As an adult it has always been difficult for me to understand why perfectly smart young people who are admitted to the very best colleges and universities fear their first experiences on campus. These students talk intelligently, scored off the board on admissions tests and are ranked at the top of their high school classes.
Why then, do they freak out at being on their own for the first time?
Here is one way to avoid the freshman jitters and have fun doing it. I take as my guide the helpful experiences of a perfectly normal freshman at Harvard who wrote about her experience in an alumni newsletter. Let’s call her Carol.
Carol’s first weeks at Harvard were packed full of activities. Placement tests, proctor meetings, dorm socials, losing her cell phone and finding it, she says, picking classes and feeling lost, overwhelmed and homesick. These comments pretty much summarize the experiences that most freshmen have during their first weeks on campus.
To add to Carol’s stress, she ran around frantically auditioning for a number of different singing groups. She was accepted by several and then faced the “agonizing” decision of which one to choose. As fate and good fortune would have it something happened that made her selection obvious and easy. It was called a “sing-in.”
As Carol told it, one Sunday night, two students knocked on her door, blindfolded her and guided her down four flights of stairs and outside, where they removed her blindfold. In front of her were 60 students holding candles and singing Claude Goudimel’s “O Combien est Plaisant.” They then walked to a reception for more singing. Carol returned to her dorm that night knowing she would join the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum.
The “sing-in” was only the beginning. She met a wonderful group of friends and decided to live with some of them her sophomore year. She became involved with the Collegium Executive Committee and later auditioned for and joined the Chamber Singers, a 12-person subset of Collegium.
The point is that it is easy to get lost in the whirlwind of first-week college activities and intimidating, brilliant colleagues not to mention the universal difficulty of making a transition to college life.
To any incoming freshman Carol has this sound advice: “find something you love doing and can wholeheartedly devote yourself to.” Immersing herself so completely in Collegium provided relief from the stress of academic work, insights into the field of music administration and a possible career path. Most of all she met a wonderful group of friends and found her place at Harvard.