How I Graduated from UCLA in Three Years

I chopped down this tree myself to symbolize me conquering my academic struggles. Photo cred: Daniel Vallejo

First of all, it’s not uncommon to graduate from UCLA in three years. Some non-transfer students enter undergrad with lots of credits from community college that apply to their major, and some students have short majors. Some students take lots of summer school classes, and some students take extra classes during the school year. I was not a transfer student. I graduated from UCLA after attending immediately after high school.

In my situation, my AP test scores for Spanish 4 and 5 excused me from SIX language classes required for my major (which equals an entire year’s worth of language classes), I took three summer school classes total, and the English major is actually pretty short.

Did I plan to graduate from college early? No. I remember explaining AP classes to my parents saying, “It could let me graduate college earlier.” Being only sixteen years old, my parents were reluctant to look that far, stating “Why would you want to do that?” I did not find out I would be graduating early until the summer before the school year I graduated. I had been working a full-time job at UCLA over the summer, and one day I decided to run an audit report on MyUCLA to find out how many classes I needed to take.

At that point during the summer, I was deciding on whether I wanted to continue trying to become eligible for the film minor. I will come back to that story in a bit.

I took a highlighter and counted all my English classes. Then I compared them to the English major class requirement. Then I counted all the units I had accumulated over two years. I was unprepared for what I discovered. I would be done with my unit requirement and eligible to graduate Spring 2018. That was three quarters away.

This is what sucked. I was thrilled. I was happy. Since then I’ve never felt like anything was moving too fast. I called my parents the next day and my dad was happy. But my mom was not. There were many quips my parents would tell me they weren’t completely overjoyed with what I was doing at UCLA. To this day, I don’t feel like they are 100% comfortable with me graduating a year early even though they waited until the second year of college to briefly mention they felt I was wasting their money at UCLA… BUT I DID IT SO WHATEVER!

I had the option of staying about two quarters into my fourth year to finish up the film minor. But there was the problem. Film classes were so difficult to get into because they prioritized film major students and spots did not open until week 2 of each quarter. I needed to take three classes total to be registered as a film minor and only then would I be able to enroll in film classes on time. But it took me three quarters to take two film classes because I could never get into them on time, and I was losing patience.

I almost took two film classes over the summer. I might have even tried to take four. But in the weeks leading up to my summer plans at UCLA, I realized that I would be putting more money into a minor that was not guaranteed, and it made more sense to spend my summer school credits and money on my major classes first. So I changed my summer schedule to English classes and decided I would not continue to pursue a film minor.

I’m not devastated I didn’t become a film minor. I couldn’t get into classes on time, and both of my experiences in film classes were not extremely enjoyable. I found the TA’s to be harsh graders with bad communication. The professors were okay, but I also did not completely enjoy having FIVE HOUR classes. Did it hurt my job prospects? It would have if I was dead-set on being some kind of film expert. But I’m not. During a conversation I had with a seat filler at the VMAs, he asked if I was trying to “break into the biz” through attending UCLA. I told him how I really enjoyed the entertainment scene and how I was involved in a few things at school and online that, were I attempting to create a resume for some kind of entertainment industry job, would be applicable, but I had already experienced two quarters of applying to PA jobs and office assistants and summer internships at Disney, CBS, LiveNation, anything I could find, and nothing was turning up. That didn’t bum me out, though. I don’t feel like I failed because sitting with the rest of the seatfillers at the VMAs, I felt that the fan experience was where I was meant to be in the entertainment world. So, I don’t feel that dropping my film minor hurt me. I’m allowed to choose what I want to pursue and what I want to be interested in.

So I decided I would not try to extend my stay at UCLA, and after a couple grad checks with counselors from every department, I declared to graduate in Spring 2018.

Following that, the senior experience has been very underwhelming. It’s probably because I don’t have a “group of friends” at UCLA and because none of my third-year friends are graduating (except one) so I’m really going through this alone. But it’s fine, my backbone has become incredibly thick at UCLA so I have no serious complaints about graduating alone.

It is incredible to look back on the last three years at UCLA and see how much I’ve changed from the most skittish freshman possible to an adult who couldn’t care less about so many academic scare tactics. I’ve started to look back on what I did last summer and I’m floored at the courage I had to be a seatfiller and concertgoer by myself and take trains and buses and Ubers to places I’d never been to. I used to tell myself “You’re going to do great things” to try and cheer myself up when I’d be extremely upset and scared about college, and in the end I don’t attribute those “great things” to what I originally did. I used to consider “great things” as getting decent grades and joining clubs and being a well-rounded student, but how I see it now is actually doing the things that I wanted to do without people holding me back. I lived in LA by myself and I made all my dreams come true. That means so much more to me now than it did when I was a senior in high school thinking college classes would be the highlight of my life.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I feel like I experienced life the way I wanted to, the way I was waiting to, and I have seen completely different side of who I thought I was when I was just starting out at UCLA. And I didn’t have to accomplish that through academia. I accomplished it through my favorite music and film.

I’m going to be living in LA for a few more weeks until I start a grad program in my hometown. Am I sad to be going back home? A little. But the grad program is only two years and after that I will go somewhere else to find more concerts and maybe a PhD. Who knows. I don’t have to leave my house in the next two years if I don’t want to. I went to the VMAs, I don’t need this.

Update:

It’s been three days since I did two graduation ceremonies and let me tell you, commencement weekend is wild. I went out to eat for every meal with my parents and always got back late, so I only got like 4 hours of sleep each night. But it was so much fun. The English Department ceremony was much more rewarding and meaningful than the college ceremony because my professors made great speeches and I knew more people around me than I did in the college ceremony.

Thank you to AAP for being an early academic support group when I was a first year. I don’t think I would have (barely) passed Psych 1 or Linguistics 20 that first year, and failing would have definitely sent me running back home. Thank you  to Calpulli and Ana Lara for being the mentor and support that I needed during my formative first and second year at UCLA. Ana, you truly were the one person who drilled it into me that I needed to be much more proactive about my education than I realized, and you gave me the courage to reach out to professors and counselors and to fight for the grades and experiences I deserved! Thank you to my student job who ONE HUNDRED PERCENT changed my experience in UCLA Housing and gave me so much responsibility that I came out of my second year of college way more mature and ready to work. Thanks to my friends and roommates who ate in the dining hall with me even when they really did not want to. Thanks to Janelle and Laura for that really cute freshman year roommate experience. I will miss you. Thanks to my parents for…. uh… literally everything.

To everyone I gave a swipe to…. you’re welcome. Thank you to Shawn Mendes and Harry Styles for being my friends at 3 AM when I was trying to write a really cheesy English 10B papers. Oh English 10 series, you were not bad.

Thanks to everyone for making commencement special! My ankles are raw from my shoes but it was all worth it. Thank you UCLA for giving me an opportunity to explore what I love and get a bachelor’s degree at the same time. Attending UCLA absolutely was a dream come true.

In the words of Ariana Grande: “Ain’t you ever seen a princess be a bad bitch?” (Dangerous Woman Track 12)


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