Dear past self, part 1

April is a funny time to work in a college admissions office: I’m hearing from high school seniors who are looking towards the future and trying to decide where to go. I’m also hearing from college students who are looking back on their college experience and say, “I wish I knew…” or “I didn’t know ____ would be like ____” as they work to finish their semesters and make plans for the summer or post-graduation life. I can definitely empathize with the sentiment of wishing I knew then what I know now. I went into Mudd being really excited about studying chemistry or engineering, ended up majoring in physics, and am now doing something entirely different than what I got my degree in. I think that feeling of wishing you had better information to make decisions is very relatable.

I definitely had moments of “I wish I knew…” throughout my time as a student. I remember coming into Mudd and truly being challenged by my coursework. I also remember slowly realizing how little I knew about what STEM looks like in “the real world.” Both of those experiences were disconcerting initially. I did hit my stride senior year after figuring out how I learn best and developing a better understanding of how to navigate the post-grad STEM world. After having graduated and having a little more perspective the college experience (from application to graduation) and life in general, I think those disconcerting feelings are kind of a necessary evil. Grappling with uncertainty, having my preconceptions challenged, and forming new impressions of the world were some of the most valuable things I got from my college experience.

That being said, being disconcerted and feeling like you don’t have enough information is not the most fun thing, and there is nothing wrong with learning from the experience of others: I didn’t know science was also about asking the right questions, not just coming up with the right answers. I wish I knew more about STEM jobs other than being a researcher, professor, or engineer. I would tell my past self to learn to communicate what I didn’t understand, rather than just communicating what I learned. I’d also tell my past self that finding a “passion” is overrated, and that there will always be some portion of a job or career that frankly aren’t that fun (but balanced by parts that are challenging and fulfilling). These were some of the biggest take-aways from my time as a student at Mudd.

I also asked some of the student workers in our office to share some of those “I wish I knew…” and “I didn’t know ____ would be like ____” reflections they’ve had. I hope that these reflections will help you navigate the college selection process as well as going into STEM beyond college:

Jasmin Rizko
Name: Jasmin Rizko
Hometown: Burbank, CA
Current year at Mudd: Senior
What do you know about college/STEM now that you wish you had known as a high school senior? I wish I had known about how individual subjects in STEM all tie together, at Mudd and in general, because it would have been a great incentive to appreciate Core a little more and try a little harder
Did you know what field or career you wanted to pursue when you were a high school senior? Sort of; I knew I wanted to be involved in Biotech but not how. I realized how little I actually know about Biotech when I came to Mudd, and it threw me for a loop when I was deciding whether my major was worth it. Turns out it is 🙂
What fields or careers are you hoping to pursue now? I want to venture into medical devices, at least for a little while. Whether I decide to keep pursuing them or continue my education and then pursue them is something that I want a bit more time to figure out. But I have a plan.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to high school seniors? You don’t need to have all the answers now – it’s okay to be uncertain and to just figure things out as you go.

Ramita Kondepudi
Name: Ramita Kondepudi
Hometown: San Jose, CA
Current year at Mudd: Senior
What do you know about college/STEM now that you wish you had known as a high school senior? It’s hard! I think I underestimated how difficult Mudd’s rigor would be and came in really relaxed about my time management. It took me a while to figure out what I needed to do to stay on top of my stuff here. I also think I have learned how connected STEM is to non-STEM fields. Taking HSA classes has really helped me make those connections, and puts a lot of what we learn into larger contexts, which I didn’t necessarily see in high school.
Did you know what field or career you wanted to pursue when you were a high school senior? No!!! I had absolutely no idea.
What fields or careers are you hoping to pursue now? I’m really interested in the intersection of law and technology and would love to pursue the field.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to high school seniors? My primary advice would be to make sure you find a balance between work and fun in college. Especially at Mudd, it can be really easy to be consumed by work. My favorite weeks here have been those when I’ve had work to do but I chose to go to LA instead to explore Echo Park or attend the Vegan Street fair. Watching TV in your room alone is fun too. Find your version of fun and stick with it! This kind of spontaneity has only been possible after learning to manage my time, but it’s always been worth it. So learn to manage time and do fun things!

Izzy Jones and friend

Name: Izzy Jones
Hometown: Lacey, WA
Current year at Mudd: Junior
What do you know about college/STEM now that you wish you had known as a high school senior? (For the vast, vast, majority of people) There’s no such thing as a free meal, even if at your current level you’re really good at math and science. There will be parts of it, whether it’s the actual subject matter or actually going out and applying those skills, that you’ll find challenging. More challenging than what you’ve gone through in K-12, when everything was laid out for you.
Did you know what field or career you wanted to pursue when you were a high school senior? I wasn’t entirely sure, but I thought that I could go into game development, and if that didn’t work out, I could still use a computer science degree to get all kinds of other jobs. Something with robotics also might have been on the table at the time.
What fields or careers are you hoping to pursue now? If game development doesn’t work out, I’m not sure what I’ll do. The tech world is intimidating to me in ways that I didn’t expect it to be, and I think it’ll be a real grind to find anything else that I’d be passionate about in tech besides entertainment or teaching. If things really don’t work out in tech, across the board, I could become a teacher. I have an interest, and lots of connections.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to high school seniors?
Be realistic about the things that you’re passionate about, and know that your life isn’t some profit maximization. If there’s something you love a lot more than STEM, and you think you
could have a good chance doing it, then try pursuing that. And, whether you do STEM or not, be a project person. Have something to show for yourself, with whatever you’re passionate about. Big projects, little projects, just put yourself into it, and make those extracurriculars a priority. It will help you soooooo much, both as a professional and just in terms of being an interesting, satisfied person with a sense of self accomplishment.

If you’re a current Mudd student reading this and are interested in sharing your thoughts, email them to me at lyang@hmc.edu along with a photo of yourself.