First of all congratulations for the ILC program for being awarded the Golden Bell Award and for continuing to broaden high school students’ college perspectives. I remember getting emails just a while ago from former ILC alumni and I am happy to do the same and share my experiences so far this semester!
Before I get into details I’d like to take a moment to just congratulate all the current ILC participants for finishing their first semesters in high school and if you’re a senior, for finishing (hopefully?) college applications, because I know what a stressful process that was. Writing all those essays and getting all the information for the applications while balancing homework is awful. But just take a breather and don’t stress out when answers come in a few months. Still being in high school, I know this email is not as relevant right now and that you just want to know what schools you’re going to get into first. So I think the most helpful thing for me to do is talk about the differences between high school and college and also to specifically give you examples from my semester so you’ll get an idea of what college is like.
My name is Chris Habash and I attended the Hotel Operations and Management course in Cornell University over the summer of 2010, and I am a Hercules High School alumnus (that feels so cool to say …) I just finished my first semester at UC Berkeley and all the intense and enjoyable moments that came with it. After my last final on Dec. 15 at 9 pm (yep, you’ll get used to weird schedules) I felt like a ton of pressure was lifted from my shoulders and I was ready to go home and celebrate the holidays. Granted, I live 25 minutes away from home, so it was definitely not the first time in the semester I saw my family.
Dorming - Just first off, I’m sad/happy to say that Cornell probably gave me my only opportunity to dorm, unless dorming prices go way down in Cal. I am currently renting an apartment for the entire year off campus because it ends up being much more financially pleasing than dorming. Unfortunately, this had major drawbacks and some advantages too. In Cornell I met and interacted with dozens of students and made friends every day on the floor and in the building. My apartment in Berkeley means that I see practically no one unless I go to the dorming units or on campus, which is about a 15-20 minute walk from my apartment. Additionally, it means I get no cafeteria privileges/meal points :( On a good note though, I have a bathroom, kitchen and a living room to share with 3 people. You can guess how annoying a roommate can be to deal with everyday, but I guess you just learn to accept them and their behavior. I highly suggest dorming your first year in college because it was such an awesome experience in Cornell and I am really thankful for that.
Classes and grades – The structure of the classes makes it extremely intimidating, because it constantly seems like there are few chances to get a good grade when every class is strictly divided (in general) with a final that’s worth 30-40% of your grade, two midterms that are 20%, 10% quizzes and so on, whereas in high school you feel like you have a million chances to get an A, especially with extra credit. But not to worry. Definitely be prepared to not do as well as you expect to do, because college exams are very different from those in high school and will take time adjusting to. To give an example, my molecular cell biology class had two midterms and one final, with the midterms being 20% of my overall grade. I completely stressed out for the first midterm and studied for it nonstop for a whole week, probably making 30 note cards. So when I discovered I got a C- I went into panic, thought I blew it and that there was no way for me to get an A in the class. The kind of effort I put into studying would most likely have gotten me an A in high school, but I was not used to the test format. But you know what? All you can do is just keep working harder and get accustomed to the class structure. I was proud to get a high B on the second midterm and even more so to discover I got an A- in the class. No doubt a curve in the class helped, so definitely don’t give up from the start. There’s really no other way around it. People here in college keep wondering what kind of score they have to get to do well in the class and some even switch the class to Pass/No Pass (which I was tempted to do, but stuck it out). But I just kept studying even more and going to the review sessions and even to office hours to talk to the professor about what I could do to improve. This is the most important thing you can do to get a good grade.
Office Hours/Intimidation – I learned from the ILC program how important Office Hours are. They are probably the greatest advantage your professors can give you. Aside from learning not to beat myself up for not doing my best, I realized how crucial office hours can be. My English professor was the most intimidating teacher I have ever met. She went to Columbia University after high school, then to Oxford for graduate school and was now teaching in Cal. For me, it seemed like she requested so many different things that it seemed impossible to please her. Consequently, I was literally intimidated into writing “bad” essays and got Bs on both my first two essays. I forced myself to go to office hours for them, without anything to show my professor. This resulted in an awkward conversation in which I didn’t have much to say because I didn’t have anything prepared. I realized I just needed to calm down, go back to my normal writing methods and listen to the many comments she left on my essays. I came in to office hours with a draft of what I wanted to write for the final essay and left feeling so accomplished that I finally had a direction for the essay and wouldn’t spend countless hours figuring out how to go about it. All I needed to do was engage with the teacher, because in class it can be intimidating with so many students. I was surprised to get an A on the final essay but happy I stopped being intimidated and had a productive time at office hours. We even started at some point to talk about horror movies, probably because the focus of the class was ghosts in literature.
Time Management – What can I say? Everyone is right about managing your time. You come to learn that everything is on you to do. You have to wake yourself up in the mornings and make sure to leave enough time to get to class/office hours. Unfortunately, I overslept for some classes because I didn’t have someone to force me to wake up. I had a lot of gaps in my schedule, which meant like 3 hours from my 10 am class to my 1 pm class. This was nice, as it gave me some time to walk around campus and catch something to eat. But you learn that you have to make a mental schedule. If you want to go downtown with friends, you have to make sure to be back for your classes, which can be anytime from 8 am to 8 pm.
Extracurriculars – In addition to my three classes, I joined a journal on campus through an email my teacher sent me, which ended up being a cool thing. I looked into it, thought “what the heck,” and applied for a position on UC Berkeley’s Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal. And while I’m at it, please check it out at (http://ucb-cluj.org/) haha! I have a blog on there, and it was hard but also fun to make. The cool thing is that I also got 2 units of credit for being an editor for the journal xD You might be tempted to try to join a million clubs/activities, especially with the club fairs they have in the beginning of the semester. While this is a great idea, I honestly don’t even recommend joining so many things your first semester. Definitely don’t overwhelm yourself right off the bat. Leave plenty of time to get comfortable in your classes first and establish yourself academically. Hey, you have 4 years to do stuff. I thought about this when I was freaking out about which classes I have to take my senior year for a major that I wasn’t even ready to declare and then realized I’ve only been here 3 months. Again, don’t be intimidated and scared about having to join this and that, because there’s plenty of time.
All in all, I came to Berkeley all the more confident because of my ILC experience. I had an idea of what a refined institution expects from its students and I also got credit for the Cornell class! I sincerely say that I wouldn’t trade my ILC experience for anything and that it was one of the most memorable summers of my life. The experience still applies now.
UC Berkeley 2015
P.S feel free to contact me if you have ANY questions.