UC Berkeley Students Talk about Overcoming Challenges

Students facing obstacles flourish in college

UC Berkeley students share their experiences overcoming personal struggles with money, majors, stress, and more, and share campus resources for others so they can thrive in college.

Oscar, Political Science

The biggest hurdle I had to overcome was tackling the academic rigor that is synonymous with Berkeley while also having to adapt to living on my own for the first time. As a person with a visual impairment, each of these situations stood as a challenge on their own. But it has been through perseverance and with the help of mentors, the Disabled Students’ Program, and friends that I have been able to succeed in my studies. Being a part of a community like Berkeley where so many people come from different walks of life really made me reflect on my own sense of identity. As a Latino transfer student with a visual impairment, I have been given a unique perspective into the challenges each of these three student communities face.

Oscar, Political Science
Hometown: Calexico, California

You can find support and get involved with the Disabled Students’ Program, the Transfer Student Center, the Raíces Recruitment and Retention Center, and the bridges Multicultural Resource Center.


Declan, Geography

Everything about Berkeley is expensive. If you’re a low-income student like me, you will be considering the cost of everything you do. I’ve managed my budget by regularly visiting the food pantry (every 2 weeks you can get 5 items for free. I haven’t bought peanut butter or rice this whole year and I use both on a regular basis), enrolling in CalFresh (there is an application but campus resources help you through the process), working several work-study jobs, minimizing eating out (at this point I only eat out for two reasons: dates and buffets), meal prepping on the weekends (it’s not as hard as you think!), making a budget (there are apps and programs that help), shopping for clothing at thrift stores, improving my financial literacy (through both my credit union and online sources), and even making my own coffee at home (has a significant effect, trust me).

Declan, Geography
Hometown: Benicia, California

You can find assistance with basic needs like food and shelter through CalFresh, Berkeley Food Pantry, Financial Aid office, and Financial Aid for Financial Literacy.


Laurina, Interdisciplinary Studies

I ended up switching my major after the first semester. I realized it wasn’t for me. I almost dropped out from the stress and anxiety. I called on my veteran community for support. Through my peers and the counselors at the vet center, I managed to find a degree that fit my wants and future goals. I had to take things day by day. I stayed organized by making lists and keeping track of everything I had to do. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. It’s an odd yet relevant military saying I repeated to myself when times were tough. I also forced myself to ask questions in class, attend office hours, and use my peers as a resource when I needed extra help.

Laurina, Interdisciplinary Studies
Hometown: Hayward, California

Every college and most departments have academic advisors who can help you navigate your academic options. You can find belonging in the Cal Veterans Group and at the Cal Veteran Services Center, where programs and services in support of student veterans are provided.


Tamara, Political Science

I struggled a lot my freshman year, emotionally and mentally. The best decision I ever made for myself was taking advantage of resources at the TANG University Health Services. If you ever need guidance and support, get it sooner rather than later. You’ll regret staying unhappy longer than you needed to.

Tamara, Political Science
Hometown: Santa Clara, California

You can find counseling through University Health Services, which also has satellite counseling offices throughout campus and in the residence halls.


Kellie, Bioengineering

I was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease in the middle of my junior year spring semester. I was absent for three weeks of school while in the hospital and missed a few midterms and projects. My professors were all extremely understanding and worked with me to schedule makeups and extensions. The Disabled Students’ Program office also shared resources with me to help me make it through the semester and I was able to pass all my classes. Not feeling my best while still going to classes and taking exams was extremely difficult and frustrating, but I was able to finish the year and complete my courses with the support of my professors and advisors.

Kellie, Bioengineering
Hometown: Vallejo, California

You can find assistance from the Disabled Students’ Program office, which supports disabled students to achieve their academic goals.


Zhuo, Computer Science

As an international student coming to Berkeley, I had to adjust to the language barrier in addition to college life. While in class it’s easy to adjust, because when you study English as a foreign language you learn many of the words they use in an academic setting. It’s more difficult in a social environment because a lot of the words spoken by your peers you may not use day-to-day. When I come across language ambiguities, or cultural ambiguities, I just talk to my friends and ask for advice so I can understand the ambiguities better.

Zhuo, Computer Science
Hometown: Suzhou, China

You can connect with the International Office, which supports Berkeley’s international community in numerous ways, from information about visas to student leadership programs.


Farah, Society and Environment

Recently, I made the decision to switch my major to society and environment (in the College of Natural Resources). Previously, I was pre-med on the nutritional science tract. Coming to terms with what I wanted out of my college experience and what I wanted to do the rest of my life was a difficult decision, but one I am so glad I made. I have found my passion and am now pursuing it and am enjoying Berkeley so much more because I switched.

I would tell others that if they are unhappy with what they are doing, or where they are, switch it up. Take a new class, look into something that sparks your passion. That’s what I did and I am on the right path now. Berkeley is a college like no other, and we need to make sure to take advantage of all it has to offer.

Farah, Society and Environment
Hometown: Tustin, California

Every college and most departments have academic advisors who can help you navigate your academic options and opportunities.