Student: Jacky Zhou | College: Carnegie Mellon University
Introduction: Hi, my name is Junqing Zhou. I go by Jacky. I’m a junior studying at Carnegie Mellon University. I major in Computer Science and have two minors, Computational Finance and Business Administration. I chose CMU mainly because of its great reputation of providing a quality undergraduate education in Computer Science, a field that I’m extremely interested in. And Vinnie helped me a lot during this process, letting me realize my true interests and find my passion that I want to pursue as a career. Also, I’m grateful that he made me see clearly where my strengths were and encouraged me to apply for those universities suitable for me.
1.) Tell me about your experience at CMU, now two years later. Now you’re entering into your junior year.
Honestly, the first month at CMU was pretty tough. I just got to America, didn’t know anything about the environment, the culture, or the university, and even had trouble communicating with others because they spoke too fast. Fortunately, I got a lot of support from my peers, my advisor and my professors, and gradually I started absorbing all the new things there that had more or less overwhelmed me for a while. Then things started to work out. I got better at following the professors in lectures, did well in my coursework, and also made friends with people from all over the world, which I found very interesting to talk to.
Now I’m going into my junior year. New challenges have appeared. I passed the TA interview this summer, and I’m now officially a teaching assistant of a large CS class. So now my role has turned from a student to a teacher, and my task has changed from making myself succeed academically to helping dozens of others acquire the knowledge and skills they need. It will be a huge challenge, but also a valuable opportunity to improve my abilities. Also, I will start to search for internship opportunities this semester, which is something I’m totally unfamiliar with. I still remember how confused and lost I was when I first started working on my resume. But anyway, I have confidence in myself, and believe that I’ll make the junior year as wonderful as the past two years, if not better.
2.) What’s the international community like there?
In CMU, the international community, especially the Chinese student community, is very tightly connected and supportive. In a foreign land, people from the same country as you are just like families, especially when you first get there. So I guess it’s not surprising that students of the same nationality just come together naturally. And it’s great to have a bunch of friends in a completely unfamiliar place. We hang out with each other, study with each other, and support each other. We even gather together and celebrate Chinese traditional holidays. And we know that we will have someone to rely on when getting into troubles or having a hard time.
Also, many professors and TAs in CMU are from China, and we talk to them all the time, in our mother tongue. There are also Chinese supermarkets and restaurants in Pittsburgh, and they treat us very nicely. I really believe that one can live a life here without speaking English at all, which I don’t recommend though.
3.) What is the best thing about studying at CMU so far? What do you find unique about the university or surprising maybe…
I believe what defines CMU is really its academic pressure, especially for computer science students. This kind of pressure stems from the hard work required by the courses. As our motto goes, “my heart is in the work.” In CMU it’s really the work that makes the heart stronger. Many CS classes in CMU are designed in a way that emphasizes students’ practices. By practice I don’t mean the usual assignments where students are given code snippets and asked to fill in the rest of the program. In most of our homework, we are simply asked to build everything from scratch, and implement, for example, an idea discussed in lectures. Most of the time, I found this very difficult and stressful. But when I managed to finish everything and looked back, I found my abilities improved to a great extent. So I think this pressure is what makes students highly capable and experienced.
4.) What are some activities you’re involved with there? Briefly describe…
I attended various activities outside the classroom. For example, I visited the new Google office in Pittsburgh, and had an inspiring talk with some of the software engineers working there. I also took part in some contests such as a programming competition held by Google and a finance competition held by CMU’s finance club. Although I didn’t win the prize, I did enjoy the experiences and learned a lot. Besides, I participated in several outdoor activities with my friends such as hiking and boating, which, by the way, was an awesome experience because of the beautiful rivers and bridges in Pittsburgh.
5.) What’s your favorite local food since you’ve been there?
Pizza. You can literally put anything you want on it, and it will just taste (surprisingly) great. Of course there are other kinds of foods I enjoy here. For example, when I was visiting Boston, I went to a restaurant called Legal Sea Food, and the lobster there was absolutely delicious. But still, they can’t beat pizza. It’s convenient and it’s delicious.
6.) What advice would you give to other Chinese students planning to attend university in America?
First, be yourself. Don’t ever try to guess what a certain university wants in you and make yourself look like that in your essays. I believe this will never work. Putting aside the fact that those admission officers will almost surely find out that you are not showing the real you, even if you did get your way, chances are you wouldn’t fit well in that university. To me, college application is really a two-way selection. You just need to choose the colleges you are interested in, talk to them in your essays the way you would talk to a friend, and believe that the right college(s) will come to you.
Second, if you want to present yourself in essays as an outstanding student eager to learn and always striving to be better, then you have to be that person. Besides trying to present your best self, also think about how to make yourself better, especially if you still have time before the application process. You can start by learning something in the field of your interest. It can be anything that you want to know about. Once you do that, it will open the gate to a whole new world for you, because the more you learn, the more you know you don’t know. From my experiences, those new unknown things will attract you even more. So this can become a virtuous cycle, and you will be better and better.
Third, don’t put too much weight on university rankings, which I think are a bad gauge for universities’ education quality. Instead, learn about their specific programs, environments, communities, work opportunities, and anything else that concerns you. Don’t ever compare your college’s ranking with others. A smaller number doesn’t mean a bigger future. Also, what’s inside you is way more important than the environment around you. Like I said above, if you make yourself an eager, enthusiastic learner with a strong heart, it won’t matter that much which college you attend, because I’m sure you will succeed wherever you go.