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Advice to Incoming College Freshman

As I am gearing up for graduation in a few days from Caltech, I realize there are many of you out there about to embark on the same journey I began 4 years ago. We are probably sharing the same feelings at the moment: uncertainty, excitement and anxiety over what might ensue in our lives in the next few years.
That being said, I think it’s as good a time as any to share my words of wisdom from an (almost!) newly grad’s point of view to college freshman everywhere. Whether you are an incoming freshman to Caltech, or another university…I write and dedicate this post for you.

So..without further ado, and in no particular order:
1. Take advantage of any and all opportunities
College is busting with opportunities waiting to be grabbed. Take advantage of the resources: research in a lab, join a club, apply to internships, travel abroad. When people say “do it in college, because you may never get the chance to again” –listen to them. If anything, it keeps life super interesting and gives you things to constantly look forward to, and experiences you will speak forever about.
2. Discover a new passion
…Or at least be on a constant search. Since coming to Caltech, I have tried everything from ballroom dancing, bellydancing, windsurfing, yoga, step aerobics, blogging, etc etc etc. And I can honestly say that its been a hit or miss in finding something I have decided to continue with. For example…I tried yoga as a freshman, and it has now been an integral part of my routine for the past 4 years. And windsurfing?—it was a fun experience, though I have to admit I haven’t gone since that one time, but I can always say that I tried.
3. Step back and look at the big picture
College can be stressful. It easily messes up your mind into thinking that when something goes wrong, your whole world is imploding in on itself. When this happens, step back…and breathe. See the big picture and see all the things that are going right for you. It may not be ideal, comfortable or fun…but it will work out. Of course, it’s not going to fix itself without you taking charge, so the worst thing you could do would be to freak out.
4. Be proactive
Most things will not be just handed to you. That internship you want, that meeting with your advisor, that extra time on the weekends to have fun—all needs to be realized and planned for ahead of time. When you set goals (big or small) be proactive in doing everything you can to get them to happen. Be actively thinking about how you can get closer. And if something gets in the way…fight it.
5. Call your parents
You may not be seeing them on a daily basis anymore…but they still are and will FOREVER be your biggest fans. All they want for you is to be happy, safe and successful. So settle their minds and check up with them during the week with a phone call. You will soon notice that the relationship between you and your parents will evolve as you are in college: they will treat you more like an adult everyday…but the beauty of it all is–when you need to be comforted just like you were 6 years old, they can do that for you too.

6. Be smart with money
Here’s your chance to practice handling your finances before going out into the real world. The term “starving college student” is not really true—cause there’s food everywhere in college. And “poor college student” is a term that only exists if you are constantly blowing your allowance from your parents or paycheck from your campus job. Do your best to save a buck or two: buy used books from online or an upperclassman, learn to cook sometimes instead of going out to restaurants, refrain from acquiring random crap that doesn’t fit into your limited closet space or dorm room…just keep aware of your spending habits. If you have the time, try and get a job on campus or work study so you can have fun and reward yourself. It will soon pay off when you realize you’ve got enough for a down payment on a new post graduation car, and when those savvy money skills translate into your adult life.
7. Take pictures
I have been teased a few times on how I always have to carry around my camera and take as many pictures as the paparazzi. At the same time, I have been constantly asked by these non-camera holding friends of mine to supply them with pictures of the fun party that happened last week. They regret not having pictures of their own, but are always relieved cause they know I’m there to document the good times. Take pictures—you will not regret it.

8. Live comfortably
Your dorm room will become your sanctuary. It’s the place you will study, sleep, socialize and go to get away from it all. This is the one place in college you can call your own. That being said, take care of you room so you can live comfortably. Have a place for everything, rearrange your furniture to maximize the space, and just keep it clean. Living in a college dorm should not give you an excuse to be messy—pick up after yourself. If you don’t…it will be super embarrassing for you when people come to visit (if they even dare to), and even frustrating for your roommate (if you have one). I am also a believer in tricking out your room so that it’s a pleasure to be there. Set up your desk so that when you’re sitting there cramming, you aren’t completely miserable. Have a personal coffeemaker so you can wake up to the wonderful aroma. Put posters on the walls to inspire you and give personality to your space.
9. Be a good friend
You will meet amazing people in college, and friends who will last a lifetime. Being away from home, you are now each others support systems and each others families. Be a good friend by being supportive, caring, honest and accepting. Do this, and you will be lucky enough to be surrounded by people that do the very same for you.
10. Keep an open mind
College exposes you to new types of people, personalities, and personal philosophies. Be ready to find both major and minor differences between yourself and others. Do not judge, but respect. Being around people that come from different backgrounds and stories of how they got there is what college is all about. Stand firm in your own beliefs and be open to questioning them, defending them and in some cases, changing them.

11. Take care of yourself
You may think that taking care of your appearance, and yourself in general should take a backseat as you become super busy with classes, homework, etc. But on the contrary…taking care of yourself is the best thing you can do to help yourself get through a rough week. This means looking put together even when the only thing you want to wear is your pajamas…I swear that it makes you forget how tired you are as if you had a full night’s sleep. This also includes eating right even when you’ve been having a stressful day..remember to eat and eat things that will give you energy instead of drain it. Also don’t put yourself in situations where your safety can be compromised…be alert when you’re walking around at night, know what to do in case of an emergency, and always have a presence of mind.

12. Do you best to stay healthy
In accordance with taking care of yourself, do your best to stay healthy. I can’t think of many things more miserable than being sick in college..your parents aren’t there to take care of you, and classes keep going without sympathy for your cold. Get adequate rest, keep away from people who are contagious, get a flu shot and always wash your hands! In case you do get sick, make sure to have a variety of medicines on-hand so you can self medicate right away.

13. Reflect on a daily basis
Keep yourself in check…reflect every so often and listen to what your instincts tell you to do. Being in touch with what you want and what makes you happy will keep you on track emotionally, mentally and physically. Do not wait until you break down because you’ve neglected to do so..it only takes a minute a day to self evaluate. Use the time to reflect as a time to focus on how you’re feeling about a situation so that when you have to compartmentalize, push any drama aside and buckle down with work..you can do so without anything on your shoulders. Reflecting also includes simply taking time to give thanks for the wonderful things and opportunities you have, it will give you constant perspective in life.

14. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
As an engineer, I believe that whatever the problem, there are multiple ways to go about solving it. Coincidentally, the solutions that involve utilizing resources and other people are usually the most time efficient. If you need help understanding a concept on the homework, talk to the Prof, TA or your classmate. Use support groups on campus to help you if you’re having a personal problem and need some guidance. Allow yourself to ask for help from upperclassmen, family, friends from back home, faculty…and I am almost certain that someone is happy to help.


Most importantly…you are going to college to learn. You will, of course, learn a lot of things that apply to your area of study. But you also will learn a lot about yourself: who you are, your purpose/goals in life, and the person you want to become. You will learn what type of personalities you get along with and which you will clash with. You will learn how to be independent and deal with whatever life throws at you. You must also learn from mistakes that you make, and even the mistakes your peers make. I guarantee that the person you are before college will be vastly
different from the person you will be after–and hopefully in a good
way. And this is because college is a place to learn and grow and experience the entire world.

To those of you entering college soon…I wish you the very best of luck. I hope that your experience in college will be as fulfilling, unique, and life altering as mine was. Live it up, and enjoy every second of it.

Dannah Almasco ’10

Mechanical Engineering and Business, Economics & Management, Class of 2010

Dannah is a senior in Fleming House, originally from San Diego, CA. She is a tour guide, a student reader for the freshman admissions committee, and a food critic for the campus newspaper. A member of the Caltech Dance Troupe, Dannah also practices yoga and aerobics. After graduating from Caltech, Dannah plans to enter the work industry; she has worked at the Caltech Biological Imaging Center and has had internships with Boeing in Los Angeles and Schlumberger in Houston, TX (see previous Caltech blog, “Adventures in Internships”). Her second blog “Class in Session: E/ME 105” discussed her experience in an engineering course that involved designing for (and traveling to!) the developing world of Guatemala. Read her latest blog: “Sweet Life of a Second Term Senior” to see how she keeps busy with her senior thesis and extracurricular activities.