Foster Goldberg, ’18, stands outside of the Pi Kappa Alpha chapter house. Goldburg said the hardest part about adjusting to Lehigh is time management. (Carly Nyman/B&W staff)

First-year students reflect on initial year at Lehigh

Alexandra Whitehouse, '17, shares her experience of being a first year at Lehigh. As the spring semester draws to a close, this marks the end of some students' first year at Lehigh. (Chester Toye/B&W photo)

Alexandra Whitehouse, ’18, shares her experience of being a first year at Lehigh. As the spring semester draws to a close, this marks the end of some students’ first year at Lehigh. (Chester Toye/B&W photo)

As the academic year wraps up and another class moves forward in its college career, students from the Class 2018 are taking time to reflect on the past two semesters.

“I hope that students are taking the time to reflect back on their year,” said Allison Ragon, the assistant dean of students and director of First-Year Experience. “What they learned about themselves, about their interests, about working and living with others… It’s a time of great change and growth and if a student doesn’t stop to think about all they have done and learned, they could overlook their growth or minimize their experiences.”

Hearing advice from parents or friends doesn’t necessarily prepare a student to have his or her own unique experience. One aspect of college that many first-year students struggle with is new-found freedom. Often, for the first time, students seem to have more free time than anything else on their schedule and no one is keeping up with if they are managing academics, extra-curricular activities and a social life.

Alexandra Whitehouse, ’18, who attended boarding school before Lehigh, said she had some trouble adjusting from classes six days a week to only a few hours a day.

“Unlike my boarding school, if you don’t show up to class, no one will know,” Whitehouse said. “My class size went from 12 to 14 kids in a discussion-based setting to over 150 where we are just lectured at and class participation doesn’t matter. At the beginning of the year, I still had that mentality ingrained in me to go to school but now it’s harder to motivate myself.”

Student athlete Kirstin Godau, ’18, expected to struggle with time management between tennis practice, academics and a social life, but she was surprised to find out she also had a lot more free time than anticipated.

“My transition into college was easy,” Godau said. “I like being independent and doing my own thing. It was so much freedom like choosing what you want to do with your free time.”

Foster Goldberg, ’18, whose parents are Lehigh alumni, also agreed that the most difficult part of the first year in college is figuring out how to manage all of the free time. Without reminders from parents to get work done and a more flexible schedule, Goldberg said it is important to do homework in a timely manner and not put off everything until the last minute.

In the spring of 2014, it was recorded that 42 percent of Lehigh undergraduates were involved in Greek life, according to a Fraternity and Sorority Trend Analysis. Greek life plays a large role at Lehigh, and since most new members join a chapter during their second semester, the first year of college also has some social implications.

Coming to Lehigh, Whitehouse had an older brother who was in a fraternity. Although he always talked about Greek life, she thought he was probably exaggerating. She said she didn’t know if it was for her and it wasn’t even a part of her initial college search. When she realized what a big part of the culture Greek life was, she decided to join.

“When I came here, I thought you could still go out and meet people outside of Greek life but it is definitely harder to do than I thought,” Whitehouse said.

Goldberg agreed that he didn’t think Greek life would dominate the social scene as much as it appears to. However, he joined a fraternity and said that the process of rushing is difficult because it’s tough to decide which chapter is the right fit and whether or not to remain close with friends from first semester.

Godau took a different social route at Lehigh, as she is part of the women’s tennis team. She said that dealing with academics and sports is fairly easy.

“That third component of socializing is difficult because you don’t have as much free time as everyone else so you don’t have an opportunity to hang out all day in your dorm, which makes it harder to reach out to girls outside of the team,” Godau said.

However, Godau said she has formed a lot of close friendships with her teammates. Godau said the first few days of being on the team were daunting because everyone else was so accustomed to competing at the college level and as a first-year student, you have to adjust.

Freshman Kirstin Godau returns the ball in a match against Navy on Sunday, March 29th, 2015. Godau said she has formed many close friendships with her teammates during her first year at Lehigh. (Toni Isreal/B&W photo)

Freshman Kirstin Godau returns the ball in a match against Navy on Sunday, March 29th, 2015. Godau said she has formed many close friendships with her teammates during her first year at Lehigh. (Toni Isreal/B&W photo)

She said the team’s first tournament was a weekend-long event off campus, which was intimidating. She said it was evident, though, that the team was much closer after that weekend. She also noted that the older tennis players have acted as mentors for the freshmen, by aiding them in registration and giving them useful tips. She said she felt like she was a step ahead of most other students in her class because she didn’t have to learn from the mistakes she may have made.

During the first year of college, students meet a lot of new faces but may not always find the right social circle for themselves.

“I talk with a great deal of first-year students who are still trying to find their friend base or connect with students who share their values, but they may not always believe me that lots of students are still trying to find their place at Lehigh during the first year,” Ragon said.

Looking back, both Whitehouse and Godau recalled the Lehigh-Lafayette game as their favorite memory of the year. Whitehouse said one of the reasons she decided to apply to Lehigh was because she visited during Lehigh-Lafayette and had a lot of fun. She added that it was cool to experience the rivalry at Yankee Stadium during her first year of college.

Goldberg said meeting other students  and getting to enjoy a broader scope of people outside the high school setting has been his favorite part of Lehigh.

When looking ahead to their careers at Lehigh, these first-year students said they are excited to get into higher-level classes that are more tailored toward their majors, instead of large lecture hall pre-requisites.

“Everyone says get involved,” Whitehouse said. “But really you just should go out of your way to meet people, do things you don’t normally do and sit next to someone you don’t know.”

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