By Mark Narusov
I’m not exactly the model 2A to give advice to newcoming students. I wasted hundreds of hours doing meaningless things, fell behind in important classes, gave in essays days after the deadline, let down a few peers having lightly given serious promises, and on top of that was not really enjoying my time in Reims. Or maybe that’s the kind of background that grants me the authority to advise the 1A’s on how to get the most out of Sciences Po — upon reflection, these unpleasant experiences gave me lessons and insights that you can get without the price I had to pay.
If I could summarize my message in two words, it would be “stay focused.” Nothing is more important than always remembering what exactly it is that you want to get out of your first year at Sciences Po. The freedom you find in the new environment, new people, the numerous opportunities and activities may well overwhelm you and distract from achieving what you want. It seems like an unnecessary piece of advice to give, but judging from mine and my friends’ experiences, it is quite easy to lose track of where you want to be in a year, socially, intellectually, and academically. It is really not that difficult to get drawn away by tempting distractions that will be, in retrospect, a source of regret.
Try setting priorities, and keep them at the back of your mind. Do you wish to develop a broad network of friends? Excel in studying? Be the go-to person on campus on certain topics? Not let go of your sports hobbies? Try combining a few of these? Before coming to Sciences Po, I did not imagine how easy it could be to stray from the path to your goals, especially if that path is not something you drew out clearly. You will not waste your time by reflecting on your first year prior to being consumed by endless responsibilities.
Picture the person you want to be in 9 months, and think about how your actions help you become that or, on the contrary, take you further away from your goals. One of the most motivational (and insightful) quotes I ever came across reads like this: “Someone once told me the definition of Hell: The last day you have on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.” It’s probably not that great to excessively obsess over your efficiency and self-actualization, but you should definitely care about which of your activities help you become what you wish to, and which don’t.
Control for burnout and do not take too much on yourself — the early period of boundless motivation can give way to apathy. I would advise against taking long-term commitments under the assumption that you are going to be as motivated and capable of work as in your first weeks in Reims. The risks are losing credibility among your friends and peers for not sticking to the commitments you had made. Becoming an active member of 4 associations or giving 3 presentations in one week may be too much to manage.
You may well make the decision to strongly prioritize some courses over others. It can turn out to be a great way to compensate for the breadth of the courses offered as part of your program, compared to those in other universities. However, you should not completely disregard the possibility that one can fall behind enough in a course to inevitably fail it. The core three are not unimportant, even if you don’t care that much about your 3A destination. It is usually worth it to keep your grades in these core three above 12 throughout the semester. Unless your emotional stability is on par with that of Spok in Star Trek, doing worse can be a source of stress that would actually impair your productivity in other areas that you naturally value more. Even though the chances that you fail a semester are pretty slim and the grading system is skewed in favor of those who fall behind, do not think that failing is impossible.
If you feel like you’re falling behind in a course, own up to it, and face the reality of the situation. Do not engage in escapism — the earlier you admit you have a problem with one of the courses, the more time you will have to catch up before the end of the semester. Try finishing the unpleasant before the exciting, otherwise your duties can pile up and become something you’d need a lot of willpower to deal with.
Oh, and don’t indulge in marijuana consumption, that thing is a ruthless motivation killer (I heard), you can always compensate with booze.
Don’t get distracted and good luck!