A Look At The College Experience For Students Ready To Start Theirs
BY ALFREDO GUZMAN
Holtville High School Class of 2017’s graduation is just around the corner. The Holtville Tribune has asked Susana Martinez, a Holtville High School alum who has been attending college at the University of California Riverside for the past two years, to give insights into what they can expect. Her specific college experience and background could potentially be helpful to HHS students about to begin college or who may be going away to college in the near future.
Did you experience culture shock when you first began school?
“Yeah it really freaked me out the first week when classes started. Everyone else seemed a lot more prepared for it than I was and was taking everything in stride and I kind of felt like I was drowning or something. I didn’t realize how out of depth I was compared to everyone else. The people in my dorm also made me feel like I didn’t belong. Not on purpose. They were quite nice in fact. It was the fact that they came from wealthy families and graduated with high honors from wealthy schools that made me feel like an outsider. These kids have taken like 5+ AP classes and SAT prep classes and things like high level statistics and business prep classes in like their first half of high school; they already act like mini business men and it seriously freaks me out. I don’t feel as “grown up” as the rest of them seemed to be.”
Have you become homesick and how have you dealt with it?
“Honestly I was homesick even before I left; which kind of contributed to a lot of negative feelings in my first year. I missed home a lot and I missed the comfort of home after a long and bad day (of which there were many). I didn’t really deal with it because I was technically “an adult” so I figured I had to grow up and get over it. I had a really hard time validating my homesickness because I kind of felt a little bratty, and that combined with my anxiety and school related stress just made things kind of awful until I used the resources available on campus in order to better address my problems.”
How is college like you expected and how is it not like how you’ve expected?
“I knew that it was going to be difficult but I didn’t really consider the magnitude of how hard it was going to be. Not just academically, but emotionally and financially as well. Orientation week felt magical, like I was in one of those thousands of college movies were the protagonist feels like their life is about to begin and that the next 4 years are going to be an adventure. Then classes started and the magic disappeared real quick and was replaced by all this responsibility. It’s more rigorous than the movies will have you believe.”
What does your family think about you attending college?
“They’re very proud of me since I’m the first to actually be going to a 4 year university but it creates a lot of pressure. They’re always bragging and I appreciate the occasional stroke of my ego but sometimes they’re kind of inflating the situation more than it needs to. Everyone is proud and I’ve got an opportunity to do something with my education that none of them every got. I’m quite privileged to be attending university in the first place so I should be grateful (and I am) but also it’s kind of exhausting. They don’t pressure me to be the best, but I still feel compelled to. They’re happy that I’m going at all but I’ve got it so solidified in my head that I need to consistently put my best foot forward and then some because I have this chance. I can’t afford to mess up mainly because I can barely afford to be here in the first place. I can’t throw away my shot.”
How is college different from high school?
“(college is) Significantly harder. Like, 1000x harder. The workload is intense and you’re virtually on your own unless you make friends. The brutal reality of it is that the professors could care less if you pass or fail. They’ve already got your money so you thriving or tanking means nothing to them. Nobody cares if you’ve had a bad day. But on a positive note, you’ve got a lot more independence. Maybe a bit too much in some cases but it’s nice to be able to go to class in my pajamas.”
Do you think some of the other students have advantages or disadvantages that you don’t have?
“A lot of them come from wealthy families and well funded schools (in regards to other students advantages). They don’t worry about money and they’re starting off college with a significant amount of AP (advanced placement) credits which lets them get first dibs for classes. They don’t have to worry about the same things I do. I come from a low income family so I’m perpetually stressed about money and the amount I’ve taken out in loans in order to attend. I started off with with EIGHT credits so I’m struggling to get the classes I need and it spirals into this whole mess of “man,if I don’t get these classes I’m going to stay here longer which means I’m going to spend more money on more classes” and it’s a little messy if overthink it.”
(In regards to advantages I have) “However, all of the struggling has made me appreciate what I do have, because I know I’m lucky to be here. Not everyone gets the chance I’ve got. I’ve got to work a little harder than everyone else but it’s made me humble and made me mature. A lot of the kids in my dorm had to ask me for help working a vacuum and doing their own laundry because they never had to do it themselves before.”
Do you think college is for everyone?
“No, I don’t think so but I don’t mean that in a bad or judgemental kind of way. Some people are academically inclined and some aren’t. Others thrive under the pressure of academia and others don’t. I don’t think it’s particularly fair for people to insist that all graduating high school seniors need college in order to have a better life because there are some people who DO NOT thrive in this kind of environment. I see a lot of people here, bitter about their college experience, regretting it in some cases; they only came because everyone told them they needed to or because they’re just trying to make their parents happy.”
How/why did you choose your specific college?
“It was the only one I actually visited before I applied so it seemed a lot less foreign to me. I figured the transition would also be less traumatic since it was slightly familiar. It’s also close enough to home without being too close. I can have all the independence I want, but if I get homesick, going back for a visit wouldn’t be impossible.”
Do you feel high school prepared you for college?
“I think it prepared me as best as it could have; considering it is a low income school. But it (high school), kind of coddled me a little bit. In high school the teachers know you, they know your face, and you build a relationship with them because you’ve been around them for 4 years. They want you to do well and are willing to do everything in their power to help you. College is the complete opposite. As soon as the quarter starts, you’re thrown into a massive hoard of students and you have to fend for yourself in the rat race. You’re reduced to your student ID number and your professors don’t really care about you. Not because they’re soulless (well, sometimes they’re not, sometimes they are) but because they’re trying to teach a class full of 300+ students and they don’t have time to care about each and every one of them. They only way you’ll be noticed is if you make the effort to put yourself out there, which is hard when 30 other people have that same idea.”
What skills do you think students should have before beginning college?
“Being a little more proactive about school work can go a long way. Here, no one reminds you if you’ve got assignments or tests due, unless the professor is particularly merciful. I’m not sure if this necessarily counts as a skill but I think students should start holding themselves more accountable for the school work they have to do. Just stay on top of it, maybe ahead of it if you can. Learning how to be independent kind of falls into that category as well.”
What advice would you like to give to new upcoming college students?
“It’s going to be hard, maybe even terrible at certain points but it’s going to be okay. You’re probably going to think that you don’t belong and that everyone else is smarter than you and that you have no idea what you’re doing. Take comfort in the fact that everyone (and I do mean EVERYONE) around you feels the same way. Trust me, we’re all thinking it, whether we say it outloud or not. Just hold out until the end of the week, then keep doing that until you find some peace and stability.”
“Don’t think your scores/grades define you and your worth as a person. It’s just an essay, it’s just a quiz, it’s just an exam. In a couple years your scores won’t matter. That doesn’t mean don’t take your school work seriously and consistently slack off. You need to put some effort into it. All I’m saying is that if your effort doesn’t pay off, it doesn’t mean that you’re a terrible person. It sounds rather dramatic but trust me, once you’re here you’ll understand what I mean.”
“Just because 18 makes you a legal adult doesn’t mean you have to have your entire life figured out yet.”
“Pick a major that YOU want to do, not what someone else wants you to do. You’ll be a lot happier in the long run.”
“Burnout is real. Stay on top of your priorities but make room to have fun and make friends and stuff. Grades are important but so is your happiness and mental health. Gotta nurture it everyday and sometimes that means taking it easy. Just don’t be lazy.”
“This one is kind of obvious but, just go to class and do your homework. Even if attendance isn’t mandatory, still go. You’ll hate yourself less in the long run.”
“Do not buy textbooks or school supplies from the university bookstore if you can help it. They’re like sharks in there, they’ll bleed you dry of your money.”
“Do not compare your success to others. Especially if they’re your age or younger. If you keep comparing yourself to the person in class that’s perfect in every conceivable way, you’re going to bum yourself out real quick. Measure your success against what you were like a few years ago.”
“You’re going to be fine.”
How has your personal point of view changed since you’ve started going to school?
“I’d say I’m a little jaded, mainly because it felt like my reality check was more like a sucker punch. I had to grow up a little faster, which I can appreciate. Life is hard but it’s not impossible to navigate.”
“Do not take multiple writing classes at once. Learned that the hard way.”
“I know a lot of the stuff I said kind of sounded a little scary and negative and I don’t mean for it to be. I don’t want to scare anyone off from college. I say all of this as a means to get incoming students prepared. If I were a freshman again I would want someone to tell me these things, it would have made transitioning that much smoother for me.”