Reflecting on my First Quarter of College: Studying, Stress, & Social Life

It’s finals week at Cal Poly SLO, which means that the end of my first quarter of college has arrived!

Being completely truthful, I did not anticipate the quarter system to pass this quickly. Coming from a predominantly Latinx and Filipinx high school – most students being from low-income, first-generation families – and being thrust onto a majority-white college campus has been incredibly challenging. In San Luis Obispo, I’m constantly surrounded by students who have lived their whole lives with privilege, riches, and tutors, and I am the complete opposite of everything they embody (physically, academically, and mentally).

Fortunately, I’ve learned a few nuggets of wisdom along the way that I would like to share with all of you. Whether you’re a senior in high school or a fifth-year in college, I hope the following lessons and tips resonate with you.

  1. No one will “hold your hand” in college. Learn how to adapt to changing circumstances quickly.
    I grew up in a household in which my parents (God bless their hearts) spoiled me – they did my laundry, cooked breakfast for me every morning, packed my school lunches every day, cleaned my plates, and somehow managed to buy me almost everything I wished for. Obviously, this did not prime me for the “tough luck” mindset that college brought.
    In college, I’ve had to learn how to live independently while juggling 15 units (or 15 hours in class), a new job, my social life, and a(n) (in)sufficient amount of sleep every night. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m glad I learned how to adjust to a rigorous course load and trying circumstances sooner rather than later.
  2. Don’t rush anything in college – your college journey is yours, not anyone else’s.
    I felt the academic and social pressures in college as soon as I step foot on campus. I saw my peers getting involved in extracurricular activities right away, applying for jobs and internships, attending career fairs, and working on their portfolios. While they were getting ahead of the game, I was still learning how to adapt to the rigors of my classes and how not to compare myself constantly to other students.
    After multiple mental breakdowns and several hours of self-pity-induced crying, I had to accept the fact that my college journey was my own. I didn’t owe anyone anything. Though there was this omnipresent pressure to be successful immediately looming over my head like a perpetual cloud, I had to brush it off and focus on one thing at a time.
    You may feel pressure from your parents, former teachers/professors, close friends, and other loved ones to do everything as soon as possible. This pressure may even be exacerbated by your own mind.
    Stop it. Kindly tell that pressure to f*** off. You need time to thoroughly process everything being thrown at you, and if you don’t give yourself enough time to do that, you’ll sink, not swim.
  3. Prioritize time for yourself and activities that give you joy.
    Studying for midterms takes a huge toll on your mind and dominates your weekly schedule. Don’t forget to take care of yourself, even if it’s through small actions like using a face mask fifteen minutes before bed or meditating for five minutes when you wake up in the morning.
    Though the term is largely ambiguous and has become seemingly clichéd, “self-care” is imperative as a college student. You need to ensure that for every hour you’re studying, you’re taking a few minutes out of your day to relax or to simply do nothing.
    If you’re like me and thrive in timed environments, consider adopting the Pomodoro technique in your daily schedule – study for twenty-five minutes, rest for five minutes, and repeat until you get everything done. This helps me focus more, even if it is for a shorter period of time, and it reminds me to take breaks when necessary.
  4. If you’re on the quarter system, start studying as soon as you possibly can.
    I’m not even kidding when I say the quarter system goes ridiculously fast. Take legible, organized notes in class and either rewrite or retype them within 24 hours so the material stays ingrained in your brain. Use as many study tools as you see fit – I use Quizlet and Microsoft OneNote.
  5. Make at least one friend in each of your classes.
    Not only is this important so you meet new people in college, but this also gives you a “study buddy” in case you miss one day of class and need the notes from that lecture. I would always try to meet three people in all my classes and ask for their phone number, email, and/or social media so I have more than one means by which to contact them.
  6. Take advantage of all the free stuff on campus.
    Throughout my first quarter, there have been countless opportunities to acquire free food, attend fun events for free, and obtain free items like condoms, period products, clothing, etc. Don’t take these for granted! I usually log on Facebook and check out upcoming events through there, but you can also refer to your university’s main website or events page.
  7. Tired? Yerba Mate.
    Enough said.
  8. Your class syllabus is your Bible. Refer to it religiously.
    Everything you need to know about your courses – from your professor’s attendance policy to the course requirements to the dates of your midterm and final exams – is on your syllabi. Read them, highlight important dates, and pay special attention to the class schedule.

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