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CMU Student Interview w/ S. Zafar | Part 7: Starting the New Beginning

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

S. Zafar, who attended Carnegie Mellon University, earned a 35 on her ACT, took 13 AP classes in high school, events' chair for FORGE (refugee empowerment club), the president of high school Amnesty International Chapter, and the president of Undergraduate Economics Journal at Carnegie Mellon.


Key points S. Zafar shares:

  • "Ultimately, I have learned the importance of having a dedicated team behind you and the joy of creating something you find of value."

  • "It is important to keep yourself accountable in order to avoid cramming weeks of material in a few days!"

Q: How would you describe the campus culture of Carnegie Mellon?

A: The student experience at Carnegie Mellon is in direct contrast to the “typical” college experience. The student body is rather small, and you will know most of the students by your second or third year (including a few of the graduate students). Furthermore, sports games and Greek life exist; however, not to the extent they are present in many state schools. Students at Carnegie Mellon are often stereotyped as introverted, stressed out, and nerdy. While I completely understand why that stereotype exists, I have found the students to be incredibly passionate and knowledgeable, supportive, and uplifting. People have asked me whether CMU has a cutthroat culture due to its academic rigor. In my experience, the academic rigor has brought us closer together. My freshman year, upperclassmen who I’d never spoken to would immediately offer to help explain concepts to me in the library when I was struggling, joking that they were once in my shoes. Although Carnegie Mellon lacks the social experience one would find on a typical college campus, I wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else.

Q: You are the president of the Tepper Undergraduate Research Journal at Carnegie Mellon. What have you learned and/or gained from this experience?

A: In many ways I felt as if I experienced deja vu from serving as President of the Amnesty International Chapter of my high school, despite leading completely different organizations. I once again was promoting my club in classes and on social media, delegating tasks and deciding which direction to take the journal, and collaborating with professors and peers. The role benefitted me academically, as the subject matter I was learning in my Economics courses were directly applied when analyzing and writing about different Economic policies and their effects. Furthermore, I gained insight on how many moving parts go into creating an online research journal: graphic and web design, research, writing, editing, outreach, etc. Ensuring everyone was on track to finish their portion of the journal was difficult; however, seeing it all come together for the first publication was immensely rewarding. What had started with a blank website and a few broad ideas transformed into a well researched article on a well designed website, and it was not possible without an incredible amount of dedication and teamwork. Ultimately, I have learned the importance of having a dedicated team behind you and the joy of creating something you find of value.

Q: How would you describe the differences between the coursework in high school compared to that of college?

A: The coursework is obviously much more demanding in college; however, I think where people struggle the most is with self motivation. In high school, your teachers often hold you accountable to understand the material and come to class, but in college it is expected of you to keep up with everything and most classes consist of a few major tests. It is important to keep yourself accountable in order to avoid cramming weeks of material in a few days!

Q: What does a typical day or week look like for you in college?

A: Waking up at around 8 am, checking my Google Calendar and my email, and getting ready for a day of online classes and work. After attending classes, office hours, club meetings, and work, I go to the gym. On weeknights, I usually complete my homework at night, and on weekends, I spend my evenings relaxing with friends.

Q: How do you spend your free time in college?

A: I enjoy going to concerts, checking out local Pittsburgh coffee shops and restaurants with friends, and working out! Unfortunately, due to COVID, I’ve been watching documentaries and hanging with friends virtually for the most part.

Thanks for reading!
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