The frustrating fallacy of the ‘Freshman Mindset’

Sean Kennedy
Sean Kennedy

As the summer draws to an end, I find myself, as we all do, restless for the new school year. There’s something particularly intoxicating about it to me. New faces arrive, old friends return and the campus is illuminated with a fresh sense of possibility that just can’t be matched any other time of year. You can tell simply from the faces of freshmen that this is the most hopeful time of year.

So why doesn’t this feeling last? Over the course of the year, the new semester fades, along with the hope that accompanied it. For some people, this occurs right around the time of first snow; for others, the first homework assignment. Whatever the time, many of us fall into the dreary mental rut I like to call the “Freshman Mindset.” For most, it is an uncomfortably familiar feeling, when the emotional void left by the absence of inspiration and excitement is filled by fear, when the uncertainty of our future turns from exhilarating to appalling. This unfortunate mental state is one that, despite its name, affects a great deal of people regardless of their age or year, and it is very important that we realize that our stress is ultimately a fallacy.

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All this worrying that we do over our futures is an exercise in futility that amounts to nothing more than a Stockholm Syndrome for doubt, and I think it’s especially important for freshmen to realize this. We do not need to be fully prepared coming into school. Nobody needs to have a major and career picked the day they arrive.

As high school students, we were lectured on the importance of preparing for college and exploring careers. While well-meaning, the overbearing pressure from our educators painted an unrealistic picture of the college level and drove us mad with perfectionism. It’s a cycle I have gone through and am going through, and that I am already seeing repeated with younger adults. People are force-fed unrealistic expectations in high school and consequently second-, third-, and fourth-guess the most exciting time in their lives. Even for upperclassmen, their majors don’t have to define the courses of their lives.

Now, this isn’t to say that the college experience should be taken lightly. Our education is important, and CSU offers an abundant diversity of opportunities that can satisfy your widest ambition. Every new chance that our community offers is a gift, and to ignore them is both a waste of time and money – it’s on the same level as someone who goes to Waterworld, says “Wow, what a lovely view,” and lies in the sun all day. Granted, it may still be a nice time, but it’s a waste of money and resources.

The point is that time in college is meant for exploration, and to treat it as anything else is harmful to one’s personal growth. It is essential that we break out of the Freshman Mindset of agonizing about what the future holds and treat opportunities on campus as something to be explored rather than conquered. We need to take the worried energy that fuels us and focus it on discovering our interests rather than trying to accomplish a milli-vanillion different things, because that is what college is all about. College is about trying out new things, such as taking a class in a subject you’ve never heard of, or volunteering for a SLiCE organization or working at the Collegian. It wouldn’t be called the college “experience” if one was supposed to only take classes in a certain subject that would translate to a specific career. That’s what trade schools are for.

Furthermore, the reason it is so paramount for freshmen to come to this conclusion is that they risk tainting their college experience from the onset.  All the danger this mindset associates with college is entirely imagined, and the most insidious threat to one’s education is this kind of self-destructive thinking. Our lives as Rams are a journey to be treasured, but we have to open our minds and free ourselves from fallacies if we hope to catch all that’s in store.

Collegian Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at letters@collegian.com.