My biggest piece of advice for incoming students

by Naomi Lopez

“Make sure to join clubs!” “Eat at this dining hall for the best food on campus!” These are just a few of the phrases first-years often hear as they get accustomed to life at UCLA. While these sorts of reminders are important, there is one piece of advice that I find the most helpful: find the balance between work and play.

There are two general paths students may take when beginning their UCLA journey: being extremely work-oriented and focused on academics, and being extremely fun-oriented and focused on getting the “college experience.”

Thankfully, these categories are not mutually exclusive — that is, it should not be a matter of whether you feel you fall into group one or two. Rather, students should feel as though they fit into both of these groups. Although intuitively this idea makes a lot of sense, speaking from experience, it’s a lot easier to understand than to put into practice.

During my first year at UCLA, I tended to be more focused on my academics than on doing lots of fun things. I spent more time worrying about doing all the assigned reading, getting my work done to a high standard and studying more than was probably necessary. I would decline invitations to eat at a dining hall with my friends because I felt it necessary to read 30-plus pages from my textbook that night.

Just to be clear, I’m not promoting not doing reading or assignments ahead of time. Instead, I’m trying to get across that in my experience, I feel there were several instances where I could have better managed my time if I allowed myself to take a break every now and then. Of course, academics should always be a priority, but it should not by any means be all-consuming.

I found myself drifting heavily towards the other end of the spectrum in my third year — I got so caught up in wanting to make the most of the year that I disregarded my academics. Tailgates, concerts or whatever fun thing was next, became the focus. This made sitting down to actually get work done feel like the most daunting task ever and led me to feel extremely overwhelmed. I felt my mental capacity for completing assignments had depleted, and I felt burnt out even though I had done little to no work over the course of a week.

I think this is something we all are at risk of falling victim to this upcoming school year, regardless of what class we are in. It seems that this year will be the most “normal” one we’ve had in the past few years in terms of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, so it only makes sense that we all feel the urge to maximize our college experience. We’ve had so much of our time taken away, so why would we not want to just make the most of it now?

Although this is a thought we can all relate to, it has the potential to be harmful if taken to the extreme. If students (like me in my third year) fall into the wrong habits, succeeding academically becomes much more challenging and causes inevitable stress. Ultimately, we are all here to learn and set ourselves up for the future, so we must always keep this in mind.

So how does one achieve this seemingly idealized balance that I’m speaking of?

Everyone is of course entitled to their own lifestyle strategies, but here’s what I’ve learned that helps me both feel and perform the best overall:

— Make a general schedule to figure out how much time you should allot for each responsibility you have for the week. As early as you can, mark deadlines on a calendar so you can plan accordingly. That way, you can make time to do fun things after your priorities are taken care of.

— Make plans even if you feel like you shouldn’t. Although this sounds strange, sometimes having a set plan with friends works as an incentive to get your work done efficiently. I’ve found that if I decline an invitation to go out because of an assignment, I waste just as much time procrastinating on my phone as I would if I had gone out.

— Be present. If you’re working, work. Focus on that and nothing else. If you’re doing something fun with friends, enjoy it, and don’t take away from the moment by stressing about your academics. I feel at my best mentally when I practice mindfulness in this way.

At the end of the day, we are all trying our best to navigate our lives. It isn’t easy, but doing the best we can is all we can ask of ourselves.

We all want to be academically successful at UCLA, and we also all want to enjoy the short time we are here. Thus, my biggest piece of advice to all students, but particularly incoming students: find the balance between work and play that best works for you as soon as you can. That way, you can have the best experience at the best school while reaching both your academic and personal goals!

Cover photo by Naomi Holmes

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