An Open Letter to My First-Year Self

A picture of me graduating from my summer program this past summer in DC

Well, here we are — my last blog. I passed this semester’s classes, my thesis has been graded, and I’ll officially be graduating in about a week. So, I’ve had about a week to do nothing but sit around and reflect on the last four years of my life, including the lessons that I’ve learned along the way. There are so many values and strategies that carried me through Yale, including some that I wish I’d adopted sooner. Since I can’t exactly send this letter into the past, I’ll settle for sharing some (unsolicited) advice with you.

Get Your Priorities Straight.

There’s always a million things to worry about at Yale. You’re trying to do well in classes, maintain a fulfilling social life, live a healthy lifestyle, participate in extracurriculars, and whatever else. There’s only so many hours in the day, and simultaneously thriving in all of these areas is pretty much impossible (in my personal experience). When you’re being pulled in so many directions, it’s crucial that you have your priorities in order, because something always has to give. These priorities can shift from year to year, even day to day. For the last year, I prioritized my thesis, social life, and wellbeing while taking a step back from extracurriculars. In my first year, I prioritized my social life and extracurriculars, focusing a bit less on my classes and far too little on my sleep (I do not recommend this particular balance). Your list of priorities will likely look different from time to time, and it will probably look different from mine. That’s perfectly fine — all that matters is that you have an idea of what’s important to you at any given time, and you make sure that you’re putting your energy in the right places for you.

A man looking frantic in front of a vision board, connecting papers and pictures with red string.
Meticulously crafting a balance every semester, making inevitable mistakes along the way

Keep Exploring.

They’ll tell you that your first year is all about exploration — and they’re not wrong. You should explore academic areas and social settings that push you out of your comfort zone. However, I’d challenge you to keep that same energy throughout your entire undergraduate experience. It’s natural to branch out in your first year, but once you get settled, it’s easy to get a little too comfortable in your college, your department, or your social circle. This year, I tried to spend time trying new restaurants, making new friends, and taking classes out of my comfort zone. Still, Yale is full of amazing classes, interesting people, and unique organizations, and I wish I had more time to spend exploring. I think we all feel that way in the end, so do your future self a favor and spend some time expanding your horizons.

Remember, Life Exists Outside of Yale.

There really is so much to do at Yale, but I’ll still urge you to keep things in perspective. First, Yale is just one part of a vibrant city, and New Haven has so much life and culture to offer you. Make sure you’re getting off campus, giving back to the city that you live in, and spending time being a good community member. Second, remember that you don’t have to live your life the way that you think a “good” Yale student does. As a mentor, I’ve had so many underclassmen come to me asking what a “good” extracurricular or summer internship looks like, and I’ll give you the same advice that I give them: do whatever it is that makes you happy. If you want to join a pre-law society and work as a White House intern in the summer, that’s great! However, if you want to join an on-campus comedy group and spend your summers at home with your friends and family, that is also a fantastic use of your time. You don’t have to be an ultra-organized, high-achieving go-getter all the time, even if you do go to a school like Yale. Finally, try to maintain your relationships outside of Yale. Call your high school friends, your parents, your siblings, your grandparents, and your old mentors. Let them know how you’re doing, see what’s going on in their lives. For me, my parents and little brother have acted as the grounding forces that kept me going through all of the highs and lows of the last four years.

A man on the phone, absentmindedly vacuuming his ceiling.
Me on the phone with my family every chance I get

All of this might seem to contradict my last piece of advice — I just told you to explore Yale as much as possible, and now I’m going to ask you to maintain a life outside of Yale. It’s a tough balance to strike, but if you remember my first piece of advice, you’ll also be a prioritizing pro. At the end of the day, I think all of this boils down to you (me?) living a life that is balanced and fulfilling. It’s easier said than done, but I believe in you.


JT Mullins ‘23