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.
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?