Dear Class of 2015,
(Now I feel old.) Well anyways, I wanted to say hello! Even though I haven't met any of you yet - but I might have seen a few of you around campus when you asked for directions to admissions or when you were following someone walking backward through Tappan. I hope, come August, that you will meet wonderful people, learn a new language, find a secluded place on campus to sit and write, or just think - any and all of these things.
Now that I'm a rising third-year, I've compiled a belated list of things I wish I had known coming in. So I am going to try to tell you about them, although maybe it's not something you can absorb through forewarning (doesn't that sound ominous?). I say this because even though I've realized I should do these things, I often don't, and end up double- and triple-underlining it in my notebook à la go to office hours!!!
AP credits aside - all I got was a ton of elective credit and a pass on QPf - you get a clean slate coming in. Take advantage of that. And for the most part, each semester will reset that slate to some extent, which is for me the most reassuring thing about September 6th. Incidentally, you should be on campus by then, and if you're not, uh... classes start then.
1. Like I already mentioned, going to office hours is advisable. Based on professor and department, or on the nature of the class, some office hours will be more helpful than others, but you should go at least once. Especially if you have questions. Some of my friends manage to drop in to office hours just to have a non-class-related conversation with their professors, and I have to say I'm quite jealous. But even if you're in similarly tongue-tied straits, make it to office hours. First of all, Oberlin professors are brilliant and godlike and awesome (see also: Chinwe's post). And second, it will make asking for letters of recommendation (you know you'll need them) go much smoother in the future, because your professors will be much less likely to have forgotten you ever took their class.
2. Work at the material and past the grade. Some classes are just easier than others, and it won't be that hard to get a decent grade, but the material is really more the point. In an ideal world, I mean, but also in the worlds of people taking entrance exams like the MCAT. It's much harder to study for it if you coasted through basic sciences and have to learn material again because you weren't paying attention the first time around.
3. Stay away from your bed. Actually, I know people who can study on their beds, so maybe this is a personal thing. But every time I start to do work on my bed, I fall asleep within a half hour, which does not do wonders for productivity. My roommate warns me of this every time I make the climb onto my bed (they were all lofted in Asia House last year), which doesn't mean I don't do it. She's just always right in the end. My GPA and stress levels reflect this.
4. This one may be more for pre-meds, because I'm currently at a point where I find I really did not understand what I was getting into, and missed a lot of opportunities as a result. Basically, if you already know what you want to do, stay open to other disciplines but start lining things up. Know where you want to go and what that will require - the GPA you need (yes, it's not everything, but it will help - and while I knew it needed to be good, I definitely did not realize exactly how good it had to be), shadowing stints at a hospital, extracurricular stuff, be well-rounded, etc. Look up GPA ranges in the MSAR for the schools you want to attend, talk to our pre-health advisor, or go to an AMSA meeting. I think I always had the impression that the process of getting into medical school was much simpler than it is, so fair warning. That said, I'm not even halfway there, so these are only my thoughts from where I'm standing at the moment.
I don't mean to sound bleak. Don't feel the need to mold yourself into a cookie-cutter premed student, there's no such thing (although there might be a rough profile). You'll stand out if you pursue topics you're truly passionate about.
5. Your professors, for all they are godlike, are also very nice human beings. If you're completely overwhelmed, go talk to them, and clear up the confusion before it becomes a huge problem. Material (in the sciences at least) tends to build on itself, so take care of any gaps in your understanding of topic x before it's applied to something else you won't understand because you didn't grasp the basic concept.
And if for some reason you're not ready for an exam, explain why. Worst case scenario, you'll still have to take it; best case scenario, you might get an extension. The extra time you'll have to learn the material can make a huge difference, if you use it well. Looking back, I think there was a lot of leeway (the extensions, office hours, etc.) I wasn't aware was there until very recently. The burden is not solely on you to learn the material - ask away at faculty and classmates - and there is something there to catch you if you really, really screw up. Emergency withdrawals, for example.
6. On a related note, take out a tutor from Student Academic Services. It will help, it's not remedial, and I don't even think I should explain it. Just fill out the form.
I will say one thing, though, for all you procrastinators out there. You're in good company, myself included. But meeting with a tutor regularly will motivate you to actually look at the material between lectures. Accountability for the win.
7. In times of stress, instead of trying to wait it out (because it tends to pile up, not recede), talk to friends, your RAs, your professors, whomever. Dice onions at a co-op, if you're very repressed and need to let the tears flow in a controlled setting. Shallots are good for this too. Or go to the gym. I've spent a lot of late nights procrastinating by venting stress and debating various topics with friends, and it hasn't tanked my grades. And conversely, I've spent a lot of time staring at the same page of a biochemistry textbook at times, getting nowhere, because I needed a change of pace that I was too stubborn to make happen. There's more on a college curriculum than what you learn from classes and textbooks.
Enjoy this year! Looking forward to meeting you all~