When I first got to Yale, my immediate concern was finding another “Game of Thrones” nerd at the finale showing. Feeling at home was the mission. And it was like that for the first few days, Camp Yale, when the major task was finding where to go out each night.
But that only lasted until Aug. 30. Classes began and the frenzy of shopping period consumed students, who were anxiously trying to get into this class or find the strength not to choose that one. An adviser gave me a quick piece of advice: Get your shopping over quickly; otherwise, you’ll be two weeks behind.
But I didn’t know who I was. And I’m still trying to figure that out. So, with 2,000 classes to choose from, leading me down 100 paths, how did this professor expect me to make my decision quickly? Wasn’t my first year supposed to be when I didn’t need to be sure of what I wanted and could just let my path find me? Why was I supposed to know what I want within the first week — where was my time to find myself?
Except he was right. Because, while I was juggling the uncertainty accumulated from weighing so many classes, new opportunities — which I couldn’t fully devote my attention to — presented themselves: student organizations.
Like so many here at Yale, I found myself inundated with flashy opportunities that I had absolutely no clue about. What was substantive and what was resume fodder? The extracurricular bazaar just provided endless panlists. In the face of all these unknowns, I did what any sane person would do; I signed up for everything that sounded remotely interesting, because how else was I to find what I liked? Whatever asked the most of me, I stuck with.
What I was left with was a shallow sense of productivity, perennially feeling like I had too much to do yet always feeling like I wasn’t doing enough. A few of my interests were nurtured by sheer luck, but in many ways, I felt deeply unsatisfied. All organizations found the people they wanted, and I really was behind. The door was shut — exploration a fantasy.
But that’s total bull! Despite some “exclusive” competition or performance-based organizations closing their doors, there still remained a plethora of organizations that were willing to welcome me with open arms. I just didn’t know which and where. Most organizations had already given up on exerting effort to finding new members in September, leaving me with little room to try anything new without exercising completely independent initiative.
And, so, until second semester when I figured all this out, I felt trapped.
I know I was not alone in these sentiments. At the extracurricular bazaar in the fall, there were still many sophomores searching for new opportunities. And many a conversation with my first-year friends had devolved into how to handle large workloads and the uncertainty of not knowing what we want. For many, it’s not that we couldn’t handle the work; it’s that the work we did didn’t lead us to our purpose.
It doesn’t have to be like this, though. Student organizations could commit to revamping recruitment efforts at the midpoint of each semester. This way new students on campus do not feel locked in after their third week. Organizations could find more members who run for board positions because it would strengthen their passions, not their CVs. People would have more time to actually learn what organizations like the Yale College Council did so that they weren’t scrambling to find out when election season hit. By giving people time to familiarize themselves with organizations, happier and more dedicated members will join. And by giving people flexibility to join and quit organizations more freely, campus culture would feel more fulfilling.
I know this might create a headache in clubs that require intensive manpower to initiate new recruits. And, for others, it’s just not feasible due to competition dates. But for the majority, the rewards outweigh the concerns because it would allow us to live up to the liberal arts spirit of embracing the search for ourselves.
To any prefrosh, Yale is a vibrant, vivacious place saturated with motivated and ambitious people who get to work from day one. And if it’s our campus you choose, your first weeks will be intimidating, nerve-wracking, exciting and hopefully straight up fun. But wherever you go, take the time beforehand to create an action plan of what you want to do first semester and whom you want to seek. It’s only in September and January that the opportunities will seek you out. Then it will be up to you to root them out.
And, maybe next year, here at Yale, we can give first years a little more time to find themselves.
Jacob Hutt is a first year in Silliman College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.