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Advice for your Freshman Year (From a Seasoned Sophomore)

By 2013 Most Valuable Student scholar and Elks Scholar Advisory Board member Nate Baker 

Nate Baker, 2013 MVS scholar sponsored by Tyrone, Pa., Lodge No. 212, is the freshman representative on the Elks Scholar Advisory Board and new to college life. Throughout his first year of college, we followed Nate's adventures during his first year at Cornell through monthly blog posts.

Freshman year of college taught me a lot of lessons. We’re going to set those lessons about international relations, statistics, Spanish and history aside for now and focus on “less-conventional” ones learned through experience and trial-and-error. It’s not that Just War Theory, multiple regression, and the Jacobite Rebellion aren't important—they have their place, but summer’s here. Here are a few things that no guidebook or college tour will tell you about your first year at school.

It’s always freezing and there's no sun. Take Vitamin D.
This one is vital. The first cold days of the fall you'll see Californians and Floridians either grossly over- or under-prepared for the weather. Half of them in parkas, half of them in shorts and tanks, all of them Vitamin D deficient. Go to Walmart, buy these, and feel better.

Food is everywhere, (nearly) free, and in mass quantities. Make good choices.
With all-you-can-eat dining halls, 40 on-campus dining options, and hundreds of restaurants, it is easy to become unhealthy. There are apples and water. Eat those and walk. I was lucky enough to learn these lessons early on, but many students aren't so fortunate.

You don’t need to buy every book that your professor recommends. Talk to students that have taken the class and ask them. Use the library.
Even with a scholarship, college is cripplingly expensive. A nickel-and-dime cost that you’ll incur every semester is textbooks, project packets, software and access codes. Many times, you simply do not need these materials. I have heard firsthand of the thousands of dollars wasted on books still in the plastic wrap at the end of the course. Ask the professor, ask students that took the class last semester, find the books online, and go to the library. There are literally millions of books there at your disposal.

Forget classes once in a while and say “Yes.”
Your body and mind should always come first. Classes and commitments will take their tolls and stress you out. Your friends will ask you at midnight to go do something stupid and you should absolutely go do it. Say “yes.” Try new clubs, dance classes, shows and routes. It gets harder to get involved later on, so take advantage of the first few weeks where anything goes. You won’t remember that you got an A- instead of a B+ on a psych exam because you stayed in to study. I’ve had some of my favorite experiences by being spontaneous.

Home is where the heart is. Don’t forget your roots, but make college your new home.
Living away from home is a gigantic transition. It’s a new feeling to be completely on your own for the first time. Remember to call home once in a while, but the best plan is to assimilate to your new environment. Soon enough you'll be missing college more than mom. (Sorry, mom.)

People and guidebooks will pressure you down a certain path. You’re unique and your route will be different. Don’t stress and do it your way.
“You should declare your major by now.” “You should feel comfortable by then.” “You should know how by November.” Forget these people and you’ll do what you want. I’m guessing that you know yourself better than anyone else, so listen to your gut.

So there it is, listen to me or not, college will blindside you and it was nothing like I expected. Go with the flow and it’ll be the best year of your life. I’ve been through a lot after just one year and I can’t wait to see what the future brings. I hope you’ve enjoyed my stories from my freshman year. For the last time this year...

Thanks for reading,

Nate Baker
Freshman Elks Scholar Advisory Board Representative
2013 Most Valuable Student Scholar
Cornell University

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