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First-year files: being involved matters

March 12th, 2024

The first year of college is a big transition. You’re entering a new environment with students from all over the world, so where do you start? You’ll want to make the most of academic resources, of course. Yet getting involved in clubs, sports, Greek life, volunteer groups and student organizations can drastically improve your adjustment to college, as well as help you connect with like-minded people. Engagement in both academic and extracurricular dimensions of campus life will lead to success in both spheres.

In today’s edition of First-year files, we feature writing from one student enrolled at an Ivy League university in the northeast and another enrolled at a public research university in the south. These students, living completely different lives, have at least one major theme in common: they both believe in the power of being engaged on campus to make the most of your college experience.

Yale University – Elizabeth W.

My first semester went relatively smoothly. I am overall enjoying Yale and am happy that I am here. Signing up for clubs and becoming engaged in student-run extracurriculars has been very easy and natural to me. However, reaching out to professors to become involved in faculty-led research projects has not come as easily to me. Since research projects aren’t as advertised as student clubs and organizations, finding one has proved to be a daunting task for me. Professors are eager to engage with students once you reach out, but taking that first step can be intimidating. 

High school prepared me well for the language curriculum here at Yale. I am confident that I was placed in the correct level, so Chinese has felt like an appropriate challenge for me. Biology is definitely very different here than it was in high school and has proved to be particularly challenging at some times, but the study skills I developed in high school have carried me through. Math has felt the same as Chinese to me – I was very prepared for what was asked of me.

I was surprised that pretty much as soon as I arrived on campus I decided that I wanted to join a sorority. It seems like a necessary step for me in order to make more friends and have a reliable social life on the weekends. The rush process is not nearly as intimidating as it is at most schools, so it doesn’t scare me all too much. I’m very excited to finally join a sorority in the upcoming weeks. About 1/8 of students rush a sorority or frat.

Younger students should know that Yale is beautiful but New Haven is not! And that there are a lot less weird nerds at Yale than some may think. Every single person I’ve met is not just smart but also very very motivated, which is definitely different than high school. In some ways that’s intimidating, but it’s mostly beneficial and makes the environment here much more engaging. People generally work and play hard and seem to live properly balanced lives.

Clemson University – Bailey C.

Overall, my 1st semester went great! (My high school) made me well-prepared for college, which I am grateful for. I was able to achieve all As this semester by focusing on time management. I have emphasized getting involved in my community and considering possible leadership options in the future. As of right now, I am a member of the “Tigers for Babies” club, the “Pre-Occupational Therapist and Speech-Language Pathology” club, the “Special Olympics” club, and “Delta, Delta, Delta.” I am also a part of a Clemson Honors College mentor program and plan on playing intramural soccer. Next year, I am planning to apply for a leadership position in my sorority and to be a Clemson tour guide.

I also switched my major this semester from Communication to Health Science. I had to apply and be accepted to switch my major to Health Science, which at Clemson is a highly competitive process, but I know for some majors you can switch without any application process. I found some of my class’s grading systems to be difficult because I went from getting a grade put into the grade book in English class every day to only writing two essays a semester that completely determined my final grade. This has been an overall theme that has taken some getting used to; essays and tests carry more weight in college. One thing that I have found surprising is how personable my professors have been. They genuinely care about their students and want to help them. I have felt that almost all my professors that semester went above and beyond to get to know me better and recognize my hard work. I have also found that professors are extremely receptive to being proactive and taking it into account. Something else that surprised me was that for a majority of my classes, my attendance affected my final grade. This was surprising to me because everyone always said “In college, no one is forcing you to go to class,” but at least at Clemson for some classes going to class is extremely important. Most of my classes allowed a certain amount of absences (usually 4) and then after that, your grade would be reduced by 5 points for every absence.

I think one important thing students should understand about Clemson and college, in general, is that it is what you make of it. You can be as involved or not involved as you choose. No one is forcing you to join clubs, demonstrate school spirit, or make connections with the facility. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the opportunities available to you and to take advantage of them. I enjoyed my 1st semester at Clemson …

Elizabeth and Bailey, we’re grateful for your willingness to reflect on first-year experiences for younger students’ benefit. We know you’ll find continued success as you move through your college years!

Postscript: this is our final post on the Shrop Ed blog , as Jane Shropshire is “graduating” with the Class of ’24. We celebrate retirement with the knowledge that our guidance has played a small role in helping hundreds and hundreds of students find their path to fulfilling and productive lives over the years. We’re excited about what lies in store and appreciate the wonderful relationships developed with students and parents over the years. Here’s to bright futures!