Freshman year at Brandeis presents new opportunities
The first few pieces I published at Brandeis were a collection of reflections on how I wished the orientation leaders had better prepared the first-years. From transportation to nightlife, I thought that the nuances of being a Brandeisian were not explained well enough, and we were left to learn too much on our own. Now, after successfully completing my first year, I cannot help but chuckle at just how misguided my earlier thoughts were. The very purpose of the first year of college is to be out of the know. Undergoing a multitude of experiences, making mistakes and taking questionable risks help one grow as a person. Essentially, the first year is about being willing to jump and not fearing the fall.
The first leap of faith is within academics. Before a first-year comes to campus, they have to select classes for the fall. While they do have academic and faculty advisors, in addition to the Roosevelt Fellow peer advising program, how much can this really help? A student can type up pages of their academic interests and email it to any of these advisors, but the student knows themself best. Advisors can guide based on the little they learn about the student from their transcript or anything the student sends them, but they do not know the student’s history with handling stress or deep passions about specific topics. It is these aspects that make the student their own best advisor. Subconsciously, students know what interests them, what they hate and what they want to learn more about. However, if a student does not have a clue despie these guiding questions, the next step is to try different possibilities. They must look through the course catalog and see which course titles catch their eye. Advisors can help plan their major and satisfy University requirements down the line, but they will prefer the student settle into different classes that pique their interest so they can find themselves academically. Although it may seem like mindless, random stumbling through courses within completely different or similar fields of study, it is this unplanned path that may lead to a future major, occupation or passion.
The beauty of the academic choices of the first year is that they are non-binding. Students can try multiple courses in different fields and find what they love the most, and they do not have to stick with a certain area of study if they do not want to. Brandeis acknowledges how intellectually curious its students are, and encourages us to try many different courses by making it easy to double and triple major or minor. There are also interdisciplinary courses that apply for different majors or minors. My “Building the Massachusetts Constitution” course went towards both my Legal Studies minor and History major. After taking this course, I discovered that I had a passion for American legal history and wanted to do more with it. Now, I am doing groundbreaking research within this field, where I am documenting every moment of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention. This institution clearly supports first-years dabbling in different academic regions and wants to help them further develop their passions.
Brandeis is most known for doing just that, especially in the research department. We are an R1 one institute known for our Nobel Prize-winning faculty, such as Professors Michael Rosbash and Jeffrey Hall. Aside from the science research facilities, we have a women’s and gender research lab and research being done in the Near Eastern and Judaic studies department, among all of the other humanities and social sciences. While it is amazing that we have all these opportunities, what makes it better is that each and every one of them is accessible to first-years. It is the norm for graduate students or upperclassmen to get these research positions in other schools, but Brandeis not only allows but encourages underclassmen to get their foot through the door and try. People can explain what it is like to do research; yet it is not until you are wearing white gloves in the archives or holding the test tubes in your hands that you can experience a passion you never thought you had.
When you choose to go on an endless hunt to explore your current interests and those you may have never realized you had, you can take advantage of all Brandeis has to offer. The Brandeisian extracurriculars are all-inclusive and actively hope to find individuals with a passion for trying something new. Through the Brandeis Aviation Club, Brandeis helps you get a pilot's license. In the MakerLab, you can 3D print and learn how to use the designing software for free. Through Brandeis’ annual hackathon, you can be hired for a job on the spot by the multiple companies that sponsor the event. Brandeis wants to enable you to prosper in every unique way possible. I had never debated or rowed before Brandeis, but I was able to discover my love for both of these activities over the course of my first year. That being said, I realized that the activities I was continuing from high school were not ones I truly enjoyed. It was through broadening my horizons that I realized I had been following my old path because I felt like I should, rather than because I had actually wanted to. All first-years need to go through a moment of re-evaluation to ensure that they are doing what is best for their personal growth and development.
Part of this reflection should include the types of relationships you have in your life. Over the course of the first year, it is natural for relationships to evolve. All first-years are in the same boat when they first arrive; they are eager to make friends and find a group they can fit in with. It is natural to feel like you belong to more than just one group of people with a specific set of interests, but many will stick to the first group of friends they made because they fear being labeled an outsider. Over the year, you find yourself straying from some people and being drawn to others, which is the purpose of the first year of college: exploring relationships, finding the people who make you happy and your best self. Additionally, although it may feel like we have known our first-year friends for years after only a couple of months, it is important to realize we do not know nearly as much about one another as we think. That is what the next four years are for.
Ultimately, college is a fresh start where you are given an opportunity to become the person you want to be. However, it is hard to know exactly who that individual is. The first year may seem like a giant race to find friends, your major and extracurriculars — all before you even have a chance to catch your breath. Yet it is the very opposite. Take those ten long strides into your first year by actively trying everything you heart desires, but take the rest of the academic year to settle into what you truly want to be a part of. It is finding those passions and not being afraid to take the risk and try.