Irene Tu_The Highlander

Entering my first year at UCR, I had everything planned out. Though I had only visited the campus once before move-in and did not know many people or the area well, I was excited and ready to leave my mostly online high school experience. Imagining sleepovers with my roommate, finding my lifelong friend group and joining on-campus clubs — college seemed like a fresh start. However, my transition from high school to college was not as smooth as I had initially hoped. 

Due to contracting COVID-19, I, unfortunately, missed my move-in date in September and “Welcome Week” — a transition week intended for first-years to meet their hallmates and other students. When I was eventually allowed to move in, as a naturally introverted person, I couldn’t seem to connect with anyone on my floor. I felt behind my peers in preparation for college and deeply alone because it seemed to me no one was struggling like I was. 

My difficulty with finding a sense of belonging at UCR made me realize the pandemic had impacted me in ways I had never thought of before. A higher percentage of high-school students are reporting feelings of unpreparedness as a result of the pandemic disrupting their social and academic development. A survey found that 22% of 20,000 high-school students, especially first-generation and low-income students disproportionately affected by COVID, reported that feelings of unpreparedness affected their academic confidence and sense of belonging at college. 

Missing half of my high school experience, I knew I had to put more effort to make up for that lost time in order to find my place at UCR. So, I applied to be an ASUCR Senate intern my first quarter. Shadowing an ASUCR Senator, I met new people and learned the inner workings of student government. Later, I joined the UCR Swim Club where student swimmers could practice weekly, attend swim meets against other schools and host fun social events. But, the best experience was growing my passion for journalism with The Highlander. Though some of these experiences worked out better than others, I continued to explore new activities and meet new people. Participating at The Highlander, finding my academic interests and joining University Honors have made me feel I belong at UCR after much uncertainty. 

I don’t have all the answers about the high school to college transition as I am still figuring it out myself. I do know that everyone’s college experience is different. Some people will naturally transition into dorm life, adjust quickly to their college courses or find their best friend on the first day. Others may struggle with a new environment, need extra help with their classes or have to go through multiple friend groups before finding the right one. My challenges may be different than yours, but I’ve found that the first step is to put yourself out there and don’t be afraid to try new things. Class of 2027, you belong here.