You’ve applied, you’ve been accepted, you’ve agreed to come, and now all that awaits you in your quest to begin college is to, well, actually begin college. Perhaps you are moving across the country, or perhaps just across town. Perhaps you can’t wait to strike out on your own, perhaps you are apprehensive. Most likely, you have just finished high school or a gap year, but it is also possible you have a lot more life experience under your belt. Whatever your background, Mines will be challenging, but rewarding.
Mines will also most likely be different than any other school you have attended.
Many of you cruised through the first thirteen years of your educations. A very small percentage of you will be able to cruise through Mines as well, but most of you will have to study more than you have ever done before. For that segment of the incoming class, the next four years may bring unusual challenges. You may drop from one of the smartest in your high school classes to the middle or even lower tiers of your college class. This is not unusual at Mines. It is okay, and you will get through it.
For any of you who find yourselves mired in feelings of insufficiency, remember this: If you were not one of the smartest people around, you would never have made it this far. Most of the world will never learn multivariate calculus or SolidWorks, but you will. Also remember that feelings of inferiority are actually very common amongst people in your shoes.
There is another segment of the population that will rarely if ever feel inferior. In fact, many of you will become incredibly arrogant as you continue at Mines.
For you, it is important to avoid developing a condescending attitude, particularly to those outside of Mines or STEM in general. Remember, everyone has a different set of abilities. Perhaps you are the very best civil or petroleum engineer or geophysicist ever to exist. Remember, though, that there is some field you are not the best at. When tempted to believe yourself better than others, ask yourself “When was the last literary analysis essay I wrote? When did I last revolutionize thinking on Chinese history?” or other similar questions, to highlight that your superiority is not universal.
Both the doubting Oredigger and the gloating Oredigger might wonder why it matters if they question or brag. In many ways, it does not. On the other hand, a properly confident but not overly cocky Oredigger is more likeable. Plus, that Oredigger is less likely to send him or herself into a mid-exam panic attack or decide to not study at all.
On a similar note, it is important to seek help when you need it. There is no prize awarded for attending office hours the least times or being the most invisible student.
If something does not make sense to you, seek out a professor, a teaching assistant (TA), or at least a friend who is better at the class in question. Do this right away; do not wait until the night before the exam. If you wait too long, not only will you still be confused, you will have trouble with any concept based on the original problem. When you finally move to address the problem, you’ll have a crisis on your hands.
One piece of advice I received when I started Mines, and which has served me well, is this. Within the first week or two of the semester, go to all of your professors’ office hours, even if you do not have any questions for them. At least introduce yourself, and then when you do have questions later in the semester, it will be easier for you to go to the professor for answers. They will seem like a real person, not some sort of academic machine.
Many of you have probably already decided on a major. I know I had when started at Mines. If you have a program of study in mind, start looking at the flowchart of courses you need to take. These can be found on the department websites. At the same time, do not consider yourself married to your major. You will not officially declare until later in your tenure at Mines, and between now and then, you may change your mind. Leave yourself open to liking something else better.
If, on the other hand, you do not know what you want to major in, do not panic. You have plenty of time, and you can get something of a feel for various fields of study in your freshman classes. Ask your chemistry, physics, and EPICS TAs and your CSM 101 Peer Mentors about what they like and dislike about their fields. Poke around on the department websites. Go to a colloquium or two in the departments you are interested in. (Do not expect to really understand what’s going on – not even all the professors there are fully tracking – you just want to see if the topic is someting you might like to know more about.) Look around, and choose based on what you most love.
Another common worry on starting Mines lies in making friends. The number one thing to remember in making friends at college is that one must actually talk to other people to make friends.
The plain reading of that sentence, an indictment of reclusive behavior, is valid, and I know some here who need the reminder. However, there is a second aspect to that straightforward advice: you cannot tell without speaking to someone whether they are friend material or not.
At some point in their lives, everyone has known someone who looked nice and was a jerk or someone who looked uninviting but was a great friend. When making friends, set aside your pre-suppositions as much as possible and converse with the actual human in front of you.
Life outside the classroom is a critically important part of college. You will hear more than once in this publication alone about the plethora of student organizations here at Mines. It is important to partake in these activities and to enjoy your college years. Do not squander the opportunity by studying 24/7.
On the other hand, know your limits. You could never join all 170 clubs and organizations. Do not try.
Of course, joining every organization is an obvious exaggeration. The principle, though, is that you should take on only what you can. The fastest path to stress is in joining or becoming an officer in one too many clubs. Chances are, at least one semester during your time at Mines, you will take on too much. Prioritize, do your best, and make the changes you need to make for the next semester.
As with most things in life, the path to a productive and happy four years at Mines lies through moderation. Do not be the most arrogant, nor the most unsure. Be involved, but not so involved you do not have time for your classes.
Find what you truly enjoy, both as a field of study and as extra-curricular activities, and pursue it. Mines is too much work to wind up stuck doing something you hate for four years at school and for your career.
Above all, remember that you are surrounded by people who want you to succeed. Sometimes it may not feel like it. Sometimes you will get a bad lab partner or a bad professor who will not support you. They are not the majority, and do not give up just because of one or two or even three bad experiences.