August 31, 2009

The Gadson Review's Advice to Freshmen

In less than a month, the ‘13 class will start classes at Dartmouth. As an upperclassman, I wanted to share some advice in the hopes that you can learn from my experience and that of other upperclassmen to make the most of your time in college. I can’t guarantee that everything will be original, but I do promise it will be honest. Here goes:

Explore different disciplines before picking a major

There are people who have known since they were five what they wanted to major in. And many of you probably think you know. But I want to urge you to try something different before choosing your major. If you think you want to major in English, try a class in computer science; you may fall in love with the subject. Additionally, even when you do pick a major, try and branch out. You’ll be a deeper, more educated person as a result.

Keep grades in perspective

Everyone wants to get a good GPA either out of pride, or a desire to get a good job, or into a good graduate school. But at times, I’ve made the mistake of putting too much emphasis on it. For example, when I did an off-campus study program in France my junior year, I judged my time mostly by the grades I got. It seemed infuriating that I was taking classes with people who had studied French since middle school, and that on some level, I was graded against them even though I had only taken one year in college. But upon reflection, I realized that grades were a poor way to judge my time in France. I had gained the ability to speak and read a new language, and experienced a different culture. That is something that will stay with me, long after no one cares what grades are on my transcript. So technically speaking, I probably got the shaft grade-wise. And that’s ok. I’m a better, more educated person for stretching myself and going abroad. So let me urge you to take a long view of your education.

Advice on engaging the Greek system

There is a wide range of opinions at Dartmouth on the Greek system. Some think it’s the best thing since sliced bread; others think it’s a reincarnation of Sodom and Gomorrah. I’m not really here to weigh in on that debate. Whatever its merits or demerits, the Greek system is popular on campus. Upwards of 2/3 of upperclassmen will end up pledging. So in some way, the Greek system will affect your time on campus.

There’s really two pieces of advice I’d give here. First, don’t compromise your values. I know this seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how often people do compromise their values in the Greek system. If hooking up, and drinking until you drop floats your boat then by all means, go for it. But if you object to those things, don’t engage in them just to be accepted. If you do choose to pledge, talk to upperclassmen about which houses might be a good fit for you. And please ‘13s, try and change the Greek culture. Don’t just complain about its flaws. If you join a house, try to eliminate the aspects you don’t like. The only reason the system has some of the same problems it did decades ago is because class after class simply accepts the system, and then passes it along to upcoming ones.

Second, don’t feel compelled to join a house. This will be particularly hard advice to follow Sophomore fall when it seems like everyone is pledging. But maybe you just don’t want to be a part of the Greek culture on campus, and more power to you if that’s the case. There are other social opportunities on campus. Hang out with friends, join an organization, explore the great outdoors. Somehow I doubt that 2/3 of upperclassmen really want to join a house; I think they do so because they feel like that’s the only real social outlet on campus. If more of you ‘13s who don’t want to join a house don’t let yourselves be pressured into joining one, then maybe even more social opportunities will be available for people who aren’t part of the Greek system.

Get out of Hanover sometimes

Hanover has much to recommend it, and you’ll be delighted by its charms when you arrive. But let’s face it, the town is pretty small, and there just isn’t that much to do. Sure you’ll be busy with classes and extra-curriculars, but there will come times when you want to do something besides play pong in a frat basement for fun. Get a group of friends together and go to Boston or New York once or twice a year. Plenty of organizations on campus travel to those cities and more on occasion.

Also, I highly recommend studying abroad. My favorite term at Dartmouth was my term on the Beijing FSP. It was a thrilling experience. I made a new group of friends, and went to some cool places. Studying abroad will give you a broader perspective and allow you to really appreciate Hanover when you come back.

Always know you have something to offer

You’ll come into contact with people from all sorts of exciting backgrounds, who’ve done some amazing things. When I started, I felt boring compared to many of the kids I met who seemed so awesome. But remember that you have talents and abilities to share with your classmates, and that you too are interesting in your own unique way.


I hope you ‘13s are excited about starting college—it really can be the best time of your lives. I hope you take the advice here to heart, and start thinking about how to make the most of your time. You may be the worst class ever, but I’m really looking forward to meeting you this fall!

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  1. Anonymous12:11 AM

    I just wanted to say, as an incoming freshman, I really loved reading this. It was so sincere and because of that, genuinely helpful. Thank you.

  2. Anonymous12:28 AM

    That was great advice. Nothing earth-shatteringly new, I guess, but you pieced together the most important pieces of advice I've gotten about my future at Dartmouth into one comprehensive post. ^^ Thanks!