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First-year files: the world is your oyster

May 17th, 2023

The signs of May are all around us: prom, Derby, graduation, oh my! This time of your life is filled with excitement and of course I want you to soak it all in. Yet, it can be easy to get distracted and lose focus on what’s most important. My advice is to keep your head down and finish strong.

When the busyness slows, what are your plans for the months ahead? No matter your year in high school, it’s important to maximize your summer plans. Whether your summer involves a job, travel, coursework, research, or internship, draw as much from the experience as possible. This will not only reflect well on your college applications but, even more importantly, you’ll learn a great deal about yourself and the world around you.

In today’s edition of First-year files, Luisa M., a previous Shrop Ed advisee, shares her experience at University of Texas Austin. Luisa recognizes opportunity and doesn’t let it slip by. I am thoroughly impressed with her open mind; she is proof that with hard work comes great opportunity. We’re grateful to Luisa for her willingness to share and wish her much continued success!

I don’t think it’s possible to over exaggerate my experiences this year at UT Austin. Choosing to be a Turing Scholar, in the Computer Science Honors Program, was probably the best decision I could’ve made.

My classes here are very CS-heavy. Turing Scholars take Data Structures and Computer Architecture in their freshman year, and Operating Systems in their sophomore fall. These are classes that are usually taken as juniors and seniors in other colleges. The workload is pretty high, and it’s not uncommon to walk up into the dorm attic at 4:00 a.m. and find it taken over by your classmates, still coding away. Projects in Data Structures were fun, and a test of how many all-nighters one could pull (though I never pulled any). I thought some of our coolest projects were Web Crawler (the thing that search engines like Google use to find and index web pages) and Tetris. I’m currently taking Comp Arch in the spring, where we designed a programming language and wrote a compiler for it in the third week of class! Needless to say, the CS education here does not disappoint.

My classmates are all incredible, and I’m learning so much from them. Two of them made an AI for Tetris that got to several million pieces playing 10 hours straight. Another made and released an open-world video game, where you explore a world and go on quests. Though half of my class were Platinum-Tier USACO, USAMO qualifiers, or something else equally insane, I fell into the category of my class that had much less experience in computer science. I don’t feel out of place, though. The environment here is so supportive, with classmates and TAs all willing to help. And after all, we’re all here to learn something new.

There are just so many incredible opportunities offered at this school. Texas Robotics, where I’m an undergraduate researcher, is home to some of the top robotics labs in the country. I’ve gotten to talk with some of the most well-respected people in robotics and machine learning almost on a daily basis. I’ve also programmed robots, trained deep learning models, and gotten to walk a robot dog down Speedway. I’m also getting sponsored to attend ICRA in London, the largest robotics conference in the world, to compete in an international autonomous navigation competition. Being a freshman, I don’t feel there are less opportunities available to me. What opens doors is not academic year or age, but the amount of work you are willing to put in–which is what I love about being here.

Though I’ve had a great school year, I’m very much looking forward to the summer. This summer, I was hired as an intern at NASA. I’ll be working at the Ames Research Center doing research on their trio of robots currently serving on the International Space Station. These Astrobee robots help astronauts perform routine tasks on the ISS, and they’re pretty cute for floating space cubes! I have the amazing support at Texas Robotics and UT to thank for all the opportunities I’ve gotten so far, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

First-year files: life at a renowned business school

April 18th, 2023

Finding your perfect college match is no small task. You go on college visits, answer questionnaires, and do as much online research as you can to narrow down choices. Hearing a firsthand account from a current student is always eye-opening. It can really push you to consider factors that may not have crossed your mind before.

In today’s blog post, Zoe, a past Shrop Ed advisee, writes about life as a first-year at Babson College. Babson is a private business school in Wellesley, Massachusetts known globally for its excellence, particularly for its focus on entrepreneurship. Zoe really opens up about her experiences so far, from academic life to social life. We appreciate Zoe’s openness and wish her much continued success in the future.

When I applied to Babson, I did not have any expectation to get in nor to attend. But as I was trying to make my college decision, I ultimately chose Babson for the business focused curriculum, the diverse community, and the unique experiences that I would have, especially in the required first year course, Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship (FME). I was initially quite hesitant, and I wasn’t sure if it was the right decision for me because I don’t consider myself the most creative or as having the “entrepreneurial spirit” that Babson promotes. However, although I have faced challenges, both ones that were expected and unexpected, I have really enjoyed my time at Babson thus far as Babson has provided me first-year experiences that have been unique and eye-opening.

The adjustment to life at any college is challenging, but something that went well for me was stepping outside of my comfort zone. This included small actions like raising my hand more to participate in class and volunteering to present for my group project and also trying new activities like rugby and dancing and, to my surprise, joining a sorority. There have been so many opportunities to challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone such as joining clubs and organizations, which I have learned new skills and interests and built new friendships and connections with people I otherwise would not have met. Another thing that has gone well is that I have been able to explore some of Boston. One perk about Babson is that there are no classes on Fridays. These days are typically reserved for internship work for upperclassmen, but as freshmen, we also get the day off. When I have a Friday without meetings or club events, I am able to utilize the Uber program that our student government provides ($15 off a ride to the nearest T station) and take a 30 minute subway ride into the city to walk around and explore.

Although towards the end of first semester and going into second semester I had found close friends, I initially found it difficult to find a group of people who I felt close with. When I arrived to campus, I felt that most people already had people they already knew and friends groups they were already a part of. However, once classes started and I began joining clubs and organizations that I was interested in, I began to find like-minded individuals who have now become some of my close friends. Another situation I found challenging was the amount of group work integrated into the course work, especially in FME. The required first year course runs through both fall and spring semester, and working in groups, students think of, pitch (shark tank style), plan, launch, run, and close a business through three main phases. Businesses range from service businesses like shoe cleaning and transportation to selling physical products such as adhesive pockets that stick to phone cases and hold dorm room keys and ID cards, which my group is doing. Through the three main phases, the size of the teams go from 3-4 to 11-14. Although I already knew group work would be difficult and there would be people who do not contribute, I did not anticipate how difficult it was to navigate communication among so many people and through the differing expectations that everyone has. Working through these obstacles as a project and venture manager has been a huge learning experience, and I feel that I now can be a better group member and group leader in the future.

One thing that surprised me were how many events happen around campus, both student events and professional, business-related events. There are plenty of opportunities to network with business professionals, which can be overwhelming at first because there are so many. There are also many activities going on around campus, which are great ways to interact with classmates outside of class on campus, one of the most popular being the Campus Activities Board’s Bingo nights. Another thing I found surprising was the amount of time I had compared to my high school schedule, especially during the first semester. My schedule has since become more busy, but it was an initial adjustment

with learning how to balance academic responsibilities, going out with friends, and attending events to get involved in school.

Something younger students thinking about Babson College should consider is the school and campus size. Babson is a relatively small school with small class sizes (usually maximum of 40 students in a class) and a small, more isolated campus. This is an advantage because you will form closer connections with your classmates and professors, but class participation is also a large portion of class grades and there is a high degree of emphasis on collaboration and group projects. Additionally, the campus always feels really safe and no school building is more than a 15 minute walk away, but it can begin to feel isolating after a while since the school is located in a residential area of Wellesley (which is why going out to Boston every few weeks is a great way to get a change of scenery).

Another thing to consider is the business focus of the school. Not only are you taking business courses, but the liberal arts courses often include a business aspect by relating the topic to business in some way, shape, or form. Since these classes integrate some sort of business, Babson does not accept many AP credits as they only take a maximum of 4 AP test scores of 4 or 5 and do not accept some of the typical AP tests like biology, chemistry, and physics. This was a bit frustrating at first because I felt that I had made an effort to take these classes throughout high school, but in the end, I realized that taking these classes really prepared me for the vigor and difficulty of these classes and built a strong foundation that I was able to use and build upon.

Ultimately, I feel that Babson has overall been a great fit for me. I have been challenged academically, socially, and from a business standpoint, and I have learned in areas that I have never before. If younger students are interested in pursuing business, I would encourage them to look into Babson as it can provide some unique opportunities to learn and build connections.

First year files: an iconic research university

March 14th, 2023

College decisions are arriving for Regular Decision candidates, and our students at Shrop Ed have some exciting choices to make. May 1st is typically the deadline for students to confirm enrollment and send in a deposit to confirm their spot for the upcoming year. There is sometimes no clear or easy choice, so it is essential to break down the process and make sure no stone is left unturned. There are so many important factors to consider before making that final commitment, including campus culture, affordability and academics, to name a few.

The Rotunda is a UNESCO World Heritage site designed by Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826).

Firsthand accounts from those already in college encourage students to think about aspects of college life that they might not have considered before. While every college experience is different for each individual, I’m hopeful that the first-year files our previous advisees offer are beneficial in helping you find your own best fit.

We’re grateful to today’s contributor, Aidan, for sharing his account and wish him continued happiness and success!

My name is Aidan, and I am a first year in the architecture program at the University of Virginia. My first semester at UVA was much more than I could have imagined. The school has a fantastic atmosphere for learning and leisure, and there is something for everyone here.

There is a strong sense of trust between the students and faculty under the Honor Code, which helps develop a strong community at the school. The school is a perfect size, not too big but not too small. It reaches an ideal in-between that allows people to see familiar faces around but always be able to meet new people. People are always willing to help others, and there is an openness on the campus that doesn’t close people off from the things they need. The community is my favorite part of the school. Following the unfortunate events that unfolded in November, the entire school gathered to honor our classmates and support each other through the terrible time. I had never felt such a strong sense of family from people I had never met before, and it really comes to show you how amazing the people that attend this school are.

In terms of classes, they were never a walk in the park, and they constantly challenged you to really think and apply yourself. The architecture classes always pushed for uniqueness and creativity while teaching the foundations one would need to progress throughout the school. My Lessons in Making course taught me the skills I need to advance in the program, which is already paying off in my second semester. The other first-year architecture courses are History of Architecture, Intro to Urban Planning, and an architecture seminar, all of which introduce you to the possible majors that fall under the School of Architecture. All the staff for these classes are great, and they ensure that the material you need to know is taught and understood.

Outside of the classroom, however, there are numerous extracurriculars for students to find a place where they belong. You can join a club or just spend time with the friends you make at UVA. We all have rigorous weeks, so we work hard during the week and then find time on the weekends to blow off some steam and relax. The atmosphere at the school really pushes you to fully apply yourself to your classes and then enjoy the free time you come across. The community at UVA is partly what drove me here, but it became why I fell in love with this place, and I wouldn’t trade it for any other school.

First-year files: life at a small liberal arts college

February 21st, 2023

When making college decisions, there’s a lot to consider. If you’re looking for a smaller school with a more personal relationship with your professors that also offers a broad curriculum, a liberal arts college might be right for you. A liberal arts education puts emphasis on exploratory learning and education, which promotes many in-demand soft skills such as critical thinking, team work, oral and written communication, and problem solving.

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In this post a previous Shrop Ed advisee, Evan G., shares his experience as a first-year student at Bowdoin College in Maine. Evan not only compares his experience to that of his twin brother’s at Carleton College but also shares the ups and downs of moving far away from home. We appreciate Evan’s reflections, and I know this information will be especially helpful to current advisees as they build their own future plans.

Overall, so far I have loved my time at Bowdoin. One of my favorite parts about it is that I can’t point to only one thing and say “this is why I love this school;” there are multiple elements that have enhanced my experience. First of all, living in Maine has been amazing, as it is incredibly beautiful and could not be more different from Utah, in everything from its stunningly different natural beauty to its culture. I think this has been a very important change for me to experience, as it is shaping my desires for what my life after college might look like. And, I love being surrounded by greenery, and being a mere 20 minutes from the coast. Secondly, most of the people at Bowdoin are incredible; I have found the community to be extremely welcoming, and most, if not all, of the students share my desires to treat college as a space for learning and growth, not just as a place to party. Thirdly, the academics have been fantastic; it has been a huge relief to move from high school’s exhausting busywork to Bowdoin, where professors place an emphasis on teaching the content in engaging, interesting, and intellectually stimulating ways (although it is of course challenging as well).

I think it is also very interesting to compare my experience to what I have heard from Seth (twin brother). It seems that we both have come to the conclusion that we likely would have been happy at most liberal arts schools, given the similar ideals and values that they strive to represent; there are just a few key differences that make our respective schools more appealing to us, i.e. specific programs, location, etc. With that said, it seems that the main difference (no pun intended) between Bowdoin and Carleton has been living on the East coast versus in the Midwest. I have found people on the East coast to be less warm and less initially welcoming than what I am used to in Utah, and certainly less warm than Seth seems to have experienced at Carleton. However, I do not think this is necessarily a bad thing, as like I said earlier I have loved Bowdoin’s community, and it is simply different than what I am used to. 

I think one of the things that has gone well is adjusting to the academics; I feel that my experiences in the IB program and with AP classes helped to prepare me for college level writing, even if these high school classes were grueling at times. I also think that it has been exciting to find the people I feel comfortable with; Bowdoin creates an atmosphere in which I feel excited about trying new things, whether that is joining a new extracurricular or starting a pickup basketball game with strangers. That is not to say this is not nerve racking but doing these new things has pushed me to find communities that I enjoy spending time in, and has helped me learn more about myself. 

In terms of things that were difficult, I think that the initial adjustment period was the hardest part. I feel that I idealized college before I went, in the sense that I thought much more about the exciting opportunities than the difficulty of moving across the country, completely changing my lifestyle, and making new friends. While it is certainly true that college is a time of exciting opportunities and growth, I didn’t realize how hard it would be to be away from my family and alone in a new place without any initial support from my peers, since I wasn’t close friends with anyone yet. However, this has gotten much easier over time, and I imagine this would be true at any college, as there will always be an adjustment period. 

The most surprising part about Bowdoin so far has been the social scene. I was expecting a very relaxed party culture, but the partying has been more hardcore and common than I thought it would be. It still doesn’t compare at all to the partying scene at a big school, but the prevalence of the party culture was more than I was expecting for a small school in Maine. Luckily, however, there is no pressure to go to parties; it just seems as though most people do party on a fairly consistent basis (although only on the weekends). I was also slightly surprised at the relative lack of diversity compared to my high school; Bowdoin frequently highlights its attempts to create a diverse environment, but I still have made very few friends of color, and they certainly seem much more in the minority than Bowdoin’s demographic statistics might suggest. However, I could also chalk this up to not having met much of the first year class yet; these are just my initial thoughts about Bowdoin’s diversity. 

Finally, I think that younger students considering Bowdoin should understand it is not easy to get to; it is rather remote, and flights into Portland are expensive. However, once you are on campus, it does not feel remote; there are a variety of social and extracurricular opportunities, and Brunswick, its neighboring town, is much busier and more interesting than one might think. I don’t think I will get tired of being on campus over the next three and a half years, as the college does an excellent job of planning exciting events. So, essentially, concerns about the size of the college are so far a non-issue.

I hope this offers a comprehensive look into my experience thus far; overall, I am having a great time and am extremely happy with my decision, along with being incredibly grateful for your assistance in getting to this point.