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Tips for College Freshman

36 Tips for the College Freshman

Look over there! A group of wide-eyed kids are setting foot on campus for the first time. They clump together as they rove from one fraternity house to the next, exchanging phone numbers at any chance they get.

For us onlooking or partaking upperclassmen, that feeling isn’t too distant. As a freshman, the sense of being lost in a big new world was exciting, but at the same time I treasured every bit of advice I could get. And there are still many things I wish I would have known then. Now that I’m a few years older, I thought I’d share some thoughts. More importantly, I went around and asked some of the most accomplished Penn students for what recommendations they’d give to freshmen.

Help us tell more of the stories that matter from voices that too often remain unheard.

Though we’re all Quakers, I hope this advice will be valuable to any college student, and possibly even to human beings of other categories.


  • College is about the people you meet. Value them above all else.
  • If you’re not good at remembering names, change that. Repeat the name or invent a (preferably flattering) story to associate a name to a person’s personality or physique.
  • Avoid eating alone. You’re going to eat anyways and should value this part of your day as a moment to talk to friends and meet new people, which includes taking professors to lunch.
  • A romantic relationship is not a waste of time. Even if you’re the busiest, most ambitious person in the world, it’ll be good for you across the board.
  • Your parents love and miss you. They’ve cared for you for 18 years. Indulge them with a call from time to time. It’s not lame.
  • There are people willing to help you with anything. All you have to do is ask.
  • Conversely, give help and mentor. If you see someone who’s having a tough time, do something about it. It will mean so much to them and you’ll learn from it.
  • Don’t immediately shrug off Greek Life because it’s “not your thing.” Don’t feel compelled to join because everyone’s doing it.


  • You have two ears and one mouth, and that design happens to be intelligent.
  • Screw easy A’s. If you’re not learning and / or taking pleasure in the class, you’re wasting your time.
  • At the start, be open to everything. During the course selection period, sample two or three more classes than you’ll take and later drop whichever least attract you.
  • Try to learn very different things. Some of the most confident and successful graduates are skilled in two seemingly polar subjects, like computer science and political science or finance and filmmaking. You’ll be surprised by how you can pair these together to create something unique.
  • Don’t take advice from movies, magazines, or newspapers. Read good books, learn by doing, and come to your own conclusions.
  • Find mentors. Going through something yourself is often the best way to learn, but that doesn’t mean you have to re-invent the wheel entirely and can’t get guidance. Many of the world’s most successful people — from businessmen to politicians to writers to musicians — found a mentor early on who represented an ideal that they wanted to become and took a fervent interest in them.

Finding and Cultivating a Passion

  • They say that “on your deathbed, you’ll never wish you’d gone to the office more.” Prove them wrong. Work is and will always be a significant chunk of your life and it’s truly beautiful if you love what you’re working on.
  • By the beginning of sophomore year, start to figure out your one or two priorities and follow these relentlessly, letting others fade to the backdrop.
  • Appreciate your summers and use them wisely. Don’t let the system brainwash you into thinking that you need to do something this summer to get that internship next summer, which will lead to that other internship and then That Job. Travel to Japan or Patagonia, write a book, read, spend time with family, learn a new language or skill, follow things that interest you, that cliché but wise voice in your heart.
  • Protect your dreams. It’s too easy to abandon something you care about because you’re told it won’t lead to a job or that it’s not important.

Spirit of Adventure

  • Ask for forgiveness, not for permission. Ask for forgiveness more often than for permission.
  • Your school is willing and eager to throw money at you in research grants and extracurricular funding. If you show you want it enough, you’ll get that new club started, or that free trip around the world.
  • If you don’t get, it may very well be because you don’t ask.
  • If you’re faced with a choice between locking yourself up and studying for an exam or doing something much more epic and memorable, choose epic.
  • Go to performing arts shows in areas outside of your bubble.
  • Don’t wait till senior year to do those things you want to do or become who you want to be. Ask people you want to meet for coffee now, take those interesting classes now, work on those side projects now, go on those dates now, join these clubs now, go on those crazy weekend road trips and ski trips now.
  • Take the time to explore the entire campus and city. You’ll be surprised to find hidden treasures like little cafes, parks, rooftops, movie theatres, corner restaurants and shy streets that can be great getaways.

Self-Discipline, Efficiency & Other Hacks for Well Being

  • Don’t miss your classes because of sleeping in, but nap religiously in the middle of the day. In general, get sleep. You’ll feel better, and you’ll do better. Pulling all-nighters is not going to make you look any smarter or cooler. Exhaustion and burnout are a common campus plague.
  • Don’t drink Red Bull, Monster or any energy drinks. Stick with coffee and tea, in moderation.
  • Pick up a book for fun once in a while. It’s easy to stop doing that.
  • Laundry is like studying. It’s a lot easier in smaller, more frequent loads.
  • Get a bike. It’ll make the campus so much smaller.
  • Become aware of the opportunity cost of your time. As someone who is paying a lot for a high quality education, your time is very valuable, so don’t be cheap with yourself.
  • Buy a scale and use an app to graph your weight every day. It’s OK if the line goes up, but you should be aware of it as it happens. Your weight will teach you things about your life.
  • Strive to become Benjamin Franklin 2.0. Our founding sage’s morning question was “What good shall I do this day?” and dinner question was “What good have I done today?” Just imagine if he’d had Google Calendar to plan his whole day out... In general, use technology to your advantage. Find an effective system to manage and sort your email because otherwise you’ll get overwhelmed.
  • Find and protect the time of day when you’re most productive. We all have one. Defend it at all costs. Disconnect phone and Internet.
  • Always learn how to fish. At this stage in your life, you still have time to become masterful at any discipline. If you have the choice between getting someone to do something for you and learning how to do it yourself, DIY.
  • Don’t be complacent but be happy. Be thankful for where you are. Everything is already pretty great.

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