Marcus - UCLA - Freshman Update
“I believe that college is as competitive as you make it. If you surround yourself with competitive people, then it'll be competitive, and if you don't, then it won't be!”
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What has been your biggest adjustment to life as a college student?
The biggest adjustment for me at the University of Califonia Los Angeles definitely my schedule. Instead of having six classes back to back every day from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. I now have two to four classes per day that can be at any time. I’ve had to get used to working in between classes, using my breaks efficiently, and managing my time so that I can still participate in clubs and hangout with my friends.
Yet, I’m also surprised by how much I can accomplish with so much free time. Just the other day I had four classes, went to the gym, had an interview, worked on assignments, and played volleyball for two hours! College really forces you to take control of your own time as you’re now the only person scheduling your classes, appointments, and any other responsibilities.
What do you like most about UCLA?
I’ve found amazing friends and community at UCLA. Everyone here seems open to meeting new people and making connections. Everyone I’ve met is so individual and uniqueness is welcomed. Living in Los Angeles has exposed me to a whole new array of food, people, and opportunities. It really widened my perspective on life and forced me to be a little adventurous and try new things, especially with my clothes and showing my personal style.
I also love the campus and the way it is organized. The dorms and dining halls are clustered together and all the lecture halls are in a separate area, which creates a really nice boundary between school and social life. When I’m in my dorm, I can walk over to any of my friends’ dorms in less than 10 minutes and just get food or hang out without being reminded of school work. When it’s time to go to class, I leave the dorm area and sort of enter a new space where I can focus primarily on school. And the food is great.
What would you change about the university if you could?
Class registration. At UCLA, registration times are assigned randomly which can make it very difficult to get a spot in a class if you are assigned a later time. However, this is kind of a universal experience at large public colleges and there aren’t many ways around it.
What is your freshman living situation?
I am currently living in a “classic” triple room with a communal bathroom. The majority of freshmen at UCLA live in classic triples. These are the smallest dorm rooms and they have a bunk bed and a lofted bed, along with three separate closets and desks. The rooms definitely aren’t big, but I think they’re enough to live in. The ceilings are high, and there is storage in every corner you can find. There are drawers under the beds, floor to ceiling closets, and built-in drawers in the cabinets. The closets are separate so that each person gets their own space. The only thing I dislike about the room is that it can feel a little stuffy and crowded if we're all in the room.
Room size aside, I actually love my living situation! My two roommates and I get along well and are barely in the room together, so having alone time isn’t really an issue. I know this is pretty uncommon, so I think I got lucky that we all spend the majority of our time outside the room. The communal bathroom took a little bit of time to get used to, but I found a good shower and the times it is the least busy. Overall, if you take the time to decorate the room and you have good roommates, college living is pretty good!
How easy has it been to make friends?
It has been very easy to meet people at UCLA. People here are generally very outgoing. I actually met a group of people online over the summer before starting college. I’ve also made a lot of friends through my classes and mutual friends. I met four of my closest friends last quarter by forming a study group with them in a tough class.
It has definitely been challenging to meet people in my department, however. I think this is because I haven’t been to any department-specific classes or events, so meeting people within my major is really up to chance. All of my classes so far include people from many different majors, and chemistry-materials science does not happen to be a common one. However, my chemistry study group consists of two biochemistry and one bioengineering major, and they're amazing.
What has surprised you most about UCLA?
The small size of the chemistry department. When I say that the chemistry department at UCLA is small, I’m not exaggerating. From what I’ve heard, there are only five chemistry-materials science majors and only about 20 or so general chemistry majors in the class of 2026.
How are things going with your major?
In the middle of winter quarter, I seriously considered switching my major from chemistry to environmental science. I want to work with sustainability regardless of my major, and I was struggling in my chemistry course, so switching to environmental science seemed like a sensible choice. However, I hesitated because I felt like I was switching my major just because it was too hard, not because I was more passionate about another major. I waited it out and ended up doing fine in the chemistry class, but I still switched my major from general chemistry to chemistry-materials science because it gave me more flexibility in my classes and seemed like a more hands-on major.
How has the small size of your department affected your academic experience so far?
Since I am still taking lower division classes, people of many different majors are in my classes and I haven’t had trouble making friends or forming study groups in that sense. However, when it comes to class planning and getting advice on my future, I’ve mostly had to figure it out for myself. It is a little challenging to decide what classes to take, when to get involved in certain things, or even figuring out if my major is right for me when I don’t really have any peers in the same major to talk with. My friends in other majors tried to be as helpful as they could, but it was more a challenge of finding people who have the same academic experience as me.
Nonetheless, I think the small size of my department has made me a little more proactive and independent because I have to organize the majority of my academics mostly on my own.
Has it been easy to get to know your professors or access advising?
I have only taken large, lower division classes thus far, so it’s still not too easy to get to know my professors. I assume once I start taking upper division courses there will be around 20 people per class, and I expect them to be pretty tight-knit.
As for advising, it has been easy to get help about class details and major requirements, but the fine-tuning – such as which electives to take or when to take certain classes – is still up to me. I’ve been able to meet with my advisor a few times and she recognizes me and knows my general academic situation. I have heard that some people in larger departments have trouble even making appointments with advisors, so I highly value being able to get help easily!
How would you describe the academic climate at UCLA?
I’ve taken mostly chemistry and math classes so far. They have not been easy classes, but I’ve managed to maintain a 4.0 GPA for my first two quarters. The workload has been more than high school as I spend from four to six hours studying each week for my major classes and around two hours for my general education classes. I’ve had a mix of good and bad professors. I think it's really a gamble on whether you will like a professor or not since everyone learns differently. I think the best way to do well in class is to learn what studying method works best for you and find people in the class that you can work with.
I like to think the physical science department isn’t that competitive because there aren’t that many of us, so we support each other, and we don’t have a lot of premed students as they’re in the life sciences department. Overall, I haven’t encountered anyone at UCLA who is outright competitive, but I’m sure those people exist. I believe that college is as competitive as you make it in the sense that if you surround yourself with competitive people, then it'll be competitive, and if you don't, then it won't be!
Are you able to balance academics with other aspects of your life at college?
The amount of assignments and responsibilities is intense, and the partying and socializing is just as intense. I think, so far, I’ve had a pretty good academic and social life balance. It was definitely more difficult at the beginning as all I wanted to do was go out and see my friends. But as I spend more time in college I’ve learned to prioritize my academics a little more. My friends and I respect each other’s needs for studying or spending time alone. Generally, we like to dedicate meals and at least one night on the weekend to socializing.
What has been your favorite class so far?
My favorite class has been the fall quarter of Cluster M1. “Clusters” are UCLA-specific classes that focus on one general topic for the whole year (rather than only for one quarter) and satisfy general education requirements. The M1 class is about food and sustainability, so in the fall we learned about regenerative agriculture and how farming can play a positive role in the environment. I am passionate about sustainability and love plants, so this was a really interesting class for me and it also included some scientific aspects!
What extracurriculars are you involved in?
I’m not in too many activities this year. I am currently in one club and an intramural sports team. I want to go into cosmetic formulation as a career, so I’m in a cosmetics club where we learn about skincare and other aspects of the beauty industry. I am also on an intramural team with my friends, which is basically just an organized sports team for fun. We’ve played dodgeball and beach volleyball and plan to play indoor volleyball next fall! Next year I would like to work. I’ve applied for an on-campus job and for a position in a research lab.
What is the community around UCLA like?
UCLA is located in Westwood, which has grocery stores, movie theaters, cafes, and many restaurants. You never have to walk more than 20 minutes to find what you need. I haven’t sought employment in Westwood, but I know several people who were able to get jobs at different places such as Cava, Target, and Trader Joe’s. If you get bored with Westwood, Los Angeles has never-ending opportunities.
Do you feel safe on campus?
UCLA’s campus and the surrounding area feels very safe. It is located between Santa Monica, Bel Air, and Beverly Hills, so it is generally a nice place to be. There has been the occasional crime alert in the area, but I haven’t encountered any harmful situations.
How easy is it to get to other parts of LA? Do students need a car?
You definitely don’t need a car. None of my friends had a car last year and we were still able to venture out to Downtown, Koreatown, Santa Monica, Melrose Avenue and a bunch of other areas. With Uber, public transportation, and rental bikes, I’d say it is pretty easy to get around LA without a car. It might be more expensive and time consuming, but it is definitely doable.
What is your favorite place on campus?
My favorite place on campus is a building called Pritzker Hall. It’s technically the psychology building, but it's on the STEM side of campus (where I usually am) and feels really modern and cozy inside. It’s really quiet and the second floor has a long row of desks that face windows, so you can look out onto campus. It's my go-to place to study when I’m on campus!
Now that you’ve spent some time at college, is there anything you’d do differently in terms of preparing for college, paying for college, applying to college, and attending college?
- I would have taken more community college classes while in high school. Taking general education classes can help you reduce the number of classes you have to take once you get to college.
- I would have applied for more scholarships! I think winning scholarships in high school is easier than in college as not as many people have done internships, projects, or other academic achievements. In college, you have to be a really strong candidate to stand out.
- I wish I would have applied to a few more reach schools. I somewhat regret not applying to Columbia because I didn’t think I was going to get in, but I didn’t think I was going to get into UCLA either!
What advice do you have for succeeding in college?
College is a whole new place with new people who have no idea who you are. So be whomever you want to be (as long as that person is you). College is really an opportunity to reset and do anything you thought you couldn’t do in high school, so take advantage of that!
Not including tuition, room and board, and books, what have you spent the most money on as a college freshman?
Definitely going out or shopping. Being in LA, my friends and I are always Ubering somewhere which adds up really quickly! I have a bad habit of shopping whenever I need a pick-me-up, so that also contributes to my spending.
What do you find most challenging about managing money while in college?
Online shopping - at least for me, the majority of my shopping happens online since leaving campus can be a hassle, which makes it so easy to spend money because it's as simple as pressing “place order”. It’s also easy to spend a lot of money on food off campus because you inevitably get tired of on campus food and want to seek out new flavors and experiences.
Do you currently have a credit card?
Yes, I basically use my credit card for all my purchases including groceries, transportation, and shopping. I have been able to pay the balance each month, but I have worked throughout high school and saved up money for spending.
How do you manage your credit card?
I like to keep a note of every transaction I make on my phone just so that I know how much I’m spending each month. This lets me know when I need to stop spending so I don’t go over my spending limit for that month. My limit each month is kind of arbitrary but is usually around a couple hundred dollars. I will usually round to a certain hundred, for example if I currently have $3,600 available, I will set my spending limit to $300 so that I don’t go below $3,300.
Do you have any tips for saving money as a college student?
Eat on campus or cook as much as possible! I know campus food can get boring but going out to eat adds up really quickly and usually includes additional transportation costs too.
Take advantage of campus events. There is always someone giving away free stuff whether it's school supplies, food, or even clothes. Using these resources can decrease the amount of money you have to spend in the future. My RAs have held a lot of events on my floor or for the whole building where they give away food, school supplies, or other things that are nice to have. I’ve always stopped by to pick up a few things that are useful in my dorm or everyday life.
What financial goals are you working towards?
Right now, I am saving up to go on small trips with friends and to prevent taking out loans. I did not have to take out any loans for my first year, so I am trying to get a job this summer as well as next school year so that (hopefully) I don’t have to take out any loans in the future either! I also have some money in a certificate of deposit so that I can make some passive income.