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The Quad: Whether academic or social, first-year jitters happen to everyone

(Shari Wei/Daily Bruin)

By Kimia Azad

Jan. 15, 2020 8:15 p.m.

Now that winter quarter is starting to pick up, freshmen have a lot to reflect on from their first quarter – the next eight weeks first-years have ahead of them can be very much dictated by their last 10.

Starting college is a big first step in a journey toward adulthood, and for many of us, it’s also the first time living away from home and being responsible for how we organize our time. As exciting as this freedom can be, there’s also plenty of things up in the air, and that can be stressful for some.

All of a sudden we find ourselves in a new environment filled with academic rigor, changing social networks and thousands of compelling ways to spend our free time. Learning how to adjust to these varying expectations can be difficult, especially for freshmen.

I entered my first quarter full of nerves, thinking, “Will I find a friend group?” and “Will I fail all my classes?” After speaking to my peers, I found that I was not the only one facing those freshman year worries.

It’s no surprise that many students worry about adjusting to a place where they cannot know a majority of their peers, as UCLA’s undergraduate population is about 31,500 students strong. It can be easy to feel lost in such a big school, especially when class sizes are too big to interact with one’s peers and professors. UCLA boasts more than 1,000 clubs and student organizations. Such a large number of activities can make it overwhelming for freshmen to find their place.

Kayla Stonum, a first-year neuroscience student, felt overwhelmed by UCLA’s large student body at the start of fall quarter. She entered her first quarter at UCLA wondering if she would make friends.

“One worry that I had (entering my first quarter) was that I was not going to make good friends,” Stonum said. “I think I prioritize my happiness and social life more than grades; I definitely thought that being in such a big school environment would make that hard.”

However, after having completed her first quarter, Stonum’s focus has changed. Stonum said that her worries have shifted in her second quarter because she has made good friends – she is now more focused on balancing her academic schedule.

[Related: The Quad: Upperclassmen share advice to ease first-year stresses and growing pains]

While some students may have first felt pressure to find a friend group, other students expressed having primarily felt challenged by UCLA’s academic rigor.

Sophie Fouladi, a first-year pre-psychology student, spent her fall quarter focused on achieving academic success. Having attended a small private high school, Fouladi found herself worried about entering such a large school with such large classes.

“(During my first quarter,) I was most worried about living up to my own standards academically because that has always been most important to me,” Fouladi said.

Now in her winter quarter, Fouladi said that keeping up with the competitive environment at UCLA remains one of her main priorities.

“Since our school does have a reputation, I feel like I need to constantly be the best at everything because everyone here is,” Fouladi said. “It’s a lot of pressure to put on someone who is just coming into college as a freshman and is trying to figure out how they fit into a new environment.”

Learning how to manage both social pressures and academic expectations is a process within itself. However, many students find that the two can go hand-in-hand.

Dylan Cano, a first-year global studies student, said he believed finding a support group within friends would help translate to better academic performance.

“I think that I was more concerned with the social aspect of college at the beginning of the year because I feel that if you want to be successful academically, you need a good friend group and support group,” Cano said.

However, Cano is not alone in his sentiment. Charlotte Goldbaum, a first-year undeclared humanities student, said she similarly prioritized a support circle in order to thrive academically.

“Transitioning to college is tough. … I just wanted to make sure I had a good group of people around me to lessen my worries, which would have helped with academics as well,” she said.

Now in her second quarter at UCLA, Goldbaum said she feels less worried overall, having found some great friends and adjusted to the academic system.

There’s a lot of stress associated with seamlessly balancing schoolwork with social expectations in college, but it’s something every first-year has to navigate to prepare for the years to come.

For some students, this means giving up possible preconceived notions about the lifestyle at the university and in Los Angeles.

Before coming to UCLA, first-year political science student Nasim Razavi said she had hoped for a glamorous LA experience based on movies and YouTube videos she had seen.

“I imagined the typical hiking up to the Hollywood sign and going to Rodeo (Drive), lots of shopping, spending money, always dressing up nicely. And I got a big reality check and realized that that’s not necessarily what it is,” Razavi said.

Now that Razavi has finished her first quarter at UCLA, she said she has discovered that getting involved at the university can leave little free time for going off campus. Razavi said that being active in activities on campus meant that she did not have enough time to explore LA the way she had imagined.

Similar to my peers, I spent my first quarter worried about academics and making new friends. I especially felt nervous about being undeclared in my major. I spent my summer wondering if I would ever know what I wanted to study. Apprehensive I would fall behind, I planned every hour of my day. Looking back on it now, I ended up enjoying my unplanned, last-minute adventures the most.

Next time those freshman year worries arise, know that you are not alone in overcoming them. Most first-years become second-years anyway, so we must be doing something right.

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Kimia Azad
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