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Challenges at Princeton

January 31, 2022
Richard Ma

For a moment, I want to pivot away from all the great things I’ve experienced at Princeton (read about all of that here!) and share a little about some of my struggles.

My first year, academically, was a challenge. There were a lot of factors leading into this, whether it was dumb luck, adjusting to college life, or the transition from a small Midwestern public school to Princeton’s level of academic rigor. These challenges didn’t magically resolve themselves overnight. I’d feel like I solved them, only for them to resurface a few days or weeks or months later, always in different situations, but often with similar themes or trends. 

These recurrences, obviously, didn’t make me feel good. Every time I got a subpar grade, wrestled with my course load, or forced myself to go to office hours when it was cold and wintry outside, I didn’t do so with a good feeling. There’s always that question of how to juggle classes and other commitments with your other needs, whether it be physical, social or mental. 

Some lessons that I learned. Firstly, do seek out help. I tried too often, as the stubbornly independent person I am, to tough it out alone and figure things out. But Princeton itself does offer resources such as the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, or class-specific office hours and TAs. In working on my senior thesis, I’ve recently discovered the presence of a maps specialist at the Lewis Science Library, who might be able to help me superimpose maps of New York City overtime to figure out patterns of developing land. To paraphrase Dumbledore, there’s always help at Princeton for those who ask.

Beyond these academic aids, however, sometimes you just have to zoom out and take a larger view. 

Princeton challenges everyone, constantly, and for the most part, that means we are constantly growing - as students, as friends, as people. It can be really easy to be tough on yourself (as a Princeton student, but also as a person reading this blog applying to Princeton). It can be easy to think of one setback as a door permanently closed or to shoulder an immense burden and think it still isn’t heavy enough. But I think one of the biggest lessons I’m still learning at Princeton is to be true and gentle to myself - to believe in that process and allow things to work themselves out. 

The challenges, growing pains and learning opportunities at Princeton are limitless. It’s important to afford yourself that breath of fresh air between each one.