LILY CHEN, California Institute of Technology
Bioengineering major and Computer Science minor
LC: The Honors/AP English program at the high school was phenomenal. I write far better than some of my peers, and it has proven to be very useful in terms of extensive lab reports and research papers. In addition, the course load I took at the high school taught me how to balance a heavy course load and move on from bad experiences. I learned the effects of perseverance in high school classes, and the lesson still applies as a college student. AP Chemistry was also a great model for me in terms of learning how to study.
JT: What was the hardest part of the transition from high school to college?
LC: Getting everything there was a nightmare. Seriously, don’t take the challenge of moving from Pennsylvania to California lightly. Otherwise, I think the most difficult part was being humbled. Again and again, I meet these extraordinary people that are my age, and I realize that I have become the average there. Really, how many people do you meet on the street everyday who have been working on nuclear fusion and whatnot in the basement for fun?
JT: Is college less or more challenging than high school?
LC: By far college has been a lot more challenging. I know my experiences do not represent that of many of my friends, but having signed up for a ridiculously demanding college, I knew the academics were going to be competitive and very difficult.
JT: How do you balance academics, extracurriculars and a social life?
LC: To make time for everything, I have been sleeping less than I did in high school. However, I also schedule everything meticulously with an agenda so that I can find time for everything. If I know that I have to make a fancy cake for a friend’s birthday in the upcoming week, I might complete several days’ worth of assignments far ahead of time over the weekend.
JT: What surprised you most about college?
LC: The family environment and the level of trust at my college really pleasantly surprised me. Partially due to the size of the undergraduate student population and partially due to the steadfast upholding of the Caltech Honor Code, people really do believe that they can trust each other. For instance, I often leave my valuables lying around for days at a time in the common areas, and no one will touch it. If they see it in a precarious position, they either tell me or bring it to me. Furthermore, we get to take more than 90 percent of our quizzes, tests, midterms and finals outside of the classroom. Once the professor has stated the limitations (e.g. due date, time limit, materials permitted), we are free to choose where we take the tests. I have discovered a penchant for munching on Chips Ahoy cookies while blasting classical music when I take my physics quizzes in my room!
JT: Are you glad you left Pittsburgh?
LC: Yes. While I love Pittsburgh, I feel that I have outgrown the city. I’ve been in and around Oakland since I was a small child because my mother works at CMU and often took me with her. Due to the diverse activities I participated in from elementary school onwards, I have also become familiar with the other regions of Pittsburgh. It was time for me to move out of my comfort zone and explore what the world had to offer.
JT: What was the most memorable part of your freshman year?
LC: Hanging out with my friends in the common area. Why not anything more exciting? I could describe some of the impressive things we built in our house’s courtyard, but to be honest, I loved spending time with my friends and getting to nerd out with them by having casual conversations about math proofs, C language concepts, general relativity, organic chemistry and so on.
JT: If you could give one piece of advice to a senior graduating from Mt. Lebanon, what would it be?
LC: Don’t be afraid of the unknown. Go out and meet new people (especially during orientation) because they’re the ones you’re going to spend four years of your life with. They’re in the exact same position as you, so don’t be shy. Put your past aside for just a bit. You can keep in touch with mommy and daddy and your best friends but they aren’t going to disappear, so don’t waste time that you could be using to get along with the people around you getting homesick.