So you’ve done it! You’re going to attend Caltech, one of your dream schools, and you can officially call yourself a Techer. Maybe you grew up in sunny Southern California or, like me, moved thousands of miles from the East Coast (where they actually have seasons.) Regardless of how familiar you are with Pasadena or the Caltech campus before attending, becoming a student is a unique and new experience. Life at Caltech can be fun, but it is also one of the most rigorous schools in the world. It is important that your own health and wellbeing is always a top priority, regardless of whatever commitments you have on your plate.
In this blog, I will discuss a few informal and formal methods Caltech students use to take care of themselves. I’ll place emphasis on the resources the school offers to guide students through their years on campus.
Take Advantage of Pass-Fail
Caltech is on the quarter system and unlike other schools, all freshmen take their first two terms on pass/fail grading. The intention of this policy is to allow new students to ease into the workload and expectations of the school. Sometimes freshmen forget this, and become quickly overwhelmed by the rigor of the Caltech core curriculum and the classroom pacing of a quarter system. When this occurs, always think about this:
- Everyone who was admitted belongs here.
- You are not alone in feeling overwhelmed at times.
A big part of succeeding at Caltech is finding your groove and establishing a routine for doing work, such as who you choose to collaborate with, what office hours you find to be helpful, etc. This is a process that takes time. While you’re figuring it all out, try to find activities you enjoy to help you de-stress, such as a sport or clubs/art classes on campus. I spent most of my freshman year exploring Los Angeles – I went to all the art museums I could find, ate in Old Pasadena restaurants on weekends, and made hiking plans with friends. Use the pass/fail grading as space for you to establish your presence on campus and become accustomed to the Caltech experience.
Get to know the campus and people
There are many ways of going about this. First, it is important to find out what physical places on campus you enjoy being present in. I wrote a blog previously on good study spots on campus. Being able to do work in an area that calms you is important not only for your productivity, but also your inner peace.
Second, make the time to get to know the people who live and work around you. If you’re a freshman, you might have just rotated into a house on campus. A good way to make friends is to attend your house events and dinners to meet people. At any point in your Caltech journey, you can talk to people in your classes and major. If you join clubs and take classes that interest you, you can also meet others with similar interests. The best thing is that though Caltech is a small campus, I’m still meeting new people all the time. Interacting with others can often brighten a gloomy day.
Find your Peer Advocates
One formal yet informal resource on campus are your Peer Advocates (PAs). These are students who have been trained through the Counseling Center to act as counselors in the houses. Oftentimes, your PA will reach out to you and other people who live in proximity introducing themselves. They also usually have “PA” written somewhere on their door or a bucket full of candies and other necessities outside their door (picture shown above of bucket post-raid). PAs are a great resource if you want to speak to someone who is also a current student about anything academic and personal. They are a private resource, meaning that they will not share your information with anyone else unless they feel that it needs to be escalated to appropriate authorities. Many of the PAs in the houses have open office hours where you can drop in and just chat about your day; they also make themselves available for appointments and reach out to anyone they think is in distress.
Talk to your RA
One level above the PAs are the Resident Associates (RAs), who are usually graduate students who live in the houses and manage student life. RAs go out of their way to get to know the students they live with, and many of them host house-wide events such barbecues and games with prizes to foster student engagement. If there is an issue you’re not comfortable discussing with another student, you can email or find your RA and ask to speak with them. They are a resource with more authority in the houses, and can help to address your concerns/problems.
Seek out official resources
There are many official resources on campus that can help you take care of yourself at Caltech. For academic concerns, there is a widespread Peer Tutor program where students who previously received a high grade in a class are paid by Caltech to tutor their peers in the subject. You can request a tutor (free of charge to you) and get help on the classes that you’re struggling with. Additionally, you can discuss academic issues with the Dean’s Office at Caltech. If you need help keeping up with a class, the Deans can guide you in the right direction for handling the problem.
If you want to speak with someone to manage your wellbeing, the Student Wellness Services are a great resource for access to professional counselors. Their website is here, and it provides instructions for scheduling an appointment and meeting with a counselor. If your issue is beyond the scope of their services, they have a network of outside counselling referrals in the Pasadena area. Student Wellness offers a variety of other services as well. One of the most popular resources are the weekly workshops and groups offered in topics such as meditation, building better habits, amongst others. You can see a list of the different offerings in the previous link.
So, those are a few ways to take care of yourself while you’re at Caltech. Wellness is an individual definition, and just as we make sure to eat and sleep to take care of our bodies, we also need to do the same with our minds. Don’t ever be afraid to seek out help if you need it. The various resources are there to help guide you on your Caltech journey and for you to use them when you need it. I hope you enjoy your time here and have lots of fun!