Hailing from the Midwest, UCLA was as foreign to me as California’s year-round summer weather and the 405 traffic. Desperate for any anchor of familiarity during my first quarter, I let my extrovert tendencies run wild in my race to establish my place on this campus and reaped more dead ends than I did connections.
This race, so to speak, is the process of finding one’s niche. A niche is “a place or position suitable or appropriate for a person or thing.” At a large public university like UCLA, this comfort often takes more than a year’s worth of time and effort to find. This leaves hopeful underclassmen, like yours truly, disgruntled in their searches.
But a sense of hopeless frustration should not discount the importance of finding this niche. Vincent Tinto, a professor emeritus at Syracuse University, said university students who are both academically and socially integrated are more likely to stay enrolled at the particular institution. When students are integrated into their university, their sense of belonging and efficiency increases, which allows them to view the institution as a successful medium toward goal achievement. This is especially significant as college is an institution meant to foster developmental patterns to transition into larger society, and is a rite of passage.
But as a temporary consolation to anyone who may be struggling to find their niche in college, the Quad is here to offer more nuanced and diverse perspectives from veteran upperclassmen who were able to beat the odds at such a large campus.
Sruthi Reddy, a third-year ecology and evolutionary biology student, said she felt her first year was like the quintessential college experience largely because of her participation in UCLA Nashaa, UCLA’s Bollywood-fusion dance team. Inspired by her familiarity with watching collegiate dance teams when she was younger, her dream was to come to UCLA to compete with Nashaa.
“I am one of those really lucky people – tryouts were within the first couple weeks of school,” she said.
Within a month, Reddy had found her place. But Reddy admitted toward the middle of her first year, she struggled to strike a balance between Nashaa’s practice schedule and her academic responsibilities.
Individuals like Reddy show that even an established niche found early on may be difficult to maintain. This niche is constantly subjected to change and reevaluation. One can not simply just stick with the first niche they come across; rather, one has to learn to thrive in that position.
Spencer Gilles, a third-year neuroscience student, sees his niche as a place where he doesn’t have to be someone else. For him, comfort and self-identity are key. Fortunately, during his first year, Gilles said he felt that he had found a niche through his fraternity, sensing that the guys in his fraternity really cared about what he had to say.
“But your niche is always changing, a good indication (of finding a niche) is if you feel more full as a person,” said Gilles.
All 45,000 of us may not all be lucky enough to happen upon our niche during our first years.
Krista Chun, a fourth-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student, said she started to form her niche only during her third year. She said during her first and second years, she was scared too much commitment to clubs would hurt her academics.
Chun said she was able to conquer this fear by reminding herself the busiest people are the ones most successful at time management, who get the work done on time no matter what. She said she adopted this philosophy during her third year and was able to become a better student while simultaneously pursuing more clubs.
She added that the process of finding one’s niche comes with maturity, especially as one becomes more comfortable with oneself and cares less about the judgement of others.
It is important to see the process of integration in college as one of trial and error. Finding a niche is a result of a combination of timeliness and individual needs. We should learn to resist the pressure of easy, instantly gratifying conformity and look to reap long-term rewards in a truer sense of belonging.
In my first attempts to establish my niche, I wanted to make more connections than less, assuring myself a wider range of choice was better than nothing. But in doing so, I regrettably initially made certain people that I felt a genuine connection with more peripheral in my life.
Savor the uncertainty in this transition from clueless to comfortable for only during this experimental period will you pursue activities or people that push you out of your comfort zone. I could never have understood that joining a dance team or befriending certain types of people were just not part of my niche if I had not chosen to throw myself out to the wild first, that all I was doing was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. So dear niche finders, I implore of you to understand the concepts of basic geometry before you conclude your search for a niche. Until then, happy searching!