The Unofficial Guide to Life Before Grad School
I realize, upon writing this short (well, maybe not so short) document, that there is a 99% chance this is a futile effort - not for any other reason than the fact that eighteen year olds just really don't want to hear it. When I was eighteen, everything I intend to write down here was told to me at one point or another by many different people, and unfortunately, I just didn't give a damn. Had I listened, my life would have been much, much easier, and that is the reason I decided to write this.
Sitting here in my senior year, getting ready to embark on the grad school application process, there are two things I would have liked to really know a couple years ago. These are the two things I'm going to discuss here, hoping it will help you in your own process, and if anything, get it off my conscience that at least I tried to help. They are:
I don't think anybody really gauges the importance of learning the appropriate foreign languages until it's too late. Let me tell this to you now: STUDY AT LEAST TWO FOREIGN LANGUAGES IF THERE'S EVEN AN INKLING OF A CHANCE THAT YOU MIGHT LATER DECIDE TO APPLY FOR GRAD SCHOOL! Trust me, I have exactly one year from today to get two years of Greek, one year of Latin, and one year of German under my belt so that grad schools won't laugh at my application, and you don't want to be in the same place. This is not even counting the fact that I have to finish my degree; my brain is going to be one garbled mess by the time I'm through.
Although I understand you might not want to go into Classics, and won't need two (inordinately hard) dead languages on your resume, you really have no excuse not to learn two modern languages while you are an undergrad. As far as I can tell, German seems to be a pretty consistent requirement in most humanities-oriented fields, and French can often be substituted for another language more relevant to your own interests. Try to figure out a few areas of study that draw your attention right now, and pick at least one relevant language. Regardless of whatever my GPA or other qualifications might be, the one thing I've heard over and over from potential advisors, grad students, and professors, is that I need to learn the appropriate languages. If in the end you decide grad school is not for you, at least you'll be able to make your way around Europe with as little embarrassment as possible, and whatever field you decide to go into, trust me, it'll look really good on your resume.
If for some reason the language you choose is not offered at CSLA, then there is a program run by the Department of Modern Languages that allows students enrolled at CSLA to take any language at UCLA. I know, the drive sucks, parking is hell, and you probably have work plus three other classes, but if you decide to go to grad school, you're going to have to do it anyway, so might as well get it over with now.
I realize you don't want to come across as a kiss-ass, and you probably have a million things you'd rather be doing than talking to a professor, but you'll be doing yourself a disservice if you make your way through college as the "silent menace." I learned this lesson the hard way, when the time came to put together three letters of recommendation and I realized I didn't really have that many professors who would have any inkling who the hell I was. Though I was later able to form some friendships with a few awesome professors, which really saved me, I was really lucky that I showed up at the right place at the right time. I don't know what I could have done otherwise.
So go ahead, send an email to a professor asking a question about the class, stop by once to office hours and chat about the class (complaining that there's too much work doesn't count!) and at least leave the door open for a future recommendation. Hey, you never know, you might end up becoming friends with a really cool person, and you might even end up getting a better grade in the class.
If you are already in the grad school application process (having read this too late to be of any help), or if want to read further information, click here.
-Sebastian De Vivo