Making UCLA my Home: My First-Year Transition

Person welcoming incoming Freshman video.
Person standing with their arms crossed in font of building.

My first-year transition challenged me. But I made it through and grew a lot from it. Before I say anything else, I want to congratulate you all for getting into UCLA! This is an amazing achievement, and I know you each will do amazing things here. Now, let me introduce myself. My name is Ethan (he/him), and I am a senior at UCLA majoring in Economics and minoring in Education. I was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Pasadena, CA. During my time here, I joined a fraternity, got involved in a Christian club, worked for a start-up company, and much more. It took a couple of years, but now I can confidently say UCLA feels like home. Join me as I share my journey:

From a House to a Dorm

  • I was ecstatic to move away from home. I love my parents, but I was ready for space away from them. As a freshman, I lived in a classic triple in Rieber Hall. I had two roommates and shared a communal bathroom with the other guys on my floor. I grew up sharing a room with my brother, so living in tight spaces wasn’t new to me. But it did take a few weeks to get used to sharing a bathroom with dozens of people. Fortunately, the housing staff cleaned it every day. I often talked to people while brushing my teeth or heard people playing music while they showered. Although there were days when I missed the comfort of my mom’s cooking, the UCLA dining halls lived up to the hype of #1 in the country. I loved the ease and luxury of choosing between hundreds of different food options every day. Additionally, I never gained freshman fifteen since I walked to class every day and regularly worked out at Bruin Fit (a gym on-campus). The UCLA residential living area is called “The Hill” and had everything I needed. I didn’t have a car and honestly didn’t need one. If I ever wanted to go somewhere, I could hitch a ride from an upperclassman, take the bus, or order an Uber. I think the biggest challenge about transitioning into dorm life was finding time to be myself. I undervalued moments of silence and solitude, which was extremely important to me as I tried to figure out what career to pursue, how to make friends, and time management.

From Semesters to Quarters

  • The switch from 15-week-long classes to 10-week-long was steep. I wasn’t used to having a project, quiz, or midterm due every week. It felt fast but studying with people in my classes helped me adjust. Furthermore, older students gave me tips to stay on top of deadlines and maneuver the quarter system well. They also taught me that office hours were crucial to networking and succeeding in class. My GPA was sporadic as a freshman but improved significantly during my second year. Although my coursework became objectively harder, I did better in them since I began studying more effectively.

From Childhood Friends to New Faces Everyday

  • The social transition was by far the most difficult. As an extrovert, I liked meeting people but found it hard to form deep relationships. I spent a lot of time trying to make friends with everyone, but that wasn’t possible. I remember one time this girl said hi to me, and I said hi to her back but called her by the wrong name! Needless to say, she never said hi to me again, and I still don’t know her name to this day… At a university of over 30,000 students, I learned that you don’t find community, you BUILD it. This meant spending more time with select people rather than short amounts of time with many people. I built my community by investing in my fraternity Alpha Gamma Omega and a religious club called InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. With patience over time, I created meaningful relationships in these organizations.

From Burnt Out to Healthy Boundaries

  • Initially, I thought I could join ten clubs, work on-campus, have a social life, play multiple Intermural sports, and do well academically. Obviously, this is a little bit of an exaggeration. But some nights I’d think to myself, “Should I go to the basketball game, club meeting, Westwood movie premiere, Santa Monica pier, friend’s party, study meet-up, or something else?” It took me a while, but eventually, I learned to prioritize what mattered to me and say no to things that didn’t. I wanted to do everything but had to accept that we have limitations as humans and that some boundaries are good.

Closing Words of Gratitude and Encouragement

And that wraps up my story! Thank you for tuning in. I want to conclude by leaving you with some encouragement:

  1. You are SUPPOSED to be here!

You didn’t get into UCLA by accident. Two people read through your application and chose you. You are a Bruin through and through and are unique and talented!

  1. When you struggle, you are not alone!

Notice I said when and not if. We all struggle, so why do so by yourself? UCLA is a supportive and collaborative place.

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

There are so many great resources on-campus. CAPS (Counseling & Psychology Services) provides diverse mental health resources. The career center offers resume workshops, mock interview practices, and networking fairs! And the Undergraduate Writing Center can help you edit your papers.

  1. It’s okay not to know what career you want to pursue yet!

The number one admitted major for freshman is “Undeclared.” Your time at UCLA is supposed to be for exploring. I changed majors three times and my minor once, but now I know what I want to pursue. Use your time here to take a unique class like global pop, black student activism, or the probability of poker.

  1. Enjoy your time here!

One day before you know it you’ll be graduating, and your UCLA experience will come to a close. Don’t forget to try new things, cherish your time here, and have fun. (:

Right: 5 People near the Bruin Bear statue at UCLA.

Left: Person sitting on building posing by using their hands.