What I’ve learned after my first semester of college

Former Bruin Voice editors share their thoughts, reflections, and advice

By Aidan Backus

I can’t stand games with tutorials; if I can get away with skipping them, I always do. Aside from being time-consuming (and often mandatory) they’re often quite easy and tedious, and they simply don’t reflect what high-level experience is like.

I am, of course, talking about the game of life, in which high school is the tutorial, a sick practical joke played on American youth. Classes are straightforward, it’s everyone’s job to help you, and the most stressful experiences you have involve petty drama and bad romance. But, that feeling when Mr. Meredith calls you out in front of the class, or when Mrs. Duffel assigns you a diction quiz with a “D” class average, or when you have to stay up late writing a paper seems awful: well, I was once there, too.

But like any tutorial, high school ends up being straightforward and superficial, leaving graduates unprepared. I know I was. It used to be that I could dedicate 10-15 hours to preparing for an AP test, and expect a 5 on it; this would be the hardest I’d studied all year. Now I could devote a good 20 hours to a midterm (not even a final!) and be disappointed to find that I’ve barely hit the mean plus a sigma. The only reason I’ve been able to keep up so far is that I previewed most of the course material over the summer. Meanwhile, my wealthier and better-prepared friends and peers put me to shame with their talents … and, dare I say, their resumes. One of my friends aspires to work on practical nuclear fusion; another is already courting certain Wall Street companies as a freshman.

“Ah, but Aidan, you go to UC Berkeley! I won’t have it as bad,” you might be tempted to think. And you’re right: I’m surrounded by a culture of competition in which I stand in an eternal battle royale against the best in the world – but with this competition comes motivation and collaboration unmatched by most other schools, which leaves the day-to-day grind bearable, even fun.

And it’s not like you’ll be shielded from adversity anywhere else: whether you join the military (I hear basic training is fun), go to a community college (you’ve got to keep your GPA up if you want to transfer), or enter the workforce (it’s not unusual to be in direct competition with underemployed college graduates for minimum wage) you’ll be left looking back at high school thinking that maybe your parents weren’t that mean to you, that you really didn’t spend that much time studying.

And I write these words fully knowing that one day, when I have ascended to Diamond tier and on high can look back at my freshman year ramblings and think that, compared to the vortex I’ll face at the time, the challenges I face today are merely a gentle stream, no matter how much the people around me normalize, even romanticize, lost sleep, tears, and self-pity.

So start preparing for your future. Put in an hour of studying college-level material here, an hour of learning how to cook real food there.Don’t waste time griping over difficulty, for high school is life’s free trial. When you’re out, you can rise to the top of a society that always has someone more talented than you.

Rise with me.

By Katelyn Biddle

Currently, I’m attending California State Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo as a journalism major, with Media and Technology and Art History minors. At Bear Creek I was involved in “The Bruin Voice,” theatre, Link Crew, Swim, Golf, NHS, and the AP program, and I can honestly say that all of these groups helped me so much in college and helped me to grow into myself. Now that I’m in college, I know we all scan things first, so here’s a preview list of what I’ve learned from the Mustangs:

The Good:

Shy? If you work, you can leave that behind.

A fresh start is amazing — leave the demons behind.

So. Many. Cute. Guys. Some of them lumberjacks.

It’s so easy to make friends — no crappy cliques, living together, and all in the same situation!

The gym makes you feel so badass. And strong.

Colleges bring in cats and dogs to take stress away!

You get to network and meet so many amazing people in your field!

The best thing? That I’d take up the whole paper if I told you all of the great things about college.

The Bad-ish:

Laundry costs money. Apples cost money. Breathing costs money. Money.

You eat the same food every day. If I eat one more piece of crappy chicken or the same salad I’ll scream.

You become a kleptomaniac. Apples at the buffet? Take two (seven is my record). Plastic forks in the cafeteria? Now yours. Napkins? Yours. Everything is so overpriced that if you don’t do this you’re wasting money.

People will play the trumpet at 3 a.m. You’ll look crazy when you tell them about your 8 a.m. class in your pj’s and crazy hair and no makeup, and realize you’ve turned into one of your parents.

Dessert is ALWAYS readily available. Wait, wrong list…

The lists are just simple overviews, and they say nothing about how wonderful it feels to get french fries at midnight with friends (who encourage you to wear your Harry Potter pj’s to get them), how the punctuation tests are so useful, how you can learn anything, how people literally dance and bask in the sunshine, how it feels to be in a place that’s always so alive it practically has a heartbeat. It’s amazing, and wonderful — I love it, and while I’ll always visit our sleepy hometown, I love the new, fast-paced world I’m living in, and you will too.

You’ll move in and tack up the tapestry or poster you’re so excited about. You’ll get excited about washing sheets, showers with no shoes, free food, getting a library spot, and quiet. You’ll miss Stockton Halloweens, your parents, the safety of high school. But it’s worth it.

I’m going to be completely honest with you, college is hard — but not in the way that most expect. People usually associate the difficulties of college with academics or being homesick, and those are problems in their own respect, but the biggest issue about college is the fact that it is just like high school…only more frustrating.

The people are just as clueless, just as ignorant, and just as fake. I am now convinced that that never changes wherever you go. But now not only are the people you learn with still inconsiderate and obsessed with drama, now they are your roommates for an entire year!

The random suitemate match-up is a huge toss up and personally for me, it resulted in three suitemates I love and hope to maintain lifelong friendships with and six suitemates who annoy me to no apparent end. I pray that you all get suitemates you actually like or even better, a single room!

And if you thought that you were going to escape educational authority, think again. Administration is just as in-your-business as ever and there are millions of rules you must “abide” by.

Don’t let this discourage you, though; college definitely has its perks, such as eating as many pints of ice cream and cups of noodles that you want in a day without reprimand. You’ll get to stay out as late as you want and procrastinate for as long as you possibly can. The classes are slightly more strenuous than any AP class you may have taken in high school, mostly due to the fact that most finals are worth an entire half of your grade.

So you’ll have to learn how study your butt off and manage your time if you want to pass because remember, you’re paying thousands of dollars for this! If you choose to go somewhere somewhat far away from your family, appreciate them now, because trust me, you will miss the home-cooked meals once you literally get a taste of dining hall food. When you first come home to visit you might even find the nagging from your parents endearing — emphasis on “when you FIRST come home.”

But by finally being on your own, you will learn to love — and kind of hate — college and the process of becoming an adult. Your eyes will be opened to so much that was not relevant before and you will begin to shape your true identity. I definitely had, and am still having, many bumps along the way but the experience is once-in- a-lifetime and my advice is to just enjoy every minute of it.


In the weeks leading up to my move to college, I avoided thinking about it as much as possible. At first it was easy, I was still recovering from my jaw surgery and had other things to worry about, but as time went on (and after I was able to chew again) it got harder and harder. I’m a worrier by nature and my favorite pastime has always been dreaming up scenarios, both good and bad. I did everything in my power to avoid dreaming up what could happen when I got there, which only lessened my anxiety a little bit. As a result, by the time I was on the plane to Sarah Lawrence I was a ball of nerves.

Of course, there’s no good way to prepare for moving to college. Whether you’re moving an hour away or across the country, like I was, you can’t prepare for everything. Even if I had gone through every scenario, nothing would have prepared me for what I found when I got to college.

You see, college comes with good things and bad things. For instance, my roommates are definitely one of the bad things. If I met them I never would have considered being friends with them, let alone live with them. But the good thing that came with them, basically the only reason I’m not moving out this very second, is the rest of my apartment. My roommates might piss me off and I might piss them off, but in the end I live with six other girls that are awesome.

Then there’s the distance from home. While many people might dream of getting as far away from their parents as possible, I was never like that. I never thought that I’d move across the country where I didn’t know anyone, where it SNOWED. But here I am, at a school smaller than I expected where I know no one. Also, there’s no Mexican food here. All I’ve been dreaming of for months is a good taco truck burrito.

But as much as I miss my family and everything else, there is still a good side. After all, I spent all of my school years with most of the same people. Not that I don’t love my high school friends, I do, but I never wanted to stay near home and go to college like it was still high school. Sure, I never wanted to move across the country but I also didn’t want to stay (it’s a difficult line to walk).

So as scary as it was to start from scratch (apparently I’ve forgotten how to make friends), it was sort of liberating. I didn’t have to worry about becoming too dependent on my friends from high school, I didn’t have to worry about spending too much time at home and not adjusting to college. Did adjusting to college suck? Hell yeah. Am I still adjusting? Yep. But as horrible as that transitioning time was, I think I’m better for it. Not to mention the fact that we don’t have tests here (it’s hard to explain, it’s based off of some Oxford system, look it up if you’re curious).

I guess if I was going to sum up my experiences with one message it would be to not be afraid of putting yourself out there. It doesn’t matter what “putting yourself out there” means to you, just do it. Personally, I think moving across the country works wonders (Sarah Lawrence is taking applications until January 15th, by the way), but I’m not in charge of you. Do what you want, but don’t not do something because you’re scared. Everyone’s scared, that doesn’t matter, all that matters is what you do with it.


I know it’s easy to get caught up in the seemingly validating aspects of high school. I won’t be the one who tries to talk you out of the appeal of something like being nominated for Homecoming, Winterfest, or Prom court (I even encourage you to bask in its glory) because although your lives will be filled with much more significant moments, you only have those four years of high school to make it something not entirely dreadful to look back on. So I say go all out on spirit days, scream with pride for your class at rallies, go to dances, join a club and definitely make an effort to participate in International Rally (you’ll realize once you leave Bear Creek that there truly is no other place that embraces and celebrates cultural diversity with as much fervor), attend games and cheer with the Creek Crazies, and just enjoy every moment of it.

Also, while you’re making the most out of the final months of high school with all of your friends, be sure to make time to spend with your family too. Don’t forget that your entire household dynamic changes once you move out as well. Cherish moments with your siblings and parents, and the home-cooked meals.

In high school, I had moments where I felt on top of my world. I had my solid group of friends, I figured out how to do well in my classes while juggling extracurriculars — I just knew and was sure as hell of who I was.

After just a few months at UC Davis, I’m beginning to understand why it’s such a vital step to leave and separate yourself from a place that has “familiar” written all over it: growth and refinement. However, that realization does not always come easily. At first, I had a rough time adjusting to just how accelerated and competitive the UC system is and I felt totally defeated. Unfortunately, so contrary to how I thrived in high school under the successful impression that I could clutch my way through anything, I reaped the consequences of thinking that I can rely on the same habits in college. The senioritis from last year is still very much alive and is learning how to take form into the monster of my first year here. I was made well aware of the huge reality check that was to come my way and my first quarter has definitely served that right to me. I also realized early on that I literally did not have time for the things that I loved to do and made me who I was in high school, like writing and being culturally involved. Honestly, as much as I may have expected it, the revelation was still quite a tough blow.

Anyone can tell you that being in college is a huge wake up call. Every new experience will be. It’s inevitable to start reevaluating exactly who you are and whether or not you made the right decision of your life path, no matter how sure you thought you were, but you gather your experiences layer after layer and soon enough you’ll see a more cultivated identity emerge. Thankfully, I’ve found people and organizations on campus that remind me of who I am. I’m still writing and sharing my voice, just how the Bruin Voice taught me; I was chosen to be a contributing writer for UC Davis’ freshman publication chapter. I’m also the only first-year with a board position in the Filipino Association for Health Careers as an intern. I’m getting more into the flow of my classes and weekly quizzes, five midterms, and three finals over the span of less than three months have pushed me to develop better habits every day. I must say, college life is getting a lot more manageable and fun now that I’ve opened myself up to what it has to offer. With that said, seniors, when you’re in the midst of overwhelming academic pressure in college, don’t forget who you are. Everything becomes more enjoyable when you fight for what makes you so uniquely you. You will thank yourself for it eventually.

My first semester of college has nearly concluded, and so far I am underwhelmed with my college experience. I imagined scores upon scores of papers and assignments when picturing college as a high school student. This image was daunting to me. It filled my mind with angst — to the point that I considered not attending college at all. The experiences I’ve actually encountered have been wholly and dishearteningly the opposite.

My English 1A (101) class is mediocre at best. One decent 500 word essay every three weeks and a good grade on a six page research paper that is due at the end of the semester is all that is required to pass. They seemed like torture at the time, but now I long for Duffel’s hyper-formidable grading scale and her constant insistence on diction and grammar tests. I am hungry for a challenge. I am thirsty for criticism. Since these two motivating factors have been eliminated from my post-secondary education, my thoughts have drifted away from the thrill of writing a quality essay to unsystematically presenting my professor with a half-hearted collection of words neatly printed on white paper.

The sad part is he loves it. He says my essays “make his job worthwhile” and his eyes practically sparkle when I hand him a copy of my work, but I know the writing I submit to him represents a mere fraction of my capacity to write well. Even as I am composing this letter I’ve become aware of how largely my writing has improved, and it is all on account of the fact that to this day the thought of writing something for Duffel pushes me to produce my very best work. If I don’t, I know she will ask me to rewrite my piece until I’m blue in the face and blistered at the hands.

My English professor isn’t my worst professor, though; that honor belongs to my Communication Studies 1A professor. He has cancelled class more frequently than the rising of the sun, and he is consistently 15-30 minutes late for his own class. To me there is nothing more discouraging.

My experience in college most likely won’t be yours so do not let what you have read thus far discourage you from having the best possible college experience you can. I have no one to blame but myself for the mistakes and blunders I am correcting. Be humble, stay focused on your aspirations, and apply dedication to your schoolwork because attending a college with professors that are complacent can lead you down the same path as I. Do not let them discourage you.