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Davis, California

Friday, May 24, 2024

Upperclassmen give advice on balancing college life, academics and a social life

How do first-year students’ expectations of college measure up against experience?


By AMBER WARNKE — features@theaggie.org


Freshmen at UC Davis are currently finishing up their first months of college, and adjusting to a new life away from home. With this comes excitement and anxiety as students face their first midterms, experience holidays in Davis and continue to branch out and join clubs. 

When Gabriel Mojica-Palafox, a first-generation student and first-year animal science major, came to Davis, he was worried he “wouldn’t have friends or find a safe place.” This fear of not finding community is common among first-year students, with many still searching for their group on campus. One thing that helped him was living in the CASA Learning Living Community, which “surrounded [him] with lots of groups of people with similar interests.”

Julianne Nguyen, a third-year environmental chemistry major, had similar concerns going into college. “I was really worried about making friends because going into high school you kind of already knew the people, but going into college I didn’t have any friends that were going to UC Davis with me, so it was really hard to find a community at first.” 

Similar to Mojica-Palafox, finding others with common interests was what ended up helping Nguyen find a sense of belonging. 

“Joining the band really makes finding a community and a friend group much easier… I didn’t join at the start of the year, I joined this time around October, so it was still a struggle … but I feel like the people were really welcoming,” Nguyen said.

For Talia Conn, a first-year sustainable environmental design major, the main difficulty she faced in her adjustment to college life was the workload. 

“I expected less work than I had in high school because I took a lot of APs, I took a lot of college classes, but this quarter… I have way more school work than I’ve ever had in my life,” Conn said. 

Conn said she could have been better prepared for college academics if she had “learned how to check Canvas, because sometimes I wouldn’t see the assignments I had and I would get behind on reading just because I didn’t see it. You’re expected to figure all of that out on your own and I didn’t know how to.”

Mojica-Palafox said that the studying habits required by college courses were difficult to initially develop. 

“In high school, I never needed to study, so studying was a new habit I had to build here. I just recently had my first midterms ever. They didn’t go the way I had wanted them to go but I’m just looking at it from a learning perspective so I can know what I need to work on, how I need to study going forward.”

Nguyen remembers her time adjusting to classes as a first-year and recommends self discipline in forming study habits to other first-year students.

 “Don’t skip classes because it all builds up. It’s important to not cram. You want to make sure you study the material a little bit each day, or every other day. Add your study habits slowly; you shouldn’t expect to reinvent yourself as a student immediately.”

Miles Bardin, a third-year applied mathematics major, has advice for first-years that they wish someone had told them.

 “Go to office hours and utilize the resources that you have. Especially with the lower-division chemistry and physics classes, the weed-out classes that are designed to be hard. If you don’t get help with that by going to office hours, talking to other students, looking at the [class] discord, it’s going to be a lot tougher than it otherwise could be.” 

UC Davis offers free drop-in advising services to all students in biology, chemistry, economics, math, physics, statistics and writing.

Bardin recounted when they first came to UC Davis; “I think I still had to make mistakes and find out how to get in the groove of being an academic weapon and also balancing the rest of my life.” They encourage first-years to avoid academic burnout as they find a balance. “Try not to get all consumed by school… Have fun, that’s half of what college is about.” 

Bardin also noted a difference in the expectations of one’s personal accountability in high school versus college. 

“There is more freedom in college; there’s more freedom to fall off, get out of the loop in terms of doing well academically, or even just doing well in general,” Bardin said. According to them, this is especially true for students experiencing living away from home for the first time. 

“It’s also the freedom to try new things without too great a fear of messing up irreparably,” Bardin said. “In terms of freedom, oftentimes you’ll have lots of flexibility with deadlines. You’ll have to keep yourself adhering to those deadlines so make sure you know how to prioritize what you’re doing, and actually stick to that.”

While first-years are entering the middle of their first quarter at UC Davis, they can continue to build strong habits that can help them throughout their college career. Finding an academic routine that works for them can help students from feeling overwhelmed as they continue to adjust to living in a new environment. 

Similar to academics, socializing is something that many students find takes more initiative and preparation than in high school. On such a large campus, it can be hard to find a sense of belonging, especially when classes change every ten weeks. But clubs and organizations can help with this. Finding a community on campus to plug into can make all the difference to a student’s college experience, with more than 800 groups to choose between. 

Lastly, students can find success in college by finding balance in their lives, prioritizing both academics, extracurriculars and self-care without overloading themselves, which can lead to burn out. Over time, as first-year students continue to adjust to college life in Davis, they can build a happy studious life filled with new opportunities.


Written By: Amber Warnke — features@theaggie.org



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