My first steps on campus as a student consisted of a series of changes, such as the unusually hot sunshine in late September that was quite different from my cool hometown in New York. Moreover, the huge campus, the even larger student body and numerous student organizations were all mysteries that made it seem like I was entering a new and unfamiliar world.
While incoming students’ earliest moments at UCLA will inevitably include a few bumps in the road and growing pains, there are many reliable sources of guidance that can hopefully ease the journey – perhaps the most accurate guide being the students who were once in their place. The Quad asked students with some more college experience under their belt for some of their most helpful pieces of advice for incoming students.
Both socially and academically, college can be a handful in terms of the endless opportunities and ways to optimize each day. While classes at UCLA can often be demanding due to both the time and attention demanded by homework, exams and office hours, how to balance such academic priorities with life outside the classroom can pose an even more puzzling challenge to many incoming students.
Rising second-year psychology student Katherine Gan said having a schedule and planning ahead of time is critical to the reconciliation of academics and social life.
Gan said she learned the importance of careful planning during the spring quarter of her first year when she was heavily involved in two organizations that demanded a lot of her time on top of her class work. At first, she said she struggled to find a balance with her academics, and often felt like tasks were constantly crowding her mind. She ultimately found relief by sitting down to physically organize and plan all her tasks and deadlines with Google Calendar and other tangible memos.
“It’s easier said than done, but you will get pulled six million different ways and if you don’t have a schedule and strictly stick to it, it’s really easy to fall behind,” Gan said. “Always keep track of what you need to do and then think about what you want to do – that way you can have fun and still excel in school.”
With so many academic and social opportunities available, it is easy for students to put too much on their plate. College is a great place to explore new interests and passions, and to eventually customize a schedule that best fits the student.
“College is not high school and you realistically will not be able to balance seven clubs while doing school work, working and maintaining an internship,” said rising second-year psychobiology student Andy Ho. “Pick and choose your favorites and create a reasonable schedule for yourself.”
Even before getting here, the process of packing for college may give way to an endless list of questions and a jumble of contemplations about what to leave at home versus what to bring to school. Ho said many students, himself included, realize throughout the year that they have overpacked for school as they are constantly bringing things back to leave at home every break.
In order to minimize extra luggage, it’s best to focus on what you need and will use most often. Rising second-year physiological science student Jessica Pham said some essentials she recommends packing are first-aid kit necessities like NyQuil and Tylenol, as well as a powerful desk fan for hot days.
Many upperclassmen will weigh mental preparation for college as something equally as important as the physical preparation of packing for college. Embarking on the journey of college brings certain responsibilities and inevitable maturation.
Gan said she believes it’s important for incoming students to have their priorities clear and ultimately to focus on attaining their personal goals by the end of their college experience, whether these goals focus on career, GPA or character-building.
“You have to be able to take your life into your own hands and take initiative in shaping your college experience by making important decisions about jobs, internships, sports, clubs, Greek life and more.” Gan said.
A student’s ability to take care of themselves by handling the varied circumstances adulthood throws at them is a key factor in personal initiative and self-determination. Gan said students will have to encounter situations that help them learn to do adult tasks, like managing finances, buying groceries and having mature conversations.
However, incoming students should know that it is okay to feel a little lost or muddled in the crowd amidst all the chaos. Ambitious freshmen often feel daunted by the large pool of equally talented and determined students they encounter when transitioning from high school to college. Freshman year can be likened to breaking in a new pair of shoes – there may be some discomfort in the process, but you’ll eventually find your fit.
Rising third-year political science student Emily Castelazo said she advises incoming students to resist the urge to compare themselves to their peers.
“College can be rough, and it’s 100 percent fine if you don’t feel like you have your life together,” Castelazo said. “The only person’s path you can control is your own, so don’t stress too much about what everyone else is doing.”
Incoming students will soon be able to appreciate and take advantage of the multilayered nuances of college life – having your priorities clear does not have to mean limiting yourself with tunnel vision. Castelazo said students should always keep an open mind and attempt to encounter new experiences, in an effort to take advantage of all UCLA has to offer.
Ultimately, the UCLA experience is personal to each student and is manifested by each person’s individual choices and mindset. While incoming students may not know exactly what they want to do in life, UCLA can be a strong starting point to help students discover their passions and goals.
“At the end of the day, it is only your first year,” Ho said. “Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be perfect in terms of your grades and social life, but try your best and have some fun.”