As we reach the middle of August many young adults across the globe are ready to commence a new, exciting chapter of their lives: college!
I remember the mixture of anxiety and excitement I felt last year, right about this time of the year. I was on vacation in China with my family, but my thoughts were as far from enjoying my trip as Redwood City is from Guangzhou. Day and night, my mind was occupied with one thing: college. How would I adapt to this new environment, away from my Bay Area home of 18 years? Would I make friends? What if I don’t fit in? How difficult will college classes be? Would I be forced to pull the dreaded “all-nighter” which, up till that point, I had responsibly avoided? Would I earn straight A’s? Would I be able to do everything on my bucket list the length of my leg? How would my dancing pan out in the context of an academically rigorous environment? Would my anxiety and depression act up, once away from home? What about laundry? I’d never done my own laundry before. What if I screw up and start a fire in the res hall laundry room?
A million questions bombarded my overactive mind. I was the kid who asked every college student she knew for advice. Most of my college friends told me roughly the same thing: balance studying with fun. Time management. Enjoy each moment.
Having survived my first year of college, I can now say that, no matter how much advice you receives from peers, you cannot truly be ready for college until you experience it for yourself. Equipped with the life vest of study skills, values and personal ambitions, you are thrown from the safety of your home ship, into the waters of college. You will struggle to stay afloat, at first, but eventually, you’ll find your own rhythm.
I believe that, if you go in to college with an open, learning mind, a willingness to challenge yourself with new experiences and meet people of different walks of life, you will be fine.
Many of my pre-college anxieties were mitigated within the first couple weeks of college. They stemmed mostly from my lack of life experience and the many uncertainties that followed. Transitions are always difficult, but once you regain your footing, college will soon feel like your home away from home.
Nonetheless, I found that getting as much advice as possible from others calmed my very anxious mind. Below, I’ve compiled a list of advice for incoming college freshmen (or third-year transfer students), based on my first-year college experience. I figured I’d split this advice column into two parts, to make it an easier read for y’all. Take what you will from the list; not everything I say will necessarily apply to you. You do you– I’m here to offer my two-cents, with the hopes of easing your transition to college life and soothing some worries you may have before move-in day! So without further ado, here are some words of advice on how to survive freshman year of college!
- This is for you, all you pre-meds/engineers/overachievers. Don’t spend all your time studying. I made this mistake during my first two quarters at UCLA, back when I was still a premed gunner. Not only will studying day and night drive you up the wall; it will deprive you of developing relationships and experiencing new and exciting things, all of which is integral to your growth as a human being. Most people’s priority in going to college is to get a degree– and rightly so. But to become educated entails more than locking yourself in a study room day and night, nose in a book. Grades are important, but they don’t define you. Your experiences, relationships and memories are what count in the long-run, as they teach you street smarts and shape your character.
- Find your best mode of study. Whether it’s attending lecture, going to professor/TA office hours, forming study groups, studying via textbook, studying by yourself, studying in your room, studying in the library, studying in the café, studying several subjects throughout the day, or diving deep into a single subject for several hours, only you will know how you learn best. It may take a little experimenting in the beginning, especially if you were one to succeed in high school without having to study much, but the goal by the end of your first year is to have developed an arsenal of study tools to draw from for future use, as your classes become more difficult.
- In high school, attending class was mandatory, and failure to show up to school bore severe consequences. In college, lectures are merely another study tool you may choose to utilize. While some professors check attendance, most do not, as there is no efficient way to keep track of 400 students. Thus, there is really no way your professor will know whether or not you attended lecture– at least not in lower division classes at large public universities. That said, it can be very tempting to skip that 8am lecture to get some more sleep, or to nurse last night’s hangover. If you feel you can learn the material on your own, without the professor’s reinforcement of the material, then you may choose to skip lecture. I personally attended most of my lectures, as I found my professors helpful in aiding my understanding of the material. Also, professors may discuss a topic in lecture that may not appear in the textbook. If such a topic showed up on the exam, and you didn’t attend lecture the day it was discussed, you’re kind of screwed. Then again, some professors are brilliant in their respective fields, but are absolutely TERRIBLE teachers. If faced with one such professor, you may find lectures to be a complete waste of time. It’s up to you to deem lectures worthwhile or not. Just don’t go complaining when it’s finals week, you haven’t been to lecture since day one, and you’re struggling to cram ten weeks’ worth of material in to three nights, all because, all quarter long, you chose to sleep in or party instead of attending class. My apologies for sounding like a total mom for saying that, lol.
- Try not to study late into the night/early hours of morning. When your brain is exhausted or wired on caffeine, your studying will be unproductive. The most efficient studying happens when you’re awake and alert.
- Studying on your bed often does not end well. Trust me, I know from first-hand experience. As a sleep-deprived college student, laying stomach-down on your soft mattress, textbook three inches from your face, is a surefire way to fall asleep. REMOVE the temptation, and study somewhere you know you will be productive. Like the library, or a study room.
- Some people advise against studying in your room altogether, on the grounds that you should preserve your room as a safe haven and place to decompress, away from the pressures of academics. Separating personal life from professional “student” life may help you preserve your sanity as the quarter/semester progresses. In the beginning of the year, I did a lot of studying in my room. Eventually, I moved my study sessions out to study rooms, the floor lounge, or the library, as I found the bed right next to my desk to be wayyy too tempting.
- If you can, avoid pulling all-nighters. They are very bad for your body, and your studying is sure to be inefficient as the minutes of the night drag on. Back in my crazy pre-med days, I pulled my fair share of all-nighters. Looking back, it was totally unnecessary. I wasn’t even falling behind in class; I was just so hung up on getting perfect grades for medical school, that I went completely overkill with the studying. I’d stay up all night to prepare for the following week’s chemistry lectures. I’d redo problem sets two or three times, to completely solidify concepts. Basically, I strove for perfect grades, at the expense of my mental and physical health. But more on the dangers of the pursuit of perfection, later.
- Efficiency is key, especially when you’re learning to juggle multiple responsibilities: academics, chores, jobs, hobbies, self-care, etc. Once you sit down to study, FOCUS on nothing but studying. Eliminate distractions, like music, loud noise, open Web browsers, Netflix, etc. That way, you can get your studying done in a short amount of time, enjoy life and maybe even go to sleep at a decent hour. It can be done, trust me. I have yet to succeed, though.
- Put in the work. This one is self-explanatory, but important enough to reiterate. It’s simple- how well you perform academically is directly proportional to how much time you devote to studying. There is a caveat, though. The more time you devote to studying, the less time you’ll have for engaging in deep conversations with friends; attending dance workshops; joining the theater company; playing intramural sports; working; dating; meditating; sleeping. The whole thing is a cost-benefit analysis. You learn to prioritize what is important for you. For most people at my school, that is academics. Just because you are a pre-med or engineering student, though, doesn’t mean you must forsake a life outside the classroom! It’s all about studying smartly and efficiently. Trust me, work-life balance is a life skill that takes years of experience to truly master. Don’t feel bad if you find yourself studying 90% of the time during your freshman year of college; you’ll get better at balance with time!
Declaring a Major
- Don’t feel pressure during your first year to know what you want to major in. Most universities don’t require students to declare a major until the end of their second year. You’ve got time, so chillax!
- If you go into college undeclared… GOOD ON YOU! I don’t think anyone truly knows what they want to do at age 17 or 18, and it’s in college where the magic of finding oneself transpires. So take some GE classes in new and interesting topics! A good friend of mine once said, “College is a balance between earning a degree and exploring.” Even if you are sure you know what you want to do going into college, I urge you to still take some time during freshman year to expose yourself to new fields. You never know– perhaps you’ll fall in love with a random class, and your whole life trajectory will change!
- The world won’t end if you don’t graduate in four years. Don’t get so hung up on NEEDING to graduate in four years that you limit yourself in the scope of courses you take. You don’t NEED to do anything. If you need to graduate in five years, and have the financial means to do so, then there is absolutely no shame in that!
- A mentor of mine once told me, “A degree is not your destiny.” What you major in does not necessarily determine the career path you will ultimately embark on. Here’s what I love about the U.S. You don’t need to know what you want to study by the end of high school (or, in some cases, middle school!), and what course of study you eventually decide on is not a definitive sentence to “X” career. My uncle is a case in point. He majored in electrical engineering at the University of Florida, but after he graduated, he ended up becoming a successful CEO in Macau. Just because you major in science, doesn’t mean you HAVE to do something science-related as a career. Those on the pre-professional track can major in anything, really; in fact, medical, law, and graduate schools eat up unique applicants who major in things they truly enjoy, like music, art, history, art history, English, dance, etc. etc. (not throwing shade at science majors or anything). Point is, we often place undue pressure on ourselves to choose a major that will open doors to decent-paying jobs. What can you really do with just a Bachelor’s degree these days, anyway? “Masters is the new Bachelor’s,” as my AP Language and Composition teacher used to say. Enjoy you undergraduate years, revel in the exploration, and settle on a major you are passionate about. I understand that not everyone has the luxury to do this, but if you or your family have the financial means for you to follow your heart, I say, go for it.
- Your major doesn’t define you, and you shouldn’t judge an individual based on what they are studying. Of course there exist stereotypes about the “nerdy, antisocial” engineering students; the “cutthroat” premed sharks; and the humanities students who “won’t get jobs”. College is a time when you will meet SO many different people, and with the sheer amount of new faces and names storming our hitherto close-knit childhood circles, it’s natural for us to seek simplicity by placing people into boxes, based on what they study. The first few weeks of freshman year, you will find yourself greeting every person you meet with something along the lines of, “Hi! My name is “X”. *handshake* Pleasure to meet you. What year are you? Oh, you’re a freshman too? That’s awesome! So what’s your major?” Your new friend answers that last question, and then, boom. Into the mental box they go. Thing is, though, engineering students are not necessarily social hermits who tinker with machines and study all day. I’ve met several engineers on my school’s ballroom dance team. And, get this– not all pre-med students are sharks who will stop at nothing to get into a top medical school. One of the kindest people I met at UCLA is a pre-med student and is currently taking a year-and-a-half break from school to serve a mission in Chilé. And, believe it or not, many humanities majors WILL find jobs at the end of the day. Your major is simply one small facet of your multi-dimensional identity. So, I definitely urge you all to meet people with different interests. There is something special in every individual that is waiting to be discovered, if only we all devoted more effort to looking beneath surface level and really getting to know one another.
- Keep close tabs on how much you spend with a budget book. I wish I had been a more responsible consumer my first year. Little naive me did not check her debit card account regularly, and ended up over drafting her bank account– seven times in a single day. The following fact may be self-explanatory to some, but it definitely wasn’t to me: just because your debit card transaction goes through at the cash register, doesn’t mean you have enough money to pay for what you buy!
- Amazon is both your greatest gift and worst enemy. It is oh-so tempting to spend in excess when you’re stressed with finals and crave some instant gratification. I’m still haunted by my winter quarter Amazon mega-shopping-spree. I was going through one of many mental crises at the time and found comfort in impulse shopping. Now, I barely even touch half the things I bought that quarter. Do yourself a favor and remove the temptation altogether by ridding your search bar of Amazon!!!
- You can save hundreds of dollars by buying used textbooks (check Facebook for your university’s “Free and For Sale” page), or finding cheaper versions of the book online. Brand new textbooks sold at university stores are real rip-offs.
- If you’re like most college students, Uber is your primary form of transportation. Splitting the cost of Ubers with friends when commuting on/off campus is an obvious way to save some money.
- Take advantage of all the free stuff your university offers. Whether it’s plastic water bottles, cardholders that stick to your phone, t-shirts or free planners, the words “FREE STUFF!!!” are music to college students’ ears.
- Random side-note: the downside of cardholders that stick to your phone is, the magnetic strip on your university card may wear down because of close contact with your phone’s radiation (don’t ask me about the mechanism, I am no engineer). If you don’t want to risk this happening, don’t keep your university card so close to your phone!
- If you haven’t done so already, consider downloading the app, “Venmo”. It’s an easy way to buy things from your smartphone if you don’t have your wallet on hand. Do exercise self-control when using this app, though, as it’s much more tempting to spend in excess when a transaction can be completed at the touch of a button (aka, impulsively buying a sugar-glazed doughnut on Bruin Walk while walking to class).
- If you live in the dorms… you’d better hope for some decent human beings as floor mates. You know… people who know NOT to take a dump in the shower stalls (this happened TWICE on my floor last year); get into 2am bloody fistfights; or blow up and slide down an inflatable waterslide in the middle of the hallway during finals week.
- Roommates. I was blessed to have chosen a wonderful roommate my freshman year– she was clean, quiet and respectful of boundaries. Nonetheless, like with any functioning relationship, communication between the two of us was essential to making things work, or else our room would just be strained with a whole lot of passive-aggressive energy. So, rule #1 in dealing with roommates: COMMUNICATE! If something your roommate is doing does not sit well with you… tell them, instead of letting it fester. If your roommate is blasting their music too loudly, tell them to quiet down. If your roommate never takes out the trash, tell them to do so. If you hate constantly being “sexiled” or waking up to the sound of your roommate getting it on with a different person each night… TELL THEM. Just as you respect their rules, they should respect yours.
- Living with roommates really teaches you the important life skill of communication and compromise. That’s rule #2, guys– COMPROMISE. You can’t expect your roommate to be perfect and abide by your every rule. No matter how great a fit your roommate is, differences in living habits/behaviors are inevitable. While it’s important to let your roommate know if something is bothering you, you also shouldn’t go into full dictator mode and call them out on every. single. thing. Just as you desire personal space, leave your roommate some wiggle room to breathe in their own. Don’t do things like scolding your roommate for tossing and turning in bed, or breathing too loudly, or simply existing. That’s a little bit extra and pretty unfair to the receiving party.
- Rule #3 in dealing with roommates: you don’t HAVE to become best friends with your roommate. I know some people go into college with the expectation that they and their roommate will become best buds, and are disappointed when this does not happen. In my opinion, though, being best friends with your roomie may pose as a conflict of interest. As a roommate, you must assert yourself and draw lines when needed; but as a friend, you may feel bad about stepping on their toes. I won’t tell you if you should or shouldn’t be joined at the hip with your roommate. I personally liked my freshman year roommate very much, but we were not so close as to be considered “besties”. And I’d say the two of us got along just fine. In fact, the nature of our relationship made being assertive with her a lot easier.
- Roommate rule #4: This one’s not such much a rule as it is a general observation. When you first meet your roommate, you may feel excessive pressure to act a certain way to get your roommate to like you. After all, you will be living with this other person for the next year, so you’d want to get off on the right foot, right? As the year progresses, though, facades will melt away and your true colors will show. Okay, I didn’t mean for it to sound that dramatic. What I mean is, you shouldn’t feel the need to impress your roommate, just because you’ll be living with them. In fact, it is for the very reason that you’re living with this other individual that you’d want to be authentic. Of course it’s good to make a decent first impression. At the end of the day, though, just relax and be yourself, and your roommate can either take it or leave it. Simple as that.
- Roommate rule #5: Another observation. Oftentimes, inter-roommate tensions will mount as the year goes on. This is something I noticed among quite a few roommates. Towards the end of the school year, you’re exhausted from academics, crave your own room and personal space, and have long since stopped giving two hoots about pleasantries or politeness. Communication will take you a long way, but even that at times is not enough to clear the air of tension and negative energy. I’ve known of roommates who, by the year’s end, completely stopped talking to one another. If you guys are fine with giving each other the cold shoulder, then no harm no foul in doing so, I suppose. Just don’t do anything petty or dumb, like meddling with your roommates things, farting on their pillow, stealing their clothes or mixing up their lotion bottles, just to spite them. You’re an adult now, so talk things through. If the engine is running smoothly with you guys doing your own thing and not saying a word to one another, that’s cool too.
- Is doing the random roommate assignment worth the risk? I personally did not do random roommate assignment, as I managed to find someone I knew beforehand to be my roommate. Honestly, it’s really up to you. Usually, your university’s housing application will ask you to fill out a lifestyle preference questionnaire, so as to match you to a good-fit roommate. Even so, there is no guarantee that you and the roommate you’re assigned will get along… I’ve seen both sides. Rest assured, though, that if you really despise your roommate, you always have the option of moving out.
- Now, onto the topic of floor mates. I’d say, at least during the first week of school, make a genuine effort to get to know the people living on your floor. To me, knowing my floor mates by name, saying “Hello” when I pass them by in the hallways and sharing late night conversations in the floor’s lounge makes my dorm feel a lot more like home, as opposed to a room I sleep in amidst an ocean of other rooms inhabited by strangers. The beauty of living in dorms your first year of college is, it helps you make friends more easily. You’ll find that most floor mates– and freshmen in general– are very open to meeting new people. Take advantage of that and get out of your comfort zone by introducing yourself to your new “family”. It’s totally fine if you’re introverted or shy. As a self-proclaimed ambivert, I can be quite outgoing at times, but also withdraw into my personal space if bombarded with too much external stimuli. That’s what happened the first few weeks of fall quarter. Every day I was meeting so many new faces, and I felt overwhelmed. It’s completely normal to feel this way, and when this happens, take some time to recuperate and care for yourself. All will be just fine in the end.
Things to pack/not to pack for college
- Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, face products, shampoo/conditioner/body wash, feminine products, shower caddy, razor. Duh!!!
- Wallet: driver’s license, credit/debit card, student ID. Double duh!!!
- The usual stationary: pencils, pens, notebooks, binder paper, highlighters, flashcards, sticky notes, etc.
- If you are in communal bathrooms, I suggest packing little plastic bottles to store cleansers in (so you don’t have to lug a gigantic bottle of shampoo to the bathroom every time you take a shower)
- Shower shoes. I highly advise against walking barefoot in the res halls and communal bathrooms. You never know what kinds of vomit/other bodily fluids the res hall carpets have seen. Case in point– one of my brothers’ roommates peed in the middle of the hallway (while inebriated, of course).
- Power strip. WHAT a life saver, especially when you’re cranking out those study sessions in the library!
- A lanyard attached to a cardholder is a great way to keep your IDs and credit/debit card close at hand.
- Tissue boxes. Lots of ‘em. Very handy during flu season, as well as during midterms/finals week, when you’re crying your eyes out over the five exams to study for and three papers to write. Just kidding about that last one– if you manage your time well, life will be A-okay!
- Vitamin C. Keep that immune system strong! There’s nothing worse than getting sick right before exam time, unable to sit up long enough to study!
- Face masks for flu season. I tried to buy some at Target during week 3 of winter quarter, but was met with an empty shelf. Buy em’ before they run out!
- Duct tape: fixes everything, 100%.
- Pepper spray. Never know what kind of weirdos lurk on/around campus, so it’s always good to have that on hand. Many people attach small pepper sprays to their lanyards, so don’t feel dorky about doing that.
- Extra batteries (for calculators, flashlights, digital alarm clocks, your pillow pet, what have you)
- Disinfectant wipes. A clean and germ-free abode is a comforting one.
- Business casual outfit, for interviews and networking nights and the like (for ladies, a sharp blazer, pencil skirt/slacks, and heels/flats will suffice. Or whatever you consider business casual)
- 1 formal attire (or if you are rushing Greek life, maybe 2 or 3. Don’t quote me on that, as I personally do not partake in Greek life)
- Laptop! Literally my lifeline, aside from my phone. Make sure your laptop is not too heavy, either, as you’ll most likely be carrying it around with you… everywhere.
- LOTS of comfy clothes. Come week 2 of fall quarter, I lost all motivation to dress up for lectures. My go-to outfit: Yoga pants, Ugg boots, a cute t-shirt and a pink UCLA sweater to top it off.
- Notepads. I love the yellow ones with pages that easily rip off. Great for scratchwork. Literally filled up an entire pack while drilling problem sets for my math and chem finals!
- Tide Pods. SO much more convenient for doing laundry than packing a massive, heavy tub of detergent.
- Journal— trust me, you’re gonna wanna remember your college days. They FLY by. Each and every moment is so, so incredibly precious. You’ll experience so much growth during this time of your life. So even if you write just a few words each day, in your private diary or google folder, journaling is a sure way to immortalize the wonderful/crazy/new adventures you’re sure to have in college!
- Noise cancelling headphones. I personally did not own a pair during my freshman year, but looking back, I think they would have been helpful. Especially if you’re living in a noisy residential hall, with next door neighbors blasting music into the early hours of morning (yup, I had the unfortunate experience of having rancorous neighbors).
- An eye mask and ear plugs (for that one roommate who stays up into the early hours of dawn with the light turned on)
- Your entire wardrobe. I made this mistake. Most of the time, I just stuck to sweats, leggings and t-shirts, with my fancy-schmancy attire collecting dust in the closet. I wore my blazer about two times last year, and didn’t even touch my red formal gown. Definitely a waste of closet space.
- Your entire shoe collection. Guilty of this one too! If you pack every pair of shoes you own, you will definitely regret it, come move-out day. Remember, everything you bring to college, you also have to move out! Choose wisely what you decide to bring with you!
- Your entire makeup collection. I barely wore any makeup my freshman year. Of course, this was a personal choice… but between studying and dance and self-care, I found it difficult to find time to get all dolled-up in the morning.
- An excessive number of shower towels. I think I brought three or four towels to college. Why, I am not sure. Two towels– one to alternate each week– is more than enough.
- An excessive amount of stationary (sticky notes, index cards, scotch tape, etc.). Again– bring what is necessary, and if you run out, there’s always the student store to turn to.
- Fancy/bulky electronic gadgets, including: a blender, a face steamer, a steaming iron, etc. I brought all three and barely used any. The res halls may provide clothing irons and vacuums, and blender bottles for protein shakes are a LOT more portable than full-out Nutribullet contraptions.
- Throw pillows. Unless you’re really into the room decor thing, or absolutely can’t live without throw pillows, they just take up unnecessary space. Remember– you don’t want to have too much stuff to move out of your dorm, so bring only what is necessary!
- Graphing calculator. Unless you know you’ll be taking a math class that requires a graphing calculator, you should get by just fine with a small scientific calculator. It’s a lot smaller and lighter!
- Trash can. Most dorms come with their own trash can and recycling bin.
- Outside reading. Chances are, you will not have much time to do extraneous reading beyond your classes. Of course, if reading novels is a means of relieving stress, then by all means, bring as many books as you like!
- A gigantic bucket of laundry detergent. Stick with the tide pods. SO much more portable, especially if your floor’s laundry room is at the other end of the hall (#storyofmylife). Then again…
- Expensive jewelry. Again, up to you. I didn’t want to run the risk of having my late grandmother’s diamond ring stolen, so I left it safely at home.
- Toilet paper. It’s usually provided by university housing. Obviously, if you are living in an off-campus non-university apartment, you’ll have to buy your own.