How to Survive Your First Semester at Rochester, Pt. 1

*In the voice of Bear Grylls*

From figuring out which roommate gets which bed to figuring out where to study. From scheduling your classes to getting to class most efficiently when you wake up late. From making it safely back home after a long night out to making the closest friends you’ll ever have. I’m going to teach you how to survive your first 200 days at Rochester.

*Enter cliche montage, and even more cliche ’70s rock song*

This is what I look like in real life thirteen years ago.

This is what I look like in real life … thirteen years ago.

But first, a little about me since this is my first post (I’ll keep it somewhat short):

I’m originally from Seattle, Washington. No, it doesn’t rain “all the time”—just like half the year. Yes, I drink an inappropriate amount of coffee. Don’t tell my mom.

Obligatory explanation of why I came to Rochester:

  1. The absence of typical general study requirements, along with the unique opportunities to be involved in research (even as a freshman).
  2. I couldn’t resist attending a rigorous, high-caliber university that is genuinely committed to my success and seeks to a(meliora)te my character, outlook, and skills.
  3. I wanted my professors to actually know my name and I didn’t want to be Student #6003 to administration.
  4. Food quality: Even though it’s number four on the list, it’s number one in my heart. UR has great food.
  5. The Eastman School of Music (I am a classical/jazz pianist—I also like to jam,  so if you’re a musician, feel free to contact me).
  6. Jonathan Burdick. If you don’t know him, shame on you. He signed your acceptance letter.

I am double-majoring in data science (BS) and economics (BA) with honors (by the time you’ve finished reading that sentence, I’ve probably changed my major).

I’m a Students’ Association Government Senator, a member of the Symphony Orchestra, a member of the Undergraduate Data Science Council, a facilitator for Men Opposing Violence Everywhere, a contributing writer for two newspapers, and a Founding Father of Beta Theta Pi.

(No, I don’t sleep.)

My favorite color is black.

Sorry, I lied, this wasn’t somewhat short. But, I’m done obsessing about myself, so we can get to the real stuff now.

How to Survive Your First Semester at Rochester, Pt.1
(by Nicholas Pierce, PhD in Life)

If you’re reading this, you are probably a newly-admitted student, parent, or matriculated student who is procrastinating on their chemistry lab. While this is mostly aimed at newly-admitted students, already-matriculated students, please scrutinize/fact-check it.  Parents: remember, once your child matriculates, they’re a college student. While you should be incredibly proud of your child for getting into such a prestigious and rigorous university, this is more likely than not your child’s first time being completely independent. So, I intend to offer some practical and useful advice for those who are beginning the first steps of their collegiate journey.

Disclaimer: This is no way a comprehensive guide nor am I guaranteeing that my advice is applicable to/useful for everyone, so I’ll try to keep it very general. Alright kids, sit down and listen.

*Resume voice of Bear Grylls*

1. Finding and selecting a roommate

  • Join the Class of 2020 Facebook group. You’ll meet lots of newly admitted students there and you may find a potential roommate from this group. It generally isn’t a good idea to pick your roommate solely using the information provided in the group. Have a few genuine conversations with the potential candidate(s) first.
  • Fill out your housing application. You’ll receive your enrolled student packet in May from Admissions. You and your hopefully future roommate both have to request each other on your application. Complete all your required forms as soon as possible. If you don’t have these forms in on time, you may lose the possibility of selecting a roommate and will be assigned to one or two other students.
  • Be open to the idea of being randomly paired with a roommate—it could work out for the best. Residential Life tries their best to honor mutual requests if possible but can’t guarantee you’ll get paired with your requested roommate.
  • Be open and reasonable about what you expect from your roommate(s). Remember, you won’t be the only person living in the room. You will have to compromise on some things.

 2. Meeting new people

  • Stay calm. I love meeting new people, but the thought of actually meeting them makes me very anxious. We all fear messing up and leaving a bad first impression. Pro-tip: RELAX. It’s much easier said than done, but remaining relaxed, affable, and genuine is a very effective way to leave a solid impression.
  • Forget your preconceived notions. The “freshman experience” is full of delusions of grandeur. We all have had and still have our preconceived notions of what the first year of college is supposed to look like. When our perceptions and reality don’t align, it can be overwhelming, disappointing, or confusing. Fortunately, reality is often far better than your preconceptions.
  • Every person you meet won’t be your best friend. Hopefully you learned this in high school. On the flip side, you will never run out of new people to meet.

    Sometimes your friend niche has the attorney-at-law aesthetic.

  • Most freshman you meet will just have graduated high school four to five months prior. It takes a lot of time to adapt, so don’t try to force your friendships into something meaningful. This was probably the hardest thing for me first semester.
  • You will find your niche of friends. This may happen instantly or take a lot of time. I learned this from Christian Keenan, my good friend and RA (refer to photo): it’s practically inevitable that you will find the right group of people for you. Just keep working at it and remember—you’re never alone.

3. Classes and majors

I’ll spare you the explanation of the logistics of clusters, majors, and class registration—you’ll hear plenty about it all during your first month.

Tips for majors:

  • You don’t need to know nor should you be ashamed of not knowing what you want to major in; it’s totally okay to be undecided. While I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to pursue, I went from being an economics/polital science major to econ/math to math/data science to stats/data science and finally to econ/data science. Basically, it’s good to try different things and see what works for you. That’s a huge part of freshman year. Just because you don’t know what you want to major in at the end of your high school year doesn’t mean you’re screwed for life.
  • Visit department websites if you want to get an idea of a major. All websites have major requirements and incredibly useful resources. You will want to know what you’re getting into.
  • Try to take classes you actually like or in fields you never thought to explore (you’ll be required to anyway because #clusters). You will have ample time to complete your major, so don’t freak out.

Tips for classes:

  • COMPLETE ALL NECESSARY FORMS AND PAY ANY FEES PRIOR TO REGISTRATION. This is probably the biggest deterrent to getting into your desired classes.
  • Don’t fear talking to your financial aid counselor or anyone in Admissions. They’re all pretty chill.
  • Think about your classes in advance. Regardless of whether you know what you want to major in, this is a good idea. It will give you ample leeway to make adjustments where desired.
  • Think of your college classes as investments rather than requirements. Having this mindset will set yourself up for success in your classes. College is an investment and so logic follows that your classes are an investment. You have to commit yourself to them, even if they’re just required prerequisites.
  • Schedule wisely. If you know that you learn best in the afternoon, aim for classes later in the day. If you have classes that overlap with club/athletic activities, make adjustments where necessary (just remember that classes are paramount).
  • Never fear dropping a class if you don’t think you’ll be successful. Freshman year is a great time to screw up; it’s all trial and error. You may take classes that are too difficult or require extensive prior preparation. You might register for a class that may seem interesting but realize it just isn’t working out. Don’t fear making reasonable adjustments, but do it before the add/drop period.
  • If you wake up late for a class, still go. It’s better to get some information than miss out completely. That being said, it’s usually most efficient to take “diagonals” across quads and cut through buildings and use the tunnel system.
  • PRO-TIP: Do your homework far in advance. It’s always way better to stay ahead of the curve than behind it.

 4. Getting involved and employment

  • Any student here has the ability to have a strong impact on this campus. There are over 200 clubs and organizations to join. 90% of the student population is involved in some type of club or extracurricular activity.

    Or you can just do this—it technically counts. #whereisthelie

  • Campus Community Connection (CCC) is a godsend—use it to explore clubs and research organizations to be involved in. I slept through the activities fair (#jetlag) and still found ample information on the CCC.
  • Don’t overdo it on extracurriculars.  I believe balancing extracurriculars and your classes is a skill.  Being involved is incredibly important, but you never want to compromise your ability to do well in your classes. Likewise, you also don’t want to compromise your personal health, so make sure you look after that, too.
  • You don’t need to stick with an organization for an entire year. While it may be difficult to join a new organization in the middle of the semester, you don’t want to stick with something you’re not interested in or don’t enjoy (even if you’ve invested a lot into it #sunkcostfallacy).
  • Anyone can find a job on campus. It does get more difficult toward the middle of the semester, but there are usually job openings somewhere on campus. Prepare to be flexible. Use JobLink to search for job openings.
  • Pro-tip: Try to find a job where you can work and study (more literally, a work-study job). You’ll be able to get that cash flow and hit the books too. It’s a win/win situation.

 5. College life (yes, this includes parties)

  • The University puts on numerous celebratory events throughout the year, from Meliora Weekend to Dandelion Day. THEY ARE FANTASTIC. Go to events, have fun, and meet new people. You will never fail to be surprised.
  • Night life can be difficult for some. You may feel that your options are very polarized at first: either you stay in your dorm or you go to a party on the fraternity quad.  If partying isn’t your thing, that is okay. As time goes by, you’ll be able to participate in numerous weekend/night life activities aside from partying.

    This is a stupid idea. The myth is that walking under the Clock Tower brings bad luck. #riskystuff

  • If partying is your thing, that is okay too. Bring a friend or group of friends with you. Be smart. Pro-tip: Charge your phone beforehand. In case you are unable to get home safely, you can call for a taxi, Public Safety, or a friend to pick you up.

Life in general: College does get incredibly difficult, academically, socially, mentally, and emotionally. You will have those classes you don’t do well in. You will be challenged and stretched pretty far. You will gain and lose friends. You may feel lonely or depressed. I’ve felt the impact of these things very intensely, so I can definitely empathize. Nearly everyone experiences these things, so just know you are certainly not alone. Some tips:

  • Never forget that you are at the University of Rochester. It’s a difficult school to get into and is very rigorous. Regardless of your skills and abilities, you will be challenged academically. Just because you’re not doing well in tough classes doesn’t mean you aren’t intelligent or don’t deserve to be here.
  • GPA isn’t everything. It’s important to do well in your classes, but this isn’t high school. Good grades are even harder to get here. But, if you invest in your classes, it’s generally pretty difficult to fail.
  • You don’t need to be the best at what you do. You will quickly learn that while admissions was very competitive, the students here aren’t. Everyone wants to help to make each other ever better (boom, #meliora), and you don’t need to obsess over your weaknesses or incessantly compare yourself.


  • Whatever you experience socially will inevitably help you grow. It’s hard to see at first, but in the long view, you’ll develop incredibly valuable social and communication skills (#emotionalintelligence).
  • Don’t fear stepping out of your boundaries. Don’t use your comfort zone as an excuse to not meet different people. Rochester is a huge melting pot. Don’t hesitate to indulge (especially in the food).
  • It’s okay to utilize University Health Service when you’re feeling down and out. If you need to see a counselor, do it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking care of yourself. In fact, it wouldn’t be smart not to. You got into Rochester, which means you’re smart. So be smart.
  • Maintain a schedule. It’s a good habit to get into and you’ll need it when things begin to stack up near finals.
  • Be optimistic. That’s really the best mindset to have when approaching any difficult task or situation in life.

Okay, I’m going to conclude Part 1 here. Few blogs should get to be this long, but I wanted to give some nice, thorough advice. I’ll write a second part toward the end of the semester, but for right now, I hope what I provided was useful, reasonable, and insightful. If you have any questions, comments, feedback, political statements, jokes, or anything else, please feel free to contact me. I enjoy talking to people about Rochester and life in general, so it would definitely be nice to hear from you!

Welcome to the University of Rochester! 

About the author

Nicholas Pierce

I am an undergraduate currently studying Data Science (BS) and Economics (Honors BA) at the University of Rochester. My academic interests are financial economics and political economy; government and business law; and data-driven economic policy analysis.

I am a member of the Students' Association Government Senate, Men Opposing Violence Everywhere, the Undergraduate Data Science Council, a Financial Aid Ambassador, the Symphony Orchestra, a contributing writer for the Campus Times, and a Founding Father of Beta Theta Pi.

I am originally from Seattle, Washington.


Leave a comment
  • This is quite possibly the most useful advice I’ve come across in regards to college. Nicholas Pierce, thank you ever so much for writing this, not only because it’s solid advice in an organized format, but also because it genuinely made me laugh. I love lists and parenthetical jokes, and this was just perfect. I’m ridiculously excited to have been accepted at University of Rochester, and my enthusiasm is only growing!

    • Thank you so much, Bex! It’s really nice to come across another person who loves lists and parenthetical jokes! I am incredibly happy that you enjoyed this article and found it useful. Congratulations on getting into and welcome to the University of Rochester! Feel free to message me on Facebook if you have any questions or comments!

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