What’s Really Different About College

“Transitioning,” “adjusting,” “change”: much like the buzzwords “holistic” and “midterms,”  “making the transition to college” is one of those phrases that brings along with it a lot more stress than it actually should. Contrary to my own expectations heading into my freshman year at CMU, I did not spend my first few days wandering around as the clueless poster child for that all-too-relatable Dear Evan Hansen song, “Does Anybody Have A Map?”, nor did I retreat into a puddle of homesickness and isolation as soon as my parents left my dorm.

In fact, it felt pretty anticlimactic on Move-In Day, when I finally watched the car pull away after a long day of unpacking, organizing, and making last-minute runs to Target. Maybe it was just the fatigue setting in from the past 24 hours’ on-the-go mode, or my summertime brain’s inability to differentiate between a typical summer camp goodbye and this much longer lasting see you when the leaves have changed colors and fallen goodbye, but either way, I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “oh, so that’s it.”

Of course, that isn’t to say that starting college doesn’t feel different at all. You are, after all, living on your own –possibly even for the first time– in an entirely new setting with an entirely new group of people. Although this is probably what our well-intentioned family members mean when they talk about that ever-elusive “transition to college,” I have found that, for me, it really comes down to three key differences:

  1. College is bigger.
    1. Regardless of where you went to high school, I guarantee you that Carnegie Mellon is bigger. Not just in terms of the overall population, which totals around 1600 per graduating class, but also in terms of the sheer amount of activities going on on campus at any given time. Walking through the UC or on your way past the fence, there is almost always some group or another holding a fundraiser, student event, or information session. Although it can be easy to get overwhelmed just by the sheer amount of activities going on at once, this also means that there are so many opportunities for you to take advantage of and so many possibilities for exploring and honing in on your interests.
  2. There is SO much more freedom
    1. Living away from home with largely no adult supervision, you are in complete control of your own eating, sleeping, work, and socializing schedule. But beware! Without anyone else to even so much as vaguely remind you to stay on track, it can be easy to fall into a wack life schedule, where you find yourself dragging your limp and tired body to class in the middle of the day and staying awake into the wee hours of the early morning doing your work. This is especially true when you’re living so conveniently right next to campus and alongside all of your new best friends. It can be so tempting to stay up for just a little bit longer or to put off exercising and eating right for a just a few more days, but developing your own routine and following it is key.
    2. And last but not least…
  3.  The people!
    1. I can truly say that the best part of my entire college experience so far has been meeting all the amazing people that go here. From math majors hailing all the way from Taiwan to CFA kids coming from New Jersey and the Bay Area, the diversity I’ve encountered on campus is like nothing I have ever experienced before. From their personalities, geographic origins, and areas of study, everyone has their own unique story that has brought them here, and almost everyone is extremely friendly and open to share. What’s the single most important thing to do at college? Meet as many new people as possible and ask them about themselves.

Elaine Chen | Undergraduate Business 2022

Elaine is a freshman hoping to major in computational finance or take a minor in computer science. Torn between her love for economics and her love for numbers, she hopes to continue studying both during her time at CMU. In addition to writing, she enjoys cooking, running, and playing table tennis.

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