College During Covid! Questions for freshman college students about their journey to college and current experience with it. This week’s edition is centered around Vanderbilt.

Let’s meet the students!

I’m Sarene, a freshman at Vanderbilt. I’m currently living in Towers, which was supposed to be destroyed this year, but luckily for me, was kept due to needing more rooms for students. I enjoy fishing, am a cat enthusiast, and cannot wait for my new skateboard to arrive.

I’m John, and I used to be a child actor. I really enjoy singing and learning languages. I think my love of languages was one of my spikes on my application. I also really enjoy computers and learning about random things on the internet, and I have been getting into watching more TV shows and anime (there’s also a big VANIME club at Vandy if you’re into that). I’ve also developed a newfound love of skateboarding thanks to someone I met here.

What are you studying at Vanderbilt?

Sarene — I’m planning to double major in cognitive science and computer science. I’m not sure if I’ll go for any minors yet, but I am interested in neuroscience.

John — Comp Sci, Sociology, and a Chinese minor.

What opportunities/extracurriculars are you planning to pursue?

Sarene — Right now, my list includes Women in Computing, Women in Stem Fields, Golf club, Table tennis, Vandyhacks, and Interaxon (service organization that teaches neuroscience). I’m also interested in fishing, global study abroad, and lab research.

John — Club Sailing, some Comp Sci clubs, and hopefully a Chinese related organization.

What are some reasons you applied to Vanderbilt?

Sarene — When I was looking into Vanderbilt, some of the things that stuck out to me were the financial aid, the great food, the happy students, and how common double-majoring can be. I also really wanted to get away from home.

John — Wanted a culture shock since I’m from California, and I’ve always wanted to explore the South.

How was the application process? Do you have any advice about it?

Sarene — For me, the essays were easy enough that the prompts don’t especially stand out to me. I believe you just write about one of your extracurricular activities. I would say that you should just be honest and passionate. There is an interview, but don’t judge yourself or the entire school based on that one experience. My interviewer was the worst of all interviewers and actually made me kinda dislike Vandy, so I’m glad that I didn’t just focus on that. In general, don’t stress too much if your grades are average. Oh, and if you get on the waitlist, write that letter of continued interest! Just do it!

John — It’s mostly stressful if you wait until the last minute to start your essays. Do extracurriculars you love in high school so you can be passionate about them when writing your application essays and in the Activities section on the Common App!

What are some other schools you applied to?

Sarene — I applied to UMichigan and MIT for their computer science programs. However, I was also interested in LACs for their close knit community and interdisciplinary nature of most of their classes. Some of the schools on my list were Williams and Carleton (decent for both computer science and cognitive science), and Washington & Lee, Swarthmore, WashU (great research opportunities for cognitive science).

John — I also applied to Cornell, Brown, Middlebury, and Duke, as well as the UCs in California. I think they’re pretty similar to Vandy in terms of academic rigor, but the location and vibes can be way different.

Did you visit Vanderbilt?

Sarene — Nope! No money, no time, and I didn’t get into the fly-in.

John — I didn’t visit before coming here sadly but I absolutely love the campus! It’s so beautiful, and I really can’t believe I get to study in a place like this!

What should people know about Vanderbilt?

Sarene — Well, the food is really good, the campus is covered with pretty trees and feisty squirrels, the people are the best, and the student vibe is one that really encourages a growth mindset and collaboration. Overall, everybody is really chill and the environment is super conducive to learning. It’s definitely not super competitive!

John — The south is super humid. Bring a ton of shirts so you can change if needed! I think people will be pretty forgiving though, because Vandy has a really kind student body and everyone is gonna be damp by the end of the day. Also, also bring bug spray, or at least be mindful of the bugs, because there are a ton of mosquitos around that will give you bites like there’s no tomorrow.

In what ways do you belong at Vanderbilt?

Sarene — I think I can contribute a lot to the growth of this community while also growing both intellectually and emotionally. A lot of what connects us together is our willingness to engage and be open. That’s something I really appreciate and want to play a part in. I knew as soon as I got here that this environment was the one for me.

John — I think I belong here because there are a ton of really bright kids who won’t step on you and will actually stop to help you, whether it be when you need to find a place on/off campus, work on an assignment, or just need some emotional support. The teachers are also super nice and helpful, and they really want you to succeed. Basically, I really appreciate it when people are just nice and help out, so I do my best to reciprocate and treat people how I’d like to be treated.

How do you feel about your school’s reaction to COVID?

Sarene — Well, first of all, Vanderbilt was able to coordinate having its students on campus, which is a big plus for me. Overall, most of the reaction is just the typical rules to keep us safe. They’ve enforced mask-wearing both indoors and outdoors, and stay six feet apart. We also need to record our symptoms daily on this online app and do mandatory weekly testing at a local health center. However, there are still lots of communal activities, so we’re not like isolated little ducks slowly going crazy. I feel pretty good about Vanderbilt’s response to COVID.

John — I think Vandy has done a great job of handling COVID compared to many other schools. Some of my friends at other schools are in places where masks aren’t worn and their universities haven’t tested them, so I feel very grateful for the opportunity to be both in-person (shoutout to all my remote folks, you’re amazing) and getting weekly tests. Although some large gatherings can take place and not get handled for a while, the campus officers mostly do a good job of keeping things under control by encouraging people to keep their distance.

What do you think about your current learning environment?

Sarene — I’m pretty comfortable. I think Vanderbilt has a great mix of hybrid classes. Of my five classes, one of them is always person, another is hybrid (half in person/half online), and the rest are all remote. It can be tempting to just sleep in class, especially remote class because nobody is watching, but I’m forcing myself not to. I did it once in psychology, but after missing a ton of valuable information that I needed for a test, I vowed to stop. Another tip is to not use a virtual background because it can get very distracting.

John — My current learning environment is super nice! Sometimes I just don’t feel like getting out of bed, so I appreciate the fact that I have some classes on Zoom. However, my in-person classes are also great, as they force me to get out of bed and grab some food from the dining halls, which offer delicious food! My location on campus is super convenient, as it gives me access to two of the nicest dining halls on campus.