I distinctly remember the frenzy in February of my freshman year when it came time to find housing for the coming year. Most private apartments around Berkeley do a 1 year lease starting in June so that it matches with the school year. That means that come springtime, the early bird gets the worm to find a good housing deal for the next year.
It’s always a bit dramatic to sort out the roommates. Are you looking to room with 1, 2, 3, or 4 others? Are you okay to have a double occupancy room, or are you going for a single? What’s your budget, and are you willing to compromise? All these are questions that I tackled as I sprinted from my classes to get to open houses in time, only to see 40 other freshmen also lined up, trying to rent out the same apartment. Unlike other colleges, it’s actually significantly cheaper to live off-campus and housing is very limited for upperclassmen, so the majority of students do not live in the dorms after freshman year.
Yes, it was crazy, it was hectic, but as I look back on the experience, I am so thankful that I got to be a real adult, even at age 19 and as a freshman in college. I managed to pay thousands of dollars for a security deposit and rent and learned the tough parts of living on your own, like doing my groceries, getting my bike stolen, and all the beautifully unexpected moments in between. For better or for worse, Berkeley will do that for you. This school absolutely pushes students academically, but even more so it shapes impressionable, naive minds into individuals that are ready to quite literally tackle whatever the world has to offer.
And this goes well beyond living on your own. A lot of older students will tell you that while attending this campus of 40,000+ students, they discovered the importance of asserting themselves and being their own advocate. Maybe that means walking into the office hours of your most intimidating professor, sending in that application to that internship even though you feel underqualified (you’re probably overqualified, tbh), or having really difficult, but important conversations with peers on uncomfortable topics. Looking back on my greatest opportunities and moments of growth in 4 years of Berkeley, every single one of these memories started with me actively stretching outside my comfort zone. Because I went to Berkeley and because I took hundreds of little leaps of faith everyday, I am a better person today.
I say this with hopeful optimism, given that I graduate college in about 7 weeks and have no plans lined up. Perhaps a very organized adult would panic in my shoes— perhaps I ought to be a little more panicked than I am right now— but in all honesty I couldn’t feel better about my place in this world right now. I know that I’m competing against job candidates from other universities that also memorized the same amino acids, they also maybe had a bit of chemistry research experience, and they probably have a fine GPA to rival mine. But what many non-Berkeley students will lack is the confidence to walk into that interview and ace it, to juggle adult responsibilities with their career, and frankly they won’t have the dazzling reputation that a UC Berkeley degree holds in the eyes of employers. UC Berkeley is tough stuff, no doubt. But when I walk that stage (or attend my virtual commencement) I feel really happy knowing that I conquered one of the most challenging chapters of my life, and if I could do this, then I am going to be pretty resilient and well-equipped for whatever the future holds.