Dear First-Years: An Upperclassmen Advice Column

*updated as of Aug. 14, 2021

It’s Okay to Feel Stuck 

I felt really stuck socially my first year, especially second semester. It felt like everyone around me had found their best friends for life and was partying three times a week. Meanwhile, I wasn’t content with my social situation, but I had no idea where to meet people and what to do on a Saturday night. My older brothers told me that this is normal for first years and that I was being super dramatic – but as a naturally dramatic person, I obviously didn’t listen. Reading this back, I sound like a total sadboi. But I’m here to tell you, as a bona fide anxious over-thinker, that feeling stuck socially really is normal.

For me, sophomore year was a completely different story. I realized it was okay to not have an overly close “girl squad” like high school, and that having friends in different groups is way more compatible with college. I realized that most people weren’t as over-the-moon as they seemed freshman year, and that there were other people in my situation. You might luck out and find a gaggle of soul-friends within your first week on campus. But more likely, you’ll find a couple gems and then find some time roaming – and that’s more than okay. 

— Georgina Scoville ’22

My Advice: Have an Open Mind

Everyone arrives at college with their own set of expectations. Your impression of college may be informed by friends, siblings, TV shows, or social media; regardless, your reality will likely stray from the picture you have in your head right now. I say this not to put a damper on your excitement but instead to remind you to have an open mind and be willing to adjust your expectations. Freshman year is chaotic and overwhelming, especially during the first few months, so it may take a little while for you to feel settled.  You will meet so many new people — some that may quickly become your closest friends and others that you may struggle to make an initial connection with. Be open to spending time with everyone, and don’t rush to form friend groups. The beauty of the small size of Bates is that it allows you to develop close friendships with a lot of different people, so don’t limit yourself. 

During my freshman fall, I remember feeling like groups of friends had established themselves so quickly, and it seemed as though everyone was able to find their place at Bates almost immediately. However, I now know that social dynamics change constantly, not just during freshman year but throughout all four years of your Bates experience. My advice to everyone, not just first-years, is to continue leaning out of your comfort zone, getting involved in activities that you may not have experienced before, and learning new things for as long as you can. Take the risk of being spontaneous, because you never know who might meet or what you might discover.

— Sophie Mackin ’22

When You Need A Break CAPS Is There

When it comes to college, but Bates especially, there will be so many things you’ll want to keep up with. Classes you’ll have to study for, figuring out when to hang out with your new found friends, how often to do laundry, etc. but probably the most important will be watching and keeping up with your mental health. If your mental health is suffering, other aspects of your college life could suffer too. That’s why, like anything else, make sure you recognize your emotional habits early. By that I mean look at how you react to a bad grade, a fight with a friend, or just an off day and compare that to any normal day. Please read Elizabeth LaCroix’s “Immunity During Your Freshman Year” article on how mental health can affect your nutrition, sleep, and exercise and vice versa. Becoming more aware of who you are as a person is difficult, but at Bates you won’t be alone. Learning who you are as a person is part of becoming an adult and taking care of your mental health should become more of a priority. 

During my freshman year, I struggled a lot with my mental health and although I knew how I reacted to certain situations and felt like I had decent stress reducing behaviors, I still felt like I was missing something. That’s when I went to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPs) for my first appointment and I felt like I had finally found a place where I could express all my emotions and get guidance on what to do with them. I still go to CAPs even if I don’t have an issue to discuss. I go because it’s a place to have a break. If there is one place that I believe every freshman should go to at least once it’s CAPs because, just like physical health, everybody needs a checkup. 

Ellie Boyle ’22

Choosing Classes 

Last summer, before we were worried about the dissolution of the United States Post Office or a worldwide pandemic, I sat down at my computer and stared into the abyss that is the Garnet Gateway Schedule of Courses. 

Although it can be stressful, picking out courses should be kind of fun. Here’s my guide to your first-semester schedule:

1) Take a class that you loved in high school. If there was a subject in high school that you absolutely loved, I would recommend signing up to take a class within that department. You’ll probably enjoy the class and feel more comfortable at Bates.

2) Take a class in a department you’ve never had experience in. I know this sounds weird, but I’m glad I did it. It was good to use my brain in a new way, and it really helped me meet new people!

3) Take a class you think sounds super cool but may be slightly random. Even if it has nothing to do with what you may want to major in, I recommend you take a class that you think just sounds cool. I met one of my best friends and learned some pretty cool things.

4) Take a class in something you may want to Major or Minor in. This sounds obvious, but it’s good to get your foot in the door early! Make connections with your professor, ask more about majoring or minoring in that subject, and decide if it’s right for you.

5) It’s okay if you don’t get your first choices! A class you put on your list quickly could end up being the best one you take at Bates. It’s important to go into each class with an open mind! Everything works itself out.

— Ellie Wolfe ’23

Pop the Bates Bubble

Bates is a fantastic place to spend four years. The people are friendly and smart, the campus is scenic and cozy and rarely do I feel the need to branch out from Commons food. However, if you never venture off Bates’ campus, you’ll be missing out on a critical part of the Bates experience. As wonderful as Bates is, sometimes it can all be too much. At the height of the semester, I often find myself stressed, caught in a cycle of endless work with not enough sleep and a bunch of other worries to boot. At these times, I find it incredibly difficult to take a step outside my head and remember that there’s more to life than Bates’ tiny bubble.

In the past three years, I’ve found that making connections outside of Bates is one of the best things you can do. When everything feels like too much, it helps to remember that there’s a whole world outside of Bates — just a few steps away, in fact. Students connect with the local community in numerous ways; some volunteer at local non-profits or in the schools, others like to explore the local food scene. Students run and walk around town, on the river walk, and in Thorncraig, a local nature preserve. The members of the outing club are constantly out and about, exploring the Maine wilderness near and far. For me, it started with daily runs in Lewiston, sometimes across the Main St. bridge between Lewiston-Auburn. I’ve also spent the past three summers in Maine, two in Lewiston, and the most recent, living completely off campus with two amazing locals. I interned at the Sun Journal, the local newspaper this summer, and talked with teachers, healthcare providers and leaders in the refugee community. It’s been an eye-opening journey, and I’m happy to say that I feel a connection to Lewiston almost as strong as Bates.

During my time in Maine, I have come to realize that Bates can’t be the only part of your college experience. If you choose never to venture off our tiny campus, you will miss a key component of the Bates experience — local food, organizations, farms, people and so much more. 

— Vanessa Paolella ’21

Student-Athletes: Branch Out

It is a privilege to be a part of Bates athletics and represent our school on a conference, regional, and national stage. Your teammates will likely end up being some of your best friends, and plan to arrive at Bates with the intention of becoming a part of the family that is your team.

One thing to remember, however, is that the college is so much bigger than just your team. In short: don’t be afraid to branch out! Try new things and be sure to meet new people. It sounds painfully cliche, but speaking from my own experience and that of older student-athletes and alumni, it really is a valuable aspect of the Bates experience.

Bates students are admitted because they are well-rounded, multi-faceted community members, and athletes are no exception. You probably have more in common with the person sitting next to you in your biology lab or living across the hall from you than you think. While the thought of putting yourself out there to meet new people can be anxiety-riddling for many, the worst that happens from introducing yourself to someone new is that you never talk to that person again. Best case scenario, you can make yourself a new friend and begin to grow a support system outside of your sport.

— Jackson Elkins ’22

Advice from a NARP

The acronym NARP stands for Non-Athletic Regular Person and, according to the very trustworthy Urban Dictionary, a NARP is any college student “who is not an intercollegiate athlete” (like me). Don’t get me wrong, I love sports. I played Football (Soccer… sorry, I’m from the UK), Field Hockey and Tennis competitively throughout middle school and high school, but I never wanted to play in college. However, I knew going to a smaller school, the ratio of student-athletes to NARPS would be close to even, which, at least for me, was definitely intimidating. 

So, from my semester and a half on campus, I’ve compiled some NARP-friendly advice for you first-years:  

Find your niche! Even when your athlete friends are off at practice, there are so many other things you can do! I’d recommend signing up for anything and everything that interests you at the club fair (I honestly wish I’d signed up for more). I joined the student newspaper (clearly… plz write for us!!!!), participated in the Harward Centre’s Book Buddies Program and am a member of Bates for Biden & Sunshine Society, and I definitely want to join a club sport in the future. 

Make NARP friends! The sad reality of having lots of athlete friends is that they will definitely have practices and obligations on the daily (especially when they’re in season), so they will have far less free time than your newly minted college freshman-self. However, on the flip side, this means you can branch out and make even more friends. My lovely first-year roommate plays Lacrosse, so most of my friends at first, also played Lacrosse; however, when Lax practices began my sole NARP friend and I were alone. We like to joke that for the first few days of school we ate every single meal together until we decided we needed some non-athlete friends too. We saw other first-years walking into Commons who we’d previously met during orientation and sat with them, and we’ve all been friends since. Yes, that may sound absolutely nerve-racking, but remember — everyone is yearning for friends, interaction and a sense of community, so don’t be scared, say hi to anyone and everyone. 

Befriend Athletes too! Athletes are just like you, NARPS, but with a little less free time on their hands and a lot more physical activity on the daily. Lots of my closest friends play sports at Bates, and there really is not a divide between Athletes and NARPS at all so don’t be intimidated. Not to be glib, but athletes are your access to lots of the social life at Bates. Instead of frats or sororities, we have sports houses where most parties are held every weekend. My friends who are athletes have more natural interactions with upperclassmen on a daily basis than I would (since they’re on the same team), so it only makes sense they hear more about what’s going on that weekend. 

— Christina Leonard ’23

Try out a new non-academic activity!

Around the first week of school, a friend and I were taking a stroll around campus and aimlessly wandered into the Olin Arts Center. We saw another friend coming out of a classroom and asked her what she was up to, and she told us she had just finished up a free figure drawing class that was offered there every week. My friend and I were simultaneously intimidated and intrigued; for one, neither of us were very experienced with drawing, and two, these weren’t just still life drawing classes— they brought in actual nude models. We both looked at each other with equal expressions of curiosity and walked toward the classroom to get a better look. A flyer posted on the door stated that the classes would be held weekly, and we swore to each other that next week we would have to go to the class. After all, this is college, what better activity would there be to ~refine~ ourselves with and become sophisticated adults than a nude figure drawing class? 

A week passed. After eating a very sophisticated and refined dinner of commons chicken nuggets, we made our way back to Olin. We paced in front of the door for some time and repeatedly questioned if we were even qualified to go in there. Eventually we did, and for the entire session, my focus fell solely on drawing. All of my stresses from the beginning of school floated to the periphery. And not only that, I was actually proud of what I created despite whether it looked amateur or not. Figure drawing became a  weekly tradition for us. It was amazing to have access to a consistent space where I could put aside the stress from school and feel free to be creative, whether it was during finals week or just another average week at Bates. As we started going more, we encouraged friends to come with us, and by the end of the semester a pretty big group of first years amassed at the sessions, which was so much fun. I also discovered a love for drawing and explored it more outside of the class. All in all, try something that seems intimidating and outside of your skill set! But, you never know where it will take you. 

— Jessie Gross ’23