College Can Shape Your Life –So Pick One Best Suited for You
By Allen Shih
at Harvard University, 2012
Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. I sat with my eyes fixated on the screen as I waited for an email to appear magically in my inbox. It was March 31, 2009 – the day that college acceptances were being announced through email.
I was nervous as I waited for the email that would dictate my future. The time lengthened as seconds turned into minutes and minutes into hours. Suddenly, an email popped up on the computer screen. The title read “Harvard Application.”
The college admissions process can be a stressful time, not only for students but for parents as well. In a rush to take the SATs and maintain a high GPA, many teenagers are busy from early morning until late at night. They work obsessively to try to get accepted into one of the top universities. But how do you know what college is right for you, and how can you make the most out of your college experience?
Explore Before You Choose
When choosing a college, you should keep in mind a couple of factors. Particularly, you should attempt to visit the schools you are considering, especially the ones to which you have been accepted, in order to experience the school firsthand. You should explore various student clubs to see what activities they do.
Talking to students at the colleges you visit is extremely valuable, because they know what the school is like better than any magazine, book, or advisor. Find out what students enjoy and don’t enjoy about classes. The degree to which they are friendly and approachable will also be a good indicator of what your classmates will be like next year.
Does It Fit Your Future?
The type of academic programs offered by the college is an important factor for landing jobs, internships, and acceptances to graduate schools. Generally, you want to select a college where the professors are accessible and the classes are well suited to your future plans. You should ask about the curriculum requirements and career-related opportunities.
The type of school can also be very important. Liberal arts schools like Harvard University tend to offer a wide range of classes across many disciplines. They cater to your intellectual curiosity and allow you to broaden your perspectives. Other types of schools, such as technical institutes and pre-professional schools, focus strongly on a few areas of study, and are not as flexible in allowing for degree changes.
Is Research Important?
If you are thinking about economics or the sciences, you should ask about the availability of research positions. For example, are there research laboratories at the school? Does the school have a graduate school in which you can have cross-enrollment?
The academic advising system may be vastly different from college to college. Such academic support can be extremely valuable in helping navigate a school’s academic rules and restrictions.
Set Realistic Goals
Lastly, it is important to set realistic goals. While it may be great to go to the best-ranked college, the distinctive atmosphere of a particular school may make it a better fit for you than a school that is better on paper.
This leads to a more general point. Some things in life are outside of your control, and there will be times when you fail. At Harvard, there is a saying that, “half of the incoming Harvard students will be in the lower fifty percent of the freshman class.” Regardless of where you go, there will be competition, but also numerous opportunities.
Be Open to New Ideas
College is a time in which you learn about yourself. You are constantly put in new situations every single day. It is important to be open to new ideas and activities. Sometimes a few diversions can put your personal boundaries into perspective and allow you to better explore yourself. You may come to really love a new activity that you had never thought about before.
Before I first came to Harvard, I was intrigued and a bit intimidated by the thought that everyone would all be extremely talented. I wondered what it would be like to attend school in such an environment. During the first few days of my freshman year, I got to know some of my 1,600 new classmates.
Almost everyone was approachable and friendly, and after a few weeks, it no longer felt strange, but simply as if I was going to college. Joining various clubs and activities helped me meet more people and feel more connected to the school, such as the Taiwanese Cultural Society, Club Tennis, and Intramural Sports.
Sleep, Socialize, and Study
In college, most of your time will be spent sleeping, socializing, and studying. While you will definitely do all three, the ratio between these activities may be very different depending on your major.
For example, one of my roommates who was doing bioengineering his freshman year studied a lot, which left little time for socializing. One of my other roommates, on the other hand, tended to socialize frequently and enjoyed European techno parties. He also kept on top of his work, which meant that he rarely slept. Overall, balancing your college experience should be a priority. You should socialize, sleep, and study, and it will be a challenge to manage all three.
Even more challenging is maintaining your self-motivation. No one is going to push you on a daily basis in college, not your parents and not your teachers. You will need to take the initiative of knowing when to get help, advice, and mentorship. Advisors will not actively contact you. One of my roommates, who never needed help from teachers in high school, soon realized that the problem sets in college were far more difficult, and had to seek out professors to help tackle some questions.
One tip that I have found helpful is to maintain a routine and have things that are consistent across time. Whenever I am in the middle of finals period or in the beginning of semester, I feel a sense of steadfastness, which is truly calming and beneficial.
Note to Parents
In Asian culture, parents tend to occupy a very engaged role in their children’s education. Probably up to high school, you have made the majority of decisions for your son or daughter regarding applications and test-taking preparations. However, it is critical to realize that college is a unique time for your children to grow and take responsibility. They are in the process of developing into independent, full-fledged members of society.
You should allow your kids to choose what they want, because ultimately your kids will be much happier pursuing their passions. This does not mean that you let go of all contact. Rather, you should maintain communication and help to advise them as one who has more experience in life. Then, your children can make the final decision and understand that they will be responsible for their choices.
The Backfire Effect
At Harvard, I have come across many overbearing parents. Some of my friends have parents that decide all aspects including their career path and relationships. Personally, I feel that such actions inevitably backfire. Many of my classmates who were worked hardest in high school by their parents ended up hiding many things from them in college, and participated in many troublesome acts.
While this may be an extreme example, being the ultimate decision-maker is a very powerful and liberating force. Your children need to be able to fend on their own. Through this, they will become a well-rounded and independent adult capable to making decisions.
I clicked on the “Harvard Application” in my email inbox. The moment I had to wait for the email to load was an eternity. It was the moment I had been waiting for over half a year. I was elated when I found out.
I have been very satisfied with my experience at Harvard University. I have come to meet many famous professors, profound intellectual thinkers, and visionary leaders. I have also come to have a group of friends that I can depend on.
College definitely has its stresses, but you should make the best of every opportunity given to you. Take some risks and explore the world, because you may never have another chance.
如今我已即將升上大四，進哈佛卻像只是不久前的事。我成長於紐澤西州，就讀於Delbarton High School。高中時期，我參加數學與科學等學術性社團，同時也積極參與學校網球與游泳隊，並在學校樂團擔任鋼琴與小提琴手角色。
進入哈佛前，我預期哈佛學生都非常厲害，這令我有點憂心，但也很好奇在這樣的環境中學習是什麼情況。大一學期開始的頭幾天，我認識同屆約1600名新生中的幾位同學，他們都很平易近人，也表現的十分友善。幾週後，我逐漸適應哈佛生活，正式迎接大學生涯。透過學校社團與活動，我結識更多好友，也藉由參加台灣文化社（Taiwanese Cultural Society）、網球社團與運動聯盟（Intramural Sports）等，對哈佛產生更多認同感。
今年最廣為人知的哈佛校友應為台裔美籍的NBA球星林書豪，他在紐約尼克隊的亮眼表現遠近馳名。我僅在哈佛校園見過他幾次，多數是在哈佛籃球比賽中為他加油。我曾在大一時參加亞裔基督徒團體（Asian American Christian Fellowship），後來聽說林書豪也是其中活躍份子。
Allen Shih（施亞倫）於二○一五年參加妹妹Jenny Shih（施亞婷）的哈佛大學畢業典禮，她的畢業論文獲頒Harvard Stem Cell Institute的最優秀論文獎
Source from Prof. Frank Y. Shih 02/2018
Posted in 02/2018