The most important lessons I learned at UC Berkeley outside of class

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College is full of learning curves and teachable moments. We are constantly getting knocked down and lifted up, growing through uncertainty and embracing various challenges. Of course, many of those learning opportunities occur in the classroom. We get to learn from some of the best professors in the world about topics we’re interested in. But that’s not the only learning environment that college offers. As students, we get to learn from each other, which can help us learn much more about ourselves. As a graduating senior, I have spent the last few weeks counting my blessings and considering my greatest learning moments at UC Berkeley, four of which I’ve included below. To be clear, none of them happened in a classroom.

How to say “yes”

The past four years have been all about opening doors and figuring out passions. Building a network is important for establishing a solid foundation within the UC Berkeley ecosystem. Finding clubs and groups that can expand your network is absolutely crucial. One of the most important things I learned at UC Berkeley is how to say yes to new opportunities. I’ve joined new organizations and tried my hand at new projects every semester, and doing so has impacted my undergrad experience in tremendous ways. Saying yes can be hard to do; we all have so many commitments and excuses that can get in the way of new pursuits. Learning how to overcome these barriers can make all the difference.

How to say “no”

In the same vein, one toxic aspect of the UC Berkeley culture is seeing clubs as resume boosters. People say “yes” without being intentional, and it leads to them putting in the bare minimum level of effort. It’s not uncommon for students to join a consulting club or rush a business frat because “everyone else is doing it,” only to discover later that they have no interest in the organization. At UC Berkeley, every undergrad is busy with a million little projects from class assignments to side hustles. To say “yes” to every little flyer you receive on Sproul Plaza would take years! Learning how to be intentional with our time is one of the most important things to take away from this university.

How to network

Getting through four years of UC Berkeley takes a village. We have others to thank for various parts of our success, like the study group we met with three times a week to get through Biology 1B, or the academic advisors who enabled us to study abroad during our junior year. College teaches you how to be proactive in finding those people and how to build your network. From the countless career fairs to the endless coffee chat opportunities, this school sets you up for success in crafting your post-grad plan. Networking is just one of the many invaluable skills you can learn outside of your classes.

How to celebrate the little wins

At a school as competitive and demanding as UC Berkeley, you have to learn how to celebrate the little wins. New assignments and obligations are dumped on students every day, and it’s important to not get lost in the mess of it all. Spending time with friends to celebrate accomplishments wildly reduces the notion of the “rat race.” Instead of tirelessly chasing the next goal or obsessing over the latest challenge, we learn to take a step back and appreciate where we are. Doing so can rejuvenate, motivate and refresh ourselves, leaving us ready to tackle the next obstacle. 

UC Berkeley has plenty to offer in terms of course content and programming, but even more to offer in terms of individual growth and development. We learn how to say “yes,” say “no,” network and celebrate the little wins. Of course, we learn about general relativity and the psychology of human happiness. But we also learn how to keep things in perspective and be intentional with our time and actions. Most of the important life lessons taught at this school happen outside of classes in our daily interactions. The truth of the matter is that some of the most meaningful moments are unrecognizable at the time, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable.

Contact Brookey Villanueva at [email protected].