From an Orientation Aide: Academics come first, but they aren’t everything

My experience as an Orientation Aide broke down primarily to advice-giving and situating new students to a whole new world: college. One student from my hall asked me how to start off freshman year correctly. I was taken aback — I didn’t even know where to begin. As I thought about an answer, I began to reminisce about the first few months of freshman year, and seemingly distant, faded memories suddenly flared as if it all happened yesterday.

The transition to college can be daunting. My most vivid memory from freshman year was hanging with one of my best friends. What began as a very casual chat turned quickly into a more serious — and even personal — conversation. She told me, “I feel like a bird in a cage with its doors open, and I’m afraid of flying out.” This caught me off guard as, like before, I didn’t know how to respond. I simply nodded and bluntly told her to muster some courage to fly out.

A year later, I was stuck with basically the same question. A second chance to truly answer it: Take a leap of faith and fly out of the cage. More specifically, do not be afraid to try new things. That’s what transitioning into college is all about: meeting new friends, taking on a number of extracurricular activities, and enrolling in a whole array of courses. That is the beauty of liberal arts.

The next step in the college transition occurs when the weeks start to slow down, and classes become more regular after the add/drop period. Then, there is less time for exploring, and more time is spent focusing on what’s important. I urge you to prioritize: Academics always come first. Most of you are paying somewhere between $14,000 to $25,000 for tuition alone, on top of room and board, books, dining services, parking fees and more. Focus on completing the assignments and projects on time. Study well and hard for the exams. It’s crucial to remember that college is an ongoing investment in your future.

That said, look into exploring the various extracurricular activities here. But I caution you: Choose wisely the ones to which you are willing to commit. It’s the beginning of the year, filled with promises and a renewed outlook. We all look forward to new opportunities, and are excited to seize them. It’s tempting to try your hand at everything. When you read Student Happenings, your eyes will widen at the numerous opportunities this campus has to offer. Allow the first few weeks for exploration, and narrow your list down by the third week.

Above all else, you are part of something larger than yourself. The College of William and Mary carries with it centuries of tradition, and with that predecessors who once walked on the same campus on which you are now walking. You will become an inspiration to as many people as inspire you. But don’t worry about living up to history — do whatever it is you need to have a fulfilling experience at the College.

Email  Benming Zhang at



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