4 Pieces of Advice From Someone Who Had A Rough First Year In College

As I now begin wrapping up my second year at UCLA, I’ve had some time to reflect on my experiences in college thus far-- and acknowledge for myself-- how much has changed since my first official day as a bruin. It is well-known by now that change is an inevitable mark of life, one that leaves its biggest stamp in early adulthood, where it begins to happen all at once, whether you are ready for it or not. Your perspective on the world, on people, on yourself, and the way you approach challenges, triumphs, and conversely, the way you handle rejection and setbacks, are all subject to change. You should expect to change drastically; after all, it is a pretty intuitive process given the fact that major life transitions force the purging of comfort.

My disposition has always made me seek familiarity, because its existence prioritized the comfort of knowing what is to come next. I like to take the guessing out of important matters, and I almost always have lofty expectations in the space of the unknown. Keeping that in mind, I struggled a lot with acclimating to UCLA my first quarter. Through trial and error, I learned how to adapt to new situations better and ultimately grow into that power. Here are 4 things that I’ve come to know, after completing and reflecting on my first year as a college student: Woman poses in shadowy lighting. Photo by Vino Li from Unsplash

  1. 1. Control is an illusion.

    The most important thing I’ve had to learn, and am still in the process of learning now, is that control does not exist. Clinging onto the need to be in control will only make it more difficult to accept new experiences and take on the challenges that may arise. Coming into college, I found myself not being in the driver’s seat for the first time in a long time, and I thought that regaining that control was the key to creating the college experience that I wanted. Through the time and experience I’ve gained since then, I can confidently tell you that your college experience will unfold in the way that it is supposed to and that you will eventually figure out who you want to be and what you need to be doing. 

  2. 2. Patience and (self)acceptance go hand-in-hand.

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    Good things take time. Friendships, romantic relationships and professional connections don’t form overnight. They require consistency and effort to flourish, both of which need time to really develop. You might be in a hurry to get the ball rolling and attempt to join every club on the roster, attend every social or show up to every party. Though enthusiasm is a good trait to have, enthusiasm without patience won’t get you far. You will burn yourself out trying to force connections that just won’t happen, at least not in the timeline you’ve created and idolized. Accept that things will happen in good timing, allow yourself to relax a little and sink into the gratitude of being young and having so much time to explore new things. 

  3. 3.   Expectations provide a false sense of security, but not much else.

    I came into college with lofty ideals and an innate expectation for things to go as I’ve planned, whether it be socially, romantically, academically or professionally. I’ve always been one to plan ahead, and you can see how this would’ve gotten in the way of the previous two bullets I’ve mentioned-- and it did. My advice to you would be to let go of the ideas you’ve learned in life thus far, about how things will pan out and how things should be. College is a different setting, a different time, and a different environment for everyone involved. The most effective way to ensure that you won’t waste your time wishing and wanting instead of enjoying the moment for what it is and trusting that things will work out, is to let go of your expectations. It’s normal, and oftentimes beneficial, to have a rough idea for what you want the near future to look like, but anything that requires a specific set of events to unfold should not be entertained. 

  4. 4. Imposter syndrome is served on a platter, daily.

    My most vivid memory from orientation weekend was one in which my NSA sat our entire group down by the bruin statue. On that very warm night, directly across from the John Wooden Center, we all went around the circle speaking about our experiences with imposter syndrome. Every single person in the group, including myself, shared about how they were afraid they had been admitted to UCLA by mistake, that it must have been luck and not their ability as a person, that they’ve dreamed of this reality for so long that they can no longer believe that it actually is real and happening right now. My NSA told everybody that nobody gets admitted by mistake (each applicant’s documents needs to get unanimous approval from both their respective admissions officers) but in all her years at UCLA, nearly everybody she’s met has had that same fear. I myself even know countless people who feel the same way. It seems as though the entire campus collectively suffers from imposter syndrome, while each individual is under the impression that it is just them who feels this way, that the people around them are all qualified and superior to themselves in some way. I don’t have a direct answer or solution to this issue, but I do want to let you know that it’s something that everyone deals with, whether they open up about it or not. In this, I hope you can find for yourself a little bit of comfort; everyone is in this together. It will take time to process the emotions for yourself, so make space for that as you need to. Just know that what you’re feeling is valid, but it isn’t true. You got admitted not from luck, timing or a mistake in the admissions process. You got in because the officers see capability, strength, daringness and intelligence in you-- and those traits don’t always need a certain numerical value attached to it.   

woman with hands out window of car Photo by averie woodard from Unsplash

For the spirited and wide-eyed baby bruins coming to campus this fall, I hope this list has not sparked intimidation, because I do not want your sense of wonder to be dulled and replaced with more apprehension than is necessary for a transition such as this one. UCLA is a wonderful campus to call home, and you will eventually get to where you want to be in due time. I wish I had known these things coming into college; it would’ve saved me a lot of time and mental energy, as well as anxiety about scenarios where things don’t work out. I’ve learned though, that they always do, despite the long and windy roads you may need to take sometimes. No matter what your own journey consists of, know that you will come out the other end unscathed and even stronger. Remember that you have the ability to tackle head-on whatever is thrown in your direction, and that the feelings of discomfort, anxiety or doubt that may arise throughout this time in adulthood serve as direct proof that you are growing into who you are meant to become. Congratulations incoming class of 2025, and good luck!