Advice for Incoming College Freshmen, Part 2

Hello, my friends! Here is the long-awaited part 2 of my two-part advice for incoming college freshmen series. Sorry it took so long for me to upload– I have no excuse, other than the fact that I’ve been procrastinating with many of my blog posts in-the-making. Bad Belicia! Anyway, hope y’all find my two-cents at least somewhat helpful. I aim to ease college freshmen’s transitions into this new and exciting life chapter. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions at all regarding college life… or life, in general!

Hobbies/Extracurriculars

  • Extracurricular activities are a HUGE part of the college experience. It is through such that you make close friends, take a mental breather from your studies, delve into existing passions, discover new interests and grow yourself in various dimensions. Don’t study all day, if you can avoid it!!!
  • You may find that, in the beginning of your college experience, your studying-to-extracurricular ratio is something like 90:10, or even 100:0. This is completely normal, and encouraged, even. As a freshman, you want to give yourself sufficient time to adjust to not only college-level academics, but also to the newfound responsibilities that come with living independently for the first time. As a UCLA English professor wisely advised, “During fall quarter of freshman year, you should be focused 100% on your studies. Winter quarter, you can get involved in one extracurricular; spring quarter, add another, if you can handle it.” As you progress through college, the end ratio of studies to extracurriculars should be more like 50:50 (at least, that’s the ratio UCLA encourages its students to strive towards). As you become a seasoned student, you’ll become a lot better at studying efficiently, budgeting your time smartly, prioritizing responsibilities and saying no to activities that don’t serve you; thus, by the end of your college journey, you’ll find yourself better adept at balancing school with hobbies.
  • You WILL feel tempted to try every club/extracurricular your university has to offer. I know I was! Going into UCLA, I had a long bucket list of every club/extracurricular activity I wanted to partake in during my freshman year: undergraduate research; X, Y and Z pre-med club; the Daily Bruin school paper; HOOLIGAN theater; UCLA Dancesport club; UCLA Salsa Society; ICARUS contemporary dance group; Foundations choreography; Bruin Toastmasters; Campus tour-guiding; etc. etc. etc. The reality was sobering, as I soon discovered that studying left me little to no time to pursue all I wanted to. Don’t worry, though. You may not accomplish everything on your bucket list your first year in college, but over the course of four years, you will.
  • Greek life. Admittedly, I’m not the best person to ask about fraternities and sororities, as I am not one to partake. However, if that’s something you want to explore, by all means, go for it! I have many friends at school involved in social frats/sororities, as well as pre-professional, co-ed fraternities. As one floor-mate described, “You’ll never get another experience [like Greek life] than in college.” Many people like Greek life because it ensures you a group of close-knit “brothers” and “sisters”– a family away from home, of sorts. Many brothers and sisters remain close friends well after college. Of course, you don’t need to be a part of a frat or sorority to make long-lasting friendships in college. Many are also drawn to the party lifestyle that naturally characterizes Greek life. If you’re into that kinda thing, you’d probably be inclined to partake. During freshmen orientation, I met a UCLA alumnus who, during his UCLA undergrad days, was a very active member of his fraternity. While he enjoyed his experience, he advised college freshmen to “not commit to a frat/sorority during freshman year”, as doing so may hinder you from exploring other fields of interest. Indeed, Greek life is a large time commitment, not to mention being a money-suck. Regardless, if you’re at all interested in joining a frat/sorority, definitely try “rushing” a house– aka, participating in various social activities (parties, dinners, meet n’ greets, etc.) to get to know the members of the house. At the end of rush week, active members invite hand-selected individuals whom they believe would be a good fit for their house to “pledge”. Pledging is the initiation process of being accepted into a frat/sorority, usually lasting an entire academic quarter. Pledge quarter is notorious for being mentally, emotionally and physically tough on the “pledges”. Not everyone can make it through the pledge process, as pledges are “hazed”, with severity of hazing varying from house to house. Hazing is the process by which active members push pledges to the mental and physical breaking point, through various (cruel) tactics. One common technique practiced by many social frats is forcing pledges to drink to the point of oblivion. Actives often place pledges “on call”, during which time pledges must perform ANY task for actives, when called upon. Essentially, slavery. Personally, I am very against the idea of hazing, and have no idea why universities tolerate– let’s call it what it is– low-key torture. I had a friend who was nearly hospitalized for alcohol poisoning when forced by actives to drink beyond her physical limit. According to some, pledging is a great way to build character. I don’t know if forsaking your mental and physical health to be apart of an insular community that prides itself on its indulgent partying/drinking/licentious culture is worth it. But again, I won’t tell you not to try it out, if you’re at all interested.
  • On a related note, just because you’re surrounded by people who engage in, for want of a better phrase, worldly vices, you needn’t feel peer pressure to do anything you don’t want to do, like drinking, hooking up, drugs, etc.
  • And if you choose to engage in the above pasttimes… just be safe! Your university will do a whole spiel on that at freshman orientation, so no need for me to go into that.

R+R Advice: Romance and relationships. Oh, how I can talk ENDLESSLY about this topic! For many, college is the time when they begin hooking-up, dating, falling in love and even finding their “one-and-only”. It is here where many may experience their “first time”, however mind-blowing or downright cringeworthy (the latter, more often than the former) it may be. You often hear married couples tell you the story of how they “met in college”. There seems to be a lot of pressure to find your future spouse in your undergraduate days– albeit less so than in past generations– but for some, especially at big-name universities, the pressure still exists. From the (little) romance I’ve experienced during my first year at UCLA, here are some of the do’s and don’ts I’ve gathered regarding intimacy in a college setting.

  • If you live in the dorms, I highly advise against hooking up with your next door neighbor, as more often than not, it never ends well. In fact, try to avoid “floorcest” at all costs, lest you fancy a year’s worth of awkward eye-contact, hiding behind corners or in dorm bathrooms, and unbearable, face-reddening elevator rides with “he/she who shan’t be named”.
  • Wait wait wait, Belicia. What exactly does “hooking up” mean? I never partook in high school, and while I have a vague idea of what the activity involves, a clear-cut, Merriam Webster definition would be nice. Okay, fair enough. The thing is, I don’t have a definitive answer for you, for the term “hooking up” means different things to different people. To some, hooking up is equivalent to sex and sex alone. Others view it as an umbrella term covering anything from making out in a prostrate position to fourth-base, and all the gray-area in between.
  • If you didn’t know already… Hookup culture pervades college campuses across the nation. Whether or not you choose to partake in the action of hooking up is entirely up to you. But the CULTURE is felt by everyone. In a closed community where casual sex is normalized, you may experience a bit of culture shock when first arriving on campus, especially if you came from a sheltered, conservative upbringing, like I did. You’ll hear stories of so-and-so sleeping with a different person each week, and you may wonder to yourself… why am I not “getting any”? It seems like everyone’s doing it. Is something physically the matter with me, to have brought upon this lack of attention? Here are the facts: not everyone is “doing it”. Studies have shown that students highly overestimate the amount of hooking up going on amongst their peers. If one-night-stands are not your cup of tea, don’t feel pressured to do it! It’s as simple as that. You’re an adult, and you are in full control of whatever you do or don’t do. However, I speak from personal experience when I say, it’s easy to feel pressure to go with, rather than against, the tide of hookup culture. Some may come into college with very strict and conservative views regarding sex, but emerge after their first year with a completely different outlook. That is totally okay. Just remember– don’t feel pressure to do anything you are not comfortable doing. Know your own boundaries, and don’t be afraid to say NO to the other party. If you’re curious about the hookup-life that you’d shied away from in the past and wish to dabble… don’t feel shame in experimenting. Like I keep emphasizing, college is all about new experiences. You try new things, make mistakes, and hopefully learn and grow from the mishaps. Whatever you do, though, just remember to be SAFE. Life’s too precious to throw away carelessly.
  • Your first year of college is probably the first time in your life when you’ll meet so many different people in such close proximity. That’s another reason why hooking up is so common among college students. It’s accessible. Convenient. You’ve probably heard of the dating/hook-up app, “Tinder”. Well, college students love “Tinder”, as the app “matches” you with people located near you. So, if you’re living in the dorms, you can literally “match” with someone a single floor down from you. And, without parents or logistical limitations… nothing’s really stopping you from hooking up, except yourself, of course.
  • I highly advise reading the book, American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus, by Lisa Wade, before heading to college, if you want to learn more about hookup culture.
  • If you engage in sexual activity with multiple partners, I advise making use of the university health center and getting tested for STD’s after each hookup. Remember– do as you will, but above all, BE SAFE.
  • To date, or not to date? Again, it’s totally up to you. I personally did not get into a serious relationship my first year of college, mainly because I didn’t want to be tied down in my quest of self-exploration and meeting new people. Also, with the many new responsibilities and changes that come with transitioning to college life, I don’t think I would have had the time or energy to commit myself to another person, with school and dance and everything else on my always-overfilled plate. That said, I have many friends who’ve dated seriously throughout their freshman year of college and were happy as a clam. One especially heartwarming story is that of a friend I met during freshman orientation. Like me, she had absolutely no romantic experience before coming to college, and we were both equally clueless about boys. Not far into fall quarter, she met a very sweet guy, whom she fell in love with, and has been joined at the hip with ever since. They even have promise rings and everything. It’s so exciting, all the beautiful things college has in store for young people! So, be open to new experiences. You don’t have to make it a hard and fast rule to spurn dating or romantic relationships during your freshman year of college. If someone wonderful comes along, you may choose to date casually, and see where it goes from there.
  • What about long-distance relationships? I’m not the best person to ask about this, as I never had a boyfriend coming into college. However, I’ve seen the ups and downs of both sides. A good friend of mine broke up with her boyfriend of three years before leaving for school, and everything turned out fine for her– I can’t speak for him, though. On the other hand, many long-distance relationships between lovers  attending different schools have also worked out. I’ve also seen high school couples attend the same college, even living in the same dorm rooms, and have their relationship flourish. It’s really between you and your signifiant other to come to a mutual understanding of what you both want.
  • TA-student/professor-student romantic relationships do happen. Most college students are 18 years or older, so legally, there’s nothing stopping them from dating their mentors. Whether or not the university condones such behavior is a different matter. But yeah, just putting that out there, ‘cause I had a math professor who, at the time I was enrolled in his class, was dating a third-year undergraduate student. I remember being absolutely dumbfounded and mind-blown when I first caught wind of the gossip. It happens. Don’t be shocked if it does.

Physical Health

  • Prioritize your physical health over your studies. How can you do well in class if you’re sick in bed, barely able to sit up long enough to study? A healthy, fit body is a sound home for a fully-functioning mind.
  • Make it a habit to eat Vitamin C every day. You’ll be grateful when you’re the only one on your floor not dying during flu season.
  • Bring a water boiler to college. Technically, you aren’t allowed to have water heaters in your dorm rooms, as they pose as a fire hazard… but honestly, most students bring them anyway, and simply drape a towel over it during room inspections. Hot water is your friend, especially if you’re coming down with a cold or flu. Drink it religiously.
  • Get one of those hospital face masks that you use to protect yourself against airborne illnesses. Don’t worry about looking like a dweeb for wearing a face mask to class. Nobody cares what you do in college. If anything, people will think you’re smart for taking extensive measures to protect your physical health, and hop aboard your brain-wagon.
  • Wash your hands as often as possible. You don’t need me to tell you that.
  • Be prepared to get sick at least once each quarter/semester. It happens a lot, especially when you’re away from home for the first time, in an academically and socially stressful environment, without your parents making sure you’re eating healthy and caring for your body.
  • When you do get sick, don’t panic. Have friends close by who can buy you Tylenol from the student store or walk you to the student health center. You’ll find that your college friends do indeed become like a second family, as you have only each other to count on when you’re ill or in need of care.
  • Every diligent student’s worst nightmare is getting sick right before midterms or finals. That nightmare came true for me during fall quarter last year. I was sick in bed with a fever, cold sweats, sore throat, hacking cough and really bad stomach problems. I had a midterm coming up around the time of my illness’s zenith, and I freaked out because I didn’t know what to do. Study through my illness, at the expense of my physical health and risk of hospitalization, or rest and expedite my convalescence, so I could be well enough to perform well on the midterm?
  • To avoid the above scenario, you want to keep your immune system strong. Which brings us back to the first five points, aimed at preventing illness altogether.
  • Another primary preventive measure is to avoid pulling all-nighters. Study efficiently, prioritize your studies and don’t procrastinate. That way, you won’t need to resort to this highly unhealthy lifestyle habit, which really wrecks your immune system and, not to mention, hinders your ability to learn and retain information.

Mental Health

  • You guys, let me tell you this. Mental health is way more important than academic performance. I CANNOT stress this enough. You hear stories of college students not showering for weeks, going up-the-wall crazy pulling double all-nighters to study, and subsisting on Red Bull, coffee and Adderall to study during finals week. If you do any of these on a consistent basis, you are almost guaranteed to have a mental-breakdown before the quarter/semester’s end. It doesn’t need to be that way. You don’t need to go crazy in the pursuit of good grades. Though grades may seem like the only thing that matters in life, especially if you are a Type A, over-achieving pre-med gunner with perfectionistic expectations, there is more to life than academics, okay? Please, don’t place academics over physical and mental well-being, as I did during my winter quarter of freshman year. College is challenging, yes, but it was never meant to push you over the edge. At least, not if you are in the right state of mind. Which leads me to my next topic of discussion: the pursuit of perfection.
  • Ah, yes. Perfectionism. I know it well. Back when I was a crazy premed student, I was obsessed with earning perfect grades for medical school. The result: disappointment, burnout, self-loathing, and physical/mental downward spiral. During the peak of my perfectionism, I’d spend nights either at Powell library or the Hedrick Study, armed with my purple suitcase filled with textbooks/notebooks/study material. Oh, how I SO don’t miss those 6:00am treks back to my dorm room, sometimes through pouring rain. I’d get back to the res hall at around 6:30am, drenched from head to toe, looking like a zombie who has (literally) not slept for days. The cleaning crew members, who were just starting their morning shifts, would stare at me like I was a crazy person… and looking back, I definitely was going crazy. Moral of the story: never, ever equate your self worth with how well you perform academically, unless you wish to be like sleep-deprived, borderline-suicidal me. It is so easy for college students to fall into the tunnel-visioned pursuit of good grades, forsaking their mental well-being in the process. I implore you to try your hardest not to do this. Remember: you are not your grades. You are not measured by letters and numbers. I don’t care if you have a 5.0 GPA (not possible in college, btw)– if you don’t have integrity, it is all for naught. While you may very well be capable of earning A-plus’s in all your classes, you have to ask yourself if it’s a battle you wish to fight. Theoretically, you could study 24/7 and be a near-perfect student; but in doing so, you would necessarily be sacrificing time spent on things that make you happy and keep you sane. At the end of the day, will employers care about the difference between an A-minus, A, and A-plus? Even medical schools aren’t that nitpicky about grades. So why should you be?
  • I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: get enough sleep. That means, no all-nighters. Truly, from the bottom of my heart, I mean this. Take it from someone who’s pulled her fair share. Studies have shown that lack of sleep is correlated with increased risk of anxiety and depression. Be kind to your body and mind. Nothing is more important than health. Is staying up ’till 4am to get a 20/20 instead of 18/20 on the next day’s chem quiz worth it? I hardly think that two points is worth the cost of forsaking sleep.
  • Make use of your university’s Counseling and Psychological Services. Screw mental health stigma. In college, everyone’s gonna need a little help, at some point. Especially in the beginning. So don’t feel ashamed AT ALL for seeking professional help to get through a rough patch. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of being human.
  • Note however, that large public universities often face lack of funding in their psychological services, and thus are unable to provide long-term care for students with chronic mental illness, like major depressive disorder or anxiety. In UCLA, students with the UC Student Health Insurance Plan are granted six free therapy sessions throughout the academic year; students without this insurance plan are relegated a measly three sessions. This is the unfortunate reality that plagues universities across America. Too much demand,  too little supply. Therefore, severely understaffed psychological services cater mostly to those in need of short-term, immediate assistance– suicidal ideation, self-harm behavior, etc.

 

Last Words of Advice

  • Don’t worry about getting lost on campus during the first two or three weeks of school. Just ask around for directions! After a short while, your campus will feel familiar, and navigating your way around will become a piece of cake.
  • Google Calendar is your new best friend. Truly a godsend to help you organize your life.
  • Go in to college with an open mind. You may go in thinking you want to study one thing, only to realize that you are drawn to completely different field of study. And that is totally okay! From the age of 10, I thought I was going to be a physician. Mired in the illusion of “needing” to become a doctor, I felt like I had my entire life planned out. Two quarters in to my freshman year, I realized that premed was really a terrible fit and that, all those years I had told myself that I wanted to be a physician, I was lying to myself. While I was definitely afraid of the ensuing uncertainty when first renouncing premed, I’ve since learned to embrace the unknown of the future and relish in the freedom of exploration. Even now, I still have no idea what I want to do career-wise, but I’m open to pursuing anything, as long as it’s what my heart wants.
  • College is a time of uncertainty and questioning of your identity. For many, this is the first time their finding their “public” identity, away from the strong force of family. Embrace the journey of self-discovery and growth. It’s truly remarkable.
  • Grades are a big part of succeeding in college, but please, please remember: your grades do not define you. There is so, so much more to an individual than their academic performance. If you equate your self-worth with your GPA, you will live a highly unbalanced life, fighting an impossible battle towards academic perfection that’ll inevitably lead to emptiness, loneliness, burnout and disappointment. For college students, especially those at an academically rigorous institution, it can be so easy to get sucked into the obsession of earning that 4.0 GPA. After all, good grades lead to better pre-professional/graduate schools, which lead to better job prospects, right? But when you lose sight of the bigger picture– that school is a mere fraction of your life course, and it is character, not letters and numbers, that define you– you are more at risk of becoming anxious, depressed and miserable, the minute you start underachieving academically. Don’t freak out if you, a straight-A+ high school student, start getting B’s or C’s during your freshman year of college. College is naturally more challenging than high school, for many reasons. But challenges beget growth, and that’s what we all want at the end of the day, right? To grow and to learn.

 

Hope you guys found this pre-college advice useful. Again, please reach out if you have any other questions. Until then, have a great rest of the week and good luck to those embarking on their new and exciting life chapter!

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