How to Survive Freshman Year of College: Embrace Your Fears
I graduated from Coachella Valley High School in 2015 and I am currently a student at the University of California, Berkeley. I know that many of you are about to start college, or at least thinking about college since it’s not that far away, so I will share some of my experiences as a college freshmen.
I started out with a summer program called Summer Bridge, which many UC’s offer. It is a program to help you transition to college with preparatory classes. I really recommend going if you have the chance; it is a great experience, and it definitely helped prepare me for the difficulty of the classes in the fall.
I remember taking a math class during Summer Bridge that covered everything up to trigonometry. During that class I realized that I learned math, not in a wrong way, but in a very simplistic manner. The tests are more difficult, and your score is a measure of how well you know the material compared to your classmates. I especially remember a speaker who was talking about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in Berkeley. He explained that most of the students here where at the top of their high school classes, so it was hard to be special when everyone here is just as smart as you or smarter. I know that it was not his intention to scare people, but to bring them to reality. As I listened though, I couldn’t help become even more intimidated by the classes coming up in the fall and spring.
After Summer Bridge, fall semester started and I realized that all my classes felt the same as the math class that I took in the summer. Each class seemed to push you to think in a more complex way about topics. For math, that meant learning formal definitions and proofs. I think that AP classes did help me; however, the classes I took went a step higher. If I had not taken AP classes it would have been a much harder transition. After finishing my fall semester it was time to take classes where the material was unknown to me. I had to take a physics class and the second half of my calculus class. I became intimidated while looking at the grade curves for those classes because grades where spread out evenly, with half the class getting B’s or lower. I also realized that others had already taken physics and calculus in high school while I still needed to take an actual physics class. So knowing very little physics and feeling extremely nervous, I prepared for spring semester.
I can honestly say that Physics is one of the hardest classes that I have ever taken. I learned so much, even though there are some concepts that I still don’t really understand. I also got an excellent grade. A question you may be asking is: how? Even though the tempting answer would be that it was all thanks to my intelligence, I really think it was because of my positive attitude. I told myself that this was what I had signed up for; this was why I was here. Of course, this didn’t make the class any less difficult, but once I overcame my initial intimidation, I never looked back.
I also discovered that when I embraced the challenge that the class provided, I felt an even greater passion for that subject. So when I would get tired of working through problem after problem, I would take a break and start again. When I felt that I was not capable of solving a problem, I would go to my professor, or to someone else, for support. The key to stop being afraid of the difficult problems is to talk to others about the material.
There will be times when a test defeats you. I didn’t do well on one of my midterms and the low test score felt very demoralizing. When this happens you should not be discouraged because it happens to everyone. My professors have told me that it even happens to them. I revised it and promised myself to study harder and find the mistakes in my studying for the final.
Ironically, Physics, the class that intimidated me the most, the subject I felt least prepared for, has become one of the subjects I am most attracted to. I originally intended to major in Chemistry, but after taking a class I decided that it was not for me. Now I am deciding between Physics and Math (maybe both).
I actually had a very similar experience to that of my very good friend Hector Marin. In his blog he mentions how his class was taken by surprise with Schrodinger’s wave equation. During my sophomore year of high school I went to a summer school program at UC Irvine where I encountered that same equation. I did feel frightened, but then I realized that there was something more, a feeling of excitement. There was this feeling of curiosity, I had no idea what the equation meant, but I wanted to figure it out.
The most important thing is to embrace your passions, whether it is solving math problems, like me, or something completely different. It can be very easy to get caught up with getting straight A’s or a high GPA, but sometimes this causes you to miss the best moments in life, or to forget to enjoy the class you are taking. Remember that an obstacle, like a class or test, is just a small step in your journey. I did not get straight A’s my freshmen year of college, but I came close and I enjoyed the challenge that my classes provided.
Josue Gil was born in Mexico, Puebla, but raised in the Coachella Valley. He is currently a sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley and an aspiring physicist and mathematician.