Leaving CMU… Life Updates + Gap Semester Plans

Long time no talk. I’m still here. Quite literally. I’ve not left my house since my last blog post four months ago except maybe for a handful of trips to the grocery store and socially distanced walks around my neighborhood as I’ve been trying to do my due diligence to stay quarantined.

If you weren’t already aware, I opted to stay at home and do remote-only school this fall for a few reasons. For starters, there’s a deadly pandemic and I recognized that I had the privileged of being able to stay home with my parents, save a couple thousand dollars on housing, and eat home-cooked meals every night while being in a quarantine bubble with my family and minimizing risks to my own and other’s health. Also, of course, four years of online high school definitely prepared me well for handling online college and studying at home. Taking the semester off did cross my mind once, but I had already meticulously planned out my fall semester schedule of classes, and it just seemed like a waste not to go ahead and take those classes anyway.

To be completely transparent, I, for the most part, have found myself doing better academically and mentally this year than I ever have since my freshman year at CMU. It’s certainly been a mix of not only the isolation resulting from the pandemic, but also reorganized priorities, reduced distractions, taking more chill classes that I enjoy, and overall finally realizing that grades truly aren’t *that* important.

I’ll take a moment to pause here to recognize that I am likely abnormal in feeling this way. Attribute it to my online high school teenage years or my deep-rooted introversion nature, but there’s something about quarantining that just has helped me refocus, figure out what is most important to me in life, and turn down the noise to signal ratio of life. I’ll admit that of course, everything isn’t sunshine and rainbow. People are still dying from the pandemic. Millions have lost their jobs. Not having physical contact with friends or relatives for months and doing online school can be hard. I’m in no way trying to downplay the hardships of this pandemic, but just trying to be honest and also recognize my privilege of not having had the pandemic impact me or my family in the same way that it has for many others.

So if zoom university hasn’t been that bad for me, why am I taking a time off from CMU?

Well, it turns out that if I didn’t do a gap semester, then I would be on track to graduate with my Bachelors in Computer Science and Psychology this coming Spring 2021, in a total of 3 years or 6 semesters. (I did consider pursuing grad school for a solid couple of months, but pushed pause on that option for the time being…) At the time of writing this, I’m only looking at needing 5 more classes to graduate with my primary and additional major.

I didn’t realize this when I first decided to come to CMU, but it’s surprisingly not too difficult for most CS majors to complete their degree in 3-3.5 years with a handful of AP credits coming in and an easy-ish concentration/minor/additional major. From a financial standpoint, it was a no-brainer for me to save a full year’s worth of CMU tuition and try to graduate early. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that graduating in 6 semesters doesn’t necessarily mean graduating in 3 years. My main reason for not graduating early this spring was because I didn’t feel ready or qualified to interview for a full-time job or commit the next few years of my life to a company with only a single remote SWE internship experience to my name. Other reasons also included the fact that CMU’s spring semester would still be remote, meaning that I’d only really have ~1.75 years of in-person college before graduating, in addition to the semester being cut short to 14 weeks instead of 16 weeks, while charging the exact same tuition. Given this, the follow-up question for me was what would I exactly do during my gap semester. This too was pretty easy to answer. Since my main reason for not feeling comfortable graduating early was my lack of work experience, it only made sense to fill up my gap-year with as much internship experience I could get, which is basically what I did.

I started applying to winter, spring, and summer internships starting in August in hopes of finding the most harmonious pairings of internship companies and start dates. It was pretty tricky in the beginning because there are not a lot of options or information out there about finding off-season internships in general and especially since CMU is not a co-op school. I was super blessed that my internship hunting process went so much more smoothly than I had anticipated and I was able to finish-off interviewing around mid-October before school and midterms really picked up.

And so, the way things are looking right now, I’ll be taking time off from full-time CMU for likely the next two semesters and then come back for my one final semester to finish the ~4 classes standing between me and graduating in 6 semesters and ‘on-time’ within 4 years.

As for where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing, I’ve signed and committed to three back-to-back internships for 2021 at Datadog, Google, and Microsoft and will be starting my first internship in January in a little over two weeks. Where I’ll physically be during my internships is still super up in the air and subject to volatile changes depending on the pandemic. It’s still looking to be a busy next year even without much school, but I’m hoping that the 9-5 life will at least leave time on the weekends and evenings for this blog, more reading, and my other hobbies.

Here’s hoping for vaccine distribution soon and being able to safely travel in 2021, but if this year has taught us anything, it’s that the future is always uncertain and ever-changing and as much as I *love* planning, I have to accept that plans too must be flexible.

Kinda running away from college for a year,

Kayla