Things I wish I knew before, during, and after college.

With my senior year having come to a close this past May, I realize it only makes sense to reflect on my college experience in a way that could be useful to others. There were a lot of ways I could’ve gone about making this list but I decided to break it into 3 sections: the bulk of college, the end of college, and what happens after. I’ve also decided to leave out some obvious–but important–advice: ex. advice on selecting a major, reminders to take advantage of the free gym, etc.

Instead, I wanted this to be a list of the most important ideas I carried with me throughout college. I had some of these in mind when I started, in the fall of 2012, but most of them I learned from experience. And all of them are things I wish I had known earlier. But ain’t that always the case.

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College ~ Freshman to Junior year

1. Your GPA matters, sort of. Just do your best and take care of your physical/mental health.

In my experience, I’ve found that people who tell you “your GPA doesn’t matter” usually have low GPAs. Does everyone need to be on the dean’s list? No. But for a sticker price of over $100,000 you should probably be working hard. And to go beyond the “get your money’s worth” mindset, you should’ve come to college because you love learning or–more specifically–are passionate about a career in your field. If neither of those are true why are you enrolling in the first place.

In short, do your best and solid grades will follow. In the end a “good” GPA is a nice feather in your cap: something you can add to your resume and a way to qualify for awards/honors while you are on campus. But nothing is worth killing yourself over.

Take care of your mind and body above everything else. It took me too long to learn this. Skip class occasionally and responsibly as a way to replenish your mental health. If you’re working hard who cares if you get a B or an A. The few extra points to your GPA isn’t always worth the amount of effort it will take. Be realistic with yourself and, above all, be kind to yourself.

2. Keep your extracurriculars within reason.

Get involved on campus but don’t get too involved. Where’s the line? Look at your calendar and imagine something unexpected coming up. If you’re panicking, you are too involved. Pick what you care about most. If you still feel the need to be in a lot of orgs only take 1-2 leadership positions. Extracurriculars become a lot more stressful when you’re running meetings instead of just attending them, even if they’re “not that hard.”

3. (From one POC to others:) Get involved with a race-related cultural organization on campus.

While being involved in race-related cultural organizations can certainly benefit all students (allies are important) I highlight people of color because I am one, so I can only speak from my perspective.

For a long time I didn’t, personally, feel the need to be involved in race-related cultural organizations. I wasn’t involved in the Latin American org at my high school so when I got to college I didn’t get involved in our Latin American org either.

But having attended a predominately white private college in small town Iowa has its downfalls. And one of them was my school’s inability to deal with race issues in a way that made me feel respected, supported, and heard. I’ve mentioned this before when I talked about how Cornell College fails students of color, a post written in response to the phrase “Build a wall” having been painted on our community announcement kiosks.

This occurred during the end of my Senior year. I felt stressed, hurt, and isolated. As a Latina, that’s when I realized the importance of having close friends who are also Latinx. This is not to discount the support of my white friends or other POC, but when incidents that target your specific racial group occur part of healing is having safe spaces with that specific racial group.

If I could go back I would definitely join this organization (and others) so I could get more support and offer more support to others.

4. *Wine Wednesday or any tradition with friends goes a long way.

I started doing Wine Wednesdays my senior year, after a semester off campus Chicago. Every Wednesday me and 2 of my best friends would drink a glass of wine together while catching up, watching movies/tv, or playing videogames. Wednesdays were actually one of our busiest days of the week with some of us doing workstudy or having org meetings but we always made time for this. Whether you do this, or make your own tradition, it was really nice to have a set date with friends–especially in the middle of week (which can be a stressful time). It was a weekly reminder of what’s really important in life: spending time with people who make you happy.

*Please do not participate in Wine Wednesday if you are under the drinking age. It is illegal and any wine you get while under the drinking age is bound to taste awful so please just don’t.

5. Start working in/towards your field while you’re in college. If you go to college in an area you plan to live in you basically start your career before you graduate.

Pretty self explanatory. While student-teaching automatically gives me some time in the field, I always looked for summer jobs related to education or (my other major) English. It really helped build my resume which I desperately needed since I still don’t have any full-time work history and finding a job after graduating is hard enough.

6. At the end of junior year (or 1st semester, senior year) quit almost all your organizations and leadership positions.

It doesn’t make sense to be focussing your energies intensely on campus organizations when you’re on your way out the door. If you have an incredibly relevant leadership position (ex. Editor of the school paper and you’re going into journalism) then keep that, but drop everything else.

College ~ Senior year

1. Apply for some jobs/programs 2nd semester of senior year but don’t go crazy. You have plenty of time after college to have adult angst, what’s the rush?

Exactly how it sounds. In fact, many people don’t look for jobs at all until they graduate. The only reason I advise against this is that some positions/programs run on specific timelines, so it can be worth a few google searches on your end. Plus it’d be great to have a job lined up for after graduation, or at least some leads.

2. Have money saved up or shop the summer before senior year because everything seems to require “nice” clothes. 

Between special events, celebrations amongst friends, senior reception, college awards night(s), and graduation, you’re going to need to look nice. A lot. And if you’re like me and hate wearing the same dress over and over again you’re going to want to invest in a few snazzy things.

3. Second semester is the apocalypse semester: everything is made up and the points don’t matter. You will never live this life style ever again so spend time with your friends and enjoy everything college has to offer while you still can. 

This is where that good GPA comes in handy. It takes the pressure off being perfect senior year. Oddly enough I still did really well in all my classes. I’m still not sure if I had gotten better at being a student or if I was just working way too hard the first 3.5 years… Anyway, senior year was great! I said yes to every invite out and spent as much time with my friends as humanly possible. I only had one org meeting a week and my work-study so life was pretty simple.

I spent my last few months enjoying the “free” (albeit repetitive) dining hall food, working out a bunch, going into town as often as possible, and always having plans with friends. Meanwhile, all my freshman, sophomore, and junior friends were always stressed about something and I was just chilling. It was incredible and I totally earned it.

Post Graduation ~ First 6 months

1.Celebrate the achievement

You did it! A lot of people don’t. So celebrate that. Go out to dinner, have a party, do something!

2. Know what you want and actually go for it

If you want to work at a museum apply to museums. If there are no museums around your small home town move to where there are museums. I know that’s easier said then done but it beats working somewhere that has nothing to do with your field. Which brings me to my next point:

3. Don’t take a crummy job out of fear (this early in the game).

Your loans kick in 6 months after you graduate; yes you might need to settle when you’re a month away from these bills but why settle early? As someone with a maxed credit card or two I understand the stress. And being broke in “the real world” feels a lot worse than being broke on campus.

But its been almost 2 months since I graduated and I’m already seeing peers working at retail stores or getting involved in pyramid schemes (No joke). And I’m like it’s been 2 MONTHS.

I understand everyone’s financial and post-grad “housing” situation is different but if you’re like me and are lucky enough to start out in your family’s house, rent free, until you get a job then you have no reason to panic so early on. A lot of people get a whatever job “just to make some extra money” during their job search but then they stop searching for a job. Because who wants to sent our resumes and cover letters after an 8 hour shift? Eventually bills kick in, maybe they get a car, and now they feel stuck at their job.

Be patient and have faith in yourself.

4. Apply for jobs and keep copies of all your resumes/cover letters/application answers.

Recycle, recycle, recycle. I swear some of the applications I’ve done are so involved I feel like applying to schools all over again.

5. Tell everyone, in your social circle(s), what you’re doing

Telling people your goals makes them feel “more real.” Plus, getting friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, etc to associate you with X career can help send leads your way.

6. Don’t make applying for jobs a job in itself

I had a really hard time with this. I would wake up and spend hours on craigslist, indeed, and other job search engines. Then I would have dozens of tabs of potential jobs. Then I would read through the qualifications of each and delete any I was unqualified for. From there I would pick ones I’d actually like to have. From there I would start to apply.

It was exhausting. Plus working so hard on job apps made me feel discouraged that I wasn’t getting any offers (but I’m working so hard!” I’d think to myself). It wasn’t the healthiest approach to job hunting and my brother would tell me not to make applying for jobs a job itself.

He reminded me the time between college and my first full-time job is the last time (until I retire) that I can not have a job and still be completely okay. That really put things in perspective.

7. Take days off

I know this sounds silly because every day is a day off when you’re seeking employment but seriously, take days off. Have days where you don’t look for jobs at all. Take breaks between the interviews. Or you’ll burn out before you even start. And really that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned over these past few years:

mental and physical health are my number 1 priorities. When those are in order everything else seems to fall into place.

“In the spirit of community”: How Cornell College fails students of color

I am writing this post because I refuse to go to a school that tolerates hate speech and I am not leaving.

Cornell’s administration acknowledges discrimination only in its most extreme forms: swastikas, nooses, and slurs. What message does this send? It means Cornell is all about image and appeasing the majority. The aforementioned forms of racism are so extreme Cornell is forced to speak out against them (and label them as hate speech). But when it comes to all other transgressions, Cornell shrugs and basically says, “Americans will be Americans.” Cornell ties their own hands with the first amendment and claims innocence.

As a result, they have left many students (myself included) feeling isolated, uncared for, and disposable. While I believe Cornell fails all minority groups, today I am focussing on racial minority groups.

I will begin by reporting on the incident that occurred, the student response, and the administrative response. And I will end with a personal reflection on the aforementioned events.

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A Response to Cornell College’s Campus Climate Assessment

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been taking a break from blogging. The next few posts were going to be final updates/reflections on Condor Class Libraries and a few posts about teaching. After that, I had plans of more posts on lit, thoughts I being a second semester senior, etc.

However, I’ve returned to blogging early to provide my reactions to Cornell College’s Campus Climate Assessment–as its release has caused some strong reactions from my collegiate peers.

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This blog post is broken down into 4 main sections:
1. Background Info: addressing race & higher ed (2015)
2. Cornell College Unrest: addressing issues students have raised with how the college operates.
3. Cornell College Campus Climate Assessment: a brief recap of what was studied, how it was studied, and the results it produced (for readers outside the current Cornell student body or Cornellians who haven’t read the report).
4. My Reflection: thoughts on the assessment

Those of you in the Cornell community may want to scroll down to the reflection, but if you need more context #1-3 are here.

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Culture in the cornfield

Before my Human Relations class, I never really understood what my cultural identity was. Sure I was aware of my minority status (as a latina) and that my proclivity for the arts made me a hipster of sorts but I couldn’t attach much meaning to either of those things. So when I was asked to sit down and write about my culture, I struggled to rise to my professor’s challenge: to discuss my cultural identity beyond the scope of food.

I found my culture by leaving it behind. As backwards as that sounds: its true. It’s also why I encourage everyone to consider going to college out of state. Because after being on campus for half a year, I realized it wasn’t my Hispanic roots I was longing to replenish—it was a need for my city. What I idenitfy with, first and foremost, is being a Chicagoan. That is my culture.

And while I’m sure my Chicagoan peers may see this statement as painfully obvious, going away to college made me appreciate my city in ways that I never could before. When last august came around, I was leaving my downtown job and catching the orange line home. As I looked up at the buildings and the elevated platforms, I acknowledged that in a few weeks I’d be leaving all of this behind and entering a completely different world. While I could speculate about it, I now realize that its impossible to fully comprehend what moving 200 miles away is like until you actually do it.

Leaving everything that’s familiar helps you gain a new perspective and allows you to look back on your home with fresh, appreciative eyes. Now that I’m back home, I know my time in Chicago is a transient thing. I feel like now, more than ever, I am taking advantage of it by volunteering with literacy programs, taking a boxing class, getting into the slam poetry scene and enjoying all the events this city has to offer. And as a street photographer, I’ve come to appreciate the aesthetics of the city even more (a feat I didn’t think was possible). I’m excited for these last 7 weeks of basking in all that’s Chicago but I’ve come to realize something… The reason I attribute my cultural identity to my geographic location is because I feel that my personal growth is a result of the unique experiences I’ve had as a Chicagoan. It’s having participated in Louder Than A Bomb (LTAB) for my entire high school career. It’s being a southsider and going to a magnent school up north. It’s the way the L has connected me to so many other cultures. It was working with Marwen for a year and developing my own art concentration. It’s the fact that I’ve worked as a slam poet, a pension company intern, and an intern at the Art Institute. This is Chicago and this is who I am.

But Cornell College is another place that’s been a large part of my personal growth. As much as I label myself a Chicagoan, small town Iowa is becoming part of my cultural identity as well. It’s where I realized that I need to be a teacher (something I had in mind going in, but was cemented upon taking a few education courses). It’s the reason I went to LTAB for a 5th time in my life, with Cornell’s first ever slam team. In fact, I’ve gone to more poetry readings at Cornell than I ever did in Chicago (though as of this summer, those numbers are shifting).

So now when I think about returning to the hilltop I’m not just looking at what I’m leaving behind, I’m looking at what I’m heading to: steep, intensive runs, lazing in the hammock by ink pond, enriching academics, unique finds at the silver spider, and drinking the best mocha I’ve ever had in my life at Fuel.

I used to look at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, IA and think that nothing could be  further from Chicago, but after a year of classes, late nights, poetry readings, great friends, and coffee, I realize that nothing feels closer to home than Cornell College.

What’s your favorite poem? (An accidental experiment)

As a board member for Cornell’s Center for the Literary Arts, I volunteered to execute our National Poetry Month idea. Every day, for the month of April, we’d post a poem (selected by staff/students) to our Facebook page ; and so I asked people for their favorite poem. At first this was easy because I contacted the English Department and some literary groups on campus. But as I posed this question to friends and miscellaneous classmates it became a challenge that left me saddened and frustrated. I was constantly met with these responses: “I just don’t read poetry”… “I don’t have one”… “I don’t get poetry”… “I’m not really the person to ask”… “I can’t think of one”

While I encountered one group that had too many poems come to mind (professors and English majors), I encountered another who went blank (many of my peers). In fact, people seemed taken aback by my question. “My favorite poem???” What an outrageous, obscure question? Favorite band, favorite movie, favorite color, favorite food. sure! But poem?? This was just bizarre…

So why does this divide exist? When does poetry start carrying a stigma in the eyes of the general public? When we were kids our story books were full of rhymes and we’d eagerly write and share our own poems. But not anymore. Somewhere along the line, the velvet rope forms: Poetry seems like it’s part of an exclusive club. Poetry is seen as old, frivolous, and pretentious. We become agitated, poetry is suddenly a condescending prick: “Poetry thinks it’s better than me!” Poetry is a pile of BS, molded by literary devices.

And as these negative thoughts build, poetry becomes the leper of English class. 

As a prospective high school English teacher I can already picture a classroom of eye rolls and sighs the moment I bring up the topic of poetry.

I think the brevity of poetry is what makes it so intimidating. With novels, you have pages and pages to work with. You have characters with names and definite settings. Even if you only understand the plot, even if you fail to notice the deeper meanings, the symbols, the amazing rhetoric, you can still enjoy it at face value.

Many people can’t do that with poetry, probably because they weren’t encouraged to. Teachers wanted us to be able to dissect it and while that’s important I can’t help but think it turned off a lot of people. At face value, poetry is a series of sounds strung together. But in the classroom we are usually pushed to find something deeper immediately. I have never seen anyone raise their hand in class and say I like the way this poem sounds, we always jump straight to meaning: “I feel like the cacophony of the first stanza shows the speaker’s initial frustration”.

We are taught how to analyze poetry but not how to love poetry. We are given the same poems year after year: The Road Not Taken, Beat! Beat! Drums!, A Narrow Fellow In The Grass, and so on. Students are rarely encouraged to find their own favorites/share poems they love with their peers. In high school we lock poetry into the 19th and 20th century. And when it’s time to write our own poems, most of us have already decided that we are not poets. We have decided poetry is not for us. To me, this is because we get a glimpse of poetry that is far too narrow. The classroom takes poetry too seriously AND too lightly. It’s a novelty subject. We only study it for a small fraction of the year, this robs students of the opportunity to construct their own meaning of what poetry is. We don’t have time to appreciate it as art, only to accept it as an assignment.

In my future classroom, I want to remove the velvet rope that separates us from poetry. I want to encourage my students to write poetry and help them understand that everyone has something to say. I want them to know that when it comes to the writers of the past, they too, had something to say. Of course, I am there to help them construct meaning for their analyses. But most importantly, I want them to understand that poetry is beautiful and genuine. Something to be enjoyed. When I ask my students “what’s your favorite poem?” I want them to struggle. Not because they don’t have one, but because too many come to mind.

Please comment below and tell me what your favorite poem is or tell me your best/worst experience from high school English class.

Overbooked on the block plan

As a Cornell College student One Course At A Time (OCAAT) turns each month and course into a distinct experience. It’s the beauty of the block plan. I look back on my block 4 Writing Course with fondness. I recall the eager anticipation of winter break, the twisted joy I got from racking by brain over my final paper, and the peace that came with having worked ahead (during block break) prior to the class (which can result in a very chill month).

But, sadly, I don’t walk away from each class unscathed: and that bring me to block 6… aka the reason for my blogging hiatus. Block 6 means many things to me: it was an education course called human relations, it was taught incredibly, it was eye opening, it was overwhelming, it was constant large assignments, it was Louder Than A Bomb season, it was self induced insomnia, it was a whirlwind. But most of all, it was a march through hell that is now a crazy/fantastic memory.

What happened was the block plan itself is a unique conquest. Taking one class at a time is a great system, in my opinion, because it allows me to put all my academic energy towards one goal. Yes sometimes that’s easier than others. 3.5 weeks is a short amount of time to complete a course but unlike the semester plan it comes with a nice routine. For instance, block 6 only had morning class which is always 9am to 11am (occasionally professors opt for 9:30am to 11:30am).

But at Cornell, and at any school really, the extra-curriculars can become the straws the snap the camel’s spine in half.

It is hard to read 80 pages with a broken spine…

My back breaking straw was my commitment to Cornell College’s Slam Poetry Team (which was just created this year (though a slam poetry club has been present on campus for some time now)). We competed in an annual Chicago poetry slam called Louder Than A Bomb, and I’m proud to say we got 2nd place in the college slam. Slam poetry, and LTAB, are very dear to me as I’ve been competing in LTAB since I was a freshman in high school (Walter Payton slam team). But yes, it was an overwhelming month!

The take away is this: know your limits. For me, I pushed myself to the edges of my abilities that month (pulling multiple allnighters and sleeping few hrs (on the nights I slept at all!)). But I was able to power through it because I had a great study partner (who has a proclivity for late nights) and my team was full of older students who were in the same boat as me (if not worse!) and still continued to show up to practices and even propose additional meetings. In college, and life, it’s important to surround yourself with hardworking/impressive people because they are going to explicitly and implicitly challenge you. They’re just as exhausted, but they’re still studying. They are just as booked, but they are still at the meeting.

When you watch people do impossible things you realize you’ve been overlooking the possibilities.

So I implore all of you to look twice, strive for excellence, and surround yourself with people who are doing the same.

Dull Reads, Bright Ideas: Reading as a creative process.

Too often in life we simply go through the motions. We become cemented in our routines; we are so disengaged that we accomplish tasks without even realizing we began them. A prime example is, as college students, how many times have you read and realized “I have no idea what I just read” or maybe you do know what you read but you “can’t quite explain it”.

My current block, Educational Psychology, is firmly rooted in metacognition. This essentially means every night we sit down and think about our thinking. While this can be a frustrating process it is also a rewarding one. I now make more of an effort to be engaged in the reading I do by taking more marginal notes, posing more questions, and making the readings meaningful to me personally. Doing my reading for class has transcended being a task on my to do list and has become something greater. It is an art. It is a craft.

I am aware of how pretentious that sounds, but it’s true. Our job is to make the readings come alive, to make them meaningful. We should be highlighting over them, leaving a spectrum of colors over the author’s words. We should be making concept maps, connecting the dots, pairing the reading with images (in our minds or on paper). What has been most effective for me is thinking about examples from my personal experiences that connect to the reading. I’m also just working on shifting my mindset. I try not to see my readings as a chore infringing on my day, but rather as its own activity that deserves my full attention. My reading is not to be done while on the Internet or during commercials. It is not to be set down to respond to text messages or attend to the random thoughts that enter my mind when in a quiet room.

Reading, even from a textbook, is a creative act. You are coming up with new ideas. It takes creativity to analyze something well. One needs to see it beyond its surface. When reading textbooks and articles we should be asking questions such as: What are the implications of this? Where have I seen this before? How does this relate to my other readings? How can this be applied in real life? We all read the same material but we perceive it differently. Why is that? What can we learn from that? (We will never know if we are not truly engaged in the process).

We should not stifle our ideas by skimming our readings. And yes, I realize that sometimes skimming is necessary. However, more often than not, we skim because we don’t feel like reading the text; we do not find it interesting. But by reading a little more closely we can get a lot more out of our homework than mere completion. The readings need to get done anyway, why not enjoy them? Putting more thought and energy into reading also means you are more likely to remember the information. Of course, the methods that work for me do not work for everyone. That’s why we, as students, need to be creative in our approach to reading because we are distinctly different learners who need to use unique methods in order to reach our potential in reading comprehension.

Return to the hilltop

Semester 2 is one of the most dreaded and anticipated times in the year. Unlike the fall semester, many students feel like their break “was not long enough”. I was certainly amongst this crowd… A 4hr drive to Iowa gives me plently of time to dwell over all the things I failed to do over break. I should’ve watched more movies, played Rayman, slept less, read a library’s worth of literature, written a novel, slept more, and gotten more ahead on my readings (my biggest regret of the break). But I’ve grown to accept that our mental lists of “things I’m going to do over break!” is idealistic rather than realistic. My advice is to set goals, but not obsess over them. The most important thing is to get some rest and have fun—you earned it (hopefully). So when the break comes to an end just pack your bags, enjoy your last meal, and get in the car willingly.

I am now one week into the semester, which on the block plan means I’m about 1/3rd done with my first class. My current block is Educational Psychology. I was fearful that this class would be a series of powerpoints and low-level psychology; but my professor has done an excellent job making it an engaging course that has shifted my thinking.

Prior to reading Learning is a Verb by Sherrie Reynolds, I was partially aware of what a good teacher was—or rather what a good teacher wasn’t. I knew that assigning work and lecturing over PowerPoint presentations that summarize the textbook is not good teaching; I knew that a teacher’s job was to create an environment conducive to learning and to help facilitate the learning process. But I always thought that demonstrations (via experiments and sample problems) were enough to help students learn because it provided a real life visual—it went beyond the textbook so it must be good teaching. I never realized that teachers need to go a step even further than that.

There’s a misconception that teaching is just a matter of covering material and that if you teach the students they will learn (if they don’t, the blame rests on them). “[Traditional ideas] have led us to teach as if we can give students an idea or concept” (45). Reynolds clears up this misconception for the reader by differentiating between sensation and perception. A classroom of children can be shown one thing but they all have different perceptions of it. Thus, teaching in a “show-and-tell” method is not sufficient. Moving away from the aforementioned traditional ideology means that we, as teachers, need to be more thoughtful and creative in our approach to teaching in order to “provide conditions under which children can exercise their perceptual facilities” (47). Students need the chance to explore their environment and discuss their ideas in order to truly understand a concept.

But it’s funny how many of us never think about these things. As students, we rarely realize when we are just changing what we say, rather than what we think. And as educators, we are satisfied if students can regurgitate the course material—even though that doesn’t necessarily mean learning took place.

My professor pointed out something that really resonated with me:

How many times have students been asked by parents “what did you do in school today?” and they reply with “Nothing”?

If this happens in my classroom, it means I didn’t do my job. My goal is to give students an answer to that question.

How I ended up in Iowa

Before daybreak we crammed all of my boxed possessions into the car. I was leaving everything that was familiar. Skyscrapers, streetlights, billboards, 24 hour restaurants, homeless people, trains, buses, traffic, esteemed eating establishments, street food, harsh wind, friends, family, past employers, the lake—all these things and more rushed through my mind as we zipped down the expressway. There isn’t as much traffic leaving the city compared to entering it; I always thought that was because no one in his/her right mind would want to leave Chicago, let alone leave and not come back.

But now, I was that deranged outlier.

Looking out the window, I saw civilization disappear until nothing was left but our Dodge Nitro and open land. The cornfields became overwhelming. The road was never ending. The radio stations dwindled until we were left with nothing but Christian Rock and Pop Music. And as the hours passed we still had not reached our destination. Meanwhile, my family treated me like I had a terminal illness, asking questions like: “Are you scared? What are you expecting? Can I have your PS3?” And tossing supportive blanket statements like: “We believe in you! We are here for you! …You’ll be fine!”

When we arrived I was given a key and then 30 athletic strangers bombarded our car. They delivered all my possessions to my new home, which was at the highest floor of a building made in 1965. I unpacked and exchanged awkward goodbyes with my family. And just like that I was alone in a field of small town/suburban strangers.

BUT I SURVIVED.

Though Mt. Vernon, Iowa is worlds away from Chicago, I’ve come to appreciate the small town for its unique shops and delicious diners. Going to college away from home has made me more focused because everything I do is framed around my college: clubs, meals, academics, sleep, workouts, and relaxation. Nothing beats a big city, but it’s a lot more distracting (and expensive!) than Mt. Vernon—where everything shuts down by 6pm except the library of course. I wouldn’t enjoy permanently living in a small town, but going to college there is surprisingly ideal. It’s small, simple, and inexpensive: the perfect formula for having an exemplary undergrad transcript (and a decent bank account statement).

Aside from the environmental change, I was also starting college on the block plan. The block plan means you take one course at a time (OCAAT): you take one class for 3.5 weeks, have a four day weekend, and then take your next class. OCAAT is one of the reasons I decided to attend Cornell, but it’s also one of the reasons I was terrified of college. Going to a college that’s on the OCAAT schedule means venturing into the unknown; I was equipped with nothing but expired high school accomplishments and vague advice from family & friends.

I didn’t feel prepared for college and I don’t think anyone should feel prepared for college. It is naive to feel prepared for something you can’t even fathom. This is not to say that you should arrive on campus trembling as you frantically study in an attempt to compensate for your high school’s shortcomings. Just be aware of that college is the next level, not just high school part 2.

It’s true that my high school experiences created a solid foundation for college but my work ethic is what got me straight A’s my first semester. In college—and in life—success is not about who already knows more or has more, it’s about who wants it more.

And I want this more than anything.

Even if that means 8 semesters in the cornfields.