Letter to the Editor: A Letter to First Year Students

Dear First Years,

Welcome to McDaniel!  I am so excited for you to start this journey at the best college in the world.  I fell more and more in love with McDaniel every day and I hope you do too.

My name is Emily and I graduated at the end of last year.  I majored in psychology, minored in American Sign Language and women’s studies, and took a bunch of classes on gender and sexualities.  I was an Honors student and on the executive board of Allies.  I had a great experience and it’s still hard to believe that I don’t get to come back!  However, even though I’m not physically there, you are welcome to contact me if you have a question or just need a buddy.

You’ll find your own way before you know it, but in the meantime, here are some things that might guide your path.  I hope they help you get on a road that makes you happy.

So here we go.  Emily’s tips for incoming freshman:

The first is the most obvious, but also the most important—make friends!!  Make yourself accessible by leaving your door open and spending time in the common room, and especially make time to hang out with your roommate and/or suitemates.  Eat at least one meal together a day!  If you let them, they’ll become your family.

Some people really struggle with what to major in, and that’s okay.  Here’s my experience: I knew psychology was right for me when I realized that I was more excited about it every day than I was the day before.  Everyone has some dud classes, but your major classes should be winners.

College professors are not the same as high school teachers—the relationship you have with them will be very, very different.  Be cognizant and respectful of professional boundaries.  On the flipside though, don’t be standoffish with them.  Professors are your best resource for truly amazing opportunities—I once got to go to the White House because a professor thought of me when she heard about the trip!

Get a Pyrex measuring cup.  They’re microwave safe, virtually indestructible, and good for everything.  I used mine every day.

There are FREE—that’s F-R-E-E FREE—condoms at the Wellness Center, so there’s NO excuse for having unprotected sex.  (And remember, kids, you can cut a condom along the radius to turn it into a dental dam!)  These are the best years of your life; don’t mar them with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or unintended pregnancy.  (If you do have unprotected sex though, ask the Wellness Center for information on STI screening from the Westminster Health Department—I’m pretty sure they do it for free pretty regularly.)

CALL home often, but GO home rarely.  Weekends are the best time to develop new friendships.

Decorate and personalize your room.  Not only is it fun, but looking at your space and knowing it’s yours will empower you and make you feel like a more complete, competent adult.  It will also make you feel more like you have a home here, which should ease the homesickness a bit.

Plan to study abroad even if you don’t think you will.  When I was a freshman and a sophomore, I wouldn’t have been ready to do it, so I didn’t plan on ever going.  As a junior or senior, I couldn’t work it into my schedule!  It’s always easier to cancel plans to go abroad than to squeeze them in at the last minute.

Always be up for an adventure.  You can finish your homework tomorrow (and should!), but once those magic moments are gone, you can’t get them back.

Don’t ever drink Four Loko.  Ever.

Join as many clubs as you have time for, but when you find one that you really love, go all in.  You don’t need to be super involved in every club—it’s ok to just be a regular, never-does-anything-outside-of-meetings member!  But invest wholeheartedly in your favorite.  Being a regular member is a good way to make regular friends, but in my experience, being on the executive board is the way to make best friends (and get some killer marketable skills!).

If you can afford it, keep your textbooks from within your major.  It’s very tempting to sell them back (less to lug AND extra money!!??), but they’re a great future reference.

Again, if this is a financial possibility, get a printer for yourself.  If you’re writing a paper at the last minute (not that I ever did that, *cough, cough*), those few minutes when you’d normally have to walk to the printer can make a big difference.

Officially, I’m going to tell you not to drink underage and to only drink in super classy ways when you are legal.  Unofficially, I’m going to tell you (A.) Do not get so drunk that you become a Spring Fling Bingo entry, and (B.) what Campus Safety tells you is true—always call them when you’re in trouble.  They will always deal with your problem first, and may not even prosecute the drinking (i.e., if you were the victim of a crime, they usually won’t add insult to injury).

Just in general, develop a good relationship with Campus Safety.  I understand and respect the sociocultural reasons that some people are wary of law enforcement, but Campus Safety is special.  Whether it’s petty theft or assault, they’ll always treat you with dignity and care.

The Writing Center and Center for Experience and Opportunity (CEO) are more useful than you can imagine.  Use them early and often!

I recommend the Urgent Care center at 826 Washington Road, Suite 110 (410-751-7480).  The Express Care center on Baltimore Road is also nice (and open later), but usually has a longer wait.  The Wellness Center is…  well…  you’ll see.  OH!  And the RiteAid has a 24/7 pharmacy. Prescriptions take a MINIMUM of two hours to fill, no matter where you go.

Denny’s is best after 10 p.m.

Doing laundry once a week is ideal, but that doesn’t always happen.  At a minimum, just count your underwear when you’re running low.  If it’s Friday and you only have five pairs left, do laundry that weekend so you don’t run out in the middle of the week.

If you live in a suite, MAKE A CLEANING SCHEDULE.  I promise no one will “just take care of it” when it needs to be done.

I think it’s true that you tend to meet your life-long friends in college, but they’re not always who you expect them to be.  Don’t panic if your friend group changes a few times.

Go to the Peep Show when it arrives near Easter.  No, it’s not what you think it is.

Safeway is kind of expensive (except for bottled water—they’re the cheapest for bottled water).  Check out Weis or Shoppers if you have a car, and Food Lion if you don’t.  Comparison shop!

It’s okay to say no to things.  For example, at the Involvement Fair (yes, go!), it’s okay to do a hard pass on clubs that don’t interest you, and your next line of defense is to get off that email list.  It feels awkward, I know, but as someone who used to curate a club email list, I can promise you it’s okay.  We know it’s nothing personal.

Peanut butter and saltines make a better snack than you might imagine.

Go to school-sponsored social events.  Even if they look stupid.  You can always leave if you hate it, but often they’ll surprise you!

This may be a little premature for freshman, but procrastinating on your senior capstone is like accepting a wedding invitation in Westeros.  It’s a truly horrible decision.  I recommend starting your “senior” capstone in at least your junior year.

In light of Robin William’s heartbreaking death, I want to address mental health.  Pretty much anything you feel during this transition is normal, and there are lots of people who can help.  The mental health side of the Wellness Center is pretty good, Campus Safety is very good, and both have someone on call 24/7.  You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255—it spells APE-TALK, if that helps you remember).  I recommend putting those numbers in your phone so you have them if you or a friend ever need them (and 410-857-0900 too, it’s the number for the local Rape Crisis Intervention Services).

There’s almost always a way to get what you want if you’re persistent enough.  That’s the magic of a small school—they have the flexibility to accommodate a lot.


I know it’s all probably very overwhelming right now, but college is AWESOME.  You’ll get into the swing of things and be loving it in no time.  In the meantime, call home, take a nap, and reach out for help.  There are all sorts of resources listed above, and here’s one more: me!  If there’s anything this alum can help you with, let me know.  Good luck, and enjoy it!


Emily K. Sanders
Class of 2014