Dear Mr. Ramsey,
I may have only been through one year but I think I have some solid words of advice for those of you about to embark on the most difficult journey you will ever face.
First of all, just know that it is going to be hard. Some people, like myself, go into college thinking that they are ready. That's just not the case. No one is ready for college. I have never met anyone at Columbia who does not think it is the most challenging thing they have done or ever will do. Everyone here was a valedictorian in high school, you're not special anymore. It's hard to take at first but eventually you will realize that it is nice having to work hard. You are finally going to be truly challenged intellectually and it is the most liberating experience imaginable. If you feel confident, you're probably overconfident and if your feeling nervous, that's exactly where you should be and where you need to be. Feeling nervous about school makes you work harder and it's how everyone else feels. In my experience, the only ones that don't worry about school are those who are too smart for their school (legitimate geniuses) and those who aren't working hard enough and are falling behind. Please, don't be overconfident. Let yourself worry about school and work your way to confidence with the rest of the crowd, that's where you should be.
More tangible, practical advice for your first year: Choose classes that are not too difficult but still interest you. This is my largest piece of advice for anyone entering a top tier school. I speak from experience.
My first semester, I admit that I bit off more than I could chew with a certain philosophy class. I was really interested in philosophy and I really wanted to take this class but I quickly learned that picking classes is not all about choosing classes you're interested in. I walked into class the first day and the professor says, "I don't give A's, so don't expect one." That happens all the time. Sometimes choosing classes without knowing anything about them works out but oftentimes you will end up way over your head. The biggest piece of advice I can give is to check out your professors on ratemyprofessor.com or whatever professor rating system your school uses. This will help you make sure you don't have a professor that doesn't give A's.
That being said, I bought into the "take easy classes" mindset a little too much second semester. I researched classes that were not extremely challenging, I took Spanish 1, I really just took classes I knew I could get A's in. I can see how people get sucked into this but it doesn't work! I actually ended up with about the GPA second semester as first semester just because I was not interested or challenged by the material.
Morals of the story:
1) Be nervous about school, it's normal and it's motivating. Humble yourself.
2) PLEASE check out your professors before you sign up for classes. It makes all the difference.
3) Take classes that you can handle but also be sure to take classes that really interest you and challenge you in a healthy, not-impossible way.
These are huge tips that took me a year and a couple GPA points to learn. Hope it is helpful. Please don't hesitate to email me if you have any follow-up questions or specific questions about Columbia.
Columbia College '14