My First Year at USC: Reflection

Flower gardens during second semester finals:

It’s truly hard to believe just how fast my first year at USC flew by (and this summer, so far). It feels like just yesterday we were transporting bins of pillows, blankets, and overstuffed Target bags up to my 7th floor dorm room. My first week at USC was filled with sunny days, new friendships, and awkward university-organized social gatherings but I wouldn’t change it for the world. And, my first year at USC, was one of the most valuable and prolific learning environments I have ever found myself in and I can’t wait to see what these next three years hold in store. In the meantime, here are five standout lessons I have learned after my first year of college.

1. You will find yourself with random free time slots during your day. 

This idea doesn’t seem that enthralling, but I found that I would have random pockets of time during my days, whether it was in between classes or 30 minute breaks before weekly club meetings. Definitely not like the 3 minute passing period in high school. What I would say is, depending on the time of day, make as much of this coveted free time as possible. Whether it be grabbing a quick dinner with friends before night classes or events, replying to emails or catching up on homework planning, working on short assignments, or, for me, writing blog posts before lecture whilst eating an açaí bowl. I never said I wasn’t THE most basic person ever.

2. You’ll probably change your mind about what you like, multiple times. 

When I first got to USC I knew that I was probably going to change my original major. So I spent first semester taking different prerequisite courses and I ended up getting admitted to the Marshall School of Business as a Business Administration major for the second semester. I also fulfilled my high school goal to become proficient in French and added on a French minor to my course load. With that being said, however, you will also find a lot about what you don’t like, which can be equally lucrative. I realized that maybe straight computer programming wasn’t for me (after panic filled weeks leading up to assignment deadlines) and I recently opted for a mathematical finance minor instead. Most importantly, realize that what you do, where you work, and what you will choose to pursue may not reflect what you study, which is perfectly okay. Just remember you are never restricted to your original plan. I personally don’t agree with declaring a major before you arrive at college, but changing programs is usually manageable. I recommend looking through your schools course catalogs, knowing perquisites, and speaking to academic advisors (your best resource) to either aid your transition or specialize within your major/minor.

3. Get involved around campus, meaningfully. 

A lot of what I will say here echoes a lot of advice I got from upperclassman, but the most important thing to do when getting involved or attending your school’s involvement fair is to be mindful and efficient when selecting the organizations you want to apply to or join. Almost every freshman testifies about receiving weekly emails from multiple organizations they never became involved with, which is true for me too. Remember that being a member of 3 or 4 organizations and having important leadership roles in them is much more valuable than being a general member of 8. Clubs and student organizations are great ways to meet other students, working professionals, alumni, and gain valuable hands-on experience outside the classroom. I regret not becoming as involved first semester with different clubs as second semester I joined a few. One of which was extremely meaningful to me, USC’s Marshall Women’s Leadership Board. There we get to meet with Women CEOs and industry professionals and talk about their experiences. Figuring out what interests you may happen through trial and error, so always looks for value in what may seem like meaningless experiences.

4. Failure can be a big motivator. 

Something that I always revert back to in my mind is my high school chemistry teacher talking about how 30s and 40s in classes like organic chemistry were some of the highest grades in the class. Grades are relative, to rigor and effort, and are evidently deceitful. I was used to getting 90s or higher on most of my high school assignments and I was aware that it probably wouldn’t be the case when I got to college (that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try). Trying to balance living in a new environment, getting involved, and staying on top of schoolwork is a difficult load to manage, for everyone. It takes time before you can become a more efficient studier, meaning all-nighters are definitely not always profitable. You’ll learn what helps you make the most of your time and thus successful and thats normal. I definitely know what it’s like to have that 4.0 dream lurking over your head during each assignment or exam. Story time: First semester, I received the lowest test grade I had ever gotten on a MIDTERM, no less, and I was pretty devastated. I ended up, however, translating that fear into more prolific energy as I motivated myself to attend office hours weekly, do as many practice problems as I could find, and just work on what I  didn’t understand. I ended up passing above my expectations (and to my surprise, albeit), and still was accepted into the Marshall School. Bottom line: don’t learn for the grades, learn for the sake of learning and that passion will be reflected in your transcript in time.

5. Always be open-minded. 

I kind of realize by now that all of my advice seems really cliche, so I’m sorry, but they’re all true so listen up! This idea is true not only in school, but in how you live. But at college, I recognized the importance of keeping an open mind in all types of situations, socially, joining clubs, major transitions, and even career trajectories. There are so many different resources to utilize and different avenues to pursue wherever you end up. Don’t ignore possible opportunities because they don’t seem to align with your goals. Diversification is important and makes you a more well-rounded person. Such opportunities can lead you to discover new pathways and interests you didn’t know you had. Don’t forget to experience college while you’re lucky enough to be there. Make use of your time and enjoy the journey.

What I still need to learn: 

  1. Managing anxiety and stress more effectively
  2. Find more time for myself and to exercise more regularly
  3. Find out exactly what I want to do with my life (aka never-ending journey)
  4. Speak and network with more people
  5. Gain more leadership roles in organizations over time


Enjoy the weekend,

x Kaitlin

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