Advice for the Stanford Class of 2020

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The legendary Serra 2014-2015 squad

Hi everyone,

Congratulations on being part of the Stanford Class of 2020!

I’m writing this little FAQ specifically for you all at the Stanford Orange County Freshman Send-off, which I can’t attend this year in person. It contains a variety of questions that previous years of freshmen (myself included) wanted answers to, as well as questions that your parents often ask.

If you’re in the mood for another, more reflective article, check out my post on Things I Learned my Freshman Year at Stanford.

Students:
Can you tell me about my dorm, ________?
Why can’t I find out who my roommate is beforehand?
What do you do during NSO?
What’s a PMA?
How is biking on campus?
How do I join clubs/organizations?
All of my friends just left for college, and I’m vicariously living through their Facebook photos.
How was the first year at Stanford?
What classes should I take freshman year?
What tips do you have for surviving freshman year?

Parents:
Can I see my child’s grades?
What resources are available on or around campus if my child needs basic necessities (food, toiletries, etc.)?
How do students get around on campus?
Where are the health resources?
What should we buy for the dorm room?
How safe is campus?
What is Parents’ Weekend?

For the Class of 2020:

Can you tell me about my dorm, ________?

Freshmen can be in a variety of dorms on campus. There are also multiple dorm “halls”, or cluster of dorms in one area. Stern Hall and Wilbur Hall are where a large number of freshmen are located, and most of these dorms are all-freshmen. Four-class dorms include Roble Hall, ethnic theme houses (Casa Zapata in Stern, Okada in Wilbur, Muekma on the Row, and Ujamaa in Lagunita), and some dorms in the Florence Moore Hall and Lagunita Court. FroSoCo, or the Freshman Sophomore College dorm, has (you guessed it!) freshmen and sophomores (with the occasional junior). When I was a freshman, for example, I lived in Serra in Stern Hall.

Each dorm has its own community atmosphere, and because everyone (or almost everyone, in the case of multiple-class dorms) is different from the prior year, any stereotypes or assumptions regarding your dorm you may hear about from upperclassmen tend to not hold true. You get to make your own great dorm community, and I definitely encourage you to get to know everyone you’re living with for a year.

In each dorm, there will be dorm staff, RFs, and custodial staff. The dorm staff consists of a few RAs (Resident Assistants), a PHE (peer health educator), and an RCC (Resident Computer Consultant). Together, your dorm staff is instrumental in helping you adjust to Stanford life, whether you want recommendations for a class you’re considering taking, help finding a building on campus, or a quiet confidante to talk to. RFs, or Resident Fellows, are professors and their families who choose to live in the dorms to meet and help out students. RFs love to chat with students, and are known to invite them into their little homes for a home-cooked meal, intellectual chat, or something along those lines.

Why can’t I find out who my roommate is beforehand?

Trust me, it’s better this way. There’s nothing quite like walking into your dorm when you first arrive on campus and finally meeting who you’re going to spend the year with. Although you can’t collude on who’s bringing the mini-fridge or dorm decor, you also can’t spend a month obsessing over that person’s online history without getting to meet them in person first. Stanford still hand-matches every freshman to his or her roommate (or roommates, if you’re assigned to the occasional quad in Roble), and the system works quite well; almost everyone I knew was very satisfied with their roommate, and I’m still good friends with my freshman roommie, Evan.

What do you do during NSO?

NSO, or New Student Orientation, is a time when you get to explore all that Stanford has to offer. From micro lectures to tours to fun, wacky things you’ll inevitably do in your dorm, meet new people and take advantage of everything that comes your way. One thing to remember is that everyone is just as excited and nervous as you are; even if you’re a little shy, just saying “Hi” to someone could easily spark a friendship that lasts a lifetime.

What’s a PMA?

A PMA is a Pre-Major Advisor. Every incoming freshman is assigned an advisor to help them plan out their course schedules, and eventually decide on their majors. As an example, my PMA, Bill Barnett, is a professor at the Graduate School of Business. He has been a great person for me to talk to about courses, internships, and life in general, even after I declared my major!

You’ll need to meet with your PMA once a quarter to register for courses next quarter, but if you can I’d definitely recommend going in for more meetings. Some PMAs are very busy, others are always on campus, and most are somewhere in between; even if they aren’t around all the time, PMAs really want to help out Stanford students, so never be afraid to email them any questions you have!

How is biking on campus?

Biking is great! Not only is it much easier to get around than driving, but it’s a great way to stay in shape. Everyone bikes on campus, and oftentimes people will bike in groups to class, go for a scenic route, or travel to the local shops and farmer’s markets.

How do I join clubs/organizations?

There will be a club fair at the very beginning of Fall quarter. If you went to Admit Weekend, it will have a very similar vibe; this time, however, you can start joining clubs as an official Stanford freshman.

Some organizations won’t be at the club fair. The Stanford Symphony Orchestra, for example, holds auditions at the end of NSO, before the club fair happens. On the other hand, fraternities and sororities do not Rush until spring quarter, so they cannot start recruiting in the fall.

All of my friends just left for college, and I’m vicariously living through their Facebook photos.

That’s not actually a question, but it is a very common occurrence. Stanford’s on the quarter system, but many other colleges and universities are on the semester system, which starts earlier. My recommendation? Feel free to live vicariously, but also take some time to appreciate the community where you grew up. Go for a walk around your community. Learn something new you’ve always wanted to try, but never had time for. And please, for your sake (and your roommate’s), learn how to do laundry before heading to college.

On the bright side, your friends will be living vicariously through your photos soon enough, especially when they’re getting hit by midterms around the time you’ll be just starting to explore Stanford’s (very photogenic) campus.

How was the first year at Stanford?

Overall, it was great! If you are wondering to plan ahead, keep in mind that everyone’s experience is going to be different. The common denominator is that you decide how your first year is going to turn out.

I enjoyed the freedom to choose what classes I wanted to take, where to go on the weekends, when I wanted to practice my instruments, and the like. Some of my favorite memories are of trying new things, like exploring the campus late at night, or just lying on the floor and chatting with a group of people about anything and everything.

What classes should I take freshman year?

Everyone has their own answer to this question. I personally think that there are three classes every Stanford student should take at some point during their undergraduate career: ECON1, CS106A, and Sleep and Dreams (PSYC135). For freshman year, take some time to explore your interests. If you know that you want to jump head-first into Mechanical Engineering, go for it. If you have no idea what you want to major in, then you have the rare opportunity to decide that for yourself at Stanford. Remember, you don’t have to declare a major until the end of sophomore year!

One group type of classes that will help facilitate this exploration are the Introsems. Instrosems, or Introductory Seminars, are classes capped at 15 students that allow students to start exploring a wide variety of courses from across many different departments. You can apply to up to three introsems a quarter, and will usually get accepted into one of your three choices. During my freshman year, I took one introsem at the Graduate School of Business, and another in the Music department.

Another great thing about introsems is that they are taught by distinguished Stanford faculty who are among the best in their respective fields, and teach subject material that they are very passionate about. This fall quarter, for example, I know that Steve Ballmer (of Microsoft) is going to be teaching an Econ introsem. Whether you’re exploring a potential major interest or just trying something completely new, these classes are great to try out freshman year.

What tips do you have for surviving freshman year?

First and foremost, make sure you try to achieve a balance. Do not study all the time, do not party all the time, and always make room to explore Stanford’s amazing campus. Eventually you will find a study niche, people you like to hang out with, and more. On the other hand, remember that the people who seem like everything is going perfectly are almost always the ones who you later find out have mentally broken down. Achieving a balance is something you should do for yourself, not to please everyone around you.

For some more practical advice, do not go too fast in the Circle of Death, go to class, sleep, and don’t die. If you can do all of that, you’ll be golden.

For Parents of the Class of 2020:

Can I see my child’s grades?

Not until it’s too late 🙂

This isn’t like high school. When you start a class, you get a syllabus that outlines what percentage of each major category goes towards your grade. At the end of each quarter, you receive one letter grade. For students, that means that you really don’t know where you stand in any class until you get that grade. While I have had professors who sent us detailed outlines of our final grades, most classes consist of midterms and a final comprising most of your grade, plus a small percent allocated to problem sets or papers.

Parents, please give your kid some room on grades. They won’t be able to tell you what their “current” grade is like in high school. Even if they do poorly on an exam, many of the classes grade based on how you did relative to your peers; getting a 60% on a test is phenomenal when the average was a 30%, as an example.

What resources are available on or around campus if my child needs basic necessities (food, toiletries, etc.)?

The first place I recommend for food is Munger Market – it has fresh food and supplies, with the added benefit of accepting Stanford Meal Plan dollars. There is also a store in the Tresidder Union complex to get lots of basic supplies.

The Town and Country Village just outside of the Stanford campus also has plenty of great places to stock up on supplies. I’ve biked to CVS and Trader Joe’s many times over the past couple years. A lot of people will also go to the Stanford Mall, which is just a short bike ride as well.

How do students get around on campus?

If you have not yet made preparations for getting a bike, I highly suggest you do so now. Bikes are the #1 form of transportation around Stanford, followed by walking, skateboarding, golf carts, futuristic glowing unicycles, and Segways. Biking is easy, it’s eco-friendly, it’s good exercise, and all your child’s friends will be biking places together.

Cars are generally not needed freshman year, and freshmen aren’t allowed to have cars on campus. If your son or daughter really need a car, they can befriend an upperclassman who has it, rent a Zipcar, or call a transportation service (Uber and Lyft are popular options).

Where are the health resources?

Every dorm has its own first aid kit, including vomit cleanup kits. For health advice on campus, SHPRC, Vaden, and The Bridge are great resources for mental health and small physical problems. Athletes usually have trainers and referrals for timely checkups, since they tend to put more physical strain on their bodies. For bigger health problems, you need to go to a nearby hospital. This also applies to people suffering from alcohol poisoning, which will rack up a very expensive bill for you (but it’s better than risking death).

What should we buy for the dorm room?

All dorms come furnished with a bedframe and mattress, a closet, a desk, and a drawer. Make sure you get bedding, clothes, school supplies, and other necessary items first. If you want, you can also pick out some decorations to spruce up your kid’s side of the room. Since Stanford freshmen don’t discover their roommates until the first day on campus, I wouldn’t buy that minifridge, microwave or printer just yet; once you get to the Stanford campus, there’s ample time to go to the nearest Bed Bath & Beyond and pick one out.

How safe is campus?

I personally have always felt safe on campus, but then again I’m a 6-foot-something male. Nevertheless, we have a lot of measures in place to keep campus safe. There are always police on campus, the “blue light” system is in place, and the only major crimes that happen tend to be stolen bikes. As long as you don’t do stupid things and barring any natural disasters, it is unlikely that you will be seriously hurt at any point on Stanford’s campus.

Recently, Stanford has been in the news because of its connection to the Brock Turner sexual assault case. While it is undeniable that sexual assault happens on campuses across the United States, including Stanford, I do believe that Stanford is a very safe community. Encourage your child to be an active, not passive, bystander, acting to prevent nonconsensual actions (especially if alcohol or other mood influencers are involved in an altercation). Being aware of your surroundings goes the other way as well; teach your child simple and effective precautions, such as never going to a party alone and always having a responsible friend that knows where you are. However, don’t be too pushy on your kid about safety. Some of the people who put themselves into the most high-risk situations had strict and controlling “helicopter” parents back home. While encouraging your child to be safe, make sure that they know they can always be safe talking to you about anything.

What is Parents’ Weekend?

Parents’ Weekend is a weekend in February when parents of current Stanford students are invited to attend a variety of activities on campus. It is also a great time to check on your kids, who (though they probably won’t admit it) are getting a little homesick by that time. From hiking the Dish and chatting with the President of Stanford University to eating in the dining hall with your child, Parents’ Weekend is all about exploring Stanford through a student’s lens. If you are able to, I highly recommend attending.

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