While UC Berkeley has no shortage of vibrant and spirited traditions — and while campus is near always thriving — it can be hard acclimating to life here regardless.
If you come from a smaller school, simply navigating campus can be daunting. Most of us have had the experience of getting lost in Dwinelle Hall or have accidentally taken the service elevator to a random basement in one of the libraries.
Even in terms of leaving campus’s buildings, it can be easy to get lost. The city of Berkeley is campus, and campus is the city; its buildings are spread out all over, and even campus housing requires journeying through city streets. Staying safe and aware is a priority for many students; avoiding walking home alone at night and being cognizant of your surroundings can go a long way toward keeping you safe.
Aside from struggles with getting lost, trying to actually figure out how to best utilize the spaces on campus can be tricky even after understanding its ins and outs. Do you like to study in the library? The Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union? Memorial Glade? Perhaps you prefer the privacy of your apartment. Everyone works best in different environments, and figuring out what suits your study vibe is a process of trial and error.
Finding a community is another thing that many students struggle with during their time in college. Community can be defined in different ways; some people find it in religious or cultural groups, others in professional clubs or Greek life. There are even students who find community among the peers in their classes.
Surrounding yourself with a group of supportive and accommodating friends is important, and it’s equally as crucial to note that you may not find that community during your first week of school.
Living off campus can also be something new to many students. At UC Berkeley, the vast majority of attendees live off campus their sophomore year and beyond; this can be both beneficial and detrimental for one’s time as a student.
I’ve appreciated living off campus because I have my own bedroom for less than the price of a residence hall triple, and have access to a kitchen for cooking. With that said, however, it can get quiet and lonely at times after having been constantly surrounded by the noise of freshmen in the dorms getting ready for a frat party or game day.
Living off campus can make you feel like you’re growing up, and it can be an uncomfortable feeling.
Picking a major
Not knowing what you want to study is another struggle that many students face; it’s a confusing and frustrating feeling, especially if it takes you more than a couple semesters to truly discover what it is that you’re passionate about.
I entered campus without knowing what I wanted to major in. All I had were comprehensive four-year and three-year plans for six different majors, and I was determined to decide based on what I enjoyed.
I discovered in the first three minutes of my introductory sociology class that I absolutely loved the discipline. Having realized that I did not enjoy most of the other majors I was considering, this epiphany was utterly unexpected and I was apprehensive about majoring in a subject that I barely knew existed.
I’m a junior now, and I am so grateful I discovered sociology because it has changed the way I view everything in my life. It just wasn’t easy to figure that out at first.
The sheer number of options and choices can be overwhelming. What clubs should I join? Should I live on or off campus? Should I do research as an undergrad or should I build a startup?
There are thousands of academic course options available, and many majors make you decide which electives you wish to take early on in the process. If you are someone who needs a lot of structure and isn’t accustomed to making so many decisions, this can be extremely stressful.
Still, despite the difficulty in choosing, there are few colleges that contain the breadth of courses and departments that UC Berkeley does, and so many of these departments are rated No. 1 in the country. I recommend taking advantage of the abundance of classes offered and suggest that you take courses outside of your major as a means of exploring new subjects.
Most students likely won’t have the chance to learn simply for the sake of learning once they’re done with their undergraduate years: Doing so without having to justify why is an opportunity that shouldn’t be squandered.
With all of that said, there can be a lot of pressure to decide now what you want to do for the rest of your life; my best advice is to push back against the desire to have everything planned out. You can have every semester and summer scheduled down to the second, but it’s likely that some things aren’t going to end up the way you expect, and that’s perfectly OK.
It’s OK if you do an internship at a law firm and decide you no longer want to be a lawyer. It’s OK if you do research in a biology lab and realize you don’t want to pursue the premed track. Nobody is going to punish you for figuring things out along the way and for taking things one step at a time. Learning to be open to change is a skill that college has forced me to hone, and it has helped me grow as a person.
Accepting the fact that not everything is always going to go as planned was something I had to consciously learn. UC Berkeley is chaotic and can feel crazy sometimes, but that’s part of its character. It will make you a stronger, more confident and more proactive person — and that is something I am grateful for and hope that you will be grateful for, too.