On Tuesday, January 4, three young MICDS alumni returned to campus to share their experiences as college freshmen with the Class of 2022. Walter Ralph ’21 (Southern Methodist University), Jack Morris ’21 (Brown University), and Gretel Wurdack ’21 (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) came to talk about insights into the transition to college along with sharing tips and tricks. College Counselor Scott Herrmann-Keeling kicked off the program by welcoming the panelists and the seniors, reminding the latter that was the second day of their last semester of high school. He then asked a series of questions before opening the floor for inquiries from the students.
How has the transition gone so far?
Morris: “It’s a different academic entity, it’s new and exciting, and everything is self-motivated. There is nobody keeping you accountable for doing the daily readings or whatever. There are a lot of opportunities to fall behind if you don’t keep yourself in check. You’ll be more prepared because you went here [MICDS].
Wurdack: “I wouldn’t say it’s harder because MICDS was really tough, but it’s more work, longer hours. Procrastinating doesn’t work. I’d say put in an extra hour or two per day, use the time between classes and make it productive, go to the library.”
What is the hardest thing so far about college?
Ralph: “The amount of free time. I went from being very structured to it’s on you to get up and go to class, set an alarm, and be on top of everything. Making that adjustment has been tricky at times. You have to make sure you time manage well and don’t miss class.”
Morris: “It’s been finding a balance with this. Every day at school I’m in class for three hours max, so you have so much time to do a lot of things that aren’t school and that’s awesome, but you have to take care of yourself mentally, physically, eat, do laundry.”
Wurdack: “I go to a giant school. The campus is huge. It can be hard getting to class. I had to make it a mile and a half between back-to-back classes, and my bike broke the first week of school. It’s figuring out the bus system; if you get off at the wrong stop you have to still figure out how to get to class. I have a very small dorm room, so getting along with a roommate in that space, it’s an adjustment.”
What has gone more easily?
Morris: “The most natural, most fulfilling thing has been meeting so many amazing people. There will be people from likely all over the country or the world no matter where you end up, and everyone is in your situation. If I enter a room and I don’t know anyone, it’s not weird to go up to random people and start talking because everyone wants to meet people. You will meet incredible people you would have never met before.”
Ralph: “Writing! Wow, people don’t know how to write in college, to put it lightly.” [Here, the Class of 2022 laughed.] MICDS prepares you very, very well and puts you so far ahead. Writing freshman year should be a layup for most of you. It’s one less thing to worry about. MICDS will have you very well prepared.”
Wurdack: “Speaking. Many other students have never really given a presentation before. And group projects; I have really nice partners, but everyone has different expectations. Being in the classroom and knowing you have to take care of yourself, make decisions for yourself. Adjusting to that was easier than I thought it was going to be.”
Can you comment on attending a large school that feels so different than MICDS?
Wurdack: “It can feel really lonely at a large school. The classes are huge, but the people I sat down with the first day are my friends today. If you meet someone and you don’t get along you don’t have to be friends with them through college. Go to clubs, and club fairs, find opportunities to make it smaller. Greek life is an option. Go and talk to your professor on the first day and introduce yourself. That can make it feel personal and smaller. Send them an email, they might remember you later or even give you some extra credit.”
Morris: “The professors. You have special relationships with your teachers now, and you run into the same people every day. That doesn’t happen at the university level. Cherish the really awesome relationships you have with your teachers now, and the academic mentorship you receive. Be present and cherish that.”
Wurdack: “My chemistry class has 482 people in it, so it can feel not personal. It’s really great being at a big school; you can be anything you want. I fell off my bike into a bush [again, the audience erupted in laughter] which is really stupid, but no one knows who I am, no one will ever see me again, so being anonymous is also really nice.”
What do you wish you knew a year ago, or what would you do differently today if you could change your final semester of high school?
Morris: “I wish I knew ‘it’s going to be okay.’ It feels crazy and stressful, like, ‘I need to go to this school because it’s ranked’ or whatever. The numbers are real but also not, and it’s much more about where you’ll have a good experience. Wherever you go, you’ll get the most out of your experience.”
Ralph: “College is awesome. There are a lot of great opportunities and you’ll have a great time. Looking back, MICDS is not that bad of a place after all. [More laughter from the audience, and his fellow panelists.] I have a lot of great friends from here, and relationships with teachers. Appreciate how close the community is because it’s not replicated at college. I wish I had taken more advantage of what MICDS offers in regard to community. I miss my athletics team and high school experiences like that in general. Make the most of them. You’ll have lots of opportunities, but it’s not like high school.”
Wurdack: “Relax more. When you’re in college, they won’t be getting your second-semester transcripts. When it comes to sports, I would have tried harder, because I’m not playing a sport in college. I was so exhausted by this time in the year, I felt like I was done and I didn’t want to run anymore. I would have gone back and worked way harder in that. Academics are still important but you’re not going to have a chance again to be part of that time. Give it your all, and have no regrets.”
How did you decide where to go?
Ralph: “My decision was later. When I got all my acceptances it was later in the game and I really narrowed it down to three great choices. I had a chance to visit all three. You can look at numbers, job placement, statistics, but what I came down to for me was that I had a general sense of what I wanted in a college, and I was looking for a school with a smaller class size because I enjoyed my time at MICDS. I’m taking Italian, and there are 15 kids in that class, 15 kids in my English class. I went with my gut. My schools were all similar, so it was about having a feel for the campus. You’ll get a sense by talking to people attending the schools you’re looking at. I have no regrets about where I went.”
Morris: “I’m a very person-motivated person, so I highly recommend if you’re between two schools, spend a lot of time getting a sense of what kinds of people go to each school, what kind of people are ‘my’ people. Go there.”
Wurdack: “I went because of my major and the program I got into, and the research opportunities. I have no regrets, I love it, but I’m in the middle of a cornfield. You guys [gestures to fellow panelists] are in super cool places. Urbana-Champaign is great, it’s bigger than I thought, but it’s surrounded by cornfields. You’ll spend the majority of your time studying but pay attention to location, too. If you can live anywhere in the world for four years, take that opportunity. Also, consider what’s in your budget. I didn’t want to break my parents’ bank account so much [Gretel is one of quadruplets, and she was very much aware of her parents having to pay for four college programs at once]. Going to a state school made it a lot cheaper. I just had a feeling when I went there. I had been researching programs, and when I stepped on campus it felt right. Also, know that your MICDS reputation doesn’t matter. You’ll be around people from all kinds of schools who are brilliant. They’re not overly impressed that you went to a different school. There are thousands of people working and they’ll all get jobs.”
Morris: “Right, the reputation of MICDS doesn’t matter, you can be your own person. There is this total freedom that ‘This is me.’ You can even go by a different name if you want.”
Ralph: “Go with what you want. A lot of people told me I made the wrong decision but I don’t feel that way. Your friends, parents, relatives…they’re going to have their own opinion but at the end of the day, it’s your decision.”
Is college more or less stressful than high school?
Ralph: “If you manage your time well, give yourself a little bit of a break, get out socially and exercise, it’s not stressful. If you’re irresponsible and missing classes, it’ll be a lot more stressful, a lot less forgiving than here. If you’re responsible then there’s no stress. Well, I mean, there’s a little.”
Morris: “It’s different types of stress, or you get stressed by different types of things. Things that were super important here aren’t so important there. Things that weren’t on my radar here are now important. If you take care of yourself, it won’t build up too bad. If you let things slip it can feel like a lot is coming at you. Everything is management: break stuff down into chunks and you’ll get through it.”
Wurdack: “It’s manageable. I have higher expectations for myself now than before. You meet people and you think you’re good and then you realize there are thousands of brilliant people and it’s humbling. Know the amount of effort you have to put in, but be efficient. Balance it out, otherwise, you burn out.”
Do you get study guides from professors or do you have to pull them together on your own?
Ralph: “It depends on the class. Some professors show the slideshow in class and you’ll never see it again. Some professors record class and you can go back and review. It’s going to vary everywhere but for me, freshman year with the adjustment from high school to college, they’ve been pretty forthcoming with giving us resources.”
Morris: “My bigger classes tend to have more resources, too, but my psych professor confessed he was writing our exam all night the night before so you don’t know. Some final exams are like ‘go read a book and talk to me about it for 20 minutes.’ There are sometimes practice exams, slides posted, a lot of classes are recording, so much is there if you need it, but studying with others and creating study guides is helpful, too. Professors and other brilliant people are all around you.”
Wurdack: “Normally you’re learning chemistry right up to a day or two before the mid-term so you have to be very on top of it. With animal sciences class, there are Canvas quizzes where if you take them 20 times you’ll pass, but you should still review slides and do practice tests as they mimic the real tests a lot.”
[All three panelists’ schools use Canvas, and they noted that it’s great to have that experience before going. Many of their fellow students aren’t familiar with the system and colleges don’t provide instruction.]
How do you look for work and research opportunities?
Ralph: “I was a direct admit to SMU’s business school, so there are lots of resources for my career. There are also outside extracurriculars; I joined the real estate club and they have people come in and talk about internship opportunities. It depends on what you’re studying. Seek it out. You can easily find resources. Schools have career centers; go in early and take advantage.”
Wurdack: “I get bombarded with emails of opportunities in animal science. Be your own advocate for yourself and your opportunities. Also, say no to some opportunities. There can be a lot and you don’t want to get overwhelmed. Email professors; your school’s website lists the professors and their research jobs. Reach out to a professor who is studying something you find interesting. You might get rejected, but you never know. Try it out, try anything out. Take advantage of the opportunities.”
What essential life skills do you wish you had developed more before you went to college?
Morris: “There are just some you can develop once you get there. There is no parental safety net, and the first time you get sick at school is a bumpy ride. Put in the time to take care of yourself and know that’s just as valuable as time spent with other people. Develop when you get there.”
Ralph: “There are a lot of opportunities and it’s easy to try to do everything, and then you spend most of your time sick. Don’t let general self-maintenance fall to the wayside. It’s important to prioritize: eat enough, sleep enough, and know it’s okay to miss out on events if you’re not up to it.”
Wurdack: “When you do your laundry, go when people are at dinner because no one is there. We have 10 washers and six dryers for 600 people in my dorm alone. Know how to do your laundry!”
Morris: “And clean out the dryer filter! Sometimes there’s an inch thick layer there!” [Lots of laughter from the audience at this tip.]
Wurdack: “Know that you can’t control other peoples’ actions. My roommate is messy, but I can’t control that. Don’t leave gross things in the bathroom, pick up your hair, wash your dishes. Also, be the first person to choose a dorm, you don’t want to live in a gross dorm.”
Walter Ralph is studying finance/real estate and is minoring in Italian. He’s active in Greek life at SMU, and is involved with the SMU real estate program. Jack Morris is a neuroscience and French double major and hasn’t decided what he’s going to do long-term. In the meantime, he’s become involved in Brown’s music scene and is enjoying meeting people from all over. Gretel Wurdack is an animal science major and works in an ICU and ER veterinary hospital. She also enjoys a research job and is a member of her college horseback riding team.
Thank you to these young alumni for returning to share their wisdom with the Class of 2022!