As a senior in high school or a soon-to-be transfer student, you’ve probably felt slightly overwhelmed by the different factors you need to consider.
Rankings. Opportunities. Finances. Atmospheres. If you’re thinking: Atmospheres? Really? I would have been right there with you. Ranking, opportunity and finance are probably at the forefront of your mind when considering a college. I chose my school completely based on the usnews.com rankings. Sure, I watched some YouTube videos about what it’s like to be a student there but I really didn’t take the idea of “atmosphere” that seriously.
A little background about myself: I read and re-read poetry for fun, I read 10K’s in my spare time and listen to investment podcasts; in second grade I read the first two Harry Potter novels in one sitting and I am classified by my own mother as a nerd. I really did not think something like “school atmosphere” could deter me in any way. I was wrong.
I’m a student at UC Berkeley and it is a fantastic school with amazing faculty.
However, the atmosphere, the university’s “personality,” has stretched me, bent me and I wonder every semester if it’s going to be the one that breaks me. Now, I am someone who enjoys being challenged but there is something about the atmosphere’s stressfulness that is hard for me to put into words.
I remember about a time I had watched a YouTube video about UC Berkeley that described the norm of being a student there: simultaneously excelling in coursework, being in several different clubs, and participating in research or an internship. I remember watching that and brushing it off, thinking to myself, “yeah, I’ll just take my classes and get good grades. Thanks though.”
But a university’s atmosphere is really inescapable.
I was doing quite well in my courses but, I had this feeling that I wasn’t doing enough. So, I joined a pre-law club. I met many new people and got a small taste of who makes up this atmosphere. Most of the people I met were not far off of the “norm” described in the YouTube video and I was immediately hit with this pressure to match my peers. I began searching for internships and research opportunities just to keep up with the students around me. This is where I realized I was pretty much experiencing exactly what the girl in the YouTube video had described. There is this lurking, competitive stress that makes up the aura of Berkeley and I couldn’t comprehend it until I lived in it.
I couldn’t tell you why I disregarded her cautionary tale. Perhaps, it was just potential downsides that I didn’t care to listen to?
I wonder here and there if I had actually listened to alumni talk about their experiences—after all, they did spend four years there—I would have chosen differently.
Since then, I’ve gone back and watched more “Life at UC Berkeley” videos and I am astonished at how accurate their descriptions of everything I am feeling are. If I could have done one thing differently about my college decision process it would have been to watch these videos and talk to alumni before was too late. Now, its’ 2 a.m., three weeks into my first semester and one roommate is snoring at his desk while other is drying the tears (or nervous sweat?) from his math homework; I couldn’t make it out very clearly as I was 128 pages into a 187-page legal studies article and my eyes themselves were quite blurry.
All this being said, I am lucky. I’ve found a strong support network of friends and we are all unified under this aura of Berkeley stress. We are typically very stressed and struggling—but we’re in it together. This positive perspective of the atmosphere is from the people I surround myself with. Without them, I’m not entirely sure what would have become of me during that first semester.
I learned a university’s atmosphere can shape you or break you. I learned the atmosphere of anywhere will influence you. And finding a positive group of friends can make it all manageable… on second thought, you might need to ask me how it all went down in a few semesters.