Advice I Wish I Knew Before Starting College
A person's first year of college is transformative. It's about surviving, celebrating, loving, crying, believing, and accepting. It's about learning more about yourself, others, and what it means to be home. While everything is new, not everything is shiny. My freshman year at Stanford was challenging, as it is for many other students. I encountered some unexpected challenges, but was also granted with beautiful friendships, opportunities, and experiences that I will cherish forever. Here are a few things I wish someone had told me exactly one year ago.
Don't be so hard on yourself.
I quickly internalized the “sleep is for the weak” motto. I denied my body the chance to go to bed at first before 1 a.m., then before 2 a.m., and week by week, the time I collapsed into my Twin XL became later and later. I constantly compared myself to everyone else sitting in the library without even considering the work they were doing, or whether they had a deadline. I assured myself that if other people were working hard, so why couldn't I? This left me reliant on five cups of coffee during my most sleep-deprived days. It was detrimental. I was straight-up ignoring my need for self-care.
My perseverance through the night tricked me into believing I was stronger: a college superhuman who didn't need sleep. My sleep-deprived state left me vulnerable to any dorm illness, so I was constantly sick; even copious amounts of vitamins could not save me. My skin was oily and blemished, and I gained weight. Gaining weight in college made me reject an integral part of my identity. Having modeled since I was nine years old, the feeling of not fitting into my jeans made me more stressed. I was too tired to exercise, and I believed that an hour of exercise would mean I’d have to stay up later to achieve my goals for the day.
Fortunately, toward the end of spring quarter, I was finally able to pick up healthier habits and listen to my body. Since then, I’ve found time to stay fit and to be more mindful of choices I make. I’ve gotten my sleep in check and I fit in my jeans again.
In November, one of my RAs introduced me to bioengineering. Surprised I wasn’t already considering this major given my experience in translational and clinical research, he professed the wonders of engineering treatments and finding solutions through biology. All of this really excited me and I realized I could implement larger-scale change in medicine by studying bioengineering.
Because of that conversation, I'm now planning to major in bioengineering, while still remaining open to the vast opportunities in science that may come up. My friends experienced their own versions of self-discovery during freshman year, and it was nice to have people to lean on as we figured things out. We all encouraged each other to strive for our best, but we also helped recognize when it was time for bed, a walk, or a midnight bowl of cereal.
Find your passion.
Coming into college, I was an unwavering pre-med. As a pre-med, when it comes to grades, every point and hundredth of a decimal matter. An overflowing schedule is expected, and I saw little time to explore the exciting resources at my university. Until I realized I didn't know what I wanted. I did know I wanted to learn simply because I loved the process: the curiosity, the trial and error, and the mastery. I didn’t want to take a class for the sake of fulfilling a narrow medical school admissions requirement.
I didn't know if staying up all night was really going to leave me feeling fulfilled or satisfied with myself. I didn't know and I'm still figuring it out. And that's OK. It's OK to be uncertain; it's OK to sleep, and it's more than OK to listen to your body. Only you can determine what you need and what you aspire to be. And the best part is, you can always change your mind.