Lessons learned from my freshman year of college

Illustration of a young-looking bear in UC Berkeley spirit gear walking out of Sather Gate
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Last week, UC Berkeley concluded its spring 2020 semester, and with that, I have officially completed my freshman year. It was nothing like I expected — it was way better! There was never a dull moment, and throughout the year I learned so much about myself and the entire culture at UC Berkeley.

One of my early discoveries was my newfound ability to create my own productive schedule. Back in high school, the bells controlled when school began and ended, and all other activities were planned around that. I was accustomed to waking up at 6 a.m. for as long as I could remember. I thought I could continue the same routine in college, but boy, was I wrong. Thank god I didn’t enroll in any 8 a.m. classes my first semester! I found out very quickly that I much preferred studying during the day as opposed to late at night, whereas one of my friends discovered that she hits her peak productivity past midnight! Utilize your first semester in college to learn more about yourself in terms of your sleeping schedule and productivity.

Another noteworthy revelation was finding out that most STEM classes at UC Berkeley are webcasted. This means that even if you happen to miss a lecture, you won’t miss out. While this is useful in case you get sick or have an emergency, don’t make a habit of skipping class! It usually starts with not going to a class one day because you slept in, but before you know it, you’re three lectures behind and haven’t had the time to watch the webcasts. Take it from me and do not skip class unless you really have to.

Even before setting foot on campus, I’d heard a lot about UC Berkeley’s academic reputation. Stories and memes about grade deflation and rigorous academics covered the walls of Facebook groups such as UCBMFET and Overheard. But, don’t let these scare you! I realized that while academics could be challenging at a large school like UC Berkeley, there were also many resources to make the transition to college academics easier, which many students often don’t realize. For my college writing class, getting a second opinion from the tutors at the Student Learning Center, or SLC, was extremely useful. The SLC also provides drop-in tutoring and advising sessions for introductory math courses, science courses, economics, etc. As for my math course, my professor was always approachable even outside of the class through office hours to clear concepts. And even in CS 61A, the most challenging class I’ve ever taken in my life, there were multiple resources outside of office hours and homework/project parties, which made my life a lot easier! For example, CS Mentors is a program where four or five students are assigned a mentor to guide them through practice problems each week. The biggest takeaway here is that you shouldn’t hesitate to seek help in classes you’re struggling in. There are other students in the same boat as you and resources that exist so that you can perform well academically!

But, I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned during my two semesters at UC Berkeley is to put myself out there. At this public university, it is no secret that we have one of the largest student populations for a limited number of teaching staff or opportunities. UC Berkeley teaches you to have a go-getter attitude that will stay with you even after you graduate! If you really want something, you have to pull out all the stops and go get it for yourself. For example, at a smaller private university, an introductory math class might have 50 students where the professors know everyone’s names after a couple of weeks. At UC Berkeley, with more than 300 students in Math 1A, for instance, unless you make the personal effort to go to office hours and get to know your professors, they most likely will not know you personally. Similarly, at other universities, major or college advisers might reach out directly to the student to schedule a meeting, while at UC Berkeley, you’re under no such compulsion unless you yourself schedule an appointment. If there is one thing you take home from this article, it’s that no one is going to hand things to you on a platter. So go out there and get it done!

So, there you have it! This is by no means an exhaustive account and I’m still constantly learning and growing from my time at UC Berkeley. I can’t wait for my sophomore year and all the ups and downs it’s going to bring!

Contact Nandita Radhakrishnan at [email protected].