For Freshmen. By Freshmen.
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Oct 09 2017
by Cassidy Jackson

How to Be A Rockin' Peer Advisor At Northwestern University

By Cassidy Jackson - Oct 09 2017

Two weeks ago, I became official college fresh meat, and I mean, I was the definition of fresh meat! I locked myself out of my dorm two times a day for a week straight. I fell down the stairs once. I'm pretty sure I had the word "scared" plastered to my forehead and seeping from my eyeballs. Basically, I was a mess. A freshman mess, to be exact. Yet like angels swooping in, my peer advisors (shout out to Nadine and Hayley) taught me the way, made me realize I'm not alone and saved me from further embarrassment. Now, I'm happily able to say that I know my way around Northwestern without looking at a map, I've (mostly) ripped off the word "scared" from my forehead (frat boys will forever scare me) AND I successfully gave two people directions. I think I've gained my Northwestern badge, if I do say so myself. After seeing how impactful the peer advisor program is, I decided to interview five PAs here at Northwestern about advice they'd give to future PAs.

But first....what is a PA?

According to Northwestern’s website, peer advisers (PAs) “serve as mentors for all of our incoming undergraduate students by communicating with new students, leading intentional dialogues, sharing expectations we have of our community members, recognizing and sharing resources and supporting students beginning in the summer through the end of the first year at Northwestern.”

Got it? Get it? Good!

Why YOU should apply to be one!

“If you’re a PA, you help students along their way, but at the end of the day, you’ll become a better person out of it [...].”
-Hayley Hartnett, senior, psychology and economics major with minor in German

“[You feel] like you’re making [...] [a] difference in a person’s life, helping their transition be even a tiny fraction better. [...] Being a PA [...] has made me a better communicator in a way and better able to connect with people on that sort of human to human let’s talk about real things type of level, which is something that I felt like I started to kind of lose in my first year [at Northwestern].”
-Molly Lazar, sophomore, civil engineering major

Breaking down the application process:

"Northwestern's PA application process includes four personal short essays, a 30-60 second video and a round of in-person interviews (if you make it that far). With that being said, it's super easy to fall into the trap of misrepresenting yourself . The main example being over-exaggerating your personality in an attempt to seem like the stereotypical super happy and extroverted PA. Yet, the truth is, the application reviewers will see right through that. Be YOU! Not to be cliche but, like Anthony Rapp said 'There is only one you for all time. Fearlessly be yourself.' The staff that chooses the PAs doesn't want 200 of the same sort of PAs. Be you. Be unique. Be confident."

-Nadine Daher, sophomore Journalism major

Characteristics of an awesome PA: "An undying spirit to help others." 

"When you sign up to be a PA, you're essentially signing up to be both a mom and a friend to little freshmen, so being selfless is necessary. During my freshmen orientation, I looked at my PAs as my assigned helper. They reminded my peer group and I about when and where to be, offered up hugs, helped us through the tough transition, offered to grab us breakfast and answered our bajillion questions. Honestly, I don't know how they didn't just start to ignore our millions of questions at one point. But truly, they helped without expecting anything in return! So, ask yourself 'am I selfless?'"

-Hayley Hartnett, senior Psychology and Economics major with minor in German

Cultivating friendship:

"Chopping away at the surface is crucial to cultivating friendships with your PA students. Walking into it, an age gap and an experience gap exists between you and your PA group, so it's so easy for your group to view you as their superior. Making sure to straight up say 'I'm your peer' can really aid in the process of cutting away at the superficial differences that seem so apparent at the start."

-Molly Lazar, sophomore, civil engineering major

Effective leadership:

"Walking around spewing perfection is the opposite of a perfect PA, as it dehumanizes you completely. So, admitting that you've screwed up in the past, such as sharing with your group that you've dropped a class or that you've failed a class before, humanizes you. People will want to follow your lead when they see a part of themselves in you. Share the tough parts of your time in college. Share the highlights. But don't share one and not the other."

-Matt Casler, sophomore, journalism and political science major

It's not going to be perfect:

"Going into being a PA, it's inevitable that you'll have expectations. You'll want and expect your PA group to mesh perfectly. You'll have high hopes that you'll walk away with lasting friendships, but that's the ideal picture not the guaranteed turnout. Your group might not mesh. And for sure, not everything about your PA group will be perfect. Know that as a PA, you're not expected to be perfect. You're expected to be whatever your PA group needs you to be, whether that's their main support system or just the guy/girl that tells them where to be and at what time. Either way, it's OK!"

-Kevin Cox, sophomore, chemical engineering major

What to remember if you apply and don’t get it:

"Sometimes no matter how bad you want it, it just doesn't happen. It's not a reflection on you as a person, and you're not anything less if you don't get the position. Look at it as a challenge and just give it another shot next year."

- Molly Lazar, sophomore, civil engineering major

Honestly, freshmen orientation made me psyched to apply to be a PA leader myself. These tips will help me through the process, and hopefully help you, too!

Lead Image Credit: Unsplash

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Cassidy Jackson - Northwestern University

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