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A Duke Student's Advice on College Life: Build a life you don't need a vacation from

Updated: Apr 3, 2022

We had the privilege of interviewing Catherine McMillan (Duke '22) about College Life.

Catherine is:

  • a student at Duke University in North Carolina

  • a former student at the North Carolina Governor's School

  • her documentaries were featured in a screening at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

She shares some deep words:

  • "Balance is key."

  • " is urgent that we realize our interdependence as humans and use that mindset to fuel mechanisms that enable us all to thrive rather than just survive."

  • "...the eagerness to pursue too much at a time [can lead] to organizational fatigue..."

  • "...we need to invest in communities rather than assuming their needs or underestimating their capability to create change from within."

Q: How many classes do college students typically take?

A: Depends on where you go to school. Many colleges have different credit systems. At Duke, students take, on average, 4 classes per semester. A lot of students take half credit classes or overload to take 5 credits. But this also depends on your extracurriculars. Balance is key.

Q: Is it important that I get a job in college?

A: It’s not necessary right away but can certainly help you contribute to your education and/or build your savings. A lot of people have on campus jobs at the library or administrative centers. It really depends on your own situation.

Q: How should I structure my resume and what should I include?

Personal information in the header (Name, Email, Phone Number, Address)

Educational information (current high school, GPA)

Awards (academic, competitions, fellowships, etc)

Extracurricular activities [be sure to indicate leadership roles] (clubs, organizations, activities)

Relevant skills (languages, interests, competencies)

The extracurricular activities section is the most important because it can succinctly describe your level of involvement in a particular area of interest. Use active verbs and specific numbers/details where you can!


Launched a peer advising program for 30 underclass homerooms and prepared curriculum for developing College Readiness

Amplified youth-led initiatives through a wide-scale social media campaign that highlighted the stories and experiences of young people in the community

Finally, always be sure to indicate leadership positions and amount of time you’ve been involved.

Q: What clubs/activities are you involved in? (fraternities, tutoring, fellows, etc.)

A: I’m involved in student government, the school newspaper, local nonprofits in Durham, a dance group, and peer advising.

Q: How did you find programs to participate in in college?

A: The Undergraduate Activity Fair at Duke is a great opportunity to learn more about student organizations. There is also an online interface where it lists clubs/groups on campus. Universities also tend to have information about other programs outside of the university, including competitive fellowships, internships, and scholarships.

Q: As the co-founder and CEO of Greater Charlotte Area Mutual Aid, can you tell us why you decided to found it?

A: I felt a strong call to action when I came home. I wanted to be an active member of the community and support solidarity and resilience during this time of great uncertainty. Immediately, I messaged some of my friends in the area to launch a Facebook group, which served as a space to share resources, thoughts, and support. Our ideology as an organization is that we hold the collective power to support and uplift one another. During times of crisis and deepening of inequities, it is urgent that we realize our interdependence as humans and use that mindset to fuel mechanisms that enable us all to thrive rather than just survive.

Q: What obstacles did you face along the way and how did you overcome them?

A: As a youth-led organization, we have faced challenges. There have been situations where people have questioned our capability to pursue this work, trivializing our work and competency. Fortunately, there has mostly been support from the community!

Another challenge, that also accompanies being a youth-led organization, is finding our niche strengths and amplifying that. It is important that we take on projects that reflect our goals and missions. But the eagerness to pursue too much at a time has led to organizational fatigue several times over the summer. We have confronted this by going through several transition phases as we launch fall recruitment for interns and youth fellows.

Q: What is one goal you had in mind for GCA Mutual Aid, and is it related to anything you are studying in college or any career you hope to pursue?

A: Nonprofit leadership is something that I can see in my future. I think it connects to the fact that I am playing an active role in making a difference, committing myself to a cause. GCA Mutual Aid has been a unique opportunity for me to also have a closer look at how communities themselves hold a lot of power and potential. In order to fundamentally change how we allocate resources or approach cyclical issues, we need to invest in communities rather than assuming their needs or underestimating their capability to create change from within.

Q: What’s the hardest adjustment you had to make in college?

A: Managing 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Q: What do you spend your summers doing?

A: Fellowships, internships, projects. Anything to stay busy and engaged.

Q: How do you keep a balanced, healthy lifestyle/were you able to?

A: For the first two years of college, I can honestly say I did not have a healthy lifestyle. I did not get nearly enough sleep and I often pulled unnecessary all-nighters. Truly, I didn’t have enough work to justify staying up till the sun rose the next morning. Quarantine has actually given me a chance to reevaluate my habits and routine, which has encouraged me to start being more attentive to my physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

See Catherine's LinkedIn account here!

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