As an incoming freshman, I was more than a little bit excited about the prospects of moving across the country to start my college experience. This would be the first time that I would live on my own, so I did my very best to learn as much as I could about the University of California-Berkeley and Haas School of Business. I asked everyone I knew who attended the school as many questions as my 18-year-old mind could imagine:
How are the classes?
How are the professors?
What is class enrollment like?
What clubs can I join?
Do people visit San Francisco?
Is there anything I should or shouldn’t do during my freshman year?
The list was truly endless. I wanted to know as much as I could so I would be prepared for everything that Cal could throw at me in the next few years. The answers I got were insightful and helped me navigate through freshman year. However, I quickly realized that no matter how many questions I asked, I could never be truly prepared. In the last three years, I’ve lived and I’ve certainly learned.
The bottom line is that some expertise can only come from experience. Here are the things I wish I’d known before and during college.
1) Where You Go to College Plays a Role in Where You Find a Job
Proximity matters. Location matters. The world is more connected and it is easier to relocate than before. That doesn’t automatically translate to job opportunities. When I first came to Haas, I felt very open-minded about where I would take internship and job opportunities. After all, I was a freshman and really loved my new environment.
As I approached junior year, the majority of my interviews and potential job opportunities came from firms in San Francisco. I remember trying to schedule networking calls with alumni at the firms where I was applying. What was quickly apparent is that it is much easier to schedule a coffee chat when both parties live in the same city and can meet up in person. While it isn’t impossible to schedule a call with someone in a different time zone, you have to be especially careful to consider time differences and connectivity issues if you are meeting them through Zoom.
Now that I am a senior, I know that I want to return to New York post-graduation. I had to take special care to intentionally find opportunities for me in New York City. Berkeley Haas is a prestigious enough school that cross-country relocation is definitely possible, but it takes more effort to secure an internship or post-graduation opportunity.
A further consideration that I have just come to realize is that the majority of students who go to school at UC Berkeley tend to stay here post-graduation. When I move back to New York this May, I’ll be the only one of my friends to do so. While I am fortunate for the network and relationships that I have built here in California, it also means that this network and these relationships are also staying put.
While I won’t be starting from scratch to build up my network in New York, I definitely don’t have a head start either. I know that I now have a great opportunity to meet new people and grow a national network, but I can also recognize the immense work ahead of me.
My Advice: Be intentional and seriously consider your plans. If the East Coast or Midwest is the post-graduate or summer destination for you, it’s always better to know sooner than later to give yourself enough time to dedicate yourself to recruiting and networking efforts. Ask yourself this question: Am I okay with leaving my friends and network to build another one somewhere else? Everyone is different, so there is no right answer other than the fact that you have to know your answer and plan accordingly.
2) Don’t Be Afraid to Take Classes that are Unfamiliar to You (If You are Interested)
I kept hearing this advice: “Take the classes that you are interested in because it’s much easier to succeed in something that you care about”. I’ve taken that advice to heart and it has led me to take really interesting and practical classes like Negotiations and Conflict Resolution with Professor Holly Schroth and International Consulting for Small and Medium Sized Business with Professor Dan Himelstein. Both of these classes deepened my experience in a consulting role, which I know will be extremely helpful as I step into the professional world.
However, I was surprised that I broadened my horizons the most when I took classes where I had an underdeveloped seed of interest. Sports Nutrition with Professor Ashley Reaver taught me about the processes of my body and how best to take care of it. This is knowledge that I will take with me always, or at least each time I enter the grocery store. International Human Rights with Professor Darren Zook piqued my interest in international relations and how governments have a much larger role to play in issues of refugees, environmental justice, and international business. While I don’t plan on working in the international relations space for my career, I now have a greater appreciation for the role that citizens and businesses of every country play in making the world a better place.
However, the most influential class I took during my time at Haas is Entrepreneurship: How to Successfully Start a New Business with Professor Peter Molloy. I had no understanding of entrepreneurship other than bare basics prior to taking the class. The reason I enrolled was that I knew that no matter what I learned, it would at the very least be new and interactive with my classmates. It turned out that being able to listen to all the guest speakers who were entrepreneurs, managers, and venture capitalists really opened my eyes to what starting and maintaining a business is all about. This turned out to be the class that kick-started my desire to work in the entrepreneurship space and helped inspire some concepts in my book, Fly By, like the dangers of venture capital funding and the power of having a brand story.
My Advice: Take a chance on classes that you are interested in, but know nothing about. You truly never know where those new experiences will take you — and you’ll want to do it early in your college career. The best-case scenario is that you take a class and it introduces you to a new passion, new major, new minor, or even career path. The worst-case scenario? You spend one semester learning something that will make you a more well-rounded person than before. There’s no better time than college to explore your interests.
3) Do Not Neglect Your Breaks or Decompression Time
Cal is a high-intensity, “go-go-go” school. Everyone is juggling five classes, extracurricular clubs, an internship, and a social life at the same time. It is so easy to get caught up in the everyday grind of college life that you end up giving all of your time to external responsibilities and forget to prioritize yourself.
Most of us like to pretend that we like this kind of uber-busy lifestyle. I was certainly one of these people during my junior year. Deep down, we know that it isn’t a sustainable lifestyle for the vast majority of us. As I’ve gone through senior year, I’ve prioritized my breaks more and more because I know how crucial it is to avoiding burnout.
I would much rather give myself a day to relax and do some “self-care” every week than work non-stop for a while before crashing and needing a break for a whole week. From personal experience, I know that it’s easier to catch up from missing one day of school rather than a whole week.
College is a marathon, not a sprint. You won’t want to go too fast in the beginning and have no gas left to finish the race.
What this means for me is sometimes snuggling up with a blanket, some ice cream, and my favorite show. Other times, it means going on a hike with my friends and cooking dinner together.
My Advice: Find your thing. Whether that means working out at the gym, taking a day trip to San Francisco to get out of Berkeley, or finding a hobby to do with your friends, you’ll want to make some time for it in your week. College can quickly consume you and your schedules, if you don’t pay attention your calendar will fill up with meetings and class, and other responsibilities. Before you know it, you won’t even have time for all the fun parts of college that will be the lasting memories we hold for the rest of our lives.
College can be an amazing life-changing experience to propel us to the next level of our lives — or it can be 4 years that just pass you by. While I learned all of these three things through personal experience, these are the three things that I wish I knew before I started college and the advice that I would give anyone who asks, “What did you wish to know before you started college?”
My name is Grace Huang, a rising senior studying Business Administration at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and a member of the founding class of the Global Management Program. Passionate about traveling, writing, running, and finding the perfect scrambled egg recipe, I want to explore the world at the speed New Yorkers walk.