Hi, my name is Carolina Gustafson, and I am the current VSA President. I slightly doubt that I am the correct person to give you all this advice on how to correctly do college, when I rolled into Vassar circa 2011 thinking all I needed to nail this whole college thing was a fun new haircut, some ugly shoes, and a spunky attitude.
I should note that, for the most part, my theory was true: Half the battle is just showing up.
It would have been helpful though if someone had attempted to sit 18-year-old me down and give me some basic pointers to make the whole college thing just a bit smoother. For the sake of giving back, I will now do just that.
The most important piece of college advice I can give you is that any party can become a dance party if you try hard enough.
I mean this both in the literal sense that if you truly want to be at a dance party, all you need to do is start dancing and other people will follow (insider tip: nearly everyone secretly loves to dance), but also in the metaphorical way that this is your college experience and you should make of it what you want. Like a dance party, strive for a college experience that will fill you with laughter, joy, fulfillment, and leave you pleasantly exhausted when you are done.
Don’t put up with people who do not think you are the cat’s meow. There will be people, even at Vassar unfortunately, who cannot see how absolutely amazing you are. That’s okay, there will be plenty of people who can and those are the ones you should focus your attention on. Find professors, friends, advocates, mentors—whomever it ends up being—that fill you up and make you better.
Keeping this in mind though, be willing to give people the chance to mess up. Everyone is terrified and can come off in negative ways at first. Allow people who were jerks in your first semester lab to redeem themselves junior year when they realize that you actually are pretty nifty. You can never have too many friends and do not get so big in your britches that you forget that.
Another important lesson: No matter how great your Miniature Dachshund is, no one wants to hear you talk about him incessantly. I learned that the hard way.
Still though, this does not mean you should not talk about your Miniature Dachshund incessantly because if he really means that much to you, your friends will love him just as much as you do.
Be that weird over-friendly kid. Everyone else will secretly appreciate that you are taking one for the team and facilitating friendships and you will meet so many awesome new people that you would have otherwise missed.
Honestly the best people are not always the obvious ones to befriend and just being genuinely nice and friendly will get you a lot farther than pretending you are too cool for school.
Also keep in mind that it is okay to join an activity that you think sounds funny just to be able to casually mention it in conversation to your high school friends when you go home over October Break. Often it is the activities you think you will quit after a week that end up shaping your Vassar career. It was based on this principle that I ended up VSA President.
People will tell you to save your dining bucks. This is good advice, but also recognize when you need to splurge and just go to the Retreat, even though you should probably go to the Deece. For me it is Clam Chowder Fridays. I just love me some clam chowder.
Similarly on the topic of food: The stir-fry station in the Deece can seem like a lot to tackle, but just remember cooking an egg into a food that does not conventionally have a scrambled egg in it will make everything seem gourmet. This is a practice that is true and will make you feel like an adult.
Keep in mind that it is okay to pretend you have an interest or knowledge you do not actually have in order to facilitate conversation with someone you want to have a relationship with (platonic or not).
Keeping all this in mind, do what makes you happy. People will find it refreshing, even if they find it a bit weird.
Another pro-tip: If you ever get invited to a college sponsored fancy dinner, go. Just trust me on that one.
Also, do not be afraid to form your own opinions. You came to Vassar to be unique so don’t be afraid to go against the crowd.
Another thing I really wish someone had told me when starting college is that you will very likely not meet your best friend until the end of your first year or more likely your sophomore or junior years. Hell even if you meet them senior year, I promise, waiting will be completely worth it.
If you plan to pay attention in class, don’t bring your laptop. It is the rare human who can resist the temptation of Facebook and it is awkward when you have to take your laptop to timeout in the hall because it will not stop playing “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson in the middle of a seminar, even when you close it. Just trust me that this is even more embarrassing than it sounds.
When you are an upperclassperson apply to be a Founder’s Day Co-Chair. Few people do and it is by far the best position on campus.
The most important thing to know starting college though is to be kind to yourself. College is a big transition and you don’t have to nail it from the first day. Don’t be afraid to take some time to figure out who you will be. Also don’t let people make you feel like you don’t know anything because you are new. Additionally, remember to utilize your resources. They are there for a reason and they are often surprisingly good.
Mainly my advice to you starting college is to try to enjoy it as much as you can. Do not worry about what your roommate will be like, or who your friends will be, or if you will have to sit alone at dinner. I promise you, it works out. Somehow through the cosmos of the world, it just manages to be okay. I also hope you find support systems here and people to talk to. If I, or the rest of the VSA, can ever be here to help or support you in anyway, even if it is just to chat, I want you to know, especially as freshpeople entering this new environment, that I am always here. Best of luck, you all are going to do great!