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Ten Pieces of Mostly Earnest Advice for Freshmen

February 17, 2009 at 1:35 pm
By Dan Sugarman '09

In my time here at Carleton, I’ve picked up many valuable pieces of advice from others, some not-so-valuable pieces of advice, and above all have forged through the trenches to come up with a few nuggets of wisdom of my own. Amazingly, I’ve been working with the Web Services Group for four years, long enough to remember the inception of this here blog back in the winter of ’05, when Tim Blaha '06 published his piece “Ten Things I Wish I Had Known as a Freshman.” With my time at this institution drawing to a close, here’s my take on the ten things I wish I had known as a freshman.

  1. Don’t feel too obligated to do anything here besides your homework. If you got into Carleton, you were probably up to your neck in extracurricular activities in high school. Being involved is good, but the workload here is too intense and time with your friends is too limited to devote yourself to a million and one clubs. Find a couple things you dig, get really devoted to them, and you’ll find yourself much happier than if you had spent your time joining every single organization that sounds somewhat interesting to you, because frankly most everything here is somewhat interesting. Also, don't always think of your free time in terms of organizations you can join. Getting really good at something -- an instrument, creative writing, cooking -- is just as good of a use of your free time even if it might never make it onto any résumé.

  2. When Socrates said "Know Thyself," he was talking about your preferred sleep schedule. You can fool yourself into thinking that an 8:30 a.m. yoga class in the winter is the perfect way to wake up and get your day started, but you soon may find yourself frantically emailing the instructor with excuses for your absences and asking when the make-up classes are. That said, scheduling all your classes after noon is sometimes equally deadly; you might think you’ll wake up and do some homework, but you might just end up going out the night before knowing you can safely sleep in. I’ve found that the way to take classes is to load them in the middle of the day; nothing before 9:50 a.m., nothing after 3:10 p.m. You'll get up reasonably early but still find yourself with plenty of time to get a good night's sleep and take advantage of a full day. That said, the winter term where my first class was at 3:10 p.m. was truly a joy.

  3. Don’t wear pajamas to class. I know this is college and this school has a reputation for its quirkiness, and you feel liberated from the sartorial confines of high school and want to take it to the next level by rocking some PJs to your 1 or 2a, but please: throw on some real clothes. You’ll look better, the overall ambiance of the classroom will feel more academic, and most of all maybe we’ll collectively turn Carleton away from the style wasteland that is the modern college campus. Wasn’t it awesome when all college students dressed like these guys?

  4. The arb is rad. I still talk to people who have amazingly never been in the arb. Here are things besides walking/running I highly recommend doing in the arb before you graduate: 1) Go into the arb at dark with an iTunes playlist and headphones. It can be kind of eerie, but in a fun way. Watch out for cougars. 2) During a nice spring day, take a romantic interest into the arb with a bottle of wine (this is for when you are 21+ only) and some cheese and crackers. 3) Find a good place in the lower arb to take a nap.

  5. Buy a French press or a coffee machine. My mom likes to tell me that she never really drank coffee until her senior year, but we are a generation that has been raised on copious cups of Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts coffee, and the idea that it’s OK to buy a cup -- or two -- or three of coffee every day doesn’t seem that far-fetched. And when you have snack bar dollars on your meal plan, maybe you can even reasonably afford it. But once you go off the meal plan, you quickly realize you are spending a small fortune on caffeinating yourself at the Snack Bar or Blue Monday's. Get some coffee-making device, and go to the supermarket and buy some grounds. You’ll end up spending like $5 a week on coffee, and learn a skill for the rest of your life. What you do with the spare change is up to you and your imagination.

  6. It's not who you know, it's what you know... until graduation, when it is who you know, and hopefully you know someone. This isn’t universally true. Depending on what you plan on doing, it could be patently false. But really, once it’s time to look for a job, having connections is a major leg-up, especially in lean economic times. You might be the best potential editor in the world, but it’s hard to go from Northfield, Minnesota to the hallways of Condé Nast without someone leading you in. Having a summer internship might not lead directly to a job, but at least you’ll know people in fields you’re interested in and can get in touch with them about upcoming job prospects. If you can't take an internship, try connecting with alumni. And if you want to hear what the experts say about all this, do yourself a favor and head over to the Career Center sometime.

  7. Part of the reason everyone becomes more bitter as they get older is because “Carleton has changed,” or that “things aren’t as fun as they used to be.” If you find yourself beginning to think these thoughts, remember that Carleton's only as fun as you make it, and that it's on you now to have the events that you found so much fun as a freshman. Organize a dance party on Mai Fete, or start a band with your friends and play at the Cave. Nothing's really going on in Northfield, the Twin Cities are a little too far to visit every weekend, and you don't want to spend all your weekends watching movies at SUMO, so making this campus a vibrant place is squarely on your shoulders.

  8. Study abroad. There is nothing that works more like a perspective-shifter than a term in Europe, Asia, South America, etc. You’ll appreciate your friends here more, you’ll appreciate what Carleton has to offer while gaining a greater understanding of its limitations, and most of all you will have a vast reservoir of fond, irreplaceable memories of being young, carefree and in another part of the world.

  9. Start acquiring employment cocktail party knowledge. One of the best things about college is the endless reservoir of free time you have to read books, listen to music, screw around on the Internet, etc. What these things lead to is a vast repertoire of (mostly) functionally useless knowledge that with any luck will make you seem like a really cool, widely educated person. Try to have one interesting or witty thing to say about everything and you will come out of Carleton ready to be a real world sophisticate.

  10. Get off Facebook. No, really, right now, get off.