The W&M First Year Experience

Finding Your “Why”

August 3, 2017 by W&M FYE · 1 Comment

Hi everyone! My name is Madison Ochs, and I’m a rising senior at the College from Lawrenceville, New Jersey. In the classroom, I am a self-designed major in Human Mechanisms of Metacognition, which is a technical way to say I designed a major that allows me to study how people learn and think about thinking. I’ve always been interested in this field of study and I love how I can apply what I learn to anything else I do, be it another kind of class or an internship. Outside of the classroom, I volunteer in The Haven, am a sister of Kappa Kappa Gamma, and work for the Office of First Year Experience as an Orientation Area Director! All of these activities are so important to me because they allow me to spend tons of time with people who share interests with me while focusing on accomplishing a common goal, whether it is making a personal difference with the people who visit The Haven, planning a philanthropy event with my sisters for the entire campus, or organizing and preparing an Orientation program that reflects the passions and priorities of FYE!

Hearing me talk about how much I love this school and how I have spent my time leaves some people surprised to hear that I haven’t actually gone to William & Mary for four full years, and that I actually transferred to the College halfway through my sophomore year. My first year at William & Mary was when most other people were halfway through their time here, and that was intimidating at first, of course. It was also an amazing way to make sure I took nothing for granted and put intention behind all of the decisions I made. When I was signing up for classes, I thought about why I wanted to take certain courses and made sure to leave room for random bits of exploration in subjects I had never touched, like my class in Organizational Behavior. The course sounded interesting, I had never taken a business class before, and now I’m pursuing a minor in Organizational Leadership & Management and loving my time in the business school! I never would have found my current minor and some spectacular classes and professors if I hadn’t taken a chance on a random class just for the heck of it.

“…my most meaningful involvements out of the classroom, or some of my favorite experiences that I can look back on and say, ‘I’m glad I tried, but I don’t need to do it again.'”

Sometimes, I encountered things that weren’t a great fit or that I didn’t like as much as I thought I would, I felt as though I had to stick it out or else I was quitting. If I had followed that guideline, I would not have ended up with my current major, my most meaningful involvements out of the classroom, or some of my favorite experiences that I can look back on and say, “I’m glad I tried, but I don’t need to do it again.” Many people go through high school or their early years of college feeling as though they have to rack up certain classes and intense leadership positions in several clubs within a certain set of parameters or subjects to be attractive to colleges or future employers. While there is some wisdom to cultivating a well-rounded, enriching experience, those résumé items don’t mean a thing if they don’t speak to you. Why bother spending so much time chasing something that you couldn’t care less about?

I work with Orientation because I had such a spectacular experience when I transferred, I met one of my role models during my Orientation, I think those first days are incredibly formative, and I love getting involved with cultivating and crafting our school’s community to leave it even better than it was when I arrived. As another example, one of my best friends organized the William & Mary Global Innovation Challenge to help other students cultivate interests in international development, help her hone her own skills, challenge herself as a leader and participate in a project that would last past her own graduation. There are tons of these kinds of stories, about any kind of involvement or class or decision made during college.

“The best advice I can think of to pass on to incoming students, no matter what age or interest or identity, is to cultivate your ‘why.'”

It’s hard to swim against the stream, and it’s even harder to feel like you aren’t sure of your final destination when doing so. I guarantee you’ll have a few moments where you aren’t sure what to choose. How to choose, though, is simple. In the Office of First Year Experience, we like to talk about your “why”, a mystical and magical concept that encompasses a person’s personal, inner motivations for doing something. The best advice I can think of to pass on to incoming students, no matter what age or interest or identity, is to cultivate your “why.” William & Mary provides its students with countless opportunities to do truly extraordinary things, but it is up to you to choose what to do. Sometimes your “why” is very personal and profound, like the reason I work in The Haven (my personal experiences with issues of gender discrimination and a passion for sexual assault prevention and education), but sometimes it is lighthearted and goofy, like the reason I want to try out for the Syndicate dance team (it looks fun, it’s a last chance to try something new, and I really love the music they dance to). It takes time, and not every choice will end up being the perfect fit, but that is okay! If you focus on feeding your passions and following that “why”, you will have the most fulfilling college experience imaginable.

I can’t wait to meet you during Orientation, and if you have any questions feel free to reach out to me or anyone in FYE! Enjoy the rest of your summer, and Go Tribe!

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New Worries About Your New Adventure

July 26, 2017 by W&M FYE · No Comments

New Worries About Your New Adventure

Guess who you can’t get rid of?! It’s Ally with another blog post. Working here at the Office of First Year Experience, we get lots of calls from students who are worried about all kinds of things. And that is completely normal. College is a really big change than what most people are used to. So I decided I wanted to write a little about those worries.

All the Pre-Work

The summer before coming to W&M is crazy. There are a lot of things to submit to the College so you are all set to start here. There are also the important education programs (college studies, alcoholedu, and the haven program) that you should be paying attention to because they are helpful. Basically, you just need to stay organized. Keep checking your W&M email in case someone contacts you about an issue or just to get the reminders of due dates. At this point you have made it through practically everything.

Sharing a Room with a Stranger

If you’ve never shared a room with another person, living in a dorm can be a bit of a shock. Whether you selected a person from Facebook or got a random assignment, you have to inhabit the same space as them. The best advice I have to give it just to be kind and honest. When you are making your roommate agreement, be upfront about what your pet peeves are. Still, you should be willing to compromise on things here and there.

Student Intimidation

William and Mary is a great school. It’s probably one of the main reasons you’ve decided to come with. That also means that students here are extremely smart, talented, and passionate. At first, that can be intimidating. But once you are here on campus and start befriending and working with your extraordinary peers, your insecurity will fade because you will start to root for your peers to succeed. I think the College is at its best when we all work hard and encourage each other to be the best we can be instead of trying to compete with each other.

What About My Future?

I just want to get right to the point with this one. You are allowed to change your mind when it comes to your future! You are allowed to have no idea whatsoever about what you want to do! It’s all about taking the baby steps and seeing what you are passionate about. Little by little as you find your meaningful involvement here on campus, you will start to make a path for yourself.

We Are Here to Support You

These are all valid worries. But what I think is important to remember is that the College is here to support and help you. Everyone here wants you to have a good year. Worried about the deadlines of the Tribe Guide? Call the Office of First Year Experience. Having conflict or apprehension about your roommate? Talk to your RA on your hall. Feeling intimidated or overwhelmed? Make an appointment at the Counseling Center. Unsure of what steps to take next for your future? Head over to the Cohen Career Center. There are plenty of other resources here like Student Accessibility Services, the Haven, Care Support Services, etc. that are standing by and ready to help you in any way they can.

I promise that as you settle into life here on this beautiful campus, you will start to wonder what you were so nervous about.


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Take Your Time

July 21, 2017 by W&M FYE · No Comments

Hello internet,

It’s Ally Brimmer again. I thought I would take the time today to tell you a little more information about myself and my first year experience at William and Mary.

I’m currently about to start my junior year at the College as a sociology major and a marketing minor. I work at FYE as the Director of Engagement Initiatives, I am in Passing Notes A Cappella, involved with Sinfonicron, am Vice President of music fraternity Delta Omicron, and an Orientation Aide for the Fall. I think my main story is that it took me a while to find my place here.

Before I started school I had a lot of high expectations for myself. As a type A personality, when something doesn’t go according to my plan, I get a little thrown off. I had this image in my head of what my college life was going to look like. Long story short, it did not end up looking like that “image” at all. Still, I don’t think I would change a thing, as corny as it may sound, because it has gotten me to where I am now.

During orientation, I felt overwhelmed by the student activities fair. I did not really put my name down on club listservs, but did audition for a few groups on campus. However, a double-edge sword of W&M is that students here are all really really talented. And I’m not going to lie, rejection can be hard, but I just kept moving forward and looked for the next opportunity. In fact, I did not get accepted as an OA freshmen year, but that didn’t stop me from applying again.

My main involvement first semester was in the theater department. I worked backstage for two shows in the fall. In high school I performed on stage, so I loved getting to work behind the scenes and learn new skills. While I no longer have the time to help out with the theater department, I’m still there in the audiences cheering everyone on.

My theater friends told me about this thing called “Sinfonicron” that happens over winter break. Sinfonicron is a student-run light opera company that has been at W&M for 50+ years. During the last two weeks of Winter Break, a handful of students came back to campus, bunked up in houses and put on a production in two weeks. Two weeks to make the sets, teach the choreography, learn their lines, and make the props. Choosing to do Sinfonicron was the best decision I’ve made here. I met incredible people, formed lasting bonds, and felt incredibly proud of my abilities.

Sinfonicron then led me to join the co-ed music fraternity Delta Omicron. I was starting to find my footing. I think Freshmen year is all about being open to new experiences. My friends and I went to all the concerts, all the comedy shows, and all the random events around campus to see what we enjoyed and how we wanted to spend our free time. Through these events and just simply hanging out in rooms, my friendships with my hallmates got deeper. My friends really made my freshmen year so incredible and I’m currently looking back at my Facebook photo album and can’t stop smiling.

Early on when I had random free time, I went to various information sessions from the Cohen Career Center and the Reves Center. This led me to studying abroad at Cambridge University the summer after my freshmen year. I link that into my first year experience because I still felt like I had a lot to learn about myself and what I wanted to do that at William & Mary. Studying abroad is an unforgettable experience that helped me in so many ways and I highly recommend it to everyone.

Even after freshmen year I still jumped around and tried different organizations, but now I feel secure in where I am. The same also goes for my major and minor. I originally thought I wanted to be a psychology major, quickly realized that was not right, and took an introductory sociology course where I seemed to thrive.

I think if I wanted anyone reading this to have a main takeaway it would be “take your time and find the right fit.” I know from personal experience that when you arrive on campus, you immediately want to find your own niche here. I just think it’s important to not jump at the first thing that comes along and have faith that you will find a place here. Also, find the friends who make you your best self and hold onto them tight.

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What Should a First Semester Schedule Look Like?

July 12, 2017 by W&M FYE · 1 Comment

Hi there. It’s Danielle again. As the summer progresses and we get closer to orientation, here at FYE we’ve been getting more and more questions about what a first semester schedule may look like. And while most incoming students have started College Studies on Blackboard (an online mini-course led by peer advisors to introduce new students to the Coll curriculum, the course catalog, etc.) I thought it might be helpful to write about my first semester schedule when I was a freshman.

Now, I admit. It’s been a while since I was a first-year here at William and Mary (5 years to be exact) but the stress of registration and the agony of deciding what to major in hasn’t changed since then. I feel like most new students will go through that as well.

So there I was, two days before classes started and the last day of orientation, lying in my bed (which stood on risers and was way too high up off the ground but that’s another story entirely) when the OA’s (orientation aides) came walking down the hallway, banging on pots to wake us up for our 7am registration. I had heard that week from other students and professors that registrations is stressful, that banner crashes all the time, that I won’t get into any of the classes I want. And for some, that may be true. Depending on the courses you select, if they are smaller in size but very popular or needed by most majors, it can be difficult to get into. However, don’t let that deter you. There are always alternatives. There is always another semester. And the great thing about the first two weeks of classes is that that is also the add/drop period, or as some like to call it – the shopping period. You get to sample different classes and just drop them without consequence if you decide that Arabic 101, an 8am class that runs every day, isn’t for you.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t make that decision. I took an 8am Arabic 101 course because I thought, if I want to be fluent in Arabic by the time I graduate, I better start now! Bright and early! Yea, dragging myself out of bed at 7am every day and making the long walk from Botetourt to the Wren building wasn’t the best way to spend my first semester. But I actually enjoyed the class. It was fun, exposed me to another language and culture and I knew how to count to 10 in Arabic for a while. Which brings me to my next point: be sure to take classes out of your comfort zone. Did I need Arabic? No. Did it satisfy a requirement? No. But it was great and got me to explore new ideas.

I also took a great and insightful philosophy course…okay, I went to it once and dropped it as soon as class ended. Seriously, I didn’t even leave the building before I logged on to banner and hit “drop”. Again, the add/drop period is great for this reason, so that if you don’t get into the class you wanted right away, don’t stress. There are other options.

In the end, I ended up with four courses – Arabic 101, Psychology as a Social Science, the History and Religion of Ancient Israel (don’t ask, I don’t know either – but it satisfied a requirement when I decided to minor in Religious Studies my senior year) and Modern Dance. Yea, so modern dance is a class I was talked into by my roommate. “It’ll be great”, she said. “We’ll have fun”, she said. All I remember is rolling around on the floor a lot. Now, listen. I did not expect to be taking a dance class my first semester (again, I didn’t need it) but it was actually fun. And quite a few girls from my hall ended up taking it and we were all able to laugh at each other and ourselves at how bad we all were. It was an easy course, satisfied one of my 2 credit requirements and again, exposed me to something new. All of this is not to say that you shouldn’t look at your curriculum and major requirements to make sure you satisfy them as you go along – just don’t get bogged down by them. You have eight whole semesters (or more if you’re part time) to finish all of your requirements.

Overall, my first semester was probably one of my least stressful semesters. And that’s how it’s supposed to be. Give yourself time to adjust to a new environment, make friends, explore clubs and sports (I went through several different clubs including swim club – not sure what I was thinking because I’m a horrible swimmer, but you get the point – get out there and explore!). The first semester is not there to load up with 16 or more credits. Take it easy and find what works best for you. Oh and if it wasn’t for that 8am Arabic class, I would’ve had Fridays off completely. Learn from my mistakes!

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Figuring it Out: What should I Major in?

July 7, 2017 by W&M FYE · No Comments

Hi everyone! It’s Nathanial again. Figuring out a major can easily be one of the biggest challenges in college. Between working out class schedules and balancing studying, hanging out, and exploring clubs and other activities, trying to figure out an academic concentration can feel overwhelming. Our majors and minors can significantly influence our career trajectories and occupational goals.

Below is some advice garnered from my college experience, work, and volunteering opportunities since attending college as a new first-year student, overwhelmed by all the possibilities that were in front of me.

  1. Take a variety of classes in various subject areas- not just ones that you think pertains to a career path you are still not 100% sure of! Some of the best classes I have taken were ones involving Judaic studies, starting a new language, or taking an American history seminar on society and culture after WWII.
  2. Electives are not only good for trying out other disciplines and subjects of interest, but they also show that a candidate is well-rounded. Taking classes that you are genuinely interested in will be apparent in applications for future graduate studies or employment opportunities. When learning about things that interest us, the syllabus will also not feel as daunting.
  3. Despite the cheesy platitude, a class can truly be life-changing. In college, I never knew that a class on Judaic traditions would later spark an interest in spirituality or meditation. It’s cool to get exposure to new concepts and ways of viewing the world. You never know how it might come in handy later!
  4. Choose a major advisor that you connect with personally or intellectually, not just professionally. Your major advisor will be able to guide you through processing and exploring your interests, strengths, and how those could match a future career. Oftentimes, we are not even aware of what is out there once we declare a major. Many told me my Psychology degree would make it more difficult to find a job. However, not only did I find salaried jobs related to counseling that required a psychology or related degree, but my major in college indirectly exposed me to facets of the helping profession and counseling that I would not have known about otherwise.
  5. Show self-acceptance and take a deep breath! Many college students do not have their major figured out initially or even after a few semesters. In today’s working world, many professionals switch career tracks after a decade or two in one profession. Remember that you are not stuck in one career path after deciding on a certain trajectory.
  6. For those of you who are already sure of a pre-professional path, such as pre-law or pre-med, know that you do not have to only take rigorous science or philosophy courses. There is plenty of room for interesting and fun electives, which will often be a welcome relief from the studying and planning for future applications. Additionally, many pre-professional students major in seemingly unrelated fields, such as English, sociology, and American Studies.
  7. Undeclared is the way to go for many students- it can often be beneficial to take a few semesters to explore a variety of subject matters to find what you are passionate about. With the major transitions that occur when adjusting to college life, there is no rush to declare a major when there is plenty of time to explore and decide. In fact, you do not have to declare your major until you acquired 54 credits, which means that most students will declare their major at the end of their sophomore year.
  8. College is not only about finding a career path that pays well or has a promising career outlook. It is very possible to find a career path that brings you joy as well as provides that challenge to continue growing professionally as well as personally. Contentedness and career-trajectory are not mutually exclusive!
  9. Remember that some stress can be a good thing, but too much stress can be overwhelming. Utilize the Counseling Center, family and social supports, as well as spiritual and community mentors to maintain a healthy balance in a high-paced collegiate environment!
  10. And lastly, utilize resources such as the Cohen Career Center, the Academic Advising Office, pre-major, majorpre-professional advisors or professors in your preferred field of study to find out areas you excel in. Career aptitude tests are available at the career center, and many professors with years of experience are able to see if a student has a passion for a certain field. The university is there to support you every step of the way!



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