Advice from a first-year: Say yes to college experiences

Benjamin Kheyfets ’21 believes that students should try new things and they will pay off. / Courtesy of Max Pixel

Even though people rarely can predict what’s going to happen when they matriculate to college, a lot of students claim that they have their future already planned out. “I’m going straight to medical school after undergrad” or “I plan on majoring in Economics and then getting an MBA.”

As a first-year here on campus who thought similar things before coming to Vassar, let me tell you that these students are letting themselves miss out on many different opportunities. After all, it’s only their first year, and they already think they can plan out their entire future—that seems kind of unreasonable. I should know—I’ve been in their shoes.

I hail from Brooklyn, and I went to the largest high school in the country, Brooklyn Technical High School, with over 5,600 students. We had majors– yes, actual majors–just like Vassar has; although, once we were placed, there’s no switching out.

I thought that I had wanted to do pre-med for a while, so I chose the biology major, and in truth, it didn’t help me figure out if I really wanted to do medicine as a career, but it’s what I always thought I would do. So I came into Vassar with four years of thinking “I should probably do medicine” without actually knowing if I like chemistry.

Coming to Vassar, now I regularly tell people that I’m clueless about what I’m even going to major in, much less in what I want to pursue as a career. Along with that revelation, the first time I called my mom from my dorm, she replied with “что с тобой случилось?”, meaning “What happened to you?” in Russian. I told her how I’ve now thought about majoring in biology, political science or in the STS program, and maybe even pursuing a Masters of Public Health.

But this confusion is nothing bad—on the contrary, I think it’s great. I don’t feel pressured so much to achieve something that I didn’t know if I really wanted. I was so worried about pre-reqs during course registration that I forgot to look at new courses that just seemed interesting. That’s why I’m no less than grateful that I got only one STEM class, chemistry, to let me explore myself a bit more before I formally declare anything.

I’ve even begun compiling a list of courses that intrigue me for next semester. The list started out with around 20 courses, and I’ve gotten it down to around six by now. How can anyone miss out on the excitement of going to a class that’s genuinely interesting or speaks to your curiosity just because they’re worried about pre-reqs? To all first-years: Don’t worry about pre-reqs! Explore! You can take anything you want right now, and you should take full advantage of that opportunity.

And for those who absolutely insist on staying to almost all STEM courses or humanities courses and don’t want to explore so much, I understand. When you’ve loved a subject or a field for so long and have enjoyed learning about it every day you had it in high school, it makes sense that you’d want to stay with that subject in college. But even so, remember that even within STEM alone there are so many diverse options. I loved biology in middle and high school, but my science side hasn’t had a chance to try new things for many years.

Now it’s different. I can take courses on astronomy, cognitive science, earth science and pretty much anything else. And don’t think that there’s any lack of variety in the social sciences and humanities—there are definitely a divergent array of topics! More than the STEM fields have, I’d say.

So even with a burning desire to stay true to one field, remember there are always courses that are at least similar to what you love that still allow you to try out something new. After all, who said a future economics major can’t take a psychology or physics class, or that a future physics major can’t take a chemistry or studio art class?

While my academic explorations really came out of a desire to explore, there was another part of me that really wanted to do something on campus—something new that I would enjoy, and I thought that the club fair was probably going to be the start of where I’d find that something, and it was.

Now, my regular schedule is to wake up at 5 a.m. every day, earlier than I did in high school. That’s what happens when you join the rowing team. It’s not one of the greatest aspects of the sport, but it’s definitely worth it. And this is coming from someone who hadn’t done any sports in high school at all. I can’t thank my past self enough for deciding to come to the first rowing meet—it was a great experience. It’s these moments that teach the real meaning of the phrase “Say yes more.”

And here I am now, writing for a publication that I’ve just become a part of. So many new experiences have already made their way into my life in only two-thirds of the semester, and college is four years long—imagine all the different chances you or I will get to try new things or find something we love. It definitely sounds clichéd, and I used to think that it was just what people said to make people hopeful, but now I’ve experienced it, and I can say that that cliché expression is as true as ever, and everyone should take it seriously.

If you take away anything from this piece, let it be these two things: explore and say yes. Let these guide you through college, and yes, you’ll get some regrets, but can almost guarantee that you won’t regret that you did.

Kheyfets joined the rowing team as part of his “say yes” initiative and loves his experience. / Courtesy of Max Pixel

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