Working at the Harlem Children's Zone this summer changed the way I looked at education.

They talk a lot about the "Matthew Principle" there. The phrase references a parable from the apostle Matthew who said, "For to all those who have, more will be given...but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away."

With regards to education, the idea is that the larger your foundation in a subject, the easier it is to progress into more difficult material.

This principle guides the progression from introductory level class to advanced seminars in higher education. It makes sense: the stronger your foundation in a subject, the better your chance of doing well in future classes.

However, when you talk about the Matthew Principle, you are talking about something more profound.

For example, numerous studies show that high school students do worse on tests of cognitive ability after summer vacation than they do on equivalent tests the previous spring. The reason, of course, is that the kids are not reading and studying during the summer and so forget some of what they learned the previous year.

But what about kids who do read, study and work over the summer? One recent study from a pair of University of Wisconsin researchers shows that those kids do not forget nearly as much as their peers do.

In fact, the study shows that over three years, high school students who annually attended summer school were on average half a grade level above their peers who did not attend, an advantage that grew over the years of the study.

I have already written about the need to extend Bowdoin's pitifully short school year. That is not my purpose here. This column is a message to first years, who, being new to college, must decide who they are going to be over the next four years.

First years, if you decide that you are satisfied by your mere acceptance into the College and proceed to take the easy path, Bowdoin will not offer you the the enduring advantage that it could. The degree is nice, but it is just a piece of paper.

The real edge comes from working your butt off for four years under the guidance of some damn good educators.

The more work you do now and the more you learn, the better off you will be in the future. The real world is coming at you fast. At Bowdoin, you have the opportunity to cram a lot of information into your head, and thus to prepare for it when it hits.

So get cracking. If your course load looks light one semester, take a fifth class. If your professor recommends extra reading, do it.

Gobble it up. Do as much work as you can handle, because the more you learn now, the more you will be able to grasp later. If you do not pull at least one all-nighter each semester, you are not doing enough.

There is a time-honored remedy if all this work runs you down: coffee. Learn to love it. An "in-house" coffee at the Café is only a dollar and you can get as many free refills as you want. When you buy your coffee, remember to get your blue coffee card stamped. For every six coffees you buy, you get one free. Save up your fully stamped cards for when you need to buy regular, before-class coffees. Those are more expensive (and you don't get free refills). Try not to pay for them if you don't have to.

If you take my advice—at the Café and elsewhere—you will go a long way toward fully realizing your Bowdoin education.

Your future success depends not on your Bowdoin degree, but rather on your ability to outwork your coworkers. Now is your opportunity to get the upper hand on your competition. Do not waste it.

Sam Vitello is a member of the Class of 2013.