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Some Tips for Succeeding at UCLA (2007 edition)

mikemacmikemac Posts: 7,104Registered User Senior Member
This is my annual posting of tips & advice for new ucla students, revised for 2007.

Why do I post this? Advice I want to pass on, things I wish someone had told me before I started. At its best attending ucla can be an exhilarating experience in which you make close friends, get a great education, have tons of fun outside class, while preparing for a killer entry job or top grad school. At its worst you know few if any people at school, treat college as almost a "day job" in which you show up in the morning, punch the clock by attending large impersonal classes, and get dumped out at the end with your diploma only to become just another resume buried in a big pile. Most people would prefer the former, so I'm hoping this thread will supply some useful advice.

This years version comes with 3 sections: short-term advice, random musings, and taking the longer view.

Short-term tips

1) Buy your books early. "Early" means sooner than the weekend before classes begin. The place is a zoo the weekend before classes start, and if you wait until classes start some books will sell out. The store orders enough for enrolled students, but people on the waitlist often buy books too. If you want to save some money and buy used books, the best ones (without the hiliting and doodling) sell early. Or for $4 you can order your books on the web from the UCLA bookstore and pick them up when you're on campus. BTW to save lots of money in future quarters consider ordering overseas and having them shipped. Believe it or not, the very same book that costs $100 here sells for about half abroad. See the NY Times article at http://tinyurl.com/85mfu

2) Walk to all your classes before the term begins so you know where they are. New students often aren't sure where their buildings are, and even when you find the right building the room numbering scheme is not always logical. You don't want to be rushing around, ending up 10 minutes late and sitting on the floor because all the seats are taken; people on the waitlist or just hoping to enroll will go to class too.

3) Make a calendar. Make a grid for the week on a sheet of paper and fill in your class times and location. Then when you get the syllabi for your classes write down (using a different color) the office hours of your profs and TAs. Carry this sheet with you and you'll have a handy reference telling you where to go get help or when that next class is. I also recommend a larger calendar you can put on the wall in your room; one with the whole quarter would be better. You want to be able to see what is coming up (tests, papers due, club meetings, etc) to plan your time effectively.

4) Learn to take good notes. The ASUCLA Textbook Information counter sells notes for some classes you can compare against what you take down. Eventually you want to be able to take those quality notes on your own, so keep in mind what they are -- a learning tool, not a substitute. Don't let your notes gather dust after class until you review them before the test. A key part of note-taking is reviewing them after class, the sooner the better while its still fresh. Revise, reorganize, add comments. Articles on note taking from Dartmouth's website are at http://tinyurl.com/yr4erd Don't tape record lectures. Some profs allow this, but it's a bad crutch. First you're doing more work than the other people, listening to the same material twice. Second, as you move on to smaller classes far fewer profs will permit it. College is a time for learning new things, and not all of them are on the syllabus. Taking notes is one of them. Being able to capture the essence of a talk or meeting is a skill you'll need both in college and in your career.

5) Introduce yourself to lots of people. They're new, too, and they are just as anxious as you are. Just because someone looks calm and assured doesn't mean they feel that way inside; it may be just their "game" face. At the start of the year everyone's in the same boat, knowing few if any people and really willing to make new friends. If you see a familiar face (or group of people) from the dorms while on campus, walk over and introduce yourself. They're looking to meet people too. The start of the year is not the time to immerse yourself in computer games or surfing the net, its the time to get to know fellow students.

6) It's natural to be nervous about college. Don't let yourself be intimidated by others who seem self-assured and act like UCLA is going to be a breeze. Here's a true story -- in a chem class my very first quarter a few people sitting near me were looking over the syllabus and remarking a little too loudly how their HS chem class had covered all the material, how this class was one for sure they'd ace, and so on. My HS was not that strong academically, and I just knew I was screwed. Although discouraged I tried hard so I'd at least pass and not go on probation. To my surprise I got an A on the first midterm and in the class. The cocky guys sitting near me? Some dropped the class, and the rest got B's and C's. Their talk was all just to reassure themselves.


7) Learn to study better. There is a book I recommend every student should own, and you should buy it now before school starts. Its "called What Smart Students Know" by Adam Robinson, written by one of the founders of the test prep service Princeton Review. I have never seen a better explanation of the steps you need to follow to really learn the material for all types of classes (sciences, liberal arts, etc), and if you've learned it well you will have no trouble with grades. The UC system selects from the top 12.5% HS students and UCLA is even tougher than that. Most people who get into UCLA were smart enough to skate by in HS on just their native smarts. Now everyone is as smart as you. You will have to step it up a notch at UCLA. There's no "secrets" in the book, but a lot of people spend their time unproductively until they figure out what works and what doesn't. Why not read this book over the next few weeks and come in prepared?
Post edited by mikemac on
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Replies to: Some Tips for Succeeding at UCLA (2007 edition)

  • mikemacmikemac Posts: 7,104Registered User Senior Member
    8) Hit the ground running in your classes. The pace on the quarter system is quick, and you'll be having miderms before you know it. Everyone tells you this, and it's really true. Can you remember what you did on July 4th this year? On the days before and after it? It doesn't seem that far back, but as of this writing (8/20) that was 7 weeks ago. If you had started classes that week you would have had 1 or 2 midterms in your classes by now, and finals are about 3 weeks away. That's fast! You simply can't afford to fall behind. Especially if you're a science major or premed where course sequences are a year long and each quarter builds on things you're supposed to have learned earlier quarters. The usual expectation for a college class is that for every hour in class you'll spend 2 or 3 hours outside of class with studying and homework, so plan your time accordingly. Also keep in mind the lectures are intended to explain material you've already been studying, not present it for the first time. That's why they pass out the syllabus the first day of class; you are expected to do the reading for each lecture before class. Also don't be too surprised if you're in some dark corner of a library and stumble across someone who is always bragging about how they never have to study, well, studying. For some reason people prefer to give others the impression they're so bright they don't even have to work to pass. It's your choice what impression you want to give, but you do need to do the work!

    9) Be an active learner. Its easy to fall into the rut of doing schoolwork almost mechanically while writing up a lab, reading a chapter and thumbing back to find answers to the homework questions, solving problem-sets, etc. After you complete each homework assignment or chapter the next 5 minutes you spend is actually the most important, yet it's one most people skip. Ask yourself what you've just learned. Put it in your own words, as if you were summarizing it to a friend who hadn't done the work yet. And when you have some free time (walking to class, etc) imagine explaining something you've learned in class to a friend who missed the class. Another tool I found useful were the "problem-solver" type books available for many subjects. These have thousands of problems with the steps to get to the solution. Find the chapter on what you're studying and spend some time practicing until you can get the right answer; when you see a similar problem on a midterm/final you'll want to laugh out loud because it's going to be so easy!

    10) Sign up for workshops and tutoring. As part of the residential housing initiative UCLA provides workshops on a variety of topics in the Commons (see http://www.college.UCLA.edu/up/aitc). They also provide free tutoring for many intro math/science classes but the catch (which I've never understood) is you have to sign up the 1st week of classes.

    11) Optionally, read other books about preparing for college An example is "The Everything College Survival Book". Books such as these will give you tips on dealing with money, roomates, social life, and so on. You've probably heard a lot of this in orientation, but its good to refresh your memory.

    12) discuss "ground rules" up front with your new roomate(s). Your RA will normally talk about this in a floor meeting, and it's a good idea. Most people aren't used to sharing their room at home with someone else in their family, let alone 1 or 2 strangers. Talking up front about various situations such as parties, drinking, borrowing things, having a date sleep over, etc. may feel awkward but its better than just remaining silent and hoping things will work out. You don't need to etch rules in stone, but at least talking about them gets them on the table and you can revisit them later as circumstances change. If problems arise don't wait to bring them up. Hoping they'll go away is usually wishful thinking, and it just gets harder to bring up once it's been going on for a while as opposed to doing so the first time. Keep in mind you don't have to be best friends with your roomates, although in many cases roomates are also friends. Housing isn't in the business of assigning friends, they're assigning housing. What is important is that you all treat each other with respect.


    Random Musings (new section for 2007!)

    1) Make backups. Mom and Dad may have typed up papers and done homework by hand, but a lot of what you do is going to be electronic. Electronic things have a nasty habit of dying when they've accumulated enough of your info to make it really unpleasant. Sometimes they're lost or stolen. So make sure you have backups of data from your local computer.

    2) Take pics (and add captions). You'll want to remember these years down the road, so take pictures of your friends, where you lived, even places you liked around campus. I can almost guarantee that the place you loved to get a cup of coffee every morning on the way to class will be remodeled or gone a decade or two hence. And with digital pics its easy to take a few seconds to add a meaningful caption about why you're taking the picture (eg. "celebrating our last paper in Hist. 123!"), and list who is in it. Trust me, you'll forget.

    3) Get gifts for your younger siblings. Even if you fought like cats & dogs, they are going to miss you. Ok, maybe it'll take a few weeks. But you've been a part of their life for as long as they can remember, and now you're gone. Send home a t-shirt or something with the logo splashed on it. I'll bet they wear it to school and brag about their big sis or bro at UCLA.

    4) Exercise regularly. The "freshman 15" is no myth when you're in cafeterias and you can take all you want. Exercise will help keep you fit. It's also a great way to burn off some stress and recharge your batteries. UCLA rec has classes at all levels in both sports and general exercise classes, and there are wonderful facilities on campus. You're paying for them thru your student fees. Use them!
  • mikemacmikemac Posts: 7,104Registered User Senior Member
    Big-picture items -- this is about taking the larger view of getting the most out of your UCLA years instead of the day-to-day mechanics

    1) Take charge of your life. UCLA is an immense place so you need to get involved to make it enjoyable. The school is a hotbed of activity providing an almost uncountable number of options. Whether you participate in the greek system, student government, join some clubs, write for the Daily Bruin, work as a tutor or volunteer, attend plays or talks, go with friends to concerts or to watch your Bruin teams compete, there are just so many ways to be active. But there is one key thing. Nobody is going to call you and beg you to join their group. If you're the person who waits for someone else to make the first move you might want to consider changing this approach, because it just won't work for you at UCLA. The opportunities are there galore, but you have to take the first step. See the list of clubs at http://www.studentactivities.ucla.edu/ and don't miss the actities fair in Sept. Check the Daily Bruin and bulletin boards to find out about events on campus.

    2) Most limits on your achievement come from what you do (or don't do).This fall, like every fall, there are going to be lots of students who start out pre-med or pre biz-econ or in other tough majors but who will give up in a year or two. "I just don't have the talent for it" they lament. However psychologists have been researching top achievers in many fields and what they're finding may surprise you. A leading researcher is Anders Ericsson who compiled expert research into a recent academic volume. "It's complicated explaining how genius or expertise is created and why it's so rare," says Ericsson. "But it isn't magic, and it isn't born. It happens because some critical things line up so that a person of good intelligence can put in the sustained, focused effort it takes to achieve extraordinary mastery. These people don't necessarily have an especially high IQ, but they almost always have very supportive environments, and they almost always have important mentors. And the one thing they always have is this incredible investment of effort. This is mixed news", Ericsson says. "It's funny, really. On one hand it's encouraging: it makes me think that even the most ordinary among us should be careful about saying we can't do great things, because people have proven again and again that most people can do something extraordinary if they're willing to put in the exercise." Read 2 fascinating articles about this research at http://tinyurl.com/y84xvo and http://tinyurl.com/f28c5 If genius-level performance is obtainable for so many more than who think it's possible, what about merely ending up in the top 35% of med school applicants (so you get in) or getting the GPA needed for admission into the major you're dreaming of?

    3) Reach out for help when needed. For better or worse, you are attending a large state U. You just aren't going to get the personal attention and focus that comes as part of the package at a small LAC or expensive smaller U. There are resources out there that can help (RA's, profs, counselors, tutors, advisors, deans, etc) but you're going to have to go to them. People care, really they do, but they don't go around stopping people at random on Bruin Walk and asking how they can help. You don't have to be obnoxious, but you do have to be persistent and a self-starter. If you have a problem or question, figure out who can help and then go see that person. If you don't know who can help, start by finding THAT answer. Your RA or the returning students on your floor can be a good starting point to send you in the right direction. If, for example, you're not sure what you want to do after you graduate the folks at the career center are more than happy to help but you can wait until a usc diploma is worth a nickel for them to call you (in other words, ain't gonna happen).

    4) Get to know some of your profs. For one thing you may someday want recs for grad school or an employer, and they will be much more meaningful if the person actually knows more about you than just the grade their rollbook says you got in their class. Profs aren't going to invite you to stop by for a chat or to come over to dinner the way they might at a LAC. But they hold office hours each and every week, and you'd be surprised how many people never go except to argue about the grading on a midterm or paper. In the more immediate term, the UCLA profs are tops in their field and can be a good source of advice in choosing a major, choosing classes, preparing for a career, choosing a graduate school and finding a PhD advisor (they have friends from *their* grad school days at other U's), etc. Again,to quote from one of the articles in (2) above "most retrospective studies have found that almost all high achievers were blessed with at least one crucial mentor as they neared maturity. When Subotnik looked at music students at New York's elite Juilliard School and winners of the high-school-level Westinghouse Science Talent Search, he found that the Juilliard students generally realised their potential more fully because they had one-on-one relationships with mentors who prepared them for the challenges they would face after their studies ended. Most of the Westinghouse winners, on the other hand, went on to colleges where they failed to find mentors to nurture their talent and guide them through rough spots." You've heard this theme before, but profs aren't going to be calling you. So take the first steps.

    5) It's never too early to start exploring what you'll do after UCLA. Sure, plenty of people THINK they know what they want. But stats show that only about 1/2 of the people who enter as engineers end up getting an engineering degree. Most students who enter college with the idea of being a pre-med don't go to med school. And people who blindly pick a career area without sampling it first sometimes regret it; for example Forbes reported that 38% of the lawyers they surveyed regretted their career choice. So if you think you know what you want to do start testing that idea right away, and if you don't know then begin exploring some areas. You can take career testing, talk with alums (the alumni center has lists of alums who are happy to talk to you about their field), get a part-time job or volunteer, do an internship, to name just a few ways. UCLA has lots of resources to help you do all of this, but (have you heard this before?) you're going to have to make the effort to take advantage of them.
  • mikemacmikemac Posts: 7,104Registered User Senior Member
    6) Get an internship. Heck, get several! This is probably the single most important thing you can do to prepare yourself for a job after college! Yes, you read that correctly. Internships leap out at companies reviewing resumes because you have real-world experience and know what you're getting into. Even in the tightest job market, a company that is hiring at all will almost always extend offers to those who have worked as interns. Think of it this way: if you interview on campus and then at the company, you've spent maybe 10 hours tops with them. An intern spends a month or a summer. Who do they know better, who do they want to take a chance on? In a tight job market you'd probably have better luck finding a job with a 3.2GPA and an internship than a 3.7 with nothing on your resume but a list of classes. There's another book I recommend -- it's called "Major in Success" by Patrick Combs. Written in a casual tone, it offers example after example of how students parlayed internships and volunteer work into great jobs.

    For science majors the equivalent of an internship is a research position. To get into a top grad school it is a virtual requirement to have done some research; before they take you for the 4-7 years it takes to get a PhD they want to know you understand what it's like. All your TA's did this to get into UCLA, so they can be a great source of advice and leads. And a campus position makes you a strong candidate for a summer position at a National Institute (NIH, etc). Research really helps premeds, too, and volunteer work is an unwritten requirement to get into med school.

    Internships are how you break out of the trap of people who say "But what will you do with a major in X?" Major in what you love. Use internships, part-time jobs, etc. to get practical experience in a career field. An Anthro major who spent 2 summers interning in a marketing department is going to get hired; the biz-econ who never worked will find the pickings much slimmer.

    7) broaden your horizons. One of the rewards of attending a premier university like UCLA is the amazing diversity of events & people surrounding you. So step out of your comfort zone -- that's what college is for! If you're a die-hard conservative this means going to talks by liberals or leftists to at least learn how they view the world, and vice-versa if you're on the left. As a student you get low-cost or free admission to so many things. If you've never seen ballet, attended a play, or listened to classical music, give it a shot -- you might like it. Go see foreign films, go see student films (maybe it'll have someone who'll be famous). When departments hold seminars they often have a public keynote lecture, a chance to hear someone reknowned in their field. Politicians and other prominient people love to speak at a venue like UCLA. Become acquainted with people who are completely different from your HS crowd; maybe they won't become your best friends, but you grow by breaking out of your bubble. And consider a quarter abroad -- everyone who does it says its one of their most treasured college experiences.

    It may be hard to believe but the quarters and then years just fly by. Just ask any junior or senior! So list things you want to try but don't regularly do -- attend a play, hear a speaker, explore Santa Monica, whatever is a "someday I'll do it" item for you. If you review the list monthly you won't find yourself a senior saying "Darn, I wish I had ..."

    8) Create a long-term master plan for classes With most majors there is considerable flexibility in what classes you choose outside your major. There's just so much to choose from! Someone once compared a college education to drinking from a firehose (actually they were talking about engineering at MIT, but I've always liked the phrase). So make a list of areas you'd like to explore before you graduate. This is your chance to learn for learnings sake, from some of the best at what they do. And if you hear from friends of a wonderful prof, add them to the list. It'll be worth taking the class from one of the best even if the topic isn't the most interesting to you. Refer to your list each quarter when you're picking classes instead of filling in the gaps around your required courses almost at random.

    9) reflect on the "implicit" lessons. College is a time for growth both in and out of the classroom. A lot of what you learn never appears on a syllabus, and many people find it helpful to think about these lessons or they may be unnoticed and lost. Let me give you 2 quick examples. Out in your career you may get an assignment that will take months to complete and your first thought may be "my gosh, where do I even start?!!" And yet every quarter, in every class, the prof gives you a piece of paper on the first day of class that breaks a 10 week project down into weekly (even daily) parts. Not once will a prof ever say "here's an example of how to break down a big job" when they pass it out, but if you take a few minutes to think about it you're adding to your mental toolbox. In the dorms you may have a conflict that needs to be resolved with a roommate. You may handle it well, you may realize after it's over you could have done things differently. Either way you learn from it, and it's worth remembering so that the next time a problem arises you have this experience to draw on.

    10) approach school (and life) with an optimistic attitude. Studies have shown that the best predictor of success in so many fields is attitude. This is based on work by Seligman and others, names you will learn in psych classes. Want to predict which new salespeople will do best? Which 1st-year students at the US Army Military Academy will survive plebe year? An optimistic attitude is the key, and the good news is you can change yours if it isn't one of optimism. See, for example, http://www.ihhp.com/positive_think.htm
  • worriedseniorworriedsenior Posts: 420Registered User Member
    good post sir.
  • BoelterHallBoelterHall Posts: 2,926Registered User Senior Member
    Great post mikemac; I just want to add to some points from my view.

    1) Buy your books early.
    1) Buy your books early.
    BTW to save lots of money in future quarters consider ordering overseas and having them shipped. Believe it or not, the very same book that costs $100 here sells for about half abroad.

    Buying internation edition books is a good plan, if you're planning to keep the books or if you know someone who is going to take the class after you. They do cost about half the price of the U.S edition, due to the U.S publisher's "abuse of royalties". The only downfall is that international edition books are harder to sell than the US Edition because people are insecure that the book is not the same. The bottom line is that the cover may be different, but the "
    Get used to meeting new people, possible 100+ during your first two weeks. Also get used to introducing youself (name, major, residence, interests, etc.) You will say that so many times.

    8) Hit the ground running in your classes.
    This is a matter of preference, but everyday after class, try to study what has been taught that day. It might take 2 hours for every hour of lecture you attended (or were supposed to attend), but it pays off at the end. It is much better to clear up what you don't know everday (through OH, reading the book, trying more problems) instead of trying to cram and clear up 9 weeks worth of material and end up not knowing some.

    Think of it as trash. Each lecture, you displace something in your room. After 10 weeks, your room is dirty and messy. If you clean up what you don't know, then you have less to clean up after 10 weeks. I'm not saying that you have to study 10 hours everyday, just make sure you don't accumulate what you are confused frequently!

    I also encourage you to suscribe to the "CS31 motto" - start early. Don't put off homework or papers until the end. As for math and science courses if you postpone assignments until the end , you will be tempted to copy the solutions manual and therefore learn zilch. Solution guides are useful, but they aren't designed to be used in these instances.

    As for finals, again this is an issue of preference, but good students start studying at least 10 days before the final day. Of course, the good students already studied everyday and cleared up the confusing material. It is definitely a better feeling for them while they review their notes during finals week, rather than for the "slackers" who stay up 24 hours to learn everything in the 10 weeks.


    12) discuss "ground rules" up front with your new roomate(s).
    I can't provide a better quote that what mikemac wrote:
    "Housing isn't in the business of assigning friends."

    Your goal isn't to become the best friend of your new roomate(s), it is to learn to respect them. One important tip is to not start out too nice with them. I know that when you meet them, you would want to be nice and "be flexible". But you have to talk over the responsibilities, personality borders, etc. Don't always agree with what the other roomate(s) say at first. THEN, ease up after a while if you feel they are okay.

    If it were the other way around, your roomate(s) will hate you for something you don't do [ex. they will be like "he used to be so nice to us but then now he's starting to not letting my girlfriend sleep on his bed] .
  • namastenamaste Posts: 3,027Registered User Senior Member
    Great advice as always.

    Also, have a thick skin as a freshmen. You're at the bottom of the food chain and there's no way around it. but with determination and strength, you can rise quickly.
  • mme-linmme-lin Posts: 2,813- Senior Member
    :)
    12) discuss "ground rules" up front with your new roomate(s).
    I can't provide a better quote that what mikemac wrote:
    "Housing isn't in the business of assigning friends."

    Your goal isn't to become the best friend of your new roomate(s), it is to learn to respect them. One important tip is to not start out too nice with them. I know that when you meet them, you would want to be nice and "be flexible". But you have to talk over the responsibilities, personality borders, etc. Don't always agree with what the other roomate(s) say at first. THEN, ease up after a while if you feel they are okay.
    Oh I agree. One thing for sure is that you cannot be passive or too aggressive at the beginning. You can be nice but you must stand up for yourself - especially if you're in a triple where there exists a higher degree of power dynamics. If something bothers you - talk about it then. It doesn't have to be dramatic or anything but you must be clear-cut. It can be difficult if you're rooming with you friend where they might assume that something is OK.

    Things that usually come up:
    1) Typing noises @ night
    2) Lamps and desk-lights
    3) TV-usage
    4) Guests

    At the beginning your roommate(s) don't know how far you give in or how strict you are about things. Stand your ground! It's really important at the beginning. You don't want to be a push-over.
  • flopsyflopsy Posts: 8,368Registered User Senior Member
    Please sticky this thread... :rolleyes:
  • ichthuscypherichthuscypher Posts: 164Registered User Junior Member
    Sticky, sticky!! Great post, mikemac, thanks!!
  • allenaallena Posts: 1,716Registered User Senior Member
    I'm going to add a single one that I consider very important...

    Enjoy your time at UCLA, because it is over very fast, and before you know it, you'll be standing in the inverted fountain following your last final, wondering where the time went. You're all part of something really big now, have fun while you're there and just enjoy being on that amazing campus.

    Go Bruins!
  • mme-linmme-lin Posts: 2,813- Senior Member
    Oh and yes -- really seize the first few weeks where everyone (i.e. freshmen) is eager to make friends. It fades throughout the quarter and is practically non-existent for the rest of the year.
  • BoelterHallBoelterHall Posts: 2,926Registered User Senior Member
    mme-lin is right. The first quarter is when people meet the most people and make the most friends. After that, it gets kind of cliqued generally. But I might be exaggerating.

    It seems to be the era where people aren't excited to meet another (as seen from the wants of triples -> doubles, singles and thread about dining alone). Try to make friends despite UCLA is primarily the place for your studies!
  • yahoooyahooo Posts: 1,386Registered User Senior Member
    Wow good advice. sticky!
  • namastenamaste Posts: 3,027Registered User Senior Member
    but you can still make friends after your first 3 weeks. dont pressure yourself thinking"these are the people i will be with for 4 years"... they most likely wont. a couple might, not most.
  • ettietti Posts: 1,137User Awaiting Email Confirmation Senior Member
    thank you for this advice...i've read it about 2-3 times now and each time it's better...thank you so much

    freshman 11'
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