Joy & Anxiety of joining a US College (UCLA) – Our Experience

A few months back I had written a detailed Blog on how to go about getting an admission for an undergraduate degree in US ( 

This Blog is a continuation on US College admissions and shares our experience and learnings on joining college for an undergrad degree. I just came back after settling my daughter at UCLA for her College Summer Session (CSI). Which brought to a logical beginning a 2 year project. While this may have specific information on UCLA many of the points can help the 15,000 students from India heading to US for their undergrad.

I have studied in an REC and visited most IIT’s & IIM’s in India. But what I experienced in UCLA was unique. It’s massive, majestic and meticulously designed. My nephew who lives in LA defined it aptly when he said UCLA is like a theme park and probably has the best campus life across all US colleges.

And like Disney Land it does attract people in thousands. For Fall 2019 UCLA attracted over 110,000 applications (The largest across US) of which about 7% were selected. 14 Nobel laureates, over 261 Olympic Medals, 3800 Courses – 125+majors & 90+ minors, 12 Libraries, 9M Books, annual research budget of 1Bn, 4 museums, a sculpture & botanical garden and the best food across all US Colleges  – All of this and more is what makes UCLA the #1 Public University in California. Add to this its blessed with excellent Souther California weather, located in West LA it rubs shoulders with Beverly Hills & Hollywood and has close proximity to LAX airport making it one of the most after colleges in the US.

Getting into UCLA is not easy but the focus of this blog is to help students from India who have gained admission to plan their homecoming.

Check out Summer School  

UCLA follows a Trimester system. 2019 Fall Session starts from Sep 26th and students start arriving by Sep 19th. However well you manage it when 9000 students land up in a week there is bound to be chaos. Thats why it helps to join up for CSI (College Summer Institute). CSI helps you settle down faster and also acquire additional credits. You are 18, staying alone for the first time. You got to figure out the system in campus where everything is DIY, adjust with your room mates and the food and start studying. College in US is tough. All of this takes a toll and most students struggle in their first term exams. CSI in UCLA is a 7 week paid program that starts by end July and ends Aug 13th, it attracts about 200 students. This 7 week period helps you settle down, complete 3 subjects ( additional credits) and takes. a lot of load of your back before the normal term starts. It also gives you time to meet professors, and get a thorough understanding of the resources in campus

Planning your Travel

Flight tickets to US are expensive. There are very few periods when you can get a round ticket for $ 1000. Most of the year fares vary from $1250 – $2500. So book tickets in advance. More than tickets book your Air BnB well in advance. If you are attending the regular start session – then thousands of families are going to land up hunting for rooms and rental cars close to campus, so book well in advance. Please note that UCLA has its own Guest House and you can stay there –

How much baggage do airlines allow

In the past you could carry two bags of any size / any weight. That has been curtailed. Most airlines now allow two bags with weight of each not to exceed 23 Kgs. So if you have bag one at 27 Kgs and bag 2 at 18 Kgs that is NOT OK. So pack accordingly. Invest in a simple suitcase weighing machine – you can get them at Amazon for about Rs 500. There is also a size limit on bags – Length + Weight + Height should not exceed 158 Cms. (These limits could vary by airline so check the airline website while booking).

What to carry

Indian’s carry too much luggage. The rooms in UCLA are triple sharing so there is limited place. Your clothes, a few pairs of shoes, essential medicines are a must carry. Plan clothes in a manner that they last you 7 – 10 days , that’s the frequency with which you will be washing them. Other items like towels, bedsheets, hangers, plastic boxes, shower robe etc can  be purchased from stores near the campus. Don’t forget to buy a shower caddy and Tide pods from the local store. A Plastic pouch can be of help as you may carry your access card & phone to the bathroom.  If you are travelling early you can get a laptop from US (Its cheaper) else buy it here and get a charger locally.  The Mac is designed for 110 – 220 V so there will be no issue plugging it in with a local charger. Write your name on the Mac, cables with a permanent marker or stick some stickers on them. Laptops are the most commonly lost items in campus.  You can carry stationery – Notebooks, pens, staplers, highlighters  etc they are very expensive in campus. The weather is pleasant all year around so you don’t need too much of winter wear – a jacket, few light sweaters and a fleece is probably all you need.

Carrying Food

Fortunately the food in UCLA is excellent. Lots of variety for vegetarians also. So if you have a good Meal plan you will be comfortable. Most Indians tend to carry Maggi, Instant MTR etc – yes this can be cooked on a microwave or kettle that is available in the common area. You cannot use kettle or hot plate in the room without persmission. Some dorm rooms are designed like a suite with two rooms having a common sit out, UCLA rents refrigerators and Microwaves the cost of which can be shared by the room mates.

Your Suitcase

You have limited storage place in your room and if every student brings 2 Suitcases + 1 Stroller there will be no place in the room. So buy a set of 3 suitcases that can go inside each other. That way you use the stroller for local travel, the medium sized one for India travel and the large one is rarely used. Use suitcases with number locks so that you don’t lose the keys. These suitcases are also where you will lock and keep your passport, original certificates, cash etc. Each person gets a bed, a wardrobe and a table. The chest of drawers is shared.

Do you need to carry your original certificates

We did carry them but they were not needed.  Make a set of copies and get them attested at a local BDA complex. Before your admission most of your grades / mark sheets etc would have been uploaded on the portal. That should suffice. If you have close relatives in and around LA you can leave the originals with them for a few terms.


There are mandatory requirements for immunisation. Get them done in India before travelling and upload the details on the UCLA website. the deadline for this is Oct 1st. TB testing may have to be done in campus.

When should one plan to reach 

If your joining date is 19th please don’t reach on 18th. Travel  3- 4 days earlier, try and get out of the Jet Lag before college starts. Adjust to the surroundings. Rent a car and travel around the neighbourhood. You can rent cars using a Indian driving license. Without a car it is difficult to manage.

About Orientation 

There are multiple Orientation sessions that run before the opening of session. It is a must attend. For joining students its a 3 day session. Parents attend a 1 day session on Day 3. . Students are formed into smaller group and a Student Advisor mentors them through the 3 day program. Registration is a must for this session – Parents need to pay for their 1 day session.

How do you get a SIM card & Open a Bank account 

Get a good plan with a local carrier. We were able to leverage my sisters family plan. So we got an unlimited Talk/Data plan for $ 30 (Something that is normally $70). We reached early and went to a Wells Fargo bank and opened an account – but I am sure there will be Banks in campus that can help students with account opening. They normally give you a temporary debit card on the spot. You may also want to carry a Forex card from India and keep topping it with currency from India. In Campus cash is hardly used – but do get your child some quarters & 1 $ bills – this will help them in local travel. The Bruin Card which is used to access most of the resources in campus also doubles up as a debit card and you can add money to it. The Bruin card is accepted across all campus facilities and even in some stores in the neighbourhood.

How to get an ID

If you have an Indian DL that helps. You may not want to carry your passport everywhere. There is an option of  getting a California Resident card from the local DMV (Department of Motor Vechiles)

Tips for Meal Plan 

The Hill is the place where you have the Dorms and the Dining places. The distance from here to the class room is a good 20 – 30 min walk. On most days you may not be able to come back for lunch. So plan your meal plan to include 14 meal swipes with a rollover facility . Opting for a meal plan with 3 plans may be an overkill.

Buying Books

Buying books can be expensive. Most students depend on PDF versions. You can also borrow books from the Library and keep it with you for 3 months.

Carrying your Bruin Card / Access card for Room etc 

This is your lifeline – so be careful with them. Most students put them in a small push and stock them to the back of their cell phones. But then this carries the risk of losing everything. Another option is to have a Lanyard

Travel in Campus 

The campus is designed like a bowl. The residential quarter are at one end at a elevation – hence this is called the HILL. This also houses the administrative office for students like Housing , International students offices, New Student Orientation offices etc. As you walk along the Bruin walk you walk past the stadium , tennis courts, indoor stadium, etc and reach the central area which houses the Health Centre, UCLA Store, Restaurants, Student Activity Centre, Book Store etc. Further ahead are the class rooms and libraries. Each day you will end up walking 3 – 4 miles. But given the landscape it’s difficult to ride a bike. Also Bikes and Laptops are the most frequently stolen items. We did see a lot of students zipping past on scooters – but that did not seem safe. (Download the UCLA Campus Map from here

Registering for your 1st Trimester Course

During orientation your student guide will hep you register for your 1st trimester courses. Once you register you can see the dates of the exams. The term ends on Dec 13th – but your last exam may end on Dec 12th – this will help you plan your tickets back home. The second Trimester starts on Jan 6th and you can be back in campus any time between Jan 2nd and 6th. Trimesters are 10 weeks – they are short and fast so before you can realise the mid terms hit you. In addition to attending all classes Sr students recommended a 2 – 3 hr of individual / group study every day to ensure decent grades.

Additional Requirement for International Students 

International students need to complete a course on American History and one on Foreign Language. We checked back on the foreign language issue – there is an option to visit the school of  Asian Languages & Cultures Dept and request for an exempt. They may ask you to take a qualifying test in Hindi to assess your abilities. If you pass that then you can exempt yourself from the course.

Plan your travel 

You can view the entire years schedule before joining. This helps you to plan tickets in advance both for travel to India and during long weekends like Thanksgiving .

Other Useful Points 

  • UCLA is a smoke free / Drug Free campus. That should be good news for parents
  • UBER & LYFT come inside the campus and will drop you close to the Dorm. If you are driving a rental car figure out the parking lot that is closest to the place you want to go. There are multiple parking lots. So if your email says SV Parking Lot 3 that means Sunset Village Parking lot 3 – if you type in Google Maps SV parking Lot 3 it takes you to a different place.
  • The campus has its own Guest House – you can boom rooms there.

There is Joy & Anxiety as you complete the admission process and leave your child. The process is a bit like a marriage. Its long drawn – almost 2 years, you go thru a rigorous selection process to identify the best college, you plan your travel, spend weeks shopping ( like a trousseau ) and finally the “Bidai” happens. And then you leave it to Goddess Saraswati to take care of your child and let her flourish in the new environment. Children are super smart and adaptable. Every plant that is uprooted takes a few days to settle in a new garden but they do settle in and develop deep roots in a few weeks and months.

2019 is a great year to join – its the 100th year of UCLA and that makes it even more cherish able.

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