Monday, July 11, 2011

Dennis Shem

I should preface this by saying that my Freshmen year was very much the outlier rather than the norm. What may have worked for me may not be what you want out of college.

College doesn't have to be hard. With careful planning, what seems like a mountain load of classes or endless course work can be manageable. Websites like (for UC Berkeley, Merced, Davis and Santa Barbara) combine schedule planning with course ratings to help students plan classes around their life and not their life around their classes. Ask around and there might be a site like this for your school. Asking older students for advice, I think, is more useful than going to counselors. Of course, both were extremely helpful to me this past year. Academic counselors know what the major requirements are, but it's the students that actually have to take the classes. As a result, older students have actual, current, experience with the courses that are invaluable.

As you can see, this takes a lot of individual initiative. If you want help, you're gonna have to go out and seek it, or figure it out yourself. I spent hours making a spreadsheet that plans out all the courses I have to take or want to take semester by semester, as well as a comparison of major requirements. This is something that not all counselors will do for you. I have attached my spreadsheet as a pdf so you can get an idea of what it looks like. (Not going to lie, I am very proud of this). The initial work of completing it has completely taken all the stress of figuring out what I'm going to take every semester, as well has making sure that my schedule fits how I like to work. I can just focus on the work I have in front of me.

Balance is important, as well as figuring out what works for you. For example, if you talk to a lot of pre-med students here at Berkeley, they'll always complain about how dumb of an idea it was to take Chem 3b (organic chem), and Bio 1a (anatomy and physiology) during the same semester. Why? Because both courses are really hard, but they took them along with other hard classes. The trick is to balance your schedule. If you like reading but hate sciences? Try to offset a hard Chem class with a social science class. An example from my life, I'm planning on taking both Chem and Bio during the same semester, but I'm offsetting the amount of time I'll be spending on that course with an easier, less intensive course.

Secondly, knowing what works for you will help you stay sane. Contrary to many college students, I prefer to work in the mornings. Instead of staying up late cranking out problems or essays, I'll go to sleep and wake up earlier the next day and get back to work. As a result, I don't pull all nighters (which many of you might rather do). It's an issue of priorities. If sleep is a priority, plan around getting a lot of sleep. If going out on weekends is important, try and get your work done ahead of time. There's nothing wrong with having fun, as long as the work has been done. It's the catch-up game that is the most stressful.

I haven't touched on many subjects that you may find useful about college. However, what I have talked about are what I found were the keys to my success my first year at Cal. Knowing what classes to take, you'll stress out less about your future. Planning your time around the harder classes, you'll be able to get more work done. Knowing your priorities and your limits, you'll stress out less about trying to do everything.

I'll leave you with a link that I found that I found helpful, and found that I were doing many of the positive things myself.
I'm always available through email to answer questions.

Take care and good luck!

Dennis Shem []

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