Taking a trip down memory lane, I’m spilling the tea on everything I wish someone had told me when I was a wide-eyed, bushy-tailed freshman. From the truth about 8 AM classes (hint: don’t do it to yourself) to the fact that yes, you can actually talk to your professors — they don’t bite!
First things first, let’s address the elephant in the room: morning classes. While the thought of scheduling classes whenever you please sounds appealing, I encourage you to resist the urge to mimic your high school timetable. I went to a boarding school in western Kenya and we used to be up every day before 4:30 AM for “morning preps” classes. Nonetheless, I found that an 8 AM class in college is not the same as an 8 AM high school class. Remember, you’ll likely be studying or hanging out with friends later into the evening and those extra Zs in the morning can be game-changing. You may find that you want or need to take a class that meets earlier in the morning, that that’s totally fine, but don’t feel pressure to start your day early just because that’s when high school classes started. Your first semester at Swarthmore is Pass/Fail and it’s a really good opportunity to try out different class schedule options and see what works best for you. Your sleep schedule will thank you!
The notorious Freshman 15 fallacy — the myth that all first-year students are doomed to gain 15 pounds — can be a source of anxiety for some. But fear not! With balanced meals from the new Dining Center and Community Commons and regular exercise at the Matchbox (or just walking across our fairly large campus), you can easily maintain a healthy lifestyle. I do not think of myself as a gym rat, but I have taken a few exercise and wellness classes that emphasized the importance of frequenting the gym, having a balanced diet, a good sleep schedule, meditating, and taking some time off for yourself. Given that Swarthmore is a cash-free campus, the gym facilities are free to use for everyone on campus and you can always pop by anytime to shed those extra pounds off or build some muscle!
Picking a major can feel like a monumental decision, but it’s not as set-in-stone as you may think. Many Swatties change their major during their college journey — some multiple times! It’s okay to start out undecided. At Swarthmore, you don’t declare your major until the end of your sophomore year through the Sophomore Plan. This is a misnomer, as it’s not a plan for your sophomore year, but rather a plan created at the end of your sophomore year for the next two years of college. There is also a lot of advising that’s done during this time and every Swattie is able to either figure out what majors/minors they really enjoy, combine multiple disciplines into a special major, or even take up the opportunity to design their own major. So take your time during your first year, explore different classes, and you’ll eventually find the path that’s right for you.
Professors are people too! It may seem intimidating at first, but getting to know your professors can profoundly enrich your academic experience. Professors are experts in their fields, passionate about their subjects, and they genuinely want to see you succeed. Swarthmore has really small classes with an average class size of about 14 students and this makes it really easy for professors to develop relationships with students too! The small class sizes allow you to get to know and learn from your classmates and to feel heard. My linguistics professor last semester was really cool and even brought pizza and a lemonade stand during finals. Taking the exam was so much fun because we could always walk up to the front to grab another slice or drink as many times as we pleased. So, drop by your professors’ office hours, ask questions, or even discuss your ambitions — you might just find a mentor for life!
“What about friendships? How do I make friends?” Well, that’s a whole different ball game. It may seem like everyone finds their college BFFs within the first week, but real connections take time. Join clubs, attend social events in your dorms or around campus, and be authentically you — you’ll find your tribe. Just smile and say hi! And remember, it’s perfectly normal to feel a little lonely sometimes. During those times, I spent most of it in any of the private practice rooms we have in the Lang Music Building playing the piano for hours on end. No doubt you’ll definitely find a spot on campus to enjoy your own company.
Lastly, always remember that college is a rich tapestry of experiences — academics are woven in personal growth, exploration, and yes, a whole lot of fun. So take that spontaneous road trip, dance at that party, join the frisbee team or the drama club. Your college experience is yours to shape, so make it a memorable one.
So, Swatties-to-be, take these insights as your starting point, a compass to guide you through the sometimes choppy, always exciting waters of your first year at Swarthmore. We’re cheering you on as you set sail!