The Life of a Freshman

Remember when you were a freshman? Or perhaps you are one. Either way, odds are you’ve experienced dorm life, community building and the wrath of APPM exams. This semester, I interviewed about 40 freshmen students asking for their thoughts and experiences of freshmen year.  I also asked questions about out-of-state versus in-state experience, their participation in a RAP,  honors or other programs.

In-State versus Out-of-State Adjustments

Contrary to what one might think, in-state and out-of-state students both go through relatively similar fresh start experiences. When asked about a sense of community upon arrival, most freshmen said they didn’t know anyone going into their first year, and that making some new friends and connections was a must, regardless of where they were from.

The RAP Effect

Students residing in dorms that included a program, such as an honor society, residential academic program (RAP) or freshman interest group (FIG), said a “pre-built” community helped them adjust to college more quickly. These programs’ main goal is to do just that, assimilate first year students and get them actively involved with their studies and campus life as soon as possible.

In addition, students who participate in these programs responded well to their peers in their dorm, likely due to their similar interests and majors.

CU has observed the success of RAPs and Honors Programs, and seeks to implement similar groups by providing dorms grouped by certain interests. For example, Andrews Hall is home to the Engineering Honors Program, and Kittredge Central houses the Global Engineering RAP.

Decision to Go to CU

Student responses suggest Boulder’s location and reputation as a whole affected their decision to attend CU. With regard to the local geography, many students claimed that the beauty of the mountains and proximity to high-quality outdoor life definitely affected their decision to study at CU.  Along with the campus setting, many also claimed that CU’s ranking in their respective fields was a major factor in their decision to attend.

Academic Experience

In addition to residential life, first-year engineering students commonly go through similar academic experiences. Applied Mathematics (APPM) courses are taken by nearly every student, and nearly everyone has a strong opinion about their experience. Several students in fact responded to my question, “How are APPMs going so far?” with a terse “No.” It’s no surprise to hear about the various hardships faced by freshmen regarding the APPM exams. Some said it wasn’t too difficult as they took AP Calculus AB or similar courses in high school. However, most say the difficulties of the course compound as the semester goes on, with homework and assignments that increasingly test one’s stamina.

Some freshmen have decided to brave Calculus III in their first year. They commented that although they were happy getting ahead, they do sometimes regret their decision, since the course is particularly difficult.

Do you like the Engineering Center?

“It’s not the prettiest building, but the inside is full of good info.”

“It’s ugly on the outside, but the lounge areas are really nice and the help rooms inside (especially for APPM) are awesome.”

“I get LOST every time.”

“The Engineering Center is like Hogwarts in the sense that you don’t always know how you got lost but every now and then you get lost.”



Looking Back at Freshman Year

Upon reading some of the survey results, especially those reflecting the difficulty of APPM courses, I felt inclined to write a few words of advice for freshmen struggling with engineering courses.

To put it plain and simple, engineering is difficult. Even the most competent are bound to reach their limit at some point in their academic career. It ís inevitable.

As you continue with your studies, please try to keep these ideas in mind:

Give yourself time to struggle.

Professors assign difficult homework because it forces you to understand the fundamentals of a subject first before moving onto a more difficult topic. Many times I find myself rereading textbooks and working through example problems to better understand what I’m doing before tackling the homework problem itself.

Struggling is not a bad thing. It ís a necessary part of learning and growth, and is essential preparation for future learning and the demands of the workplace.

Do not compare yourself to others. Believe in yourself.

Everyone learns and works at a different pace. We are all built differently, and we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. Whatever your weakness might be, do keep in mind that improvement is always possible. It may require considerable time and focus, but the only thing that is stopping you from overcoming a challenge is you telling yourself you cannot do it.

Sacrifice is necessary.

In engineering school, your time is valuable. It ís important to realize that if you wish to succeed at something, it will require your time and effort. It ís impossible to do everything you want to, and you will find yourself having to cut out or trim down certain aspects of your previous life if you wish to achieve other long-term goals.

That being said, your current happiness and health are just as important. Don’t devote your life to studying, and don’t eliminate your passions. Try to find a balance where you can live in the present and work towards your future.


– Gabe Rodriguez

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