Advice to Incoming Students of Color

As a fifth-year student (Class of 2020, e5′ 2021), I took a moment to reflect on my years at the UofR. At this point, most of my close friends are BIPOC students of color, first-generation students, etc. Through our late-night conversations and constant discussions, it’s become clear that the idea of “college” itself comes with different expectations, responsibilities, but most importantly, knowledge bases.

My parents are immigrants and did not necessarily understand the inter-workings of university prior to coming to the U.S. Rather, I learned through peers and classmates in high school how to prepare for college, how to get into a selective university, etc. My high school experience was filled with less than 5 hours of sleep a night, taking 8 AP/IB courses a semester, internships, volunteer work, debate competitions, and traveling abroad. My friend replies, “people do internships in high school?”

There are assumptions when people come from wealthy-funded high schools that everyone knows how to apply for college, everyone can afford to apply for college, everyone is expected to go to college. This underlying presumption is not only a benefit of class privilege but also reinforces and perpetuates institutional barriers to succeeding and attending college. It’s like, “well, why didn’t you just escape poverty by honing your pre-high school years to build an amazing application to one of the best boarding schools in the US that has extensive financial aid!?!? It was so easy for me.” [like okay??]

Given this information, I wanted to make a list of resources/ideas for students of color to be aware of so they can succeed and take advantage of the resources in college.

1. Learning how to manage your time and learn how to study. College is very rigorous, but you are 100% more than capable of it. Remember that you were selected because of your merit and potential, and you deserve to be here. More often than not, I hear students of color describe the feeling of not belonging, especially in comparison to their white peers. I would recommend Cal Newton’s method of organization (one of my previous posts explain this method in-depth) and looking at the text “How to Be a Straight A Student” (it sounds cheesy, I know, but it helped me SO much). Studying has NOTHING to do with the number of hours you put into it. I had never pulled an all-nighter in college except for my freshman year first semester. This was because I didn’t not have to time manage and study efficiently. Look at different YouTube video regarding study techniques, and figure out what works best for you. This is especially applicable for students that are pre-med, because the first two years will be difficult due to the course load.

2. Get in-contact with the Kearns Center (especially if you are a Kearn scholars) and OMSA. You can apply for the McNair program and read more about the program here https://www.rochester.edu/college/kearnscenter/undergraduate/scholars.html

3. Become familiar with the Fellowships Office and Office of Undergraduate Research. Be sure to check out these offices within the first or second semester of your first year. There are also funding available to complete summer research (having your rent/food covered). Look at the Rhodes Scholarship, Fulbright, Gates-Cambridge, Knight-Hennessey. These are all fellowships to be aware of.

4. Try to find a part-time job that is less labor intensive. Check out the admissions office, the School of Nursing, and connect with upper class members. Working part-time at a job where you have to always be on your feet, and occupied can be very exhausting, and time consuming of school (been there). If you’re lucky enough, having a front-desk job can be amazing, because you can work on your homework simultaneously. Make sure to see if there are paid research opportunities in your area of interest that you can work on during your school year.

5. Mental Health Matters. Especially if you are working!!! Attend therapy (because it’s free!!) and use your free sessions every year. Attend group therapy. Destigmatize mental health, and realize that you have to be mentally healthy to do well in school. Go to the gym, and work out. Eat mindfully (eat some cookies, cake, get your Starbucks while trying to eat well-balanced). Go out on the weekends, and hang out with your friends. Meditate. Do what you need to do so that way you can excel.

6. Ask for help. Ask for extensions. Sign up for tutoring. Sign up for study groups. Attend OH. I would not be a triple-major student with a high GPA without any of these things. If I’m having a rough week, I will communicate with my professors and see if an extension is possible on some of my work. I always try to attend OH and plan out study sessions with the TA before exams. You DON’T have to do everything yourself, and figure out everything yourself. Let other people help you. Rely on your friends. Form strong relationships with your professors.

7. Be aware of the different subject areas offered! Take classes in Computer Science, Data Science, Anthropology, Africana Studies, or even Build Your Own Major.

8. Form good relationships with your professors. This will be the key to your success.

9. Take an easy first year. You can’t always be at your 100% all the time, so interweave hard semesters and easy semesters. If you’re pre-med, it might be the opposite. The first two years are really work-intensive, but the second two years will be much easier.

10. Be kind to yourself. It’s okay if there’s a semester that goes bad, if you’re stressed, if you feel like you don’t get enough done in a day. Whatever it may be, it’s important to be kind to yourself, and forgive yourself.

Hope it’s a good list 🙂

About the author

Ruki PV

Hello! My name is Ruki and I am a current junior at the UofR. I am majoring in Computer Science, Anthropology, and Film/Media Studies. On-campus, I am involved in a variety of activities, including Women in Computing, Residential Life, and TOOP. I am also involved in the Rochester Prison Project and an avid advocate for social justice. Meliora!

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