Takeaways From My First Year at Berkeley

April 18, 2023

Just now, Berkeley decisions have been released and prospective new students are making their college decisions. I remember this time last year when I committed to Berkeley. I would stay up for hours reading and watching YouTube videos about people’s experiences, not sure what to expect and somewhat nervous about the end of my freshman year.

Now, looking back at it, I wish I could give advice to my scared high school self. I wished I could tell them everything would work out, and that they would now be looking back on their freshman year with fondness and nostalgia, wishing I was back in the position of all the nervous, excited high school seniors and future bears.

I’d like to take this opportunity to share my takeaways and what advice I have for my first year at Cal. First, Cal will not be exactly what you expect. When writing your “why ___ college” or researching schools, most people have some ideas about what they want to do at school, whether it includes what classes they want to take, the specific research they want to be involved in, or what clubs and organizations they want to join. Although I highly recommend seeing what opportunities exist at Cal, once you get here, you may find things that you’ve never even heard of that you want to try, or run into unexpected changes that cause you to reconsider your original plan.

That being said, be open to changing your mind and trying new things. You may come into college with a set career path or no idea what you want to do, and either way, this is perfectly okay. Take advantage of your freshman year to truly explore your interests, and be open to trying new things. If there is a new club that looks cool, attend a meeting even if you never thought about participating in this activity before. Take a DeCal or breadth course about a topic you’ve always wanted to learn more about, even if it has nothing to do with your intended major. Your freshman year is the perfect time to explore your interests, and you do not need to have or stick to any sort of plan you may have made. 

Next, people at Cal actually want to help you. There are many stereotypes that exist about students at big research institutions, especially Cal. There are stereotypes that support for students is lacking, or that students are extremely competitive. However, I would argue that every time I’ve reached out for help, I’ve found it is there for those who are looking for it. Whether it is visiting the tutors in our student learning center, which has tutoring for most popular undergraduate pre-requisite courses, because I’m stressed about a midterm or attending my graduate student instructor or professor’s office hours when I have a question on an assignment, help is there for those who seek it. I’ve found that upperclassmen and older Berkeley alumni are also equally as helpful. They have served as an amazing resource when I want to know what classes to take or how to secure a summer internship. 

Finally, know that your options here are endless and you are in control of your own Berkeley adventure. Berkeley is a big school, and this is one of the best things about it. You can find a club for pretty much any hobby, classes for a variety of different specific interests, and many professors doing groundbreaking research. However, sometimes, you may still feel pressured to do things a certain way, whether it's picking a specific major or being in a specific club, simply because it led one person to success. However, there is no “wrong way” to navigate Berkeley. Just because something worked for one person does not mean it is essential to another. The best part of being at a big school is that everyone can choose their own adventure in a sense and has the freedom to follow their interests. Take advantage of that and follow your interests.