Narrowing Down the Nuances

Iris receives the chance to talk to Josh Li, a rising junior at UMich who experienced the international college application process after attending his high school in Shanghai. We get some of the nuanced answers that all students often search for in the discovery process.

What led you to apply to WashU?

“I applied to 7 universities, and I personally wanted to go to a university that’s located in a city and is relatively large, and UofM had those qualities. To be candid, I really didn’t know much about UofM or Michigan as a whole, as I had never been to the Midwest. After doing some surface level research, I saw that their biology program was well established and the school itself is ranked very highly, which was great to see.

I first actually got accepted to the University of Wisconsin, a relatively similar school, and was leaning towards committing, as waiting school responses is stressful. Luckily, I got accepted to UofM soon after and was swayed by the financial aid.

In retrospect, I don’t feel like I missed out by not visiting any campuses I applied to, and online searches like social threads as well as alumni conversations, can give a sense on university life and if it appeals to you.”

What were some differences you noticed between learning about college and attending Michigan that you wish you knew about earlier?

I thought college would be a very intense, all studying and extremely competitive, whereas high school is more laid back. In reality, though there are stressful times in, I’ve found it to be much more fulfilling than school. I think it is the independence and new control you receive. High school felt more limited in scope, whereas in college you choose what you want to do, which is both empowering and rewarding.

I was also told that there would be a rather jarring transition period from an international background to an American University, and while there certainly were many things I had to get used to—transportation habits, lifestyle, technology—it wasn’t as foreign than I had envisioned.

Lastly, I was worried about school size. I wanted to attend a large school for the diversity and range of opportunities, but I was concerned about the personalization I would receive. I thought I would risk just becoming an “ordinary student” and not have as many chances to put a name out for myself, but in reality it’s totally different. Even though there are a lot of students, there are equally as many opportunities to receive individual help. While it’s not perfect, and one must certainly be proactive, I can safely say now that it was an unnecessary concern.

If you could give tips to high school students on best navigating the college transition what would they be?

” 1. Always seek help, whether it be from teachers, or counselors/advisors, friends who’ve navigated the process before. For me at least, growing up, I didn’t think seeking help was necessary and tried to do everything myself, but I’ve found that here in the US, people are so willing to help each other and don’t expect everything to be done on an individual basis.

2. Actively seek out opportunities and frequently plan ahead career wise. Many universities hold activity fairs, and those are wonderful ways to find things to do. Be very proactive and have a plan, try anything that sounds interesting to you, both on campus and in the wider community. Planning ahead for academics is critical; I wish I had known all the requirements for premed specifically, as it can get pretty overwhelming, but talking to peers and advisors really helped me feel more in control of my life.

3. Learn to “market” yourself, and make good first impressions, as forming a core friend group early is wonderful, since you may stick with them for the rest of your college career and beyond. Being international, it’s a rather unique trait in the US, and being able to share such different lifestyles is a great feeling.

4. Learn to take some time off and relax to avoid burnout. This one is really important, since college is a huge step up from high school, and while life is more “free,” it is certainly more demanding. Being able to balance academics while still being able to do fun things with friends is key, and not “indulging” in either side too much.

5. Try to stay in contact with family. It’s especially difficult since, being international, I pretty much am only able to see my family a few times a year, so keeping in contact with them is always nice, both for you and them.”

How do you think student life contributed to your college experience?

“Student life is an immense portion of my college life. Aside from academics, so many things I do revolve around my newfound friends and groups. I’m really thankful that I signed up for a housing community for premed students, as I was able to make many friends and connections my first year.

Otherwise, joining clubs, forming casual study groups, and other opportunities has greatly shaped what I do at university and what I care about. Forming these new social bonds is one of the most important aspects of college, and it’s what makes it so much fun. Student culture here in the US, specifically the Midwest, has also left a great impact on me. I’ve realized that I feel much better when everyone around me is motivated but equally willing to help each other out, which is what I’ve experienced here at UofM. Everyone is incredibly talented and has great aspirations, yet everyone is still very willing to lend a hand and help each other surpass obstacles such as difficult classes.”

How did you navigate balance and time management between academics and extra curricular activities?

One of the hardest things when transitioning into college is probably time management, especially now that there isn’t anyone to force you to do anything. I think having a mindset that it’s time to really start putting effort into the things you have interest in, is important. It’s very easy to lose sight of one’s ultimate goal, whatever that may be, so time management is the best way to stay engaged and focused.

To do this, I personally like writing out all the things I have scheduled in a day, and work from there so I can gauge productivity. Talking with peers is also very helpful, as you can hear how many things they’re doing and emulate their schedule, and see if it is a good fit for yourself.

For some more concrete actions, I would perhaps say that aside from coursework, to have 5 other diverse activities, such as one physical, another one academically oriented, another being volunteering, one just for fun, and another for employment. Certainly, everyone is different and has differing desires, and overloading on activities is also not ideal, but having an ultimate goal for oneself, and working towards it in a healthy way, is really all there is to it.

Have further questions for Josh? Ask them below and Iris will get you the specific answers you need.

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