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From time to time the Zen writers get together and have conversations. This is the result of one such conversation: things we all wished we knew about college…before we got there. 


“The Ivy League is not a ticket to medical school.”

The college name on the diploma does not determine your future; your hard work does. Subpar GPAs from Ivies will not do you any favors.


“I had more time than I thought in terms of meeting requirements for my major.”

I scrambled to load up on all my course requirements freshman year, so much so that I overdid it and ended up not doing as well as I would have liked in some of the classes. It would have been smarter to take 2-3 required classes each semester, coupled with 1-2 distribution requirements and/or electives of my own choosing.

All I could see freshman year. Turns out, time was the least of my worries.

All I could see freshman year. Turns out, time was the least of my worries.


“I wished I had read my major requirements more carefully.”

As it is, I took quite a few classes that ended up being unnecessary for the completion of my major, and missed on opportunities to take more classes that I was really interested in.


“It would have been a better choice economically to go to a state school, work my butt off, and get into a good medical school.”

As it is, I’m struggling to maintain a competitive GPA. I do not regret one bit choosing to attend the school I am at and wouldn’t trade the friends I’ve made nor the experiences I’ve had for the world, but I see now what my high school self refused to acknowledge: the mentality of “Ivy League or bust” is not practical nor healthy.

My narrow-minded perspective senior year. Looking back, expanding my horizons would have been wise and saved me quite a bit of grief.


“If you’re planning on going to any form of grad school — med, law, MEng — know that what people will eventually care about is what grad school you went to. Undergrad doesn’t matter as much. See, Obama is famous for being a Harvard Law graduate, not a Columbia undergrad (though both are impressive).”

In psychology, there’s something called the “recency effect” where people tend to remember the last thing in a series most vividly. Maybe it’s the same with academic institutions too?

An assuring read, for both students and parents alike.

An assuring read, for both students and parents alike.


“You make different close friends when you’re happy with your life versus when you’re not happy with your life.”

When you’re unhappy with your own life, it’s not that the friends you make are toxic; rather, they just don’t bring out the best in you, nor do they reflect who you truly are as a person. You don’t feel completely comfortable around them, because you don’t feel truly comfortable with yourself. The sad thing is that sometimes we spend months, even years, putting time into these friendships that aren’t quite right, and it isn’t until we figure out how to make ourselves happy that we can go out and find the friends that will be around for good.


“Nobody cares about your high school GPA or standardized test scores after you get in. Honestly, in college, you’ll find that some of the people who get the best grades might not know anything, and some of the people who get middling grades are actually geniuses. So people don’t really care as much.”

This is especially true if you’re planning to go into a STEM field. Specifically engineering. Personal projects and research are integral parts of an engineer’s portfolio, and sometimes you’ll have to make choices between pursuing that or maintaining a good GPA. That, and sometimes engineering classes are just brutal.

Trust me, no one is going to be looking at your high school grades after you leave high school.

Trust me, no one is going to be looking at your high school grades after you leave high school.


“Even though there’s less homework in college, it’s actually disadvantageous in many ways because you have to self-study, and each assignment counts for much more of your grade due to the lack of padding assignments.”

Don’t be fooled by the amount of free time you’ll suddenly have. It’s not actually free.


“Stupid people exist everywhere. There will be dumb people at a smart college. At the same time, you’ll wonder why some of these geniuses in your classes with you even need college, because they already know everything there is to know.”

College really recalibrates your sense of self-worth. Some people will make you wonder how they got admitted, and others will make you wonder how you got admitted.

June Xia

June is a junior at Cornell University studying biology. She attended public high school in the Philly suburbs, where she ate lots of water ice and hoagies. June enjoys watching TV, playing candy crush, and reading the New York Times. Writing poetry and knitting kept her sane during admissions season, plus a lot of chocolate and hugs; she made it out alive, and is all the more introspective and aware thanks to the experience.