A Letter to My Freshman Self: Five Things I Learned at UCLA

Hedy Wang
Dear Hedy,

Congrats on becoming a Bruin! You’ve worked so hard to get this point, and you’re finally about to start your first quarter at the (soon-to-be) #1 public university in the nation!

If you’re reading this, it’s probably September 2016, and you’ve just moved into your new dorm in De Neve Dogwood 104. You’re worrying about how you’ll possibly make friends and wondering what the next four years of your life will look like. As your future graduated self, I won’t tell you exactly what will happen, but I can tell you that everything works out the way it’s supposed to in the end. To assuage some of your worries, I’ve included some advice that I wish someone had told me when I was in your position. The points in this letter aren’t profound pieces of wisdom, but they are simple truths that will make your time at UCLA a lot less stressful the sooner you grasp them.

our major does not define your career or your future.
Don’t feel pressured to pick a more “practical” major that you’re not actually interested in. It’s fair to be concerned about post-grad financial stability, but unless you’re going into a highly specialized field like accounting or anything in STEM, what you choose to study will have very little bearing on your career outcomes. Because at the end of the day, it’s the soft skills, work/extracurricular experience and social/professional networks gained outside the classroom that will land you that dream job or get your foot in the door in a particular field. So don’t spend all your time studying, and get involved on campus! And go ahead and major in what you’re truly passionate about – whether that’s communications, Asian American studies or history. Don’t listen to people who will try to dissuade you from pursuing any major because it is “useless” or “impractical.” Even if a particular major doesn’t align exactly with your career goals, the critical thinking and communication skills you learn will carry you far anywhere you go, and the genuine passion you hold for your studies will shine through to those around you in the way you naturally seek to challenge and push yourself to greater heights.

t’s not the end of the world if you fail an exam or have to retake a class.
You’re probably used to getting A’s on all your tests and in most of your classes in high school, so getting a D on your first college midterm in that lower-division math class is going to be quite jarring. But don’t put so much pressure on yourself to get the same grades you did in high school. UCLA is supposed to be academically challenging! Chances are, even some of the smartest students here have probably also failed a test or retaken a class at some point in their college careers. Encountering these problems doesn't make you a failure. If anything, it is a testament to your tenacity and ability to pick yourself back up after you’ve fallen. At the end of the day, your grades do not define who you are, and success is about so much more than achieving a high GPA.

on’t feel pressured to become best friends with the first few people you meet in college or feel bad about not finding a friend group your first year.
When you don’t know anyone on a campus as large as UCLA, it can be very tempting to cling onto the first few people you meet in orientation, in the dorms or in class. While it’s fantastic if you’re actually able to find genuine friends in these situations, it’s perfectly fine if you don’t have anything in common with them either. They are just the first of dozens of new people you will meet on campus in your first year, so don’t feel rushed to be friends with everyone right off the bat. You may feel lonely at times, but remember that the majority of other freshmen are also in the same boat. Forming close-knit friendships will take time, and they won’t come right away. As you become more involved with various campus activities over the next few years, you will slowly find like-minded people who share and understand your values, interests and goals, and when you do, you’ll know you’ve found your people.

oving away from your family and living on your own isn’t as scary as you think.
By the time you’re reading this, you’ve probably already said goodbye to your family and cried as you sat in your new dorm room, feeling the most alone you’ve ever felt in your entire life. It’s daunting — the act of moving hundreds of miles away from home to live on your own for the first time in a new environment where you don’t know anyone. But as cliche as it sounds, it gets better, and you will get the hang of it over time. You will still feel homesick every now and then, especially during this first year, and find yourself counting down to the next time you’ll be able return to the warm, safe cocoon that is home. But each day you will find yourself missing home just a little less and feeling just a little more confident. Learning to be independent and self-sufficient will make you realize just how capable you are and push you to reach for greater heights in other areas of your life.

ou deserve to be here, and don’t let yourself or anyone else tell you otherwise!
Given the competitiveness of UCLA, it can be very easy to fall prey to imposter syndrome. It is terribly easy to start comparing yourself to others who are seemingly smarter, more ambitious or more successful. But the truth is, nobody has it all together, no matter how perfect they appear in public and on social media. Moreover, other people’s achievements do not negate your own, and you deserve to be here just as much as everybody else. You’re going to do great things, just you wait!

Hedy Wang, Class of 2020

Hedy Wang graduated in June with a B.A. in economics and communications and a minor in film, television and digital media. She recently obtained a full-time position as an assistant media planner for RPA Advertising in Los Angeles. Originally from San Jose, Wang was heavily involved with the Daily Bruin for all four years of college and served as a marketing assistant in the Alumni Association in her final two years.