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College Tips

Last updated on Jul 20, 2023

We asked current and former CCA community members for tips from their college experience such as strategies, resources, and opportunities they found helpful (or wished they had known about!)

College Tips - Tamara

Tamara Jazmín Sobek - Individualized Studies Major 

California College of the Arts

If you don’t know a word or a concept, don’t hesitate to ask your professor! You are probably not the only one, you will be making your class a favor 
When I was a first-year, I was too shy to ask questions in class. Not being a native English speaker, I was always worried my questions weren’t “smart enough”, even though most of them were rooted in language barriers. I once had to take a test and confronted a prompt that was worded in a fancy way that I couldn’t fully grasp. I didn’t know one specific word that was essential in the understanding of the prompt itself. Too shy to ask, I instead tried to deduce it myself. I ended up getting a lower grade because even though I knew the answer, I had assumed that this word had the opposite meaning. From then on, I started to always push myself to ask questions. I tell myself that I’m probably not the only one who didn’t understand a word or concept and that by asking, I’m not only helping myself but others in the class that like myself, maybe feel too shy to ask.

Jasmine Sun - Interaction Design, Computational Practices Minor Alum

California College of the Arts

As art and design students, we do a lot of group projects. But at the beginning, we may encounter many problems. For example, we worry about working with people we don't know that much, or we worry that everyone's workload is uneven. After two years of group projects, I have summed up some practical tips:

Introduce yourself, and get to know your group as friends!
A good start to any project starts with self-introduction. Remembering your team members' names and pronouns will facilitate future cooperation. Another tip is to know your team members as making friends. You may or may not eventually become real friends, but it's very helpful to do small friendship things. It can be sharing some snacks before class or buying bubble tea after class. These seemingly insignificant things are definitely good ice-breaking methods.

Good tools help, but attitude matters the most!
There are some good tools that can effectively solve the problem of uneven division of workload within groups. I strongly recommend Notion, which can help the team set the division of role/task and real-time completion. However, while good tools help, a positive attitude is the key to leading to a positive outcome. At any time, trusting and encouraging each other with your team members can make you exert great energy together.

College Tips - Jasmine Sun

College Tips - Jaya

Jaya Reddy (she/her) - Animation Alum

California College of the Arts

Self-care and Balance

I spent so much of my first year at CCA worrying about my coursework that I ended up turning down countless social opportunities. Later, when my family asked how college was going I realized that I felt miserable even though I was technically doing just fine in my classes. When covid hit in the Spring of 2020, and there were no social gatherings to ignore, the isolation I felt was magnified. Like many of you may have experienced, I struggled to connect with the world and focus on my studies during quarantine. So, when I finally returned to CCA and reconnected with some familiar faces, I realized that a learning environment is much more effective when my mind is in a good place and the rest of my life is well balanced. I’m feeling more at ease now that I’m open to being involved in social activities and academics. Here are my tips on how you can balance school and mental health too:   

  • Press pause: If you’re having a hard time seeing a way forward through an assignment, take a beat and focus on something else for a few minutes. Get up and grab a drink, or read the instructions for another assignment in a different class. Then revisit the work you were doing with fresh eyes.
  • Cross something off your to-do list: Sometimes I even put “make a cup of tea” on the list, just because crossing stuff off makes me feel at ease.
  • Be a friend: Sit next to someone new in class, and make a new friend! Outside of class, you can press pause on productivity for an hour of leisure, especially if it could benefit your mental health. And say yes when your friend invites you to go out for ice cream!
  • Use CCA resources: I didn’t use these at first, but they really helped when I finally did. Take advantage of these CCA resources! Counseling Services, Learning Resources, and International Student Affairs and Programs are all accessible through Portal.

Mateo Sof Allier Lechuga - Animation Major Alum

California College of the Arts

Your materials/books/movies can be free: Teachers will often ask you to buy books for the course. If you don’t want to pay 20$ or more per book, make sure to have a library card. Both the Oakland and San Francisco campuses have public libraries nearby, where you’ll be able to find the movies and books you need for free. Don’t feel like walking? You can download the Libby app and borrow free books on your phone thanks to your library card. Websites such as the Internet Archive also have a wide selection of free books, movies, and more. As for materials, ask around in your group of friends before you commit to buying expensive paint or paper. Often others will have leftovers from past classes that they’re willing to part with.

Turn off your phone when writing: When working on an assignment where you have to write, turn off your phone. Let anyone who needs to know that you’ll be turning it off, and then do so. I usually take an extra step and hide it somewhere, so that it’s not even in sight. When writing, you need all of your focus, and having your phone on will tempt you to instead be on social media or watching your favorite show. Make sure to also have a drink and snack with you as you work, it’ll make the task a little less painful.

Use the free resources you have: The first time I was assigned an essay in my Art History class, I was freaking out. I didn’t understand how to go about it at all, and decided to turn to the Learning Resources Center. This is a resource I’ve used time and time again, and it’s completely free. If you’re worried these resources aren’t meant for you, don’t be, because they absolutely are. Take full advantage of other resources such as Counseling, Academic Advising, among others.

College Tips - Mateo Sof

Trevi Alohilani Pendro, Jewelry / Metal Arts Alum

California College of the Arts (and Crafts)

Make connections as much as possible! You may keep in touch with the folks you meet now for the rest of your life, but you're in the same place at the same time in this moment. That's a special thing! Fostering these relationships begins while you're in college and it's all about making the most of your experience.

Some personal examples:

  • As a Jewelry / Metal Arts major, I was constantly in awe of the pieces my peers were making in our shared studio. I wasn't alone in this sentiment, so we ended up working out some art trades! I still lovingly wear these pieces and am so happy to have them as I watch where my classmates' careers have taken them in the jewelry field.
  • It took me forever to finalize an Artist Statement that I was proud of. Also being a Writing & Literature minor, I think I was really hard on myself about it. I reached out to the Chair of Writing, who I'd had as an instructor a few semesters before. He willingly mentored and assisted me in this process and I'm so appreciative to have gotten his perspective on it all.
  • I needed work study positions to financially get through school, and was grateful to be hired as an Undergraduate Academic Advising Fellow in my sophomore year. Fast-forward a few years to graduating, running off to travel and do an Artist Residency, then returning back home to The Bay Area. Needless to say, the professional development and guidance I received as a work study student changed my life and has led me to where I am now!
College Tips - Trevi

Bianca Ramos, M.Ed. - Assistant Director of Advising & Student Success

University of Vermont

University of California, Irvine

Create a playlist with your favorite songs: Incorporate your favorite music into your morning routine to get the day started or whenever you need motivation to study or get your body moving. Music can be soothing and help you destress, keep you focused on a task or project, and bring you moments of joy. Throughout college, I found it helpful to have different playlists to hype me up for interviews, the gym, laundry day, and an assignment I have been procrastinating on. Bonus tip: Exchange playlists with your friends!

Use a budgeting tool to keep track of your expenses: We all know expenses in college can add up - from books, class materials, meals, housing, and more! I’ve found it helpful to keep track of my expenses using a spreadsheet or a budgeting app, such as Mint or YNAB. I encourage you to have a budget allocated to “fun”, such as activities that bring you joy. For me, I’ve allocated money in my budget for ice cream or boba runs, figure skating sessions, movies, webinars, and an occasional shopping spree. Remember, a budget can help you stay organized and tell your money where to go instead of wondering, “Where did all my money go?” at the end of the month.

Seek personal and professional development opportunities: Invest in yourself and further your learning, skills, and interests. Stay up to date with various opportunities being offered at CCA or outside of CCA, such as networking events, conferences, webinars, and more! Sign up to be on the listservs for your program and departments on campus, such as Career Development Office, Student Life, the Office of Student Success, etc. Reach out to your Program Chair, instructors, advisors, and mentors to inquire about different opportunities and books that can help you grow in your educational journey and career.

Attend office hours: This is a great opportunity to get to know your instructors and connect with them about the course material, such as topics you may want to discuss further or find challenging. I found it helpful to meet with instructors before midterms to discuss study strategies for the course and check on the progress of some projects to ensure I was on the right track. Additionally, you can seek mentorship from instructors, who can support you in your personal and professional development. When I felt comfortable sharing about myself and my goals, I was able to connect with instructors on a more personal level and they became familiar with my work, which came in handy when they wrote my letters of recommendation for graduate school. To make the most out of office hours, come prepared with questions that you would like to ask the instructor and share some of your interests, passions, and/or concerns if you wish to receive further support and be connected to resources.

College Tips - Bianca

Fonda Yoshimoto-Reed, MFA - Former Director of Student Success

Rhode Island School of Design

University of California, Davis

Gather information and multiple perspectives as you make informed decisions: I found it super complex to navigate interdisciplinary interests and the transfer process from community college to a large university. I found that ongoing conversations with multiple faculty, staff, friends, and family helped me make decisions with context in mind.

Find your tools to stay organized: Having spent most of my early education tracking assignments and activities using my memory and separate class binders, I distinctly remember the day I realized that was not enough. I missed an important proposal deadline and a grant application on the same day and I wish I had found my method of organization earlier! Use a sketchbook, planner, google calendar, apps, etc. to track your important work as well as take full advantage of opportunities in and out of class.

Learn the skill of asking questions: As a student entering college with limited resources and support, I learned that asking questions helped lead the way to the support and resources I needed. Asking questions did not come naturally to me, so when I found it difficult to speak up, I would count to three (in my head) and then just ask!

Envision multiple paths and be open to unexpected detours: The first semester as a transfer student, I was so disappointed that the course I wanted was full and I couldn’t get permission to add the course. I took another course instead and ended up finding my passion. I continued to plan and strive for the courses I needed and wanted, but that experience helped me be more open to trying new and different courses.

Explore your voice and your vision: Throughout my time as a student, I explored different ways of expressing my voice and vision. At times I was able to share through speaking, writing, movement, and visual art or all three at once. I found exploring through one outlet helped me process ideas that I was able to then express through other outlets.

College Tips - Fonda

Courtney Chung-Torralba, Director, Academic Programs Advising & Planning

University of California, Santa Cruz

Welcome the Experience

My first two weeks in college were difficult, emotionally and mentally. I had a hard time adjusting, socially, and was more homesick than expected. I know, now, how normal this experience is, but at the time, it felt scary and lonely. My advice is to keep an open mind, "lean into the discomfort," and welcome the experience.

Find Your Folks

Getting involved with student organizing and activism is how I found community and purpose. I participated in Asian and Pacific Islander Student Alliance (APISA) and Community Unified Student Network (CUSN) and co-founded People of the Islands (POI). The "unlearning" I did in these spaces has informed every area of my life.

Identify a Mentor (Maybe Your Advisor!)

My advisor in student organizing has been a constant support since I met him in my second year. He questions me when I think I know it all, pushes me when I think I can't go any further, and challenges me to be my authentic self in all situations. I hope that you will allow us to be that for you or connect you to someone who can.

College Tips - Courtney

Kat Gonzalez, Senior Academic Program Advisor for Design Undergraduate Programs, Academic Affairs

University of California, Davis

Find Your Community: As a transfer student, and having not lived in the dorms, I didn't have a cohort that I connected with when I first went to UC Davis. Luckily, I was able to find my people and community! My community allowed me to find space to become more of who I am and grow to who I wanted to be. Of all the takeaways from my college experience, this has always been a defining part.

Take Advantage of FREE Resources: Something I wish I had done more often was actually take advantage of what the school had to offer to students. So many wonderful programs and departments had resources (and most of them free) for students to use. I don't know how many times I passed flyers or saw info in the school paper that I thought "That's cool, I should look into that"... and then never took advantage of. I would highly recommend students to find out what opportunities/resources/events/spaces CCA has to offer.

Study AND Self-Care, not Study THEN Self-Care: I grew up with a very traditional way of thinking about education and believing that my grades defined who I was. Unfortunately, as I worked to get good grades, this left little room to reflect on how to make school work for me. Students are often taught by society that they should put school first, even above their own well-being, and I think this is especially prevalent in the art community. While I believe in the importance of challenging oneself and the value of education, college should also be a time for students to understand that they can succeed without having to pull all-nighters or forgoing meals and mental health.

College Tips - Kat

Paula Farias, Assistant Director of College-wide Curriculum, Minor Advising & Operations

University of California, Irvine

Find interesting and new extracurricular activities that will help you gain expertise in your field or pursue other interests. 

Use the Learning Resource Center! Take advantage of writing tutors to improve your essays. 

Explore major options by taking courses in different disciplines. 

College Tips - Paula

Michelle Gurlin, Former Academic Advisor

University of California, Davis

My advice is to get involved with the greater Bay Area community and expand your mindset out of what you know, whether you have the privilege to travel, or to just learn about other people that have a different perspective than you at CCA.

I'm grateful that I got the opportunity to study abroad in Lyon, France because it was my first experience living outside of the US for more than a couple of weeks, but I wish I would've gotten involved with the greater Sacramento community a bit earlier since I didn't really until my senior year.

Photos are in Stockholm, Sweden; Lyon and Nice, France.

College Tips - Michelle