My First Semester at Carnegie Mellon

Wow. Time flies when you’re studying hard and having fun. There’s so much I have to say about my first 120 days at college that I barely know where to begin, but let’s start from the beginning and I’ll try to fill you in on some of the highlights along the way. 

Orientation Week

So here at Carnegie Mellon, first year students get scheduled to move in for Orientation week a full week before school officially. The way a CMU tour guide explained orientation week to me when I first visited was “a crazy week long summer camp.” They definitely got two things right: crazy and long. As an online high schooler who spent her last 4 years relatively shrouded from in-your-face social interaction, O-week was a huge cultural shock and definitely a step outside my comfort zone. Two days after moving into my dorm room I was already craving alone time but none was afforded to me as all week long I was surrounded by floormates, dormmates and other freshmen. Mid-week I thought to myself how I longed for the week to be over already and school to start because I understood school and studying so much more than I understood how to navigate the intense social summer camp atmosphere. Looking back though, this was really just a drastic adjustment period for me. In the weeks that followed, I learned to grow to love the company of others, as well as hanging out and studying with friends. In my first week, I also quickly learned that I would not be getting homesick in college. Yes, I did cry when my parents left me for the first time after moving all my stuff into my dorm, but a few days later I had already reconfigured my Google Maps settings to save my dorm room as “Home” and at that point I knew I would be emotionally fine in my new living environment. My newfound freedom and responsibility was such a breath of fresh air. 

my freshman dorm in stever

Getting Sick, Twice

I got sick my second week at college. And then again in my sixth week at college. Getting sick in college sucks. It didn’t occur to me that despite the ways online high school built up my academic skills, it also brought down my immune system because I was sheltered from all the germs and bacteria from the outside world. The only things I ever really needed to fear were computer viruses preventing me from logging into my classes, not actual viral infections. I never really appreciated how nice it was to stay in bed all day when I was sick, have my parents waiting on me to bring medicine, food, and water until I was sniffling in my dorm room with a fever, sore throat, runny nose, no tissues, and no desire to leave my room to get food and sustenance. I can’t thank my floor mates that second week of school enough for being there for me and bringing food and soup back for me when they still barely knew me. It was definitely a learning experience after the sickness of how to properly take care of myself and my health in college because of my profound desperation to NOT get sick again.

Almost Joining a Sorority

If you knew me in high school, you’re probably in shock at the fact that I even considered joining a sorority. Yeah, me too. To be fair though, I had never imagined meeting such a group of welcoming girls in a sorority as I first did and so through a whirlwind of excitement I accepted my open bid. However, the next few weeks were pretty rough academically and it forced me to rethink my priorities and what I really wanted to get out of my college experience and the kind of person I wanted to see myself as four years from now. It was a really difficult decision. I thought about it for a long time, consulted many different people, but eventually decided that it wasn’t for me personally or financially. I appreciate so much the sorority girls who were really patient with me and my decision. If anything, I regret not thinking more about what sorority life would look like in the big picture before jumping into accepting my bid, but I met some delightful people through the process and I learned a lot more about myself and my goals than I expected from the experience so for that I’m grateful.

late night studying in gates

Failing My First Midterm

Now, before you say “wow you probably just got a low A which you consider failing since you got all high As in high school,” I got a D+ on my first midterm exam in college. It’s true, I was used to getting all As my last four years in high school. I don’t consider myself having entered college naive about the reality of grades at Carnegie Mellon, in particular within the School of Computer Science, but I don’t think any amount mental preparation and verbal communication about upperclassmen who had failed/dropped classes, courses with exam averages of 40%, and how not all of us could remain the top 10% as we did in high school, could have fully prepared me for the feeling of immense failure when I received my first midterm score back. Needless to say, I lamented over my scores but in time I pulled myself together. I tried to force myself to switch from solely focusing on results and grades, a mentality I carried with me all throughout high school, to instead focusing on the bigger picture of learning and gaining a deeper understanding of the material that I’ll likely need for years down the road regardless of scores, along with learning to study smarter, not harder. A bad grade is not the end of the world. Of course, I’m still only a freshman who has simply completed a single semester of college, so I’m nowhere near where I want to be yet towards this goal, but it’s certainly a work in progress of improving my time management, managing stress, setting my priorities straight, and learning to study smarter.

Finding New Friends and Community

To my new friends I’ve made in college, you know who you are, probably because we’ve discussed this at lengths. I appreciate you guys so much even if I don’t always do the best job of showing it. I can’t imagine my first semester of college without all of you because you guys were the best part of it. I still can hardly believe the number of people that were there for me during my lowest points this semester and I am so thankful to have found people like you. I realized that all throughout online high school I had so many theories and ideas built up about people, friendships and relationships, but less so the actual, tangible, in-person experiences of them. I have so much more to learn and to grow on this front and I’m so excited. Hope to say more on this later!

Completing Finals Week

Well, I survived my first finals week at college! I definitely hit lows during the week where I thought the week would never end as the finals just kept coming day after day, but I made it and it has been a crazy semester but I’m satisfied with how much I’ve learned academically, socially, and personally in these last 16 weeks. Looking back, it felt like this semester just flew by in a blink of an eye and dare I say I wish it was longer…?

But yeah, now you’re caught up! I’ll be spending most of my winter break studying and hopefully working on some other side projects. Until my next update! 👋🏼

sunset over campus during playfair