My First Semester at College

Warning: Long but thoughtful post ahead!

This second topic of the day was chosen by Alex S at Cornell (a different Alex S than the one who chose the post on marching band).

Alex and I both took Math 2230 and English 1170 last semester. Two is actually a high number of classes to have in common with someone else, in a large liberal arts program like Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences. There were two other people I know whom I had two classes with; one was in my History 2500 and CS 1610 classes, and the other in Sociology 1101 and CS 1610. But that’s it.

It’s not at all like high school. In my junior year of high school, for instance, I had 6 out of 8 classes the same with someone in the first semester, and 7 out of 8 in the second. (For Westwood HS people: If you figure out this person, you get an Internet cookie.)

At college my first semester went like this:

[more detailed schedule]

I’ll go through this reflection one class at a time.

Soc 1101: Intro to Sociology

Compared to my other classes, this one was a walk in the park. It was a really big park, but nonetheless a walk. The amount I studied for each exam:

  • Prelim 1: 30 minutes
  • Prelim 2: none
  • Prelim 3: 22 minutes, by myself, during the class right before
  • Final: 4 minutes, while trying to come up with ideas for this post just before the exam

Ended up getting an A in the class, though I feel if I actually tried (like studied for more than 4 minutes on the final…), it could easily have been an A+. Also, we had an extra credit opportunity worth 2 points on the total grade. I didn’t do it.

In spite of the easiness of the class, there was certainly much to learn. I gained a lot from most of my classes this semester, and this one is number 1 or 2.

English 1170: Short Stories (First-Year Writing Seminar)

Definitely one of my hardest classes. But overall, this course was truly able to improve my writing, much more so than any high school English class.

We also read some ridiculously good stories. I guess the class increased my appreciation for literature as well. My favorite ones were “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.

Received an A-, but I’m definitely happy with this. Based on calculations with the grades I was getting on my essays, I thought I had a B/B+. (For example, in the middle of the term, one essay was handed back to me with the instruction to rewrite it. :/) And yes, I can do math. Moral of the story: Be on good terms with your instructor?

Math 2230: Honors Linear Algebra and Calculus


—Myself on the difficulty of Math 2230

The most difficult class I have ever taken, period.

  • First prelim: 47/92. That’s a 51%. Curved to B.
  • Second prelim: 61/134. Or 46%. Curved to B-.
  • Final: I don’t know.

Somehow, I miraculously got an A- in the end. I actually didn’t study much for the first or second prelim. The second was take-home, but I didn’t start until two nights before it was due. Silly idea. For the final, I DID study. I had the math textbook open in front of me for hours in a row. Which is quite ironic, as I managed to get through high school without studying for math. For instance, I remember going through AP Calculus BC without opening the textbook, except for once for an open-book test in which we were to look up a complicated integral form.

Now, just because I had the textbook open does not mean I was actually studying. (My laptop was open too.) But I did feel that I far better on the final than on either of the prelims. Oh well.

CS 1610: Computing in the Arts

The bizarre thing is that this class is cross-listed also as CIS/ENGRI 1610, DANCE 1540, FILM 1750, MUSIC 1465, PSYCH 1650 [source]. In other words, it’s a multi-disciplinary class. So, as someone who partly aspires to be an academic polymath, I found this to be the perfect class.


I do want to share a funny story about this. One major portion of our grade was a single written exam (the only one we had):

  • Total time I studied for the exam: NONE, ZERO
  • Total time my RA studied for it: 8 hours, she says (oh yeah, my RA was in this class with me)

It was a fairly large (~120 people) class, so the professor put up the stats. Here we go:

  • Max possible score: 31
  • Max actual score: 25.5/31
  • Mean: 18.9/31
  • Median: 19.5/31

My score: 25.0. I was pretty happy with it considering how much I had (not) studied.

The other major portion of our exam was a project. I told my group members that I would write a blog post on this like two weeks ago, but I still haven’t! It will come eventually though, and it will be very musically related.

History 2500: Technology in Society

This was my most academically fun class. We started at roughly the Italian Renaissance and progressed to the modern day. Professor Kline is my favorite prof at Cornell so far. His lectures included a lot of information, but he always created some meaningful arguments/conclusions with the information given.

How much I slept, the night before each essay was due:

  • Essay 1: None (all-nighter)
  • Essay 2: None (all-nighter)
  • Essay 3: None (all-nighter)

Sorry! But I had fun writing writing them! Other than the essays, there was very little homework. I am still shocked at how much I learned in this class for doing so little work. Of my classes this semester, this one taught me the most.

Funny moment #1: We were discussing machine safety in the Industrial Revolution, after having wandered off a tangent in the lecture. Wanting to move on to the next slide, he says something like, “Let us shift gears.” And then he just stands there for like 5 seconds. He adds, “No pun intended.” I didn’t catch it before that, and I don’t think anyone else had either.

Funny moment #2: This one isn’t really a moment, but when he was talking about our essays, he said he could usually tell apart which ones are the “3 am papers,” and encouraged us to plan them well ahead of time and ask him questions about them. I got an A in the class, even though I literally started each essay the night before it was due.

The third essay was the most fun. It was over the novel Neuromancer, on which I plan to write a blog post at some point. Don’t recognize it? It’s by William Gibson, the guy who coined the term “cyberspace.” Anyways, we were supposed to have read the novel by Dec. 1, as we had a discussion on it that day. I didn’t finish it until Dec. 13, the day the essay was due.

It was a pretty cool novel actually. I finished it at around 12:30 am, then lol’d around until 2 am, then did planning/outlining until 3 am. Then I took another break and chatted with people, including Linda I remember because I was telling her that a character in the novel was also named Linda and that she reminded me of her every time she appeared. I managed to finish the essay at around 11 am, in the math library. (After turning it in, I slept from noon to 10 pm. Felt so good.)

What Else?

I wasn’t involved in many extracurricular activities last semester, though I did do marching band, which makes up for it in terms of quality over quantity. Yeah, Cornell’s band is pretty epic. The experience of being in it is quite awesome. Here’s the link to the post on marching band.


Academic life was good. With 2 A-‘s, 2 A’s, and 1 A+, I had a first-semester GPA of 3.9250 (thank you Westwood High School for training me to recite my GPA to four decimal places).

Social life was a little less than it could have been. Perhaps due to a couple of experiments that took up October and November.

Alright, it has been good hanging out back in Austin, Texas. I had a great Christmas, and I hope y’all are (almost) ready for 2011. Enjoy the rest of your holidays!

4 thoughts on “My First Semester at College

  1. I’ve read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”. We did in 7th grade. It’s one of those things that will probably stay with me for a long time…it was very dark.

    Also, have you read “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell? It’s a little bit along similar lines.


  2. randomly found myself on your blog but woah i took eng 1170 too. i guess she chose different books for your semester though. our theme was polyethnic identities or something like that, but they were all really good reads.


    1. Hi Janice! That’s pretty coincidental. But yeah, we had a short-story anthology called 40 Short Stories that we read from. There wasn’t really a theme to go along with it. Just literature.


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