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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, February 29, 2024

Seniors share college wisdom with first-years


Your new white sneakers are demolished from orientation week floors, the pre-orientation group chat is no longer active and you now have a take on the Carm vs. Dewick debate. Now what? Classes are starting and the daunting feeling of four years at Tufts might be creeping up on you. No need to fret; every Tufts student has been there. 

Listen to these seniors as they reflect on their first year at Tufts and give advice on how first-years can make the most of their first few months of college. 

“I think that first-years should focus on getting out of their comfort zone and not just doing the same things that they did in high school,” Steph Waugh, a political science student, said. “Those have been the most impactful experiences from my Tufts career.”

For international relations student Briana McGowan, it was as simple as changing the language she took when getting to college. 

“[In high school,] I took French, and then when I came to college, I was like, ‘I want to challenge myself, and I want to try something new,’ so then I just took Arabic kind of out of nowhere,” McGowan said. “Now I’m minoring in Arabic and now my career's oriented towards the Middle East.”

Changing things up from high school can also take the form of joining a new activity. 

“The first GIM I went to was the ballroom dancing GIM, which I just went to on a whim ... I did not dance before at all,” Waugh said. “I really just loved the atmosphere. There was an immediate click, and the seniors were so welcoming, and that has become my main thing at Tufts. All because I decided to go to a random GIM, you know, the first week of school.”

At the same time, during the first semester, it is just as important that first-years prioritize their mental health. René LaPointe Jameson, an environmental engineering student, noted that it is the difference between surviving and thriving in the first semester of college.

“You can only engage, learn, and adjust to college as well as you are feeling internally. If you make sure to prioritize your well-being with plenty of rest and time for the things you love you will not just survive the first semester but thrive,” Jameson wrote in an email to the Daily. 

With classes starting and new deadlines approaching, it is easy for first-years to find themselves centering their lives around academics. Although important, academics do not need to be the main priority. For community health majorAnn Christelle Labossiere, changing how she approached school was a learning curve in her first year. 

“I’m not subscribing to the idea that I need to constantly be up late just doing work ... that's actually not even healthy, so I started to realize I was pushing myself a bit too hard a few months into freshman year,” Labossiere said.

While easier said than done, taking time for self-care pays off. However, for the moments when first-years do find themselves lost in the depths of the Canvas class page, they should know there are other resources.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and the same thing goes for academics. Your professors are there to teach you and to support you, so going to their office hours and admitting that you don't know how to do something, or you don't understand something — that's what they're there for ... to help you,” McGowan said. 

A common struggle for many first-year students is the intimidation factor of college. At the start, it can be very easy for students to feel as if they do not belong in this new learning environment. 

“Imposter syndrome is real, sometimes, especially for, maybe, first-gen and low-income students. And so just kind of [remind] yourself, like, you have a space here,” Labossiere said. 

Especially since Tufts is a predominantly white institution, students of color may feel marginalized academically and socially. Jameson reiterated the statement that all students should feel like they deserve to be at school like Tufts.

“To my fellow Black jumbos, remember you belong. You have a place here, you earned your spot in your class, and you are exceptional. Also, come by the Africana Center!” Jameson wrote. 

As a school that has an undergraduate student population of nearly 6,000, it can be a difficult place to navigate compared to smaller high school classrooms. For Labossiere, getting used to the size took some time. 

“My graduating class in high school was 45 students; we were a very small charter school in Boston,”  Labossiere said. “So when I came to Tufts, I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness this school is so big. I’m not going to know nobody. It is going to be really hard for me to like meet new people.’”

While at first Tufts may feel overwhelming, there are ways to make this midsize school small. For Labossiere, connecting with the identity centers allowed her to find a sense of community. 

“I think [first-years] should focus on making themselves aware of all the resources on campus that are beneficial to them and their experiences here. I think there's a lot of things I ended up learning like, ‘Oh, this support system through the FIRST Center,’ or ‘the support system in the Africana Center can actually help me,'” Labossiere said. “I didn't know until, like, maybe my sophomore or junior year."

Community can also be felt by the people you see all over campus, such as in the dining hall workers. 

“The Tufts Dining workers helped me get through my first year. Dining worker friends (shout out especially to Freddy and Tony) have always looked out for me and checked in on me when I got meals,” Jameson wrote. “Our dining workers work so hard and nourish us both physically with the food they serve and emotionally with their kindness. Please make sure to thank them!” 

In the first few months of college, making friends is no easy task. Every day, first-years meet more and more people, and at some point it becomes impossible to remember all the names. Waugh remembers this feeling when they came to Tufts.

“It was hard to tell who was being real with me and [who was] putting on this facade to try to make new friends ... I think it was like the second semester when it started to become really obvious who actually enjoyed hanging out with me,” Waugh said. “I guess some advice for first-years would be don't feel the pressure to make your solid group of friends at O-week or during the beginning of school because it's okay and probably better if it molds and changes throughout the first couple years.”

The most powerful support system can also be just finding that one person, so first-years should not feel pressure to find a group. 

Waugh said, “I think finding at least one person that you can actually be real with was pretty helpful for me, so when I did have a breakdown or something, I had someone to talk to about it, [and it] wasn't just all in my head.”

At the end of college, students may not remember the day they studied all day for that calculus midterm, but they will remember the time they got lost on the T for the first time. Seniors encourage first-years to make time for fun this year. 

“I wish I spent more time exploring Boston. For some reason, I always thought if I’m going into Boston, I have to set a day aside. But it’s not that far or serious to go. Just go and explore,” Jameson wrote.

College is extremely different from high school, which is both exciting and terrifying. First-years should take these next four years to let themselves make mistakes, learn from them and just enjoy their time. 

“[There's a] high school mentality of like 'grades are everything,' and you know, 'I have to have this specific group of friends.' College really isn't like that. You can kind of have the space and room to experiment and to mess up, and there are a lot of support systems around to help you when that does happen,” Waugh said. “I think it's so important for people to make mistakes and not be perfect in an environment that is so supportive, so that later on when it happens inevitably in the rest of life, it's not a jarring experience.”