5 Tips to Make the Most of Your College Experience

Two students smile at their laptops at UC Davis.
Women photographed as they study in the Cross Cultural Center in the Student Community Center on the UC Davis campus on May 1, 2018. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Everyone enters college with a blank slate. Luckily, college life offers endless opportunities to find the path that’s right for you. Whether you are aiming to achieve highest honors or find a community of like-minded people, you will find your place at UC Davis.

This past year has taught us all to stay flexible and not to take our lives for granted. By carrying these lessons into the future, we can make the most of the opportunities we have been given. Over the past four years, I’ve learned that college is about so much more than the end goal of receiving a degree. Now — as a graduating senior at UC Davis — I thought it might be helpful to share some tips I’ve learned along the way about making the most of the college experience.

1. Expand your studies

A student in goggles assembles mechanical equipment at UC Davis.
Dilkirit Singh, an engineering major, attaches the hauler to the ramp during Shigley Hauler contest as part of a mechanical design class on June 8, 2018. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Keeping an open mind while exploring your academic options can help you find your interests and think about your future career. UC Davis offers a wide range of classes in different fields to allow students to gain an interdisciplinary education.

I entered my freshman year of college as a cognitive science major with my heart set on a career in neuroscience. After immersing myself in STEM classes, however, I felt that something was missing from my education. I wasn’t taking full advantage of the diverse classes that were available to me, closing myself off from interests I didn’t even know I had. When I decided to branch out and take a history class, it awakened a latent love for writing and creativity that helped me understand myself more fully.

This exercise in self-discovery led me to declare a double major in American studies, opening a new door for career possibilities. Now, in my final quarter at UC Davis, I have taken classes in disciplines ranging from math and symbolic logic to film studies and gender, sexuality and women’s studies. While my STEM classes gave me important technical skills, my humanities classes helped me examine the world on a deeper and more holistic level, giving me a well-rounded and enriching education.

2. Find a passion project

A student plays cello in the woods at UC Davis.
A UC Davis student poses with his cello at the edge of the Arboretum near the Pitzer Center on May 1, 2018. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Find something outside of your classes that really sparks your interest. Extracurricular activities can not only lead you towards potential career paths, but also bring you closer to peers that might share the same goals. Whether you want to help improve your community by getting involved with Associated Students, University of California, Davis (ASUCD) or join a club that celebrates something you love, finding a passion project can brighten your college experience and give you motivation and support.

I chose to fuse my interest in writing with my passion for racial justice by joining The Revival Zine, a student-run feminist publication headquartered in Davis. Aside from developing my writing, editing and collaborative skills, this zine connected me to other students with similar interests and goals, giving me a community among the intimidatingly large student body.

3. Develop career-related skills

Three students in a river adjust a fish net at UC Davis.
Kim Luke, Rachel McConnell and Aaron Sturtevant work together to count the trapped aquatic life during a carp research project in the west end of Arboretum Waterway on August 6, 2020. Kim Luke, Rachel McConnell and Aaron Sturtevant — all wildlife and fish conservation biology majors — are counting and measuring the various fish life of the waterway. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

As entering the workforce becomes an increasingly daunting task, gaining practical professional experience can be the launching pad we need.

College classes may give us the knowledge we need in our future careers, but it’s also essential to gain skills outside the classroom as well. Work experience is valuable even if it isn’t related to your future career goals. An internship or on-campus job can help you familiarize yourself with professional settings, strengthen your interpersonal skills and gain financial literacy.

Working as an editorial student assistant in the marketing department at UC Davis Continuing and Professional Education has been eye-opening for me in many ways. It has given me confidence in my writing skill and familiarity with professional writing that may be useful in the future, but more importantly, it gotten my foot in the door of a career path that I might really enjoy.

4. Network

Two students chat from their dorm bunk beds at UC Davis.
Students moving into their rooms during Move In Day. (Alexander Fisher-Wagner)

Networking is a crucial part of planning for your career. Your peers, fellow professionals or even academics involved in your fields of interest can help you get connected with your future colleagues and provide opportunities to learn more about the working environments. Networking can be as simple as becoming friendly with your professors or as complex as participating in professional societies. LinkedIn has also become a very valuable networking tool, especially as COVID-19 has prevented in-person networking.

Taking part in the University Honors Program helped me connect with peers, professors and advisors who I can fall back on for career advice. My network of people of all ages and experience levels has been useful not only for learning about my career options, but also for fostering friendships. It is easy to feel alone and adrift when thinking about the future, but building relationships with people in your field can be a helpful anchor.

5. Enjoy yourself

Students laugh around a coffee table inside a dorm at UC Davis.
This Hall Hop event at UC Davis included a silent disco, parlor game and karaoke. (Alexander Fisher-Wagner)

Some of my favorite parts of UC Davis are the limitless opportunities to have fun. Having fun is an invaluable way to boost morale. Aside from the hundreds of clubs and organizations you can join, there are activities to suit even the most niche interests.

If you enjoy exploring the wilderness, you could join one of UC Davis Outdoor Adventures’ classes or rent equipment to go on your own adventures. If you enjoy comedy, go to an improv show, or join an improv group yourself. If music is your passion, check out KDVS, the student-run radio station on campus, where you can get involved and even host your own radio show. You can even create your own organizations and keep expanding the scope of UC Davis’s recreational options.

My personal favorite on-campus activity is going to the Craft Center, where I spend my free time making pottery in the ceramics studio. Aside from being amazing stress relief, having a creative outlet is the perfect supplement for academic rigor, and a great way to unwind.

No blinders allowed

If you’re a freshmen or new student and this seems like a lot to take in, then let’s boil it down from five tips to just five words: be open to all possibilities. I promise you won’t regret it.

Sai Siddhaye is an American studies and cognitive science double major at UC Davis working as an editorial marketing assistant at UC Davis Continuing and Professional Education.

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