Top university professors on their number one tip for incoming freshmen

How students should best navigate the transition from school to university.

As August draws to a close, thousands of young Americans across the country will start their first year at university. To help them prepare for this new beginning, we asked professors from top universities what they think is essential knowledge for incoming freshmen.

Lindsay Whaley, a professor from the Department of Linguistics and Cognitive Science at Dartmouth College:

“Scale back on your extra-curricular involvement by about half of what you are currently planning to do. Intellectual growth requires time for reflection. Personal growth requires bandwidth for unexpected interactions and adventures. You will stunt your growth if you are over-committed.”

Ruth Starkman, a professor from the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University:

“Collaborate. Don’t go it alone. At first college papers appear daunting. They require you to experiment with different analytical approaches and are meant to be collaborative projects. How should you organize your lab report or paper? Which method should you call in your Java program? Meet with friends and visit teaching staff to ask questions. It takes a while to get the hang of it, work together. Good luck!”

Robert George, a professor from the Department of Politics at Princeton University:

“Avoid intellectual – and ideological – conformism. Think for yourself and do not simply conform your opinions to campus orthodoxies. If a few weeks or months into your freshman year you find that your thinking pretty much tracks what most of your classmates and professors are thinking, then you are probably not thinking.

There is a place for catechetical instruction, but that place is Sunday School, not the university classroom. If your university and its faculty are not welcoming, indeed encouraging, the expression of dissenting opinions, they are failing in their mission. Your job is to help them get back on track by refusing to be intimidated into simply going along with prevailing campus political dogmas.”

Barret Hazeltine, a professor from the Brown School of Engineering:

“Overcome your fears. Be confident you can succeed. My experience is that nearly all first years have more than one moment when they are totally convinced that in their case the Admission Office has made a mistake. Realize that the person sitting next to you, who seems to be in total control, is just as apprehensive as you are. Focus your energy on doing a good job, not on your doubts and certainly not on giving up.”

Peggy Deamer, a professor from the Department of Architecture at Yale University:

“Don’t assume the administration or the curriculum or your roommate know how to ferry you through to your academic goals. Be an advocate for yourself. Speak up and be proactive.”

Image courtesy of Alam Levine