Welcome to either your first or second year on campus. I hope you’re excited about the overwhelming new experiences you will face in the upcoming months—carnival, get to know you specials, club fair, convocation. I was ecstatic too. The only worry I had was making an everlasting impression on my peers. I was a junior then, a junior with a goal and hopes—a junior who blinked and is now suddenly writing this only a month before their senior year. You will have thousands of memories and adventures this next year, and I wish for them to all be grand; but, I know they won’t be. That’s fine and completely normal, but I will share my experience, and how I learned from it so you won’t regret the fantastic opportunity you have been given.
1. Do Not Overcommit
The number one thing every upperclassman tells the sophomores is to not overcommit. No matter how much you think you can handle, don’t overcommit. I was naïve and didn’t listen. I felt that I was different, that I could take it. There’s a reason everyone tells you the same thing; it means you should listen. My junior year consisted of me running from club meeting to club meeting. I was in 9 clubs, all of which required a good amount of work to be done each week. I never had time to eat dinner, constantly signed out of check, and didn’t begin my homework until 10 pm. That is nearly impossible with eight classes, and my grades soon became at stake. I was drunk on caffeine and high on sleep deprivation. I began to hate the work I was putting in the clubs I once adored. So, I dropped some. The clarity I felt after releasing myself from the hole I dug was astonishing. I promise colleges won’t care, not in the slightest. Do what you care about and put in the effort you can. Your happiness is not worth sacrificing for an infinitesimal raise in the quality of your resume.
2. Make Friends
IMSA is a small collection of students. Maybe your previous school had only 200 students, or you might come from a school with 2,000. Despite where you grew up, IMSA is relatively tiny. With that, groups form. Friend groups may seem closed off, and they might be, but I guarantee some aren’t. I went most of my junior year without a solid friend group. It got to the point where I couldn’t go on walking trips because I wasn’t close enough to anyone. I spent my lunch period in a study room or my Russian classroom. I was either in my room or at meetings when school was over. That’s not to say I didn’t have friends. There were plenty of people I could have a conversation with, but very few I could tell everything to. I know it is my fault, and I could have talked to others if I wanted.
However, I was stubborn and made mistakes with the people I once called my closest friends. Do not make the same mistake. The socials IMSA holds are there for a reason. Make friends, hundreds if you can. My best memories of IMSA are with the people I cared for the most. Don’t abandon them for clubs or homework (unless you need to). You will need a support system, or else you will be miserable. I was miserable. It felt like Groundhog’s Day, repeating the same cycle continually. As much as humans love familiarity, I promise your day is not something you want to be the same.
3. Be Cautious About Gossip
That being said, IMSA isn’t perfect; it’s far from it. People are close, and as much as people hate to say it, everyone knows everything about everyone unless you turn a blind eye. You will find out things about random couples you’ve never talked to before, club leaders, or the random person you sit next to in MI-3. I also want to say that half of it lacks any value. People feed off of rumors and want others to join in.
Just because this is a school full of “gifted kids” doesn’t mean we aren’t teenagers. A lot of us still act like children, even if some are doing math typically explored by college seniors. Don’t believe everything everyone says. Don’t warp your judgment on someone just because you heard some horrific thing about them. This will essentially bring your friend options down to nothing. Make friends with who you please and don’t listen to childish lies. On the flip side, some may be true. Recognize toxicity and squash it with every ounce in your body. Don’t ignore it. This will feed the fire; I promise you don’t want that. Note that it may come from people other than your peers. It can even come from adults.
4. Mistakes are Okay
Restating what I mentioned earlier, just because we are “gifted kids” doesn’t mean we aren’t still kids. So, please, make mistakes and learn from them. While some teachers or other activities may not appreciate mistakes, I’m here to tell you that they are okay. You will learn quickly, and it’s okay to be wrong or make an error. I would beat myself up over the more minor issues, and I promise it’s not worth it. Do not destroy your self-confidence because you will need it later. Things usually get more complex instead of more manageable, and you will need the confidence to get through them. There will be problem sets that will make you want to yank your hair out and Python codes that will take hours to complete, and while that may seem unbearable, the learning and education you will receive here are 100% worth it.
5. Balance is Key
Finally, learn the balance between being alone and being with people. You will rarely be alone during the day (there are literally people EVERYWHERE) and remember you have a roommate who may or may not be in your room 24-7. While some might enjoy this, others might absolutely hate it. Find time to be alone. Find spots among the main building where you can think, listen to music, cry, literally do anything. Your room may not be available, but your bathroom might. You will need a space where you can go whenever you need to. Beware, sometimes you might find couples in these “hidden” spots too.
On the opposite side, explore IMSA. I didn’t get to do any of the exploring I should have. I didn’t know the Hub existed until my last week of junior year and IN2 until my last month of sophmore year. There are dozens of not-so-hidden places that are at your disposal.
Secondly, IMSA clubs have hundreds of events for you to explore. Please go to GAs. Your fellow students work hard to put them together, so show them some love! They always have helpful information, and I regret not attending as many as I could. IMSA tries to help and ensure you aren’t alone; let it help you.
6: You Got This
You are about to be in for a long and wild journey that will fly by no matter what you try to do to slow it down. Don’t spend all year trying to make it stop because before you know it, you are a senior writing a guide made for the grades you were just a part of. IMSA is a beautiful place, but to survive, take the advice from your upperclassmen and enjoy the next three years you have here before it’s too late.