When my entourage dropped me off, I cried. The minute we got on campus, I was struck by the beauty, but I had a ball of fear in the pit of my stomach. I wasn’t so sure I could do it anymore. It seemed all too real. My dad encouraged me and I stepped out of the SUV with still-watery eyes, but a determination to put my best foot forward and work hard. Upon signing in, the counselors, current Northwestern students, were so nice that I immediately felt at ease. What’s more, after moving my things into my room and saying goodbye to my people, I decided to stop being a scaredy-cat and go to meet some of the other students. It was great; everyone was so nice and seemed genuinely excited to be there.

The introduction weekend was fun, and I loved getting to know who I would be spending the next five weeks of my summer with. In fact, because we had just spent 48 hours together nonstop, I felt extremely comfortable with the people around me. But, very soon, the serious stuff came too. After completing placement exams and beginning the classes I would be taking during the program, the next five weeks were tough academically to say the least. So many times, I questioned if I was good enough or smart enough, and I marveled at the ease and the grace with which my peers faced the difficult science and math classes we were taking. It wasn’t until later that I realized it was tough for everyone, but in different ways.

Though difficult, it was an invaluable experience. I learned what it meant to successfully manage my time (which I am still learning), to complete the work of a full university course load and still find a way to enjoy life. I learned what to expect from classes, how to approach professors and TAs, and how to figure out what worked for me in terms of learning. I made some amazing friends, many of which are still among my closest today, and gained a community that was so important during my time at Northwestern. I got onto campus early, learned my way around, and connected with awesome faculty, staff, and alumni, all before Wildcat Welcome (Northwestern’s new student orientation week) even started. And I got to have fun and see what Evanston and Chicago had to offer, both at the events held by my program and by exploring on my own.

Participating in a summer pre-orientation program (like Bio/ChemEXCEL, the one I did) is a great way to get your feet wet before jumping into Northwestern. Each is different and there are enough to find one that fits you and your interests. I would definitely encourage incoming students to consider a summer pre-orientation program. Even though you’ll have a great experience no matter what you choose to do, as someone who has gone through one, I can attest to it as a strategic and beneficial choice in my Northwestern career.

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