The Icarus

How Not to Spend Your First Semester as a CS Student

 · 3 min read

As a service to the incoming freshman class, I’ve decided to provide a list of five things not to do during your first few semesters (which I’ve unearthed through many post-mortems of my own experiences). There are often greater insights to be found from self-proclaimed failures than from people who have proclaimed success.

1. (Don’t) Procrastinate.

In a world teeming with things to do and things to learn, procrastination seems to be the leading cause of death for unmet goals and ambitions. Preventing these unmet goals from festering into self-hate and regret is crucial. One antidote is to identify procrastination as a set of unwanted behaviors that you perform when you don’t want to do something. Make it harder to do these unwanted behaviors and make it easier to start the given task.

A great example of this is how my friend Tim handled, what might be, a familiar situation to some of you. It was a few days before a final exam and Tim was struggling to sit down and get his cram session started. Every time he started reading chapters from the textbook, he ruefully succumbed to his phone which was constantly buzzing with notifications and messages from his friends. Unsure of what to do, he contacted me and we brainstormed solutions. Here’s what he ended up doing: Tim put his phone on airplane mode, his phone’s case on backwards, and put it in his backpack. Then he decided that he’d focus on studying for the next 5 minutes. I didn’t hear from him until the next day, when he told me he ended up studying for 3 hours.

2. (Don’t) Cling to high school.

Someone who filled out the freshman intake survey listed this as one of their worries. Whatever you did in high school is inconsequential to what you can do with the opportunities you have newly gained. You’ll come to regret the baggage you carry over from high school. Whether you miss the “good ol’ days” or regret your past decisions, move forward with a clean slate. Make it your goal to leave college as a better person.

3. (Don’t) Stay in your shell.

To the many of you who are anxious about this new environment, it’s okay to be a bit nervous and overwhelmed. Due to the current circumstances, I imagine it seems like it’s harder to make new connections and find enrichment from the cohort. If all of you stay in your shell, that’ll likely be the case. If you’re reading this, be the person who breaks the mold. Contribute to discussions or ongoing projects, pitch your ideas and get involved in the community. Our community and your cohort’s experiences depend on it. This is one of many great mistakes I made during my time at Hunter.

4. (Don’t) Do nothing.

Spend your time doing something, especially if it has nothing to do with CS. Join a club, create a club, pick up a new hobby, investigate other majors, learn about non-STEM fields, debate with others, question preconceptions or experience failure. Intellectual freedom is a terrible thing to waste. If you’ve ever had an inclination for another field or subject, there is nothing stopping you now from exploring deeper. The great benefit of studying CS is its wide usefulness in dealing with all sorts of different problems. In addition, combining this knowledge with other fields can lead to interesting and often lucrative careers. Your new freedom is a gift, don’t waste it.

5. (Don’t) Worry.

Our lives, legacies and problems are all transient. We often worry too much about seemingly small things. We worry about failure. We worry about maintaining success. We worry about fitting in. We worry about what everyone else is doing. We worry about living and we worry about dying. These worries often weigh us down and deplete our motivation and focus.

The single biggest regret I have is not failing more often. It’s alright if you fail. Better now than years later when the stakes are higher. Failures, especially if they are your own, can be our greatest teachers. Failure is what inspired me to write this. If I can guide a few of you along more productive or even happier paths, then my early failures were well worth the trouble.