College Conversations: Advice from FHS Alumni


Michaela Olah, Charlene Peng, Rachael Yuan

Michaela’s picture was taken for the Hear Your Song Wellesley College Chapter. Charlene’s pic was taken in a field. And Rachael’s pic was taken by her friend at a restaurant.

Nihara Lijan

From high school to college, the hard work and grind never ends… but does it get better? Let’s ask a couple of amazing former FHS students about their current experience in college: Michaela Olah, Charlene Peng, and Rachael Yuan! 

Olah is a junior attending Wellesley College majoring in Biology on the Pre-Med track, Peng is a freshman attending Williams College and is undecided on her major, and Yuan is a freshman attending UNC Chapel Hill with a double major in Neuroscience and Psychology with a minor in Education. 

When asked about their initial feelings about college, Olah noted that she had worked over the summer to save up money for public transportation and other college expenses, but also spent a lot of time with her family, friends and pets. Peng added how she was especially excited to gain independence and to attend interesting classes, stating, “this excitement was not without apprehension, so during the summer before moving in, I made sure to savor the time I had with my high school friends and my family.” Yuan mentioned how it can definitely be intimidating, saying she tried to make the most out of her summer because she was traveling far by spending a lot of time with family and working. In terms of college, Yuan said that she was nervous because UNC had 80% in-state students, so she was fearful of not fitting in with a friend group. However, she can confidently say that she was much less anxious after she attended orientation. 

Charlene on her Pre-Orientation Backpacking trip at Mount Greylock. (Charlene Peng)

During the end of senior year, Olah spent a lot of time preparing for college by applying for scholarships. Peng looked at course offerings as well extracurricular activities, taking time to connect with future classmates on social media. Yuan had mentioned how she kept up her grades and made sure to put a lot of effort into AP Exams, as the college credit is quite helpful. 

Charlene at Cello Shots Performance on Mountain Day: An annual tradition where classes are canceled to encourage students to go outside (Charlene Peng)






When asked about college thoughts presently, Olah said that she “loves it” and thinks it’s amazing how you can see yourself grow academically and socially. She never thought that she would be working as a student manager at a technology help desk or working with global collaborators in a research lab before college, and she enjoyed meeting people from various backgrounds and hearing their stories but also maintaining a good work-life balance in college. Peng feels settled into college currently, but still feels like she is adjusting to the academic pace and loves the plethora of opportunities that Williams provides to explore new academic interests, saying, “The culture here is very collaborative and my peers and professors have really inspired me.” Yuan mentioned how she missed home a lot, but she hasn’t come back to MA since mid August when she moved in. She emphasizes that she is grateful for the friends she has made, but since the course load is so rigorous at UNC, time management is important! 

Each of them have important things that it would be insightful for current seniors to know. Olah advises incoming freshmen to save everything from your FHS google drive since the emails most likely get wiped out, and to look into college discounts for materials. Peng suggests to do things for yourself and not your resume, and not to be bound to one specific path. She wants incoming freshmen to know that they are not alone in certain experiences like homesickness, social anxiety, or academic struggles – it happens for everyone. In addition, Yuan states that it is perfectly fine to do things alone, like going to clubs and eating at the dining hall. She emphasizes how “the people who are able to find opportunities independently and put themselves out there are the ones who make it far.” In terms of making friends, all three mention that it takes time to genuinely connect with people and try to make conversation even if it is a total stranger because everyone is on the same page and is nervous. 

Rachael with her friend walking to a cafe. In the background is the Old Well, which is a UNC landmark. (Rachael Yuan)

When asked about how the first week of school and what academic rigor is like, Peng mentioned that the schedule for the first week depends ultimately on the school. At Williams, she attended a week of orientation with four days being a pre-orientation program. The program Peng chose was a backpacking trip, which was a good way to make friends. In terms of academic rigor, she emphasizes how Williams academics are “no joke”. She would spend 5-6 hours after classes, keeping in mind that classes take up less time in the day compared to high school classes, just to study and do homework. It was hard to adjust to at first, but it is better now.

Yuan mentioned how the first week is definitely filled with a great deal of homework, and there is not much time to rest. In terms of academic rigor, she mentions how there is a high learning curve because of the newer subjects that she was introduced to (such as programming and religious studies), but grew to love them even though they were a lot of work!

For Olah, she did not have orientation her first year due to COVID, but her first week consisted of her getting lost on campus trying to find classrooms. In terms of academic rigor, Olah says that it definitely depends on the class and that “it is manageable with good time management. Office hours are your best friend!”

The view from Charlene’s weekly sunrise hike on her Pre-Orientation trip. (Charlene Peng)

When asked about potential advice they can give to current high school seniors during the college application process, they all mention similar things. Yuan says that feeling uncertain and anxious is very normal, but it is important to realize that every college has something unique to education. Uncertainty pushes you to “explore new areas, amalgamate your passions and find your callings”, Yuan claims. She also encourages students to reach out to her, or any other FHS alums, with any questions or uncertainties.

Olah advises that “it will all work out in the end,” and to surround yourself with people who support you. Peng advises that seniors look for a school that will best fit them but remember that regardless of where they go, they will find happiness there. “Even if you don’t, you can always transfer too – nothing is final and you choose your own way”, she assured. Lastly, Peng emphasizes that “there are infinitely many paths to the same destination and where you get into college is not a reflection of your worth or talent.”

Thank you to Charlene Peng, Rachael Yuan and Michaela Olah for providing amazing input through the lens of a college student – we wish you best of luck in your future endeavors!