My time at Dartmouth has been marked by both my greatest successes and deepest regrets. I have made friends that have changed my life, but I’ve had friendships I thought would last forever fall apart. I have taken notoriously difficult courses and excelled, but I have taken “layup” (translation: classes that are supposed to be easy) classes that have broken me. I have found my deepest passions in science and research, but I have questioned hundreds of times if becoming a doctor is worth it. I have built myself up to become a person I believe that I can be proud of, but in the process, I have fallen apart countless times. My Dartmouth experience has felt like a roller-coaster—one week, it feels like I’ve finally gotten a grip on college, and the next, I’ve hit a lower rock bottom than ever before. Suffice to say that in the seven terms I have been taking classes at Dartmouth, I have been pushed to my absolute limit more times than I can count.
Though I hope that your Dartmouth experience is much easier than mine is, I’ve listed a couple of the tips I have that have helped me tremendously on the many days where I have put myself back together. I hope that you take what you need from them and in your time here, you are able to carve out your own places of safety and happiness on Dartmouth campus.
Don’t get caught up in doing extracurriculars for the sake of networking or having experience for a future job. Everyone tells you to not overcommit yourself, but it is incredibly easy to get caught up in doing everything “right” so you don’t miss out on good opportunities. The truth is, you’ll never be able to take advantage of EVERY possible thing that Dartmouth can offer you. I know you’ve already been told by everyone to not overcommit yourself, so my best advice is to simply prioritise what you love and what you care about–you’ll figure out how to divide up your time, and you’ll naturally cut out what you care about less.
Do not worry about internships right away. I know that it seems like all of your connections on LinkedIn came to Dartmouth with incredible experience and have internships for every off term–I promise that you do not need to do an internship along with classes your freshman year or during your freshman summer in order to be successful. Focus on figuring out school before you think ahead.
Let yourself have flexibility with your areas of study. I came into Dartmouth knowing that I wanted to study Biology on the pre-med track, and for a long time, I confined myself to only looking for research opportunities and extracurriculars that were in line with those two things. I was lucky that I took a random WGSS class my freshman fall, because it helped me see that there is so much more to Dartmouth than pre-med, and it opened me up to getting involved in many other departments, including Econ and PBS (Psychological and Brain Sciences). I was able to keep myself from burning out, and I was also able to wait to take difficult courses that I knew I couldn’t handle my first couple of terms at Dartmouth. Perhaps most importantly, my interdisciplinary work shed a lot of light on my particular interests within medicine. Though I know that most of you are not pre-med, I’m sure that all of you, to some extent, are trying to figure out what you love and what you want to study. Forcing yourself to explore many departments your freshman year can help you discover random fields you never would have known existed had you not been willing to try new things.
Try to force yourself to interact with people even when you’re extremely busy. It’s so easy to isolate yourself during midterms/finals weeks, especially the first few terms when you’re still trying to make friends. I know that talking to new people can be stressful, but taking quick breaks to chat with people over a meal or a coffee can be so helpful. There are a few easy places to start if you’re nervous. The Novack workers are so kind (especially if you’re there a lot!) and are always there for good coffee recommendations or a quick chat. You can also make group chats with people in your classes and form study groups. Finally, I’ve made so many good friends on Dartmouth Twitter; it’s especially useful for meeting upperclassmen.
Find where you like to study. Some people prefer studying in their dorms. Other people cannot work in their dorms. There are tons of places across campus where you can study – the library, the Hop, the Black Family Visual Arts Center, Anonymous Hall, and the greenhouse in the Life Sciences Centre are popular choices, but just figure out what works for you and make a routine! Personally, I came to Dartmouth having no idea how to study, and my first term was extremely stressful because I legitimately could not focus in my dorm. It wasn’t until I started to work in the Jones Media Centre (2nd floor of Berry) that I started to be able to focus.
If you’re someone who likes the library, pay a visit to Ivy, the library dog. Tom Remp, Baker Library’s Communications Manager, comes into the library with her every once in a while. He always makes sure to pay the library several visits during finals week. Ivy is very sweet, and she’s very laid back (if you’re someone who is at all nervous about dogs, she will never bark or jump on you). Tom is hilarious and has incredible stories about Dartmouth that can be an excellent break from studying. He also runs the Dartmouth library Instagram, so if you’re looking to talk to someone but hate emailing, DMing the account is a good bet to get quick advice or information about campus.
Don’t worry about not having enough fun at Dartmouth. This one might sound silly, but there have been plenty of nights where I decided to stay in instead of going out to the frats with friends and found myself regretting it later because I wasn’t “making the most of my college experience.” FOMO sucks, but when your body is telling you to take an easy night, please listen to it. It’s so much easier to learn how to deal with FOMO anxiety than it is to run yourself ragged trying to go out every single “on night” (translation: Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday—common nights with parties). There will be plenty of nights to go to the frats if that’s what you’re into, but on days where you feel like you’re going out just because you feel like you have to, do yourself a favor and stay in.
Try to stop comparing yourself to the people around you. Dartmouth is a really hard place to go to school; yet, there will always be people who seem to do better than you. You will meet people who somehow have it all – people who have high GPAs, go out every on night, are the president of every club they’re a part of, find the time to work out, have incredible internships lined up... The truth is, there will always be those people at Dartmouth. At the end of the day, their success does not define your failure. It’s a tough pill to swallow. Trust me; as one of the most competitive people I know, it has killed me to struggle with grades after spending hours in the library and knowing that many of my peers do not spend nearly as much time in the library as I do and still manage to do better. I’m still working on recognizing that I’m doing the best I can and that my peers are not my competitors, and I know that it’s something I’ll keep working on for the rest of my time here.
Though I know that there are many upperclassmen who disagree with me (and for good reason), I truly believe that Dartmouth is an extraordinary place to go to school. It can offer you opportunities beyond your wildest dreams. You’ll meet some of the most talented, multifaceted, and intelligent people you will ever meet here. You’ll make friends in the most random places, at the most unexpected times. But after so long here, it would also be wrong of me to assure you that everything at Dartmouth will go well—no matter what advice you get and no matter how easy your transition is, I know that you will all likely reach a point where you feel like you are falling apart, where you feel that you are not the right fit for Dartmouth. I say this not to scare you, but to let you know that you are not alone when it happens.
My final piece of advice is to always remember that you are here for a reason, and that you deserve to be at this school no matter how much it seems that you are not meant to be here. Force yourself to admit when you need help. It is incredibly difficult to reach out to people and ask for tutoring, extensions, or even just someone to vent to; asking for help is exhausting, especially when those around you aren’t open to providing it, but please remember that you cannot do your best work if you are struggling. You will find upperclassmen and professors who are there for you and who can guide you during your first terms. Always remember that asking for help is not a sign of weakness; rather, it is a recognition of your own limits and your want to do better. Know that there are people fighting for you in every corner, even if you don’t always see them there.
Take care of yourselves. With love,
The Dartmouth Radical