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What a first-year needs to know

Published: September 5, 2014
Section: Opinions


By now, all of you first-years will have settled into your first-year dorms, finished Orientation, had (almost) a full week’s worth of classes and hopefully found a good group of friends. You all have experienced eating at Sherman, and you have spent more time trying to figure out how to get to your 9 a.m. class than you’re willing to admit.

I’m sure that over the course of Orientation, your OL and other Brandeis staff have unashamedly raved to you about all the great things about going to Brandeis, namely the great professors, the many clubs on campus, the proximity to Boston, etc. However, as many of you start to interact with the returning sophomores and upperclassmen a bit more, you are bound to meet someone who can’t wait to tell you about everything that is wrong with Brandeis. When you’re trying to make new friends, adjusting to a new environment and looking forward to what your college experience will bring, I imagine that is probably one of the last things you want to hear. While I definitely wouldn’t argue with some of the points they raise, it is important to take it with a grain of salt.

So to put your mind at ease, allow me to give you all some advice to keep in mind so that you don’t turn into a grumpy old senior in the next four years. These are a few things that I wish someone had told me when I was a young, naive first-year, and I hope it will help you all get the most out of your experiences at Brandeis.

First of all, although we all know Brandeis food isn’t the best, it’s important to remember that you’re not at home anymore. We’ve all been to Sherman, eaten at Usdan and stood in line forever to get a bagel at Einstein’s. I’m sure you’ll hear people complain about meal plans too. It’s definitely true that dining at Brandeis leaves a lot to be desired, but just accept it for what it is. You’re not at home where your parents might cook for you every day, and you’re not at some five-star restaurant either. You’re at college, and you’re here in part to learn how to be an independent adult. Part of that is learning to make do with what you’ve got.

Another thing that tends to get on people’s nerves is Brandeis’ process for selecting on-campus housing. If you’re not impressed with your forced triple in Massell or the weird smell of your hall in North, just wait until you experience the trials and tribulations of the Brandeis housing lottery. Yes, you read that right: Where you will be living on campus next year is determined by a lottery. To make things more complicated, if one of your friends has a better lottery number than you, they can pull you in when they choose a room, so that you can live in the same room. That might sound good at first, but since there’s a limit to how many people you can pull in, there will inevitably be arguments and friendships will be tested to the limit. It is what it is and you just have to go with it, but again, it’s a learning experience. If you really hate the system, move off campus—it’s less restrictive and can be cheaper.

Once you’ve spent some time interacting with students here who aren’t your OL or a Roosevelt Fellow or a UDR, some of you will find that there is a special kind of awkwardness that sometimes comes with talking to members of the Brandeis community. While it might seem that way initially, nobody can deny that people at Brandeis are actually generally very pleasant; it just might take a bit more time and effort to get to know them better. A lot of people will and do find this very off-putting, and while I can see why, I strongly advise all of you to keep an open mind. Accept people for who they are, and who knows, you might be surprised at what you find.

Lastly, I can’t stress enough how important it is not to slack off too much from the start. College is a place to have fun. It’s four years in a particular lifestyle that you will never get to experience again after you graduate, so you should definitely go out there and enjoy yourself, particularly your first two years. That said though, you and your family are paying tens of thousands of dollars a year for you to come to Brandeis not for you to party, but to get a good education that will hopefully put you ahead in your future. Also, if you ever think about blowing off doing a problem set or studying for a midterm, just bear this in mind: All of those less than stellar grades that you get during your first year still count. The GPA calculator won’t forgive or forget that B or C you got first semester when you partied too hard, and guess what, the further into college you get, the more difficult it will be to recover a low GPA.

So at this point, you might start to freak out a little bit and question your decision to come to Brandeis. Let me assure you that is not what I’m trying to do. It must be said that Brandeis is a good school. We’re all here for a good education, and Brandeis certainly gives you just that. Brandeis is a well-respected institution with reputable and qualified professors, making Brandeis far from the worst possible place to spend four years of your college career. I’d like to conclude this with one final piece of advice: Make the most out of your opportunities here. After all, Brandeis is what you make of it. If you stay in your room all day without enjoying all that this school has to offer, you won’t be happy. On the other hand, if you go out there, meet some new people and try some new things, you just might like what you find.