Hello readers! As my first article on Beta Pleated Chic, I wanted it to focus on undergraduate life while also being applicable to high school readers. I enjoy hearing other people's experiences, but mainly their could have/ should have/ would haves. I find it incredibly helpful advice and gives me a lot to think about. I want to share with you the experiences that I gained through making mistakes in college and how I learned from them. This is for current undergraduates in the same boat as me, those who are looking forward to college, or even those who want to look back and laugh at all the good college memories.
The “Dear Me” concept of writing a letter to your past self became an internet sensation a couple of months ago. Believe me when I say that college will be such a transformative experience! I am a first generation student and proud of it. However, being a first gen student inevitably has put me through my fair share (and possibly even more) of struggling and adapting to college life. My 18-year-old self never dreamed that she would get to attend college out of state, much less in the heart of Silicon Valley. She never thought she would be able to form the relationships she has been able to form, or meet the world renown professors that she has had the privilege of taking classes from. And she definitely never thought that she would ever become an engineer, when even the thought of all of those engineering classes intimidated her.
I decided that this letter to my 18-year-old self serves as a great way to relay my experiences to you guys, so I hope you enjoy reading (and laughing) about how I stumbled (and still am stumbling) through college!
Yes, you are excited about all the sun that you are going to get and all the places in California that you will get to go to: San Francisco, San Jose, Great America, Santa Cruz beach…Well, I’m from your future four years later and let me tell you, you can drop all of those plans of traveling every weekend. I’m here to let you know that over the next couple years of your time as a Stanford student, you will make mistakes. You will cry a lot. And laugh a lot. And pull your first all nighter(s) ever. Not to mention all of those friends you met who will probably be the next Bill Gates or cure cancer. I’m here from the future with a couple pro tips to save you stress, time, and coffee money. So listen up.
Home can be many things. While you’ve only had one home in Portland your entire life, and it is very exciting to finally experience life somewhere else, don’t forget your roots. To your surprise, Stanford will not initially feel like the home that you thought it would be. During these times, remember how you felt back in Portland. Instead of obsessing over reasons why Stanford is not like your home in Portland, think about why and think about what you can do to change that. Stanford will feel like your home in time.
#2: Stay In Contact With Those Who Care
Sure, parents can be annoying. But they love you and want to be part of your life, even when you are living 667 miles away. Talk to them about your experiences. As a first generation student, recognize that they are just as scared as you are, so don’t be afraid to share with them even the bad parts of your experience. Connect with your friends as well. Be active in your old relationships, not just your new relationships. Get off Facebook stalking them, and actually reach out.
#3: Don’t Stay In Contact With Those Who Don’t Care
Self explanatory. Don’t force yourself to be everyone’s friend; know your limits and what you are comfortable with. Friends come and go naturally.
#4: Keep An Open Mind
You do not have to have the next 10 years of your life planned. Leave yourself open to exploring different classes and different career paths. You will regret not having checked out all of those cool classes that Stanford offers (ahem Zumba). Don’t be too quick to lock yourself into a major that you will eventually change anyway. The high school curriculum that you were exposed to is
so limited! Trust me when I say that chemistry in high school is a world apart from chemistry at college. You will meet such incredible people from all sorts of backgrounds if you leave yourself open to all that Stanford has to offer. Not all who wander are lost. Oh and by the way, engineering is awesome. Don’t be intimidated by it and definitely take the introductory Materials Science class with the British professor who calls his office hours “tea time.”
#5: Stop Wearing That Lanyard Around Everywhere
Seriously. It’s uncool.
#6: Comparison Is The Devil
Be forewarned, Stanford will serve to challenge you in every way possible. There is this thing called the “Duck Syndrome,” which actually exists. Basically, the Duck Syndrome is Stanford’s take on stress: be really really stressed out, but don’t show it! Instead, portray yourself as the student you see on Stanford’s brochures: smiling and carefree while basking in the sun between classes. You will find yourself a small fish in a big pond -- ok ocean -- and you have no idea how to deal with this new and utterly terrifying humbling experience. Please do yourself a favor and instead of being intimidated by your classmates, learn from them. Talk to them, work with them, and experience Stanford with them because the most important thing to remember is that they are your peers. Forget about that Math exam that completely crushed you and remember where you are. There is no other place I would rather be crushed by a Math exam than at Stanford. Stop obsessing over others’ grades or accomplishments and retrace your own steps of how far you have grown. Take a bow every now and then. Transform fear into fuel.
#7: Reach Out, Young Padawan
Being in a 4-class dorm your freshman year offers so many mentorship opportunities! Reach out to the upperclassmen in your dorm; they seriously don’t bite. Not only reach out to them, but LISTEN to their advice. Don’t take an insane course load freshman year if all the older and wiser upperclassmen warned you against it. Similarly, reach out to your advisors and professors too! This will definitely help you in the long run, as you are frantically looking for research opportunities and for letters of recommendations.
#8: Get Out Of The Bubble
Not just because it is the fourth time this week that you have to subject yourself to your closest dining hall’s moderately acceptable burrito bowl, but also because you can. Stanford will feel like a 4-year vacation spot with its excessive palm trees, endless sun, and all amenities provided for you (I mean, you even have an entire museum at your disposal!). And let’s be honest, it can be quite suffocating at times. Take some time for you and your friends to get out of the bubble and do some of that exploring that you wanted! Take the train to Mountain View, just a couple stops away. There is a wonderful dim sum place that will amp up your late night meals 500%, I guarantee.
#9: Be A Teacher’s Pet
No one will judge you because this isn’t middle school anymore. Getting to know your professors and their research/life story will inspire you and allow you to engage in their classes. Not to mention that finding a research position will prove to be very difficult, given that you have no idea where to start! Start by talking to professors and hear them talk about their research. Seeing how engaged and excited they are about their projects will give you a good idea about the lab environment. And don’t take it too personally when they don’t respond to you right away (or at all). If that’s the case, then this goes to show that they probably aren’t the most receptive to undergraduates anyway, so just move on to the next lab.
#10: Be In Awe
Stanford is an awe-some place, with awe-some people and awe-some cutting edge research! Take a walk now and then and drink it all in. Catch the sunset at Lake Lagunita on campus (aka Fake Lake) and be in awe. Jog around the quad at night and be in awe. Listen to the chatter around you at the dining halls and be in awe. Everything is awe-some.