning of class, my peers seemed to have already settled into their extracurricular activities and integrated club events into their weekly schedule. In an effort to make up lost ground, I began writing at The Herald, signed up for shifts at the Underground Coffee Shop and joined the email lists of the Korean-American Student Association, the Hapa Club, Model United Nations, Running Club, Brown Debate Club, the Environmental Studies Departmental Undergraduate Group and History DUG. The act of checking my email at night became such a stress-inducing process that I usually avoided it. To this day, I still have 2,063 unread emails sitting in my Brown inbox thanks to my sign-up frenzy.

Eventually I unsubscribed from the unwanted email lists. Ironically, I only started attending club meetings with my friends after I unsubscribed. It turns out that discovering clubs in real life is better than discovering them online. That experience taught me that I only have time in my week and patience with Gmail for three, maybe four activities outside of class and that the process of rapid one-upping extracurricular involvement is self-defeating. Ultimately, I only attended club meetings and put in effort for activities that I genuinely enjoyed, and the process of discovering how I actually liked spending my time took much longer than a month.

The slow-and-steady method of signing up for clubs and activities isn’t the only thing that eluded me last year. Only once my second semester midterms had rolled around did I truly understand the difference between studying for high school tests and college midterms — one cannot simply pull an all-nighter without prior studying and expect to do well on a midterm at Brown. To my chagrin, I had to learn this lesson twice; I spent the majority of both semesters last year recovering from poor grades on first midterms. Last spring, I received a C on my mathematical microeconomics midterm after spending a scant three hours unconfidently solving practice problems out of the book the night before. When I received my grade at the end of the class, my first reaction was that I had mistakenly picked up someone else’s answer booklet. The real horror of the situation set in when I verified my name on the front cover. Panicking, I called my dad during every free moment I had for the rest of the day. I recall suggesting to him that night that I drop out of Brown, move back to Dallas and get a job as a waiter or barista while attending community college because this whole Ivy League school thing was not going to work out for me.

I eventually learned that I needed at least four days to legitimately study for a Brown midterm and that I needed to plan out my studying weeks in advance. I learned that a train trip to New York the weekend before a midterm is not a great idea and that I should get a tutor for any class in which I know I am struggling. But what really forced me to adopt better study habits was joining the men’s crew team last spring. Ironically, the added obstacle of three-hour practices six days a week made free study time valuable to me in a way nothing had before. I began creating and abiding by study calendars, which proved indispensable in organizing my time during reading week.

Looking back through the college advice articles published in the Times, my experience with activities closely parallels that of Shivani Dixit, University of Chicago ’17, who said, “remember that everyone has unique talents, and you have four years to cultivate yours.” My experience with midterms can be summarized by Justine Goode, Oberlin College ’16, who said, “your grade in one class does not define you.” It seems that the college experience doesn’t vary from place to place as much as I initially thought; my friends from other universities and I have come away from our first year with largely the same conclusions. Though part of success at Brown lies in the details (like knowing which days the Ratty serves Asian food, so you can go to the VDub instead), another part of success lies in understanding that you will struggle your first year, but eventually you will find your way. It just takes time.

Andrew Friedman ’19 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to

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