Useful tips for CalSO and beyond

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Stepping into UC Berkeley can be overwhelming. With more than 35,000 total undergraduate and graduate students, 25 campus libraries and 1,100 student organizations, determining the right activities to further one’s academic and social interests can be extremely frustrating — to the extent that many quickly give up.

Most of us have been on various campus tours, heard snooze-inducing presentations about logistics and classes from campus administration and attended promotional events such as Calapalooza. We hear a plethora of advice and suggestions on what paths to explore; but other upperclassmen and I have learned over the past two years at Cal that this advice should not be neglected and that those giving it are not officious.

Some suggestions are obviously more pertinent to certain students than others, but in general, cherish advice on where and how to study, career planning, where to hang out and more. In fact, it is in one’s best interest to seek out as many inputs as possible from diverse sources such as one’s peers, older students on campus, professors and administration.

One piece of advice I brushed aside casually at the start of college was that I should check out the self-help programs on campus. As a freshman in the College of Engineering, I heard about many events administration hosted, formalized study groups (such as those run by the Student Learning Center) and an entire Decal meant to help freshmen succeed in Berkeley engineering. Despite the awareness, I continued forward without giving these opportunities a second thought. My decision did not come out of pride, but at the time, I felt I had everything together academically. I was under the impression that I already knew whatever each speaker would say and did not need their help. I later realized, however, that wherever you are academically or emotionally, there is always a way you can still grow and seek improvement. No one is above help.

Many careers revolve around giving and receiving feedback, so whenever someone gives you constructive criticism, treat it as one of the highest boons you can get. A common reaction high school students have to any form of criticism is becoming defensive. While nasty or offensive criticism can be hard to stomach, constructive criticism is one of the most compassionate responses to your work you can receive. Individuals who offer it genuinely care for your self-interest and growth — a trait that is somewhat rare not just at UC Berkeley, but in the entire world.

Another reason I did not feel like participating in these various self-help events was that they boasted networking prospects as a common recruiting plug. Coming to Berkeley, I always thought networking was evil and manipulative because it required talking to someone solely for future professional benefit. For instance, if a certain connection gave someone a job and the new hire were to promptly insult and ignore the connection, then that person would have used his or her employer. Fortunately, however, the vast majority of people at UC Berkeley do not take advantage of others like this.

Being good at networking, I have found, is exactly the same as being good at making new friends. Conversely, making many acquaintances freshman year is a perfect opportunity to network. New friends may hear of an opportunity first and pass it down to you. Though some of these acquaintances may get lost in the crowd, others may help with your personal development in some way or blossom into close friends. Even if someone you meet does not help you professionally, there is nothing wrong in being just amazing friends. Who knows: If you are “friend-zoned” but want to work with your new connection, forming a study group is a viable and encouraged way of learning.

Speaking of forming connections, making friends here at UC Berkeley is not a spontaneous process — it requires some energy on your end. People come and go all the time but finding friends who stick is the challenge. Well into my second year, I realized that I had to go out of my way to find these people. It’s easy to get “lazy” socially by trying to hang around exclusively with those located nearby. My freshman year wasn’t nearly as exciting as it could have been because I wasn’t very adventurous — being stuck in a Foothill suite where the majority of residents were sophomores and juniors who belonged to pre-existing social circles, I felt trapped most days. Whenever I tried hanging around some members of my suite, I felt unable to break in and unwelcome by the others. At the same time, I felt I had nowhere else to run and no idea what else I could do.

Nowadays, however, I have the reputation of being a social butterfly. I can only attribute this quality to never getting “lazy” in my social scene. Everyday, including today at CalSO, presents the opportunity to meet someone amazing. Even among social circles I’m already a part of, there is always room for more genuine friends. From classes to clubs, introduce yourself to as many people you can. Get yourself in a diverse set of campus organizations where you encounter like-minded individuals as well as people with whom you never thought you would interact before coming to UC Berkeley. Each semester, try out a new activity, immerse yourself in another world and reinvent yourself.

Time must progress before these words truly sink in, but the advice listed here and from other fellow students comes from a collection of experiences with care. Whether by avoiding academic self-help or being afraid to meet new people, containing your horizons can limit your experience throughout college. You often must step outside your comfort zone to develop and change — although this thought can be scary, the reality of being stagnant in your time in college can prove scarier. The point of college is to leave with more insight than you began with. While many view school in terms of its relevancy for future job prospects, the best way to utilize your opportunities here to the fullest is by seeking new wisdom, finding different ways of thinking and understanding about yourself during your time at UC Berkeley. Embrace change.

Contact Ashish Samaddar at [email protected].