If you're reading this, there's a good chance you're pretty happy you're at Brown. After a tense year in which Brown was bumped to number two, our university has regained its place as the happiest school in the Princeton Review rankings.
Of course, if you're reading this, you may not be at your happiest at this particular moment in the semester. That extra hour of sleep you may have gotten over Daylight Savings Time has probably been thrown to the winds with the second round of midterm essays and exams. With Thanksgiving still several midterms away, the semester can look pretty bleak.
For me, this seeming paradox makes sense. It's not a surprise that Brown continually tops the Princeton Review ratings and that so many of its students rave about their experiences during and after their time here. Alums from Richard Holbrooke '62 to Sam Benjamin Stern '99 (the author of "Confessions of an Ivy League Pornographer") are grateful for the experiences and knowledge they gained here.
Personally, I would unabashedly characterize my last three years at Brown as overwhelmingly happy. I've made good use of the Open Curriculum by pursuing a wide variety of humanities-related subjects. I've attended events for and participated in a good number of Brown's student-run organizations. Yet there are times where my enthusiasm for my undergraduate institution wanes in the face of work and I would rather be home in bed, reading some sort of thoroughly non-academic magazine (or better yet, asleep).
The reason? An unfortunate truth: The best things about our University can also be the worst. All that freedom which we hold so dear can actually drive a person crazy, if he or she lets it happen. Surrounded by brilliant classmates and professors and a wealth of extracurricular activities, it's possible to lose track of one's threshold for work and spiral out of control.
Sure, the Open Curriculum is a barrel of fun and a relief after a high school career packed with requirements, but it can also be treacherous. I know more than one person who spent their first year at Brown taking classes in entirely unrelated departments and had a difficult time picking a concentration come sophomore year. Even those less confused about the direction of their academic careers can find themselves similarly stumped when it comes time to register for classes.
Brown's smorgasbord of student groups can provide an equally frustrating catch-22. If you're like me and you've made the mistake of continuing to attend the biannual activities fairs, you know how great the temptation to add yourself to a few more listservs can be.
Somehow, nonacademic activities in college manage to consume just as much time, if not more, than classes; students staying late in the SciLi are just as likely to be preparing an event for their favorite group as writing an essay or reviewing for an exam.
Moreover, no one is there to connect stressed-out students to the resources the University provides for them. Many students (myself included) have put off meeting with a concentration adviser to discuss changes in plans, probably because they feel as though they don't know their assigned faculty member well enough to approach him or her about questions or concerns.
To aid students suffering from academic overload, the University should work to encourage stronger bonds between students and advisers by requiring meetings after students have declared concentrations. This would make students more likely to forge a stronger relationship with their advisers and seek help throughout their college careers.
Of course, any changes the University may make to the advising system will take time to implement, and there's nothing the administration can do (or should do) about the presence of so many interesting and alluring student groups. Thus, it's important for all students to take the initiative to balance their lives.
Balance means learning to say no to commitments, which can be a hard lesson for many of us who got to Brown by what many term overachieving. But taking a night off from homework after a week of midterms doesn't make you a bad student — it makes you a smart one. And it's not a sign of weakness to call Psych Services, take time off or even transfer out of Brown if that's really what you need to do. Ultimately, your sanity is more important than any or all of the above.
So, if you're reading this, regardless of how you're feeling or how much work you have right now, take some time to yourself to regroup and recoup any lost brain cells. Check in with an adviser about your upcoming classes, whether you think you really need to or not. Decline to take on that extra commitment for your favorite student organization. And remember that it's okay not to love every moment of the college experience.
Adrienne Langlois '10 copes with midterm stress by banging her head against the wall in the Rock carrels.