Written by Grace Simmons, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Class of 2019
There’s no “right way” to do things when it comes to your college experience.
My best advice is to stay open and try new things, but that’s easier said than done. As a senior, I tried to think of the parts of my experience here at Carnegie Mellon University that helped me grow the most. Read on for some advice that I hope is relevant to any student, regardless of age or major.
Take That Class
As a freshman, you’ll have more limitations when it comes to building your schedule. But, as you advance through college, you’re be freer to pick-and-choose what you really want to take. My advice would be—choose the classes that interest you, even if they sound challenging, aren’t what you “planned” to study, and don’t neatly align with your major. Yes, the core classes and gen eds might take priority. But, don’t be so laser-
focused in on one area that you neglect the other schools on this campus! As an art student, one of the best decisions I made was taking creative writing classes. I made new friends with a similar interest, the faculty helped me find beneficial internships, and my writing practice ended up bolstering and improving my art practice.
The key here is that you’re not locked into anything! I know so many people that came to college to study one thing, but ended up switching majors or adding minors, etc. There’s nothing wrong with exploring a bit and changing your mind. If something appeals to you, just try it out. Worst case scenario, just drop the class (which people do all the time).
“Make” A Mentor
This piece of advice is a little trickier. It might take some time to find a faculty member, older student, RA or CA, etc. that really speaks to you in college. You can’t “force” someone to be your mentor, but you definitely take initiative when it comes to starting conversations.
For example, let’s say you took an elective and you really enjoyed it. The professor was great and mentioned ideas that interested you, or they brought up something you’d like to know more about. The only problem: you’ve never spoken one-on-one.
Don’t be shy! Send him or her an email! If there’s something you want to know, or a direction you want to go in that’ll advance your studies, just set up a meeting. Say you’d like to meet up and talk about so-and-so. I’ve yet to meet a professor that doesn’t respond to genuine enthusiasm.
You’re at college to learn, and to make the most of your time here, and people are more willing to help than you think (this goes for other students, as well). Never be afraid to network a bit.
As you progress through college, you’ll make new friends. You might find yourself having close connections with a few people for all four years, or, you might grow apart from your freshman year friends and have an entirely new social group as a senior. Whatever the case may be, it’s fine to make new friends, and it’s also fine to let other connections go if that’s what you want.
However, CMU is a very busy environment, and something I’ve found myself guilty of is not making enough time for my old friends! We all have friends outside of our majors, and they’re busy and we’re busy, so when we meet up, it might be kind of a rarity. Try your hardest to check-in with those good friends who just happen to be busy all the time. It’ll be surprisingly nice to reconnect, even if it’s been months!
My freshman year roommate and I are still friends as seniors, but we only see each other a few times a semester. Even though we’re both busy, when we do meet up, have really refreshing, generative conversations. We always laugh and have plenty to talk about, and I consider us close even if we don’t physically see each other all the time. If you have a genuine connection with someone—it’s worth “checking in” when you can!
Explore Your City
What’s the point of being here for four (potentially five) years if you never leave campus? Sometimes CMU students are guilty of staying inside the “campus bubble,” without really wandering out too much. There are so many fun neighborhoods with restaurants, shops, museums, and more to explore. My best memories with friends involve taking a bus somewhere and going to a new restaurant or going for a long walk in a new place.
These adventures don’t need to be expensive. There are so many public parks like Schenley, Frick, and Mellon Park that have beautiful trails. There’s also the Point downtown. Another idea that’s become a fun habit for me is trying new coffee shops in
different neighborhoods. You can use the time to do homework, but also people-watch and experience a new atmosphere. With the bus pass, it’s easy to get to-and-from places, especially if the weather’s cooperative.
Take advantage of the fact that so many places offer free admission to students, or discounted prices.
It’s Never Too Late
I think everyone can fall into certain routines that are hard to break. “Too late” can apply to a lot of things—maybe you think it’s too late to join a club, or too late to make new friends. I’ve continually met new people each year—even now, as a second-semester senior. It’s actually never too late (as cliché as that might sound).
If you join a club as a senior, you could end up liking it a lot and making new friends. Maybe you’ll think “wow, I wish I joined this earlier.” But isn’t that a much better alternative than never joining at all? This same idea applies to classes, volunteer opportunities, internships, etc. What you’ve wanted out of college probably has shifted over time, for whatever reason! You don’t need to start out a certain way as a person and continue with no deviations.
For more emotional/psychological advice, if you’re a freshman, please realize you have plenty of time to change if you want to! Freshman year was exciting but also pretty overwhelming. The experience is so new, and you’re socializing way more than you did in high school. I’ve had funny conversations with seniors about how we felt “so close” to our floor mates, after knowing them maximum two weeks, and now we’re not close at all. This is totally fine, and I say it to remind you that nothing is “set,” in fact, it’s super normal for your social-scape to change a lot. If something upsets you, or there’s some “drama” in your freshman year—I promise it will not affect you for the rest of college! Just be as open and as positive as you can each year, and stuff that used to bother you will, with time, become irrelevant.