During the college application process, everyone told me that no matter what schools I got into, I would end up where I belong. After countless applications, 15 rejections and six waitlists, I was left to choose between UC Berkeley and my safety schools. Now, I’m not an avid believer in fate, but unlike all my overachieving high school peers who struggled in choosing one out of the numerous top colleges to commit to, it seemed as though all the signs were there: UC Berkeley was the school for me. Yet, for a while, it felt as if I ended up at the wrong destination.
I know this hasn’t been the college experience that anyone expected, but I can’t help but think about how much has changed since my senior year of high school. Two years ago, I would have never even considered applying to UC Berkeley. Faithful to my hometown of New York City, I was devoted to staying along the East Coast within close range of my family and friends. On a whim, I decided to apply to UC Berkeley after finding out that my UC application was free. Yet, even with the low probability that I would go, let alone the chance that I’d even get accepted, I’m now sitting in my Unit 2 dorm room writing this column.
I can’t say that I’m disappointed though; my first year at UC Berkeley, although virtual and 2,905 miles away from home, has been an experience that might not be unique — but it’s certainly been enlightening.
Within my first month at UC Berkeley, I had already considered transferring to a different school. The independent move from the East Coast to the West Coast took a toll in and of itself, as I was left stranded in a completely new state with unfamiliar people and felt homesick for all of my loved ones in New York. Furthermore, college life was deviant to my high school perfectionism. The formerly overambitious, overachieving, doing-it-all version of me was questioning why I was doing less in college and still falling behind; why the friends I made at UC Berkeley and the ones from back home were all undergoing the same academic rigor as I was but still succeeding and having the time of their lives; and why I should stay at UC Berkeley at all, seeing that I was so incapable as a student.
Granted, I try to remind myself that everyone feels this way; after all, impostor syndrome is an all-too-common experience among freshmen. Plus, upperclassmen have told me countless times that freshman year of college is always the worst because it comes with such a harsh learning curve: The content gets harder, the pace of courses becomes faster and the need for self-discipline increases. Now, I can’t say I’ve done a good job tackling this learning curve, no thanks to remote learning. Last semester, I didn’t pass two classes, and this semester, I’ve late dropped two classes, bringing me under the unit minimum. Of course, that’s nothing academically promising, and I’m not at all proud of it. But between high school and this first year of college, my biggest learning curve was rooted in being nicer to myself and understanding my limits.
I’m not going to lie; trying to practice self-acceptance and reassurance after countless nights of overthinking, tears and self-disparaging comments, along with opening up to others and feeling vulnerable — that is seriously hard. But this was the year I learned to let go and put my mental health first. With the unsatisfactory and dropped classes, instead of dwelling on the mistakes of the past and what could’ve been if I just completed them, I’ve become more forgiving. I’ve come to realize that it’s OK that I made these decisions; regardless, I’m still on track for my intended major, and even if I’m unable to declare it, I still have time and other options.
In the past, I committed myself to too many extracurriculars just to seem well-rounded or to stand out amid my successful peers, but in doing so, I sacrificed my mental health and couldn’t properly divide my devotion among the activities I signed up for. Mustering the courage to restructure my priorities, I gave up activities I loved because I knew I couldn’t properly commit to them and didn’t want my peers to suffer from my shortcomings. I’ve also made the brave step of doing something that my former self would have refused to do: talking about my emotions — whether that be with a mental health professional or my friends.
Amending my self-worth is something I’m still working on, and it might be something I never stop trying to improve. While I do have my grievances over a virtual freshman year, it has given me ample time for self-reflection and allowed me to build better self-practices. With the return to in-person instruction, I hope that come fall, I will be able to adjust and find a balance between my personal life and academic responsibilities. But more importantly, during that time, I hope to stay kind to myself.