There is no guide to college

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What was the biggest mistake I made freshman year? I lost my head somewhere up my ass around the second week of school. And I still don’t know if I’ve found it.

As an incoming freshman, I was 5-foot-3 and ¾, 105 pounds of wide-eyed excitement and ready to take on the entire college experience.

I dropped off my bags on the first night of Welcome Week and went out with my floormates the same night. No room for air, no time to take in the wire hangers or the shaky bunk bed, no chance to breathe a sigh of relief that I was actually here, at UC Berkeley.

I got in and I wanted it all — fast.

That was my first mistake. I was riding on the hype of being the all-star valedictorian. I thought the campus couldn’t handle my fire, but instead, I was the one who got burned. I piled on classes and made the error of thinking I was the exception to the curve. But my first failed midterm was the perfect slap in the face.

UC Berkeley’s academics are tough. And if you combine a towering ego with a stubborn inability to ask for help, you will make the ultimate UC Berkeley mistake that every freshman experiences at one point or another.

But learning how to reach out is a valuable skill that will teach you more than a failed midterm ever could. You are paying a ridiculous amount of money to come here, and you’ll pay that regardless of whether you understand the concepts covered in class, so you might as well try.

As long as you leave with the skills you need to conquer the world, it doesn’t matter how stupid you might look, because believe it or not, someone else out there is struggling with the same internal conflicts — maybe even more so.

Ten years from now, you won’t remember asking that eye-roll-inducing question, but you will remember getting into graduate school because of a killer GPA. So make study groups, go to office hours, meet with your advisers, and don’t wait till it’s too late. Use those tools to figure out how you study best. The faster you learn your secret, the better you’ll do.

Unfortunately, it took me a while to realize this, which is probably why my freshman roommate barely saw me, and when she did, I was freaking out. I frequently struggled to find the balance between socializing and handling my academics. Not only did I miss out on the awesome people on my floor, but I also missed out on getting to know my roommate. That was my second mistake.

It’s true — maybe I wasn’t destined to be best friends with everyone on the third floor of Deutsch Hall, but I wish I had gotten to know them more before investing all of my time in the fourth floor of Beverly Cleary, where the majority of my freshman-year friends lived.

When it comes to roommates and befriending your first college friends, don’t expect to wear matching bracelets, but also don’t be too quick to disregard them, either. There are 7 billion people in the world, and roughly 30,000 of them go to your school, so you will probably meet at least 100 of them during your time here. Some will come, some will go, some will stay. Just welcome them all, and try your best not to get on their shit list.

You’ll be surprised how many of your “mistakes” and “embarrassing stories” you’ll run into at the Golden Bear Cafe every so often. Someone always knows someone who knows what you did. Just keep that in mind during your crazy Friday nights.  

But to be fair, these are pretty tame mistakes that most freshmen make, and avoiding them will save you some embarrassment — but I haven’t even addressed the elephant in the room.

The biggest mistake freshmen make is not knowing how to handle stress.

I’ve seen the UC Berkeley stress drive people to drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and random bursts of tears all over campus. Good mental health is imperative to succeeding here, and acknowledging these hurdles is the first step to tackling them, whether that means going to therapy, finding a group of friends to vent to or calling home every day.

Do what you need to do so that you don’t break down in tears when your GSI piles on one more homework assignment during your personal hell week. Because it will happen.

There is no “guide to college.” There are no step-by-step instructions on how to succeed. You’re going to come here, get your butt kicked at least once and leave like a champ with a glowing diploma. You’ve. Got. This … regardless of how many mistakes you make.

Contact Ilaf Esuf at [email protected].

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