My Students’ Insights into Freshman Year at Emory University and the University of Cambridge

My students, as well as their parents, become valued members of my family, and I love to hear about students’ experiences in college. Over the years, I have asked students to share their insights about freshman year in particular.

Following are some excerpts from what students have told me about their first year experiences at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England, two very different universities. I hope to post more of these glimpses into college life in future blogs.

Emory University (Emory College)

Student No 1

Did you find that the school conformed to your expectations? What did and did not?

Emory did mostly conform to my expectations. Academically in terms of rigor, the curriculum was as I expected. With four courses in the first semester, I felt as though I had adequate breathing room for fun and leisure, while still being challenged by my studies. With five in the second, I felt hard-pressed during midterm and final exam periods, but in the interim I still found time to relax.
Even though fraternity and sorority life only encompasses about a third of the student population, it is, at least in my opinion, the center of social life at Emory, especially for a first-semester freshman. This, I did not expect. The diversity of the student body was something that I did expect and it is certainly prevalent. I made friends with a good deal of international students, students from places much different than my hometown, even within the United States.
As far as the campus, residence, and academic facilities, everything was top notch as I expected. The food, not bad, but it gets old after a short while.

What do you love most about the school?

So far, academics have been the school’s strongest point. Along with it, faculty. I have yet to take a class with a professor that I disliked. All have shown genuine interest in students’ studies and zeal for their own field of academics. While I have taken mostly introductory courses, all have been fair in their grading and I do believe that my efforts reflected directly upon my grades—which is how academics should be. But most importantly, in the classes I enjoyed the most, I found myself for the first time in my life working hard for the sake of learning and enriching my brain—not simply working for the grade.

What would you change about your first year experience?

I would attempt to broaden my base (socially) right off the bat. I know that this is when it’s both easiest and hardest, because everyone is attempting to do the same, and it can be quite intimidating. I would have also gotten more involved in extracurricular activities. I didn’t because I feared that it would affect my studies, but seeing as I attained a combined 3.78 GPA, I know I had breathing room. I think that I spent too much time worrying about myself, and Emory isn’t the place for that.

What advice would you give to a student who is interested in or applying to your school?
Be sure that you are confident in your social skills; that you are somewhat outgoing. Know that at least as a freshman, the city of Atlanta isn’t easily accessible due to a lack of public transportation. In spite of some big lectures, most of your classes will be small and will encourage peer-to-peer discussion. Be ready to take a wide range of subjects; Emory’s GERs are expansive. Pack lots of hot-weather clothing, but you will need a winter coat for a few weeks!

Student No. 2

What most surprised you about the school?

I was surprised because I thought it would have more of a southern feel, but a huge amount of the students are actually from the Northeast. I really only know a handful of people who are stereotypically southern.

What do you love most about the school?

I really like the size of the school because it is small enough that I know a lot of people who I see around campus but still big enough that I still meet new people often.

What do you like the least?

I dislike the fact that admission to Goizueta Business School is in junior year (or second semester sophomore year if applying early) because I would have liked to have started taking more business oriented classes earlier. There are pre-requisites like micro and macroeconomics, but it still would have been nice to be able to get on the business track earlier. It also would have been helpful since I would be able to definitively know that I wanted to business because I am not one hundred percent sure that I want to pursue business since I haven’t taken many business classes.

University of Cambridge

What most surprised you about the school?

I think I’ve been most surprised (pleasantly so) by the attention paid to each student here. The supervisions and meetings with my Director of Studies have really given me a sense of my academic growth and wellbeing being properly cared for. I’ve also been surprised by the lack of quantitative feedback – I did not actually realize that grading is based entirely on final assessment here, and that feedback is largely, if not entirely, qualitative throughout the year (at least in the English course). While this does put a lot of pressure on final exams, I’ve found it extremely helpful in terms of allowing/forcing me to focus on constructive feedback rather than fixating on a number.

What are the students like?

The students are all very different, but there are two main things that I’d say unite most: passion and drive. Everyone here is truly passionate about something, whether it’s what they’re studying (since the courses here are so focused and in-depth) or something they pursue beyond academics. Students here are also extremely driven. Everyone is very hard-working and goal-oriented, and people feed off of each other’s motivation to do well. But there really is not one typical Cambridge student – people come from all walks of life and pursue a range of diverse paths once they’re here.

What do you love most about the school?

While it is quite a stressful environment, I do love most things about the university. I really love that, perhaps within my college specifically, there is a very strong sense of support among the students. There is a general sense of compassion and teamwork among the student body, which is really helpful. I also really love the city of Cambridge itself; it is architecturally beautiful and so culturally rich – it truly is a pleasure to be able to study here. The extent of history and tradition inherent in the culture here is really incredible. Also, the lecturers and supervisors who I’ve had the opportunity to interact with have all been wonderful. Many are leading experts in their fields and it has been a privilege to be taught by such talented individuals.

What would you change about your first year experience?

I would put less pressure on myself and reassure myself that everyone is equally nervous starting out. I would also do more of the reading in advance – that would have allowed me more time to do secondary reading and other, non-academic activities during term time.

How challenging are your classes?

Extremely challenging. My supervisors have been very meticulous and comprehensive in their feedback. It has been very difficult but I have noticed definite improvements in my ability to think and write critically.