Welcome to Berklee! As an incoming Berklee freshman, there are a few things you should know. Take it from an eighth semester (that’s me!).
1. Wearing Your Lanyard Around Your Neck With Your ID Is A Dead Giveaway You’re A First Semester
Yes, it’s convenient since you need to scan into buildings. Yes, it’s easier to have your dorm key around your neck so you won’t lose it. Yes, it shows everyone on the street that you’re a Berklee student. I get wanting to brag about it! But you’ll notice that only a small section of students wear their lanyards around their neck… and that’s because upperclassmen stop doing it pretty quickly. If you want to wear it around your neck, no shade, but if you don’t want everyone to know you’re a freshman, you might want to start carrying your ID in a wallet and get a keychain.
2. You Can Order Your Books Ahead And Skip The Line At The Bookstore
The line to check out at the Berklee bookstore can get ridiculous when you’re trying to purchase books at the start of the semester. It’s smart to wait until you’ve been to class to buy your textbook in case your teacher tells you that you don’t need it. But buying textbooks when you have to wait in a line that gets so long it starts going down the stairs isn’t worth it. If you go on the Berklee bookstore website, you can buy your textbooks ahead of time and pick them up at the desk in the basement. It’ll save you so much time!
3. Your Health, Physical And Mental, Comes First
Your success at college depends on your ability to do your work, go to class, and actually pay attention. As much fun as it is to go out with friends every weekend and to stay up late into the night binge watching Netflix, and as much as the food in the caf sucks (yes, it seems alright now, but just you wait!), it’s important that you eat enough, drink enough water, and get enough sleep. Berklee kids tend to glorify getting as little sleep at night as possible, and that’s not a healthy mindset and definitely not a healthy habit. People brag about not sleeping, but in reality getting enough sleep is really important for your health and your sanity. Coffee can only fuel you so much. Turn off Criminal Minds and go to sleep, even if your roommate’s still up. Headphones and en eye mask are your best friends. Find what you can stomach at the caf and make sure you’re eating three meals a day, and try to get a least a few fruits and vegetables in every once in a while. And when you’re not downing caffeine to get through class, make sure you’re drinking enough water so your body can function!
4. Upperclassmen Might Poke Fun At You, But We Were You Once And We’ll Help You If You Ask
I’m going into my eighth semester and I have to admit that sometimes I roll my eyes at freshmen. But deep inside I know that I was exactly like you three years ago, and it’s honestly pretty nice to have people around who are excited to be at Berklee. The course load can run you ragged, unfortunately, and it’s refreshing to have people who aren’t jaded around to remind us that being a student at Berklee is actually pretty cool. And even though we might seem annoyed you’re around sometimes, especially when you stand in groups right in front of doors (please stop doing that, it’s very inconvenient), we’ll also be happy to help you if you need it. Ask me for directions and I’ll walk you to your class, even if it’ll make me late to mine. Ask me how to do something for Harmony and I’ll dig into my memory to figure out the answer. We were you once, and most of us are willing to be for you what upperclassmen were for us when we were freshmen.
5. If You’re Going To Party, You Need To Do It Responsibly
I’m not advocating underage drinking or any drug use, even if marijuana is technically legal in Massachusetts (not for you, since you’re almost certainly under 21). And I’m really really not condoning the use of drugs. Basically, in summary: you really shouldn’t do drugs or drink underage. But I’m not naive, and acting like every Berklee freshman is going to avoid beer and weed isn’t going to help anyone. If you decide to go to a party on the weekend, you need to be careful. Don’t drink something if you don’t know exactly what’s in it. Don’t do any drugs that someone gives you if you don’t know who they are and you don’t trust them completely. And if you don’t want to drink or do any drugs, don’t let anyone pressure you into doing them. Make sure you have at least one friend with you, make sure you have a safe way to get home, and make sure you have some sort of protection in case there’s a problem, like a personal alarm. Anything that happens to you at a party isn’t your fault, but you can take measures to prevent those things to reduce the likelihood. If you’re going to drink or do drugs, please do it responsibly.
6. Classes Really Are What You Make Of Them
I’m writing this having already finished ear training, harmony, and tonal harmony. I knew this as a Berklee freshman but I still wish it had been drilled into my head more. Take it from a senior: classes really are what you make of them. Whether you’re going into ear training thinking solfege is useless (like I did), or you’re going into your first songwriting class down the line and think you already know everything you’re going to be taught, take a second before your class starts to open your mind. If you go into a class not expecting to learn anything, you’re not going to get anything out of it. And if you just sit in the back of the class scrolling through Reddit, you’re not going to get as much out of your class as you would if you were asking questions and participating.
7. Don’t Only Take Classes In Your Major Or You Might Miss Out On Finding Something You’re Really Passionate About
I was really excited coming to Berklee to take my liberal arts classes, and classes in areas I’m not familiar with. You might, like many Berklee freshman, be dreading the liberal arts requirements. But you’ll find that some of your favorite classes at Berklee are the ones you didn’t think you’d like. My first semester, I came in with enough AP English credits that I was placed into art history. I was worried that remembering all the dates and titles and such was going to be hard, but I actually found that I had no trouble remembering everything because I just found it so interesting. I went on to use one of my liberal arts electives to take another art history class. More than that, don’t be afraid to use your music electives to take classes outside your major. If you end up being an MP&E major, take a songwriting class to learn more about how the songs you’re producing were written. Or maybe if you’re a jazz composition major it’ll be worth it for you to take a class on production so you can make demos for your songs. Take classes you’re interested in, even if they’re not required. You might find something you’re passionate about, or just learn something you can apply to your major you wouldn’t know otherwise!
8. Balance Your Schedule With Music Classes And Liberal Arts Classes Every Semester
As a Berklee freshman, your schedule is picked for you in your first semester. Which, yes, kind of sucks. But going forward, you will get to make your own schedule. It may be tempting to load up on all your music classes, and you really should take your core music classes like ear training and harmony one semester after another until you’re done so you get them out of the way and you don’t forget things between courses. But just because you have a lot of music classes you need to take, doesn’t mean you should take them all at once. For the first few semesters you’ll probably have to take a harmony class, an ear training class, an ensemble, and a private lesson. Use at least some of the credits you have left to take liberal arts credits so you’re not always doing music. And this way when you get to later semesters you don’t get stuck with a semester full of liberal arts classes and very little music. Your future self will thank you for balancing it out!
9. No One’s Judging You Like You Think They Are, And You Don’t Have To Try To Fit In
As a Berklee freshman, you’ll quickly learn that our student body is extremely diverse in so many different ways. Age, gender identity, nationality, race, financial status, religion… everyone you meet has a different background and it’s important to recognize this and be respectful of it. We have problems with racism and sexism at Berklee, and you as a part of the new class of freshman is going to be a big part of changing that. But something important to know is that everyone at Berklee is doing their own thing, and you should do your own thing, too. Berklee is a surprisingly supportive and collaborative community. Work hard at what you do, support the people around you and what they’re doing, and you’ll get respect as a musician. Also, you don’t have to be a part of the jazz scene to fit in. You don’t have to be ashamed if your favorite artist is Taylor Swift or if you want to sing top 40. You’ll find a place here as long as you’re being yourself and you support the people around you.
10. Berklee’s Not For Everyone, And That’s Okay.
As a Berklee freshman, everything seems really exciting and amazing and you might wonder why anyone would want to leave. The thing is, the further you get into your first semester here the more you’ll realize that classes at Berklee require a lot of hard work. If you don’t really love music, this can burn you out really quickly. And it can burn you out if you do really love music, too. You’ll also realize we take more classes than most colleges. Where most college students have 3 or 4 courses at a time, it’s not unusual for a Berklee student to have 6-8 or even more at any given time. While we spend 16 or so hours in class, taking 8 courses, students at other classes spend 14 hours in class taking 4 courses (at least, that’s what my friend at Brandeis University reports). But there’s a big difference in 4 courses and 8, though both probably give the same amount of work. Even if you can handle the schedule, living in the city away from your family can be pretty hard, and the community here while supportive isn’t for everyone. Not everyone who starts Berklee finishes Berklee, and that’s okay. That said, if this is the right place for you, you’ll know pretty quickly and it’s a pretty awesome community to belong to!
Let me know in the comments if you found any of these tips useful! Or if you’re an upperclassman and have other tips, leave them in the comments to help out the freshmen!
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Hello! I'm a cat-obsessed, songwriting major in my eighth semester at Berklee. I got into writing early, and I actually am minoring in creative writing. While I'm originally from a suburb of Chicago, I spend almost all of my time in Boston. When not writing for Society 19 or doing reading for my music history class, I like to listen true crime podcasts and/or drink too much coffee.