I’ve come a long way since then. I teach SAT and ACT classes to groups large and small, I thrive in both lecture halls and class discussions, and I’ve become very social. I was helped along in my growing process by the fact that socializing in high school is, in many ways, quite different from socializing in college—the impetus I needed to proactively build social confidence. I wasn’t expecting the difference, so I was surprised at the number of new things I had to adapt to. A few of the most memorable:
- Recognizing that professors don’t bite. I’ve taken classes with some truly extraordinary researchers, all of whom were much more knowledgeable and experienced than me in nearly every subject we discussed. I once recognized fifteen minutes too late that I was speaking with the researcher who wrote most of the core literature on the theory we were talking about. It took me some time to build up enough confidence to approach professors, but I’m happy I did; I’ve gotten excellent advice, letters of recommendation, and academic insight from many of them. Professors are very much human, usually happy to help explain things, and almost always very forgiving of inexperience. After all, you’re there to learn!
- Spending time with people outside of my immediate age range. A four-year age difference is considerably more noticeable in high school than it is in college, if only because the physical differences between high school freshmen and seniors are much more obvious than those between college freshmen and seniors. I routinely mistake graduate students for undergraduate freshmen and vice versa; only yesterday I discovered that a friend of mine is not, in fact, my age, but seven years older than me. I spent my first year in college clinging tightly to a group of people my own age, but over time I learned 1) how to relate to people of different ages and in different life stages, 2) how valuable that skill would be in the real world, and 3) that age really is just a number.
- Having to go out of my way to stay in touch with people. It was often much easier for me to maintain friendships in high school than in college since my high school had less than 2,000 students, and since I saw many of the same people every school day. UC Berkeley, by contrast, has 34,000 students spread over almost two square miles of campus classrooms, most classes don’t meet every day, everyone’s schedules are less in sync with one another, and very few of my friends are in my classes. This may not be as true in smaller schools or in different academic environments, but at least at UC Berkeley I’ve found consistently that I and most people I know have had to get used to actively making time for close friends and for socializing in general. Unless I make my friends a time priority, I rarely get to see them at all.
- Attending a large and diverse school. I hadn’t thought much about school size before coming to UC Berkeley, but I’m very happy I chose to come to a large and diverse college. It’s hard to stay in touch with people I meet unless I go out of my way to, but I get to meet new people every day and am exposed to students from all walks of life. I learn more about the world from the people around me than the content of my classes, and have become more socially adaptable and culturally sensitive. I have friends at smaller, more homogenous colleges who tell me they love the familiarity and community there, but I’m sure I made the right school-size decision for my own personality and goals.
Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.