Dear First-Year Milena,
Welcome to Urbana-Champaign, the land of the corn, and exciting new opportunities and experiences! I know you’re excited to be here, in a new state with new people to meet. Everyone has been telling you that the next four years are going to be the best years of your life. Even though you’re enthusiastic about the adventure, you’re also wondering whether you’ll succeed and make the most of the four years. Spoiler alert: you will.
You knew that choosing a major such as Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE) meant things weren’t always going to be easy. But you went in with your head held high in your first college chemistry and physics courses. And then didn’t do as great as you thought. In high school, you didn’t need to study as much or put in as much effort. But I want to tell you that the professors and teacher's assistants are there to help you. Freshman year is when the foundation is built. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and look a little silly when you don’t understand a topic. Don’t get caught up sitting at the computer trying to figure out a homework problem or study extra long for exams. Go out and have fun with friends, get boba and pizza, watch movies in the dorms. You’ll get better as you take the difficult ChBE courses later on. Don’t miss out on the friendships.
You also came in thinking you knew what you want to do with your life. You thought you’d go to graduate school right after and then get a pharmaceutical job back in New York. As you participate in research and internships, you’ll understand more about what you want to get out of your career. Maybe you’ll realize that you do want to go to graduate school, but just not right after graduating. You wouldn’t have believed it if someone told Freshman Year Milena that you’d be staying in the Midwest for a bit longer working on home supplies. But I now have a full-time job with Procter and Gamble working as a process engineer in Missouri, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.
You’ll also realize that there are so many opportunities that the university provides. Look for them now and follow them! There are so many certificate programs that you can explore and pursue. For instance - I wish I had found out about the Leadership Certificate sooner! Perhaps you can be in a board position of a club and feel confident there. Apply for all the scholarships now. The recognition feels good and helps out with the tuition as well.
Say yes to as many opportunities as you can. Say yes to studying abroad in Spain, traveling all over Europe, and absorbing as much as you can there. But also relax more. Nothing is more important than your health. In the long term, what you’re anxious and stressed out about as a freshman will pass and you probably won’t even remember. Practice your hobbies – they’re important and what makes you unique; don’t neglect them. Meet as many people as possible. You might think at the moment that you’re all settled. But you’re not. Perhaps you’ll find your partner and you’ll know that it finally feels right. Trying is always better than not. Do as much as you can with the four years that you got.
I know that everything may seem overwhelming and that’s alright. It’s not always going to be easy, but you’re going to have so many wonderful experiences that you will wish you had a bit more time. Going to the University of Illinois was one of the best decisions you made. You’ll be so happy, meet new friends that’ll last a lifetime, and discover what you love to do. You’ll also struggle but you’ll become stronger and more resilient because of it. It’s not going to last forever, so appreciate every moment that you have.
Best of luck!
Senior / Graduating Milena