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University Honors Programs - good or bad?
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funkboy
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Mar 13, 2002, 01:55 PM
 
I'm deciding whether or not I should enroll into a university honors program. Who has experience with these programs, and do you think they're worth the time/effort?

I imagine I'll be plenty busy in college without having honors courses, but maybe I'd really learn something from them...
     
kidtexas
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Mar 13, 2002, 02:09 PM
 
Hmmm... I went to a small liberal arts college. I personally think you are better off at a small college rather than an honors program at a big university.

I'm in grad school now at a big university. It has further reinforced my opinion. The small, personal atmosphere was perfect for undergrad, and for grad school, larger (richer) universities offer more research/learning opportunity. For the record, this was in physics for both...

Sorry for not answering your question, but as someone who has spent the last 4 years in college, and the next 5 in grad school (including the current one), I understand your question. Here is another perspective.
     
Lerkfish
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Mar 13, 2002, 02:11 PM
 
I went through the honors program some 20 years ago. It was more work, to be sure, but it was a much more enriching curriculum. Many of the topics and subjects and things I'd learned I still have with me, which is more than I can say for some of the other courses I took.

you can say you graduated with honors, and for some jobs that's a plus (not for mine but for some).

You also get a meet a very sharp, usually quirky and therefore interesting group of people. In these classes, you'll learn as much or more from your peers than your profs.
     
mitchell_pgh
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Mar 13, 2002, 02:25 PM
 
Honors programs *can* be put you on a better path, BUT a *Honors* degree from tom-dick-and-harry University doesn't mean S#|+ against a degree from MIT, Stanford, Harvard, (depending upon major naturally). The major really is a big issue. I would say look at U.S. News and World Reports when picking a college. Go to the school with the best reputation that you can afford. It will pay for itself if you are motivated. You want to go to a college where people have high expectations.

What university are you considering?
     
ringo
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Mar 13, 2002, 02:42 PM
 
More work, but you'll probably have access better faculty and resources than you would taking regular classes. The professors I had in my honors classes were great compared to regular staff faculty.
Who you're learning from is important if you're going to maintain your interest in what you're learning. Go for it.
     
boots
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Mar 13, 2002, 02:53 PM
 
The honors classes I took at U of Michigan were more work, but were a lot more interesting that the non-honors classes. While most of the general topics were the same, the honors program always put a fresh spin that the genereal classes couldn't because of size and resources.

Honors looks better on your transcript for grad-school/job interviews within your field of study, but that also deponds on your school's overall ranking and the major in particular. As a chem major, the honor program was not all that spectacular or helpful in the future, so I ended up dropping the honors track. It allowed me to diversify my courses without taking too many credits. But also remember that the average worker now averages 8 job changes over three distinct fields. In the overall scope, whatever program gives you the most well rounded and broadest education will serve you best...honors or not.

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funkboy  (op)
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Mar 13, 2002, 04:57 PM
 
Thanks for the great replies everyone. Very interesting and just what I was looking for so far.

For those wondering, right now I'm planning on engineering, either computer (more specialized, probably limits job possibilities) or electrical (much more general, learn almost the same things as in computer) . I already know a bit of computer science, and engineering covers a good bit of computer programming anyway, so I figure I might as well aim in the direction I don't know much about - the insides of computers. I already know the outsides of computers pretty well.

I'm considering an in-state college, MIT, and Harvard (yeah, no big constrast there, eh? ) . MIT and Harvard would be very expensive, while the in-state college would be almost completely paid for (with various scholarships I've received so far) .

As far as my original question goes, I guess I'm just unsure whether or not to take on more homework. I've been out of school due to medical things for the last few days and have rediscovered that I like having a life outside of schoolwork - my classes are pretty heavy, and I really like doing stuff for my small business (web site design and a bit of Mac shareware) .

Studying is fine, and I realize that college will be much more of a load than high school, so I'm also trying to decide whether I should put the small business completely on hold for a couple years while I get my degree, or keep it going while getting my education. I've had this small business since fourth grade, so it's pretty much inseparable with me - however, if I need to just learn, I could put it off to the side. I'll need some spending cash in college, though!

Ramble ramble ramble... please, add your thoughts.
     
Timo
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Mar 13, 2002, 06:39 PM
 
To answer the question simply: University Honors Programs good.

Originally posted by mitchell_pgh:
Honors programs *can* be put you on a better path, BUT a *Honors* degree from tom-dick-and-harry University doesn't mean S#|+ against a degree from MIT, Stanford, Harvard, (depending upon major naturally).
Strongly disagree. The trick about Harvard, MIT et al is getting in. The trick about honors colleges is doing the work and earning the degree.

For instance, a famous degree might get you a good first job, but after you've been out awhile, people want to know what you did there, rather than where you went to school.

Now I'm not saying that an Honors degree from NDSU is better than a run-of-the-mill degree from the 'Vard or Tech. There's more to the university experience than the type of degree. But I would not be quick to denegrate the value of honor's study.

mitchell_pgh is right, though, if he he is talking about perceived value: a famous Uni degree's perceived value will tend to trump a non-famous one. This has nothing to do with how hard you worked for the degree, either. It's very odd. Famous degrees give graduates the sense that they are truly a cut above. It's kind of like a positive fallacy prophesy: because they got in, they must be smart, and then they come to believe this story.

Again, I'm not saying that famous Uni grads are dumb, but rather that the whole admission process "blesses" or "elevates" successful candidates. You, of course, might want to be in this group.

Puttin' it all together: if you can get into MIT, go. Put the business on hold or transfer it East with you. If you want to go local definitely do honors...but my bias would be for you do leave ND and see a bit more of the world even Minneapolis is different enough.

Just me two cents.
     
yoyo52
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Mar 13, 2002, 09:34 PM
 
i think you can answer the question in several ways, as some of the answers have suggested. The most important thing is that an honors class will give you a much more interesting (read challenging and work-intensive) experience. You'll also have much greater access to faculty members (at least that's true in a larger school where access is sometimes a problem; in a small school, access should be a given, and if you're not given it regardless of whether you're in honors or not, you ought to transfer).

I don't think that having been in an honors program is significant in moving from college to the work place, although I'd be happy to be proven wrong on that. On the other hand, it definitely is important if you plan to go to graduate school. Having written an undergraduate honors thesis will get you more notice from a graduate department, no doubt about it.

About the difference between ivies/Stanford, etc. and non-ivies, there are again different answers depending on the sort of work you want to do. If you're in a schmoozing sort of major, leading to a schmoozing sort of job, then the more "important" folk you have contact with, the better your schmoozing will be. Harvard and so on definitely have a legacy contingency of undergraduates (a legacy is affirmative action for the rich and famous) who represent a terrific schmoozing resource.

For humanities and relatively non-schmoozing majors, a good,small college will get you where you want to go. I've had students in my classes who've gone on to graduate school at Harvard, Yale, Brown, Univ. of Texas, Univ. of PA, Univ of Michigan, etc. It's the graduate program that ultimately determines the career future of the student.

If you're into technical subjects, places like MIT obviously can offer you a great deal more than a small college simply because those big places have an infrastructure that the small colleges can't begin to afford, and a cadre of professors who, if you can get to study with them, are impossible to duplicate at a small school.

Keep in mind too that Harvard has an honors program as well, and no doubt so does MIT (I know the one, but not the other), so that the comment that it's better to go to Harvard than to participate in an honors program is a distinction that doesn't hold water. Even if you do go to Harvard you have the choice to make--and even at Harvard it's true that the honors program leads to more interesting classes, etc.

In the small liberal arts college where I teach, which has traditionally specialized in applied sciences, particularly biology as an avenue to medical school, the honors programs is a godsend to students and to professors both. In those classes an already select body of students will select itself out once again. The result is very copacetic. That's certainly true in the literature classes for majors that I teach. It's also true for the general studies honors classes that I teach.

What all this boils down to is whether you want to be really engaged in your education of whether you want to coast a bit. There's nothing wrong with the second option, really, but the first option is so much more entertaining that, if you have been invited to do it, you should definitely get into an honors program.
And that's true too.--Shakespeare, King Lear
     
milhous
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Mar 13, 2002, 10:17 PM
 
Originally posted by funkboy:
<STRONG>Thanks for the great replies everyone. Very interesting and just what I was looking for so far.

For those wondering, right now I'm planning on engineering, either computer (more specialized, probably limits job possibilities) or electrical (much more general, learn almost the same things as in computer) . I already know a bit of computer science, and engineering covers a good bit of computer programming anyway, so I figure I might as well aim in the direction I don't know much about - the insides of computers. I already know the outsides of computers pretty well.

I'm considering an in-state college, MIT, and Harvard (yeah, no big constrast there, eh? ) . MIT and Harvard would be very expensive, while the in-state college would be almost completely paid for (with various scholarships I've received so far) .

As far as my original question goes, I guess I'm just unsure whether or not to take on more homework. I've been out of school due to medical things for the last few days and have rediscovered that I like having a life outside of schoolwork - my classes are pretty heavy, and I really like doing stuff for my small business (web site design and a bit of Mac shareware) .

Studying is fine, and I realize that college will be much more of a load than high school, so I'm also trying to decide whether I should put the small business completely on hold for a couple years while I get my degree, or keep it going while getting my education. I've had this small business since fourth grade, so it's pretty much inseparable with me - however, if I need to just learn, I could put it off to the side. I'll need some spending cash in college, though!

Ramble ramble ramble... please, add your thoughts. </STRONG>
Personally, I think it's much better to have the distinction of graduating either summa cum laude, magna cum laude, or cum laude. With this distincion, you definately raise eyebrows wherever you go.

In relation to affording education at the nation's top universities, DON'T just shut them out because they cost a lot of money. The Ivies are very well endowed and will give as much money as you want as long as you have demonstrated need. Even the lower-ranking of the Ivies (that's what I hear) such as Penn have around a $5 billion endowment (you might imagine what Harvard, Yale or Princeton has) and people who graduate from these types of institutions have very little or nothing to paypack. My friend at Yale should know, he's being taken care of very well, then again he was valedictorian of his high school class, so he deserves it.

If you've got the mind and the grades, there's nothing stopping you from getting the best education possible.

Make your decision on schools after you've applied, been accepted, and have sent you a financial aid package.

edit: forgot to mention that if you're technically oriented, MIT, Carnegie-Mellon, CalTech and others are just as well endowed or even moreso than the Ivies. No, unfortunately, I do not attend an Ivy league school. But I do live across from one.

[ 03-13-2002: Message edited by: milhous ]
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yoyo52
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Mar 13, 2002, 11:44 PM
 
Originally posted by milhous:
<STRONG>

In relation to affording education at the nation's top universities, DON'T just shut them out because they cost a lot of money. The Ivies are very well endowed and will give as much money as you want as long as you have demonstrated need. Even the lower-ranking of the Ivies (that's what I hear) such as Penn have around a $5 billion endowment (you might imagine what Harvard, Yale or Princeton has) and people who graduate from these types of institutions have very little or nothing to paypack. My friend at Yale should know, he's being taken care of very well, then again he was valedictorian of his high school class, so he deserves it.

If you've got the mind and the grades, there's nothing stopping you from getting the best education possible.

Make your decision on schools after you've applied, been accepted, and have sent you a financial aid package.

edit: forgot to mention that if you're technically oriented, MIT, Carnegie-Mellon, CalTech and others are just as well endowed or even moreso than the Ivies. No, unfortunately, I do not attend an Ivy league school. But I do live across from one.

[ 03-13-2002: Message edited by: milhous ]</STRONG>
Couldn't agree more. Lack of money is not an issue with schools that are as well endowed as the ivies. If they want you, they'll make sure you can afford it. One result, by the way, is that harvard is one of the most ethnically diverse campuses I've ever been in. From that point of view, it's a real pleasure.
And that's true too.--Shakespeare, King Lear
     
davechen
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Mar 14, 2002, 12:08 PM
 
I'd echo Yoyo's comment, that if you goal is graduate school, what college you went to is not as important. As long as you do good work, demonstrate your abilities, you can get into better graduate programs regardless of what school you go to. Althoguh you might get more leeway with a better name school. I think I did, since my gpa was average.

If you just want a BA/BS then having a degree from a big name school is probably a good idea. An honors degree from an in-state school isn't going to have the cachet of a big name school. Especially if you go far away where people don't know about the in-state school.

Of course that doesn't really say anything about which would give you the better college experience. At just about every school you can be a dumbass/slacker and get a degree, or you can find an interesting, challenging curriculum.

In my experience, going to a relatively big name school (berkeley) the lower level courses were big and taught by lecturers. The upper level classes were better. Smaller and taught by professers doing research in the area.
     
BRussell
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Mar 14, 2002, 12:37 PM
 
Honors programs vary a lot by school. Some are just individual courses - usually smaller, taught by real profs rather than grad students, accelerated pace, etc. You can register for them on a course-by-course basis. They'll probably show up on your transcript with an indication that it was an honors course.

Other schools have a real honors program, and you have certain privileges when you join. For example, one program I know had a wine-tasting course that was only available to students in the honors program - I guess they kept out the drunk riff raff that way.
     
dreilly1
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Mar 14, 2002, 02:47 PM
 
I am a graduate of a University Honors Program at a big State University (SUNY Buffalo). I got a BSEE there, and went on to get a MSEE at Carnegie Mellon (w/a full Research Assistanceship). I think I know where you're coming from.

The first question you need to ask yourself is how good the engineering program is at the school in general -- in particular, (if graduate school might be your goal), what research is being done there. (Most profressor's web sites have their research interests on them.)I guarantee the programs at the name schools will be objectively better. But you can probably get a similar education at the state school if their graduate school is doing research you're interested in, and you manage to get involved in those projects later in your stay there. But of the school is doing little research, it may not be worth it.

Also remember that, while you may have more of an opportunity to tackle advanced topics as an undergrad in a name school, so will everyone else. You might be able to benefit more from getting a little more personal attention at a state school. That state school may be bigger, but if you manage to get into some advanced (even graduate) courses during your later years there, you'll defintely get more of the professor's time.

In order to have the time to do this in your later years, make sure you start working from the beginning! The biggest mistake I saw people make in college was thinking they could slack the way they did in high school, and ending up in a heap of trouble. Once you fall behind, especially in an engineering curriculum, it's hard to catch up. And even one 2.0 on your transcript could suck down your GPA, which is bad if Grad School is your goal. And make no mistake- every engineering curriculum is difficult, I don't care which school you go to!

I had preferred registration in the Honors Program, which was the biggest plus, by far. It meant that you were able to plan your schedule better, even planning according to how close the buildings are or taking (or not taking) early-morning classes. That really makes it easier to get all your work done, and may even make it easier to take that extra class. I also had preferred housing, which at UB was a plus, but may not be an issue at other schools.

I has access to special Honors Courses, which were hit or miss. I would have been bored in regular Calculus, for instance, but my Honors Calculus course was really interesting. But I avoided the Honors Physics course because I heard the teacher was a real... well... you know. The availability of these courses alone shouldn't guide your decision.

Most of the other "features" of the program were either too lame to bother mentioning or genuinely annoying. But the Preferred Registration made up for all that.

To make a long story short, you can get an education on a State school that approaches the "Name" Schools, you just have to work harder at creating the right opportunities for yourself. The right Honors Programs can give you a way to 'grease the skids' to help that process along.

Plus, with the money they'll save, you might be able to talk your parents into buying you a car

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Timo
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Mar 14, 2002, 02:55 PM
 
Originally posted by dreilly1:
And make no mistake- every engineering curriculum is difficult, I don't care which school you go to!
Prolly the best compliment I got as an undergraduate came from my Iraqi-born, Italian cursing engineering suite-mate. One night, emerging from my room after staying up all night to finish a paper, I heard Sami announced to our other suite-mate (also an engineer): "You know, I think Timo works almost as hard as we do."
     
funkboy  (op)
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Mar 14, 2002, 05:37 PM
 
Thank you everyone for all the opinions, it's great.

The overall feeling I'm getting from you folks and people at school and other places is that I should go for the honors classes (haven't read the last few posts, will get to that later) .

However, I have an interesting note to report. I figured I might as well ask my question about doing honors to the source itself - the man in charge of the program. Here was my letter to him:
Hi *instructor's name*,

I have a question about the *college name* Honors Program: Should I join it?

I already have the *college name* Facts sheet and have read all about the program, and now I'm just on the fence as to whether or not I should join. Sell me on this honors program; what's the real benefit of the program? Will it be just a bunch of extra work, or will it really be a worthwhile addition to my college experience?

Thanks for answering this very vague question :-)
Here was the reply I received:
Dear Mr Becker:
The honors program at *college name* is designed for highly motivated students who like to read, get into discussions about ideas, and aren't afraid to do something which has no obvious "profit." So, your question about needing to be "sold" on the program suggests that perhaps it is not for you. Honors programs in general are largely for self-satisfaction, for forming mental habits that may change the way you see things, not to mention the way you do your job (rather than getting you one, though having the honors designation might well help that too). It involves some risk, since it might poke a hole in your confident world and you'll see something on the other side. Let me know what you decide.
Now, I hate to say it, and don't want to be an oversensitive teenager, but this almost seems like a slap in the face. I think my question on being "sold" on the program was a valid one - I'd imagine someone in charge of a program would be interested and helpful in encouraging people to join his program, but this instructor did not seem that way. (now I suppose he'll be looking at this message board ) And really, I think confidence is a good thing to keep, since there's no lack of people who will issue put-downs/insults/bad feelings at every possible opportunity...

Some people have told me not to enter a program with an instructor who's like this... any thoughts on this? If the instructor is reading this, let me say I mean no disrespect at all, I'm just interested in opinions.

[edit: what maybe didn't come across in the above post was: I think my question was valid because I was asking what benefits I'd receive. He seemed to say I didn't need any benefits expressed explicitly - if someone goes into something without knowing the benefits of that task, though, that seems a silly, unwise thing to do...]

[ 03-14-2002: Message edited by: funkboy ]
     
BRussell
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Mar 14, 2002, 06:29 PM
 
That's a pretty funny response, and I know exactly where it's coming from.

The new model of education is the "consumer model," and it ticks off faculty to no end. Basically, it says that the student is the customer, the faculty are service employees, and your corporation (i.e., college) has to compete with other corporations for customers.

It's in direct opposition to the liberal education model, which says that the goal of college is knowledge and enlightenment and all those good things. And these honors programs tend to be dominated by the liberals arts people.

You simply triggered the "consumer model" in this person with these statements: "Sell me on this honors program; what's the real benefit of the program? Will it be just a bunch of extra work, or will it really be a worthwhile addition to my college experience?," and this person reacted.

I mean come on, would you be impressed by a student who basically said to you "is this just going to be a bunch of extra work - what's really in it for me?"

But anyway, I don't think you can read anything into it. You just ticked him off a little.
     
djkimothy
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Mar 14, 2002, 07:59 PM
 
What's the difference in having an honours program in the US and not going into one.

Currently I'm taking Honours Chemistry here in Ontario. The real difference in an Honour and major here is that a major lasts 3 years while an honour program lasts 4 years, plus a mandatory honours thesis. Also, students in honours programs have the ability to go to graduate school.

I have to say, the better your degree, the more attractive you'll look for future employment. Also, you have the satisfaction knowing that you are a better person than most people you'll encounter in this small world of ours.

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Mar 14, 2002, 08:55 PM
 
I think BRussell's analysis of the honor's prof's reply is spot on. The guy isn't dissuading you from joining the honors program; rather, he's saying "we're going to ask questions and do stuff that isn't quantitatively or obviously beneficial is that for you?"

His prickly response has to do with your wording: "Sell me on this." Hey, education isn't a car or a dishwasher, even if there are efforts by many to make it seem that way. [This is the "consumer" model of higher education BRussell alludes to.] Also, there's a reason for the extra work in honors. There's an ideology behind it; BRussell talks about how it is a part of the classic liberal-arts outlook. You might want to investigate if such is for you. [I personally think it's one of the best things in the world.]

As to whether you'd want to work with such a person: 1) he bothered to mail you a response, which is good, and 2) he bothered to ask you to tell him what you decide, which is also good. Attention in higher education is good, unless you're there to just collect the degree and a number of hang-overs. The other stuff he wrote is saying, basically: hey, we're gonna challenge you and you'd better like being challenged, because the point of our educational program is to expand your brain. Not necessarily to get you the best-paying job (though that might happen, it's not the main point). If you don't agree with at least some of this outlook then you're not gonna like it.
     
dreilly1
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Mar 15, 2002, 11:37 AM
 
Originally posted by funkboy:
<STRONG>

Some people have told me not to enter a program with an instructor who's like this... any thoughts on this? </STRONG>
Heh. This guy's good. I liked the part about "poking a hole in your confident world". It seems insulting, but as another poster put it, he's simply trying to make sure that you're joining the program for the right reasons.

The right reason is that you want to feel challenged at the school, and you are willing to do extra work if it means that you "get more" out of your education.

The wrong reason is that you've always been in the "advanced" classes all your life, and you just feel the normal curriculum may be "beneath" you.

I understand the point that BRussell is making about the "consumer" model vs. the "liberal" model, but I always saw elements of both in my undergraduate experience. Maybe it's just my engineering/technical background, but I see the "liberal" model as putting too much emphasis on learning for learning's sake, and not enough on learning to meet my personal educational goals. I saw my goals as being broader than just "get a good-paying job after graduation", but more narrow than "Develop a broad base of random knowledge just because I can". More like "Become exceptional in my chosen field, while not ignoring the other aspects of my education."

Remember, also, that his program may not be geared toward Engineers. As a matter of fact, once you join the program, they may try to convince you to change majors, take another liberal-arts major at the same time, or take longer to get your BSEE, just to get a more well-rounded education. They tried to did that to me -- I simply informed them that I was pretty sure I knew what I wanted to do, and if I changed my mind, I'll be sure to let them know. They didn't like that. They couldn't understand why I woudn't want any of these options. I simply wanted to concentrate my time and effort in what I knew best. I took my non-engineering classes seriously, spent a lot of time and effort in them, and got a lot out of them, but I simply did not want to focus on them as the a main thrust of my education. That pissed them off to no end!

I'm not saying that this same path will necessarily work for you. Open your mind, and ask yourself why you want to even go to college. "Because everyone else is" or "Because my parents insist" is not the right answer, of course. And only you can answer that question for yourself. Who knows, the prospect of getting a BSEE AND a BA in Music or History or Graphic Arts may be more appealing to you than it was to me! These are the people any Honors program would LOVE to have! (And, it's also a good reason why the State School may be better than a place like MIT).

It's OK to feel a little insulted at his response. But if you're right for this program, you should feel challenged at the prospect of "getting out of your comfort zone" and learning interesting things that serve to broaden your mind. Just remember that you are the only person who can say what interests you. Keep an open mind, and take advantage of the opportunities you see, and you should do fine, wherever you go.

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