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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

UC Davis seniors share tips for incoming freshmen

Spring graduates share advice on the keys to academic success and forming long-lasting friendships 


By ELIZABETH WOODHALL — features@theaggie.org


First-year students’ adjustment to college life often requires guidance from current students, advisors and orientation leaders. UC Davis provides resources for first-years, including housing, financial aid and all the steps required after admission, according to their website. Even with these resources, though, it’s common for first-years to feel out of place during their transition into college. 

The initial quarter of your first year is usually the most challenging for college students, according to Mark Foncannon, the Director of Student Engagement and Success in the College of Letters and Science. First-year students show a pattern of having concerns about class enrollment and success.

“They are unsure of what to do next, and we hear a lot about what classes [they] could take and what GEs are,” Foncannon said. “We also hear questions like, ‘How do I make connections? How do I find my community? How do I get involved?’”

Foncannon’s advice for first-year students is to take an easier load of courses during the first quarter. He explained that the first quarter is going to require different adjustments, so a larger workload can sometimes cause students greater distress. 

“Your first quarter at UC Davis is going to be completely different than anything you’ve experienced before,” Foncannon said. “It’s okay to not dive into the deep end. It’s okay to

[…] take three classes instead of four or five. It’s a whole new experience for students to be on their own and to manage their own calendars.”

Briahna Oliva, a fourth-year biological sciences major, shared this struggle with time management during her first year. She said that the transition from high school proved to be challenging for her mental health, in part because of how time-consuming her classes were. 

“I tend to not really focus on my health when it comes to studying,” Oliva said. “When I did study nonstop and [ignored] sleep, it didn’t really reflect in my academic performance, so I felt like when I was studying so hard, I still didn’t get the grade that I deserved.” 

The way that she dealt with these academic responsibilities was through self-care. 

“I feel like getting a good night[’s] [rest] really helps me, and eating, because sometimes I forget to eat, too,” Oliva said. “Just give time for yourself, and take a break if you need to. It’s not the end of the world if you fail a class.” 

Suraj Bhula, a fifth-year cell biology major, had a similar experience adjusting to college life. 

“It did take me a little bit of time to kind of get acquainted with the college system, and a big thing for me was getting used to being alone,” Bhula said. “You leave your family […] and you don’t really know anybody, to be honest. You have to get out of your comfort zone [and] make new friends. It is a bit overwhelming.” 

Bhula said that there were many pieces of advice that he received throughout his undergraduate years. One suggestion he has for inkling students is to focus on making friends. He said was key actually to his academic success. 

“I would go with people from my classes to the dining hall and eat, and then we would just work on homework,” Bhula said. “So, that was a pretty common thing that I did, and it worked very well for me, in my experience.”

In terms of academic success, Bhula said that the college experience is about trying out new things, especially when it comes to trying out non-major classes to see if it sparks a new interest. 

“I would suggest exploring [your options] in the first few years,” Bhula said. “I would explore options for your major. You might be undecided. You might be in a certain major, but I would explore career opportunities for that. I would suggest exploring those early on rather than later on.”

Networking is also an important part of academic success, according to Bhula. Networking can include speaking with peers, but making connections with professors who might offer you career advice and opportunities within your intended field is also incredibly helpful.

“If you’re really interested in your major and you like this professor, I would definitely keep in touch with them,” Bhula said. “They can provide you with internship opportunities and maybe even write you a letter of recommendation if you’re academically involved with them. That could be as simple as going to office hours to ask questions.”

Andrew Stephens, a fourth-year physics major, said that freshmen should not be scared to reach out if they are interested in working with their professors. 

”If you’re like, ‘Oh, I want to do undergraduate research,’ just email professors,” Stephens said. “They are kind and they will get back to you. If they have a spot, you’ll be able to join them. If you want to try a new class, try it. Maybe you’ll end up switching your major. Just try to avoid being lazy or scared of putting yourself out there. Get as much experience [as you can], and the opportunities will build on each other.” 

The advice that he would give first years is to “work smarter, not harder,” which can be applied in both academic and career situations. 

“Be intentional in how you spend your time and don’t just bang your head against the wall when you’re studying or doing work,” Stephens said. “Put yourself out there, and there are more opportunities than you think. There are more chances to start building your career, whether that’s academic or just building experiences.”

Brynn Kan, a fourth-year English major, enjoyed her undergraduate experience but said it did require her to go out of her comfort zone.  

“I feel like I’ve met so many people who I wouldn’t have become friends with in high school, but being in a new setting, I’ve been able to connect more with people who aren’t necessarily very similar to me,” Kan said. “Definitely be willing to be uncomfortable, because I think, especially during freshman year, I was trying to be friends with people, and it’s always awkward. You don’t really know what to talk about when you’re hanging out for the first time, one-on-one.”

The best advice she would give to first years is advice that she once received from her English professor, Jeff Solomon, Ph.D. 

“He was telling us to remember that, even though we’re technically students in this environment, we all bring our own insight and we have insight that other people don’t,” Kan said. “Just because we’re students in this setting doesn’t mean that we aren’t bringing something to the table that’s serious — and that we can be taken seriously.”

Irina Zia, a third-year psychology major who is graduating this quarter, said that taking care of her health, and specifically getting enough sleep, has been an important factor for her academic success. 

“I have gone to class with, like, three hours of sleep before; it is not an enjoyable experience,” Zia said. “Sometimes you have to be smart about your time management, and sometimes losing sleep is the trigger to be like, ‘Oh, man, maybe I should figure this out.’ Sleep is single-handedly the most important thing that will get you through college.”

Zia said that even with all of the advice and preparation, it’s okay to struggle with the transition to college.

“Don’t spiral during your freshman year,” Zia said. “No matter how much you think you know about college, you will never be fully ready to go into college. So when I say ‘Don’t spiral,’ I’m saying that if you do badly in a class, or, if for some reason, you realize that you’re not liking your intro major classes, do not put your head against the wall. You do not immediately think rash[ly] and be like, ‘Oh my god, I have to change my major. I’m garbage at school.’”

Zia said that while you shouldn’t be too quick to give up on a major, it’s also never too late to try out new academic ventures. She said that first years should avoid making decisions without exploring all the options, but that it’s good to remember that switching to a different path is a possibility.

“Even if it’s not working now, the great thing is, you can still switch your major,” Zia said. “Just let things happen as they occur. Go with the flow, and it’s okay to have these thoughts.” 

Written by: Elizabeth Woodhall — features@theaggie.org