Three of the best decisions I’ve ever made were coming to Carnegie Mellon, leaving Carnegie Mellon — expecting never to return — and coming back to Carnegie Mellon. Having made that rather uncommon sequence of decisions, I’ve come to understand all that is possible at this university. You just need to be ready to find what you want and then make it yours.
Carnegie Mellon is composed of seven colleges, encompassing about 50 distinct departments and another 20 interdisciplinary programs. And because of the size and great diversity of its programs, Carnegie Mellon is highly decentralized.
At the age of 18, many, if not most, new students are not sure what they want to do 10 years down the road. As I did, many worry that they might not be in the right department or college once classes get underway. That’s when Carnegie Mellon’s size can become terribly overwhelming, and it’s easy to feel lost in the academic labyrinth. The fact that each week of school costs about $1200 makes being lost even more miserable.
I had come to Carnegie Mellon with the assumption that I would be a doctor. My first-year floor-mates will attest that I kept a copy of Gray’s Anatomy on my desk. But when the only connection between my first-year biology class and a future in medicine was the nosebleed I feared I would have when I had to sit in the back of the 250-person lecture hall, I began to rethink my academic plans.
Realizing that the science of medicine wasn’t my passion was an important revelation, but it left me wondering why I was chugging along on a pre-med path. Since I didn’t know what course of study I should choose as a replacement, I decided that I should find a way to try something new outside of the regular academic setting.
Though skepticism was my friends’ and family’s overwhelming reaction, I filed a leave of absence form. My academic advisor supported me all the way. Dr. Eric Grotzinger was the one who kept me from feeling like I was committing academic suicide.
A year later, I’d spent five months in parts of Asia and Africa that few Westerners have ever visited, I’d worked the graveyard shift in an emergency room, and I’d taken classes at one of Boston’s finest universities.
After all that, I wanted one thing; I wanted to return to Carnegie Mellon.
While I was away, I missed the buzz of this place. At all times, someone is ready for a real conversation, someone is pouring his energy into one of his many passions, and someone is creating something new. People at Carnegie Mellon are unashamed of non-conformity, unlike the people at many other top schools. That leaves us with the most intellectual, creative, and open environment I’ve ever experienced at an undergraduate institution.
During my year away, my advisor had helped me via e-mail to find a number of majors that might suit my interests. He even entertained a multi-month dialogue about creating my own major. In the end, I chose the existing policy and management major with an additional major international relations. Moreover, I’ve since found ways to involve myself in the Carnegie Mellon community. At The Tartan, as a Student Advisory Council member, and as a community advisor, I’ve found countless ways to create an experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
And that’s the key. Carnegie Mellon won’t hand you an experience, prewrapped like a Sushi Two meal block. You’re going have to go out and make it for yourself. You’ve got to own it.