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Advice for New Students: 84 Things to Do Your First Year

Group of students sit in circle outside during orientation

For the arrival of the Class of 2027 and new students, we asked alumni and current students what experiences they would encourage new Swarthmore students not to miss during their first year. Here are 84 of their suggestions. Suggestions have been edited for length and style.

Don't miss out on campus events & traditions

  • Don’t skip the First Collection. Matt Lawlor ’95
  • Participate in the Crum Regatta! Your ridiculous craft will not float. But it’s worth a try. Colin McLeish ’18 
  • Take the Sunday morning shuttle to get pancake breakfast at Mary Lyon Hall. Toàn Cao ’21
  • See a show on campus! Whether it's student-led production or a special guest artist visiting campus, there is always something exciting going on. The campus calendar is a great starting point! Lelosa Aimufua ’20
  • See a total surprise guest speaker on campus – someone who you know nothing about. Ethan Holland ’98
  • Let loose in The Pterodactyl Hunt. Kyle Krainock ’13
  • Scream regularly. (Why wait for the primal scream at the end of the semester?) Brad Skillman ’89
  • Watch an a cappella concert at the Bell Tower. Toàn Cao ’21
  • Go to the Halloween party and dress up the wazoo for it. Do something completely silly and out of character for April Fool's Day. Uri Ko Yoo ’97
  • Go dancing — in Tarble, on Sharples patio, in Paces. Discover that you are capable of dancing the night away and don't need a drop of alcohol to have a blast. Uri Ko Yoo ’97
  • Have fun every weekend, even if you think you should work. Kat Capossela ’21
  • Go to a show at Olde Club. Matt Lawlor ’95
  • When there are “weird” things going on — do them. They’ll become your favorite stories. Kasie Leeanne ’07

Discover Swarthmore

  • When the world feels most cacophonous and insane, go to the Quaker meeting house on a Sunday morning — even if you aren’t religious. Christy Reardon ’91
  • Play cards during a power outage. Bayliss Wagner ’21
  • Take a tour of the Singer Hall solar lab. Chris Stone ’23
  • Bring a friend to the Whispering Bench who hasn't seen it, tell them to close their eyes, and whisper to them from the other end. Emlen Metz ’09
  • Have a picnic on Parrish Beach. Emlen Metz ’09

Marvel at nature

Student walks by changing leaves in fall
  • At least once, wake up early enough to feel the dew in the grass as you walk to breakfast. At least once, go to sleep late enough to see the dawn light up the eastern sky. Uri Ko Yoo ’97
  • Walk in the Crum at least once in each season, ideally more. David Levine ’80 
  • Go to the Amphitheater the night of the first snow and dance around, or just sit and watch the snowfall. Marah Lake ’97
  • Go on a run in the Crum Woods. Madeleine Palden ’22
  • Sit by the koi pond with a friend! Elisabeth Miller ’21 
  • Watch the sun come up at Crum Creek. Scott White ’80
  • Take an evening walk to the mansion ruins in the Crum woods. Emmanuelle Wambach ’08
  • Sign up for at least one tour with an Arboretum horticulturist. Jenna Takach ’24
  • On a spring evening, go smell the lilacs on the walk by the meeting house. Elizabeth Hirshfield Moss ’96

Take advantage of academic offerings

  • Take a course from a great professor (ask the returning students you've met). It doesn't matter what the discipline or course title. Peter Jaquette '74 
  • Take a class in something you think you’re “bad” at or something you’ve never thought about before. College is one of the last times in your life where your job will literally be to “learn new stuff” without it being tied to the specifics of a career or professional degree. Ana Mariana Apostoleris ’13
  • Go to a professor's office hours and ask them broad questions about their subject or their work. Emlen Metz ’09
  • Take a dance class, or try out for Rhythm N Motion. Twan LeGrett ’07
  • Take the swim test during freshman orientation (or at the first opportunity). Get it out of the way! Deborah H. How ’89
  • Take an education class even if you never want to be a teacher because a) you need to understand how the next generation is learning, and b) it might change your mind. Christy Reardon ’91
  • Maybe not freshman year, but take a class at Haverford, Bryn Mawr, or Penn. Brad Skillman ’89

Go out of your comfort zone

Members of the rugby team hold jerseys, ball at activities fair
  • Take up a hobby you aren’t good at. This can be a sport, a club, a creative pursuit — anything that will expand your horizons and remind yourself you don’t have to excel at everything you enjoy. Sara Fitzpatrick ’14
  • Join a club or start a hobby you've never tried before, even if it's outside of your comfort zone. The clubs I joined and hobbies I tried were so different from my intended major, and led me to the career I have now. I took a tango class at Swat a couple of times and thought it was nothing special, but I tried it again about eight years later, loved it, and that's how I met my current husband. You never know where your life may take you. Jessica White ’07
  • Develop at least one practical life skill: cooking, sewing, web design, basic accounting, woodworking, bicycle repair, gardening, something that requires use of your hands and that you can do to take care of yourself and/or someone else. John Halbert ’89
  • Take as many opportunities as you can to walk in other folks' shoes. Attend a religious gathering not your own. Participate in a cultural or diversity event not your own. Uri Ko Yoo ’97
  • Visit the study abroad office to make sure you learn how you can go away for a year. Jeannie Gallego ’00

Seek connection with others

  • Talk to alumni, find out what they do and how they got there. There are a zillion interesting careers in the world to find out about. Alida Zweidler-Mckay ’92
  • Walk back to the dorm with a friend after the library kicks you out and end up in a deep discussion about the meaning of life and a loaf of bread ... until dawn lights up. Uri Ko Yoo ’97
  • Stay up late debating something interesting that you never realized was so important. Michael Davidson '91
  • Listen to your roommate/hallmate/friend’s music collection. Michael Davidson '91
  • Go to the freshman gatherings and go to Tri-Co gatherings and make lifelong friends; remember that “whatever they say or do to me, I am still a worthwhile person.” Jeannie Gallego ’00
  • Make friends with your hallmates. Some of them will be lifelong friends. Katalyn Vidal ’00 
  • Make time to sit out on the lawn with friends, even if you have to pretend you’re studying to assuage your guilt. Don’t actually study. Alida Zweidler-Mckay ’92
  • Have conversations with at least one staff member, whether that’s at your student job, or in the cafeteria, bookstore, or dorm. Alida Zweidler-Mckay ’92
  • Make the best friends of your life. The friendships last. Elin Lisska Christensen ’97
  • Seek out at least one person from a different state or different country whom you have never encountered; see if you can strike up a friendship, even if over something trivial. David Levine ’80
  • Make friends with a sophomore who is majoring in your hoped-for major. They might be a mentor for you in the next three years. Get to know all the sophomores and juniors in your hall — they might be able to give you good advice in the next year or two. Peter Jaquette ’74
  • Make a strong connection with at least one person who will be in a totally different major or sports team than you will. The others in your major/team will likely become the people you spend the most time with in class, practice, and at meals, so when there is stress or a need for a break from your core group of friends, it's really good to have other strong connections. Cheryle Oshman Blunt ’94
  • Meet with at least one Swarthmore graduate during any of the alumni weekends or donor-scholar celebrations. Robert Conner ’20
  • Make sure you have dinner with friends for at least 1 hour nightly and always attend a movie, show, party or other kind of entertaining event on Friday or Saturday night. You will be more productive when you study and bring balance to your life. Petrina Dawson ’76
  • Look to your left, then to your right … Eric Walton ’97

Contribute to campus groups

A cappella group sings in a bell tower alcove
  • Join a club or a project ... You'll never again get a chance to explore so many different things with so many interesting people. Uri Ko Yoo ’97
  • Take part in a thing … then get back to studying your a** off. Philip McLean ’91
  • Write an article for the Swarthmore Phoenix, whether it’s a strongly-worded op-ed on politics, a news piece on a campus event, or a satirical send-up of the most recent student obsession. Bayliss Wagner ’21
  • Host a radio show on WSRN. Liza Andrade ’97
  • Volunteer in the area around campus (Chester et al). Brad Skillman ’89
  • Financial aid or not, have an on-campus job. Twan LeGrett ’07
  • Get involved in campus organizing. Get a sense of what social justice groups are doing on campus and join one you feel drawn to, even if you’re not sure it’s your forever passion. You’ll learn about how to work with other people on something that matters — one of the most important lessons a human can learn. Maya Schenwar ’05
  • Try a team sport, even if you've never done it before ... I recommend rugby because most people have never played it before, so you're all beginners together. Annie McCasland-Pexton ’97
  • Join an a cappella group if you like to sing. Kyle Krainock ’13
  • To students of color: Get involved in cultural affinity groups. Twan LeGrett ’07
  • To LGBTQ+ students, especially Black, AAPI, Latine.: Find affirming spaces. Twan LeGrett ’07

Get off campus

  • Walk off campus with friends for a mile or more — burst the bubble. Christian Jose Marin ’96
  • Get a macchiato from Hobbs! Ruth Carolyn Elias ’20
  • Go to Hobbs with the intention to get work done and get no work done. Jake Chanenson ’21
  • Order everything on the Bamboo Bistro menu. Olivia Smith ’22
  • Get breakfast at Vickie’s Place after a late night. Olivia Smith ’22
  • Have a late-night pizza from Renato. Jake Chanenson ’21
  • Order a cheesesteak from Renato after 10 pm. Matt Lawlor ’95
  • Get involved with a political campaign. Pennsylvania is consequential nationally, and southeastern PA is interesting in particular. Jimmy Pham ’23
  • Try to visit Bryn Mawr and Haverford to see their campuses. Deborah Dempsey ’57

Explore Philadelphia

Group of students pose in Citizen's Bank Park at Phillies game
  • Go to Restaurant Week in Philly. Kyle Krainock ’13
  • Have a day trip to the Barnes Foundation, Museum of Art, or Longwood Gardens. Kyle Krainock ’13
  • Take the train into Philadelphia and then take the city tour sightseeing double-decker bus all over town. Linda Valleroy ’72
  • Go to Philly for a show, performance, play, etc. I recommend the Philadelphia Ballet — they have student discount tickets! Megan Wu ’23
  • Swat just opened the door for free monthly SEPTA trips — up to 240 a month! Go into Philly, but also explore the area (i.e., Media, other trips). Brad Skillman ’89
  • Do College Day in Philly — so many museums and events are free. Emmanuelle Wambach ’08

Last words of advice

  • If you’re eligible, register to vote. Jimmy Pham ’23
  • Remind yourself periodically that "it" is not as daunting as it seems. David Levine ’80
  • Embrace that you don’t have everything figured out and you don’t need to. Twan LeGrett ’07
  • You'll have tons of pressure to do things. Take the time to *not* do those things. Brad Skillman ’89

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