Off the beat: Think like a freshman

Negative judgments about academic statuses like “freshman” and “transfer” are often justified by generalizations about the value of experience. But those ideas could use some rethinking. Does acquired experience really make us better students? Are students who lack experience really at a disadvantage?

When it comes to freshmen, perhaps the most popular assumptions are embedded in the very word itself. “Freshman” means more than the word’s literal definition of being a first-year student — it also has connotations of being naive and idealistic.

However, the idea that new students are inexperienced too often brings forth the idea that we can make judgments about how much new students can accomplish at schools like UC Berkeley.

When I was a freshman, I remember being in an upper-division course and not knowing that I was the only first-year in a class with more than 100 students. As I realized my class standing in comparison to other students, I began to question my place in the course. If everyone else was majoring in that field and had at least two years of college experience, how was my performance going to compare?

Yet midway through the class, I realized this was a very unfortunate way of thinking. I had believed that my lack of college experience placed me at a disadvantage without further thought, but my good performance on course projects proved to me that I could compete with my peers.

The real setback would have been to not try, to let assumptions guide my mindset while studying and to let myths dictate the outcome of my transcript.

Believing that freshmen can’t perform as well as upperclassmen, I realized, is a flawed generalization. Part of this quick judgment comes from very old deductions about how experience helps us learn. While this may be true in many cases, it can be beneficial to embrace the freshman mindset throughout college and remember the goals that drove us when we entered UC Berkeley.

As all incoming students would say, they have goals. Many of us dream of making an impact on the world and on campus, all the while getting straight A’s like that roll down 4.0 hill had promised us. While these dreams are neither modest nor easy to achieve, they are not impossible, either.

Yet at any time or place, someone seems ready to say that these dreams are overambitious. Yes, things might not always work out the way we planned, but our college experiences shouldn’t make us expect the worst every time, either.

But why do we forget some of our freshman goals? Maybe it’s because of experience itself. While it’s harder to be the best at UC Berkeley than it is elsewhere, we ought to think less with generalizations and start thinking about the “freshness” of the situations we are presented with. More importantly, we ought not let our freshman ambitions be forgotten in the same way as our New Year’s resolutions.

As a freshman, I remember being so excited about my courses that I would check Tele-BEARS to read over my schedule and fantasize about what it would be like going to college. Now, no longer a freshman, I know what classes and their assignments might be like. I have grown used to the intense level of college reading, and I’m familiar with the finals rush. I have loved my classes, but I had lost the exciting anticipation of being a new student.

However, I spent this winter break in Lima, Peru, and the northern part of the country. After not speaking English for an entire month, I began to miss California and the rigor of my college schedule. Once again, I found myself daydreaming about walking through Berkeley and seeing my friends. It reminded me of how I felt as a freshman envisioning how college would turn out.

By just regaining that anticipation about college, I have more energy to pursue my classes, and I no longer see them as predictable but as unique experiences that I can improve upon each semester. In the same way, I can apply the mentality of being a freshman to life outside the classroom. Student-group tabling and fliering may have lost their original appeal, but it’s never too late to try new things.

When I entered college, I was excited to meet new people who shared my interests, in both academics and extracurricular activities. For an upperclassman, it’s easy to take for granted that there are thousands of students on campus. UC Berkeley is an incredibly diverse school, and because of that, meeting new people can change your outlook on campus.

We shouldn’t let being a sophomore or junior or senior make us complacent. Every semester is a new semester, with new classes and new expectations.

Contact Jacqueline Alas at [email protected]