College Life and Mental Health

When I was at a graduate school working on my dissertation, I suffered anxiety attack. I didn’t know it was anxiety attack but I felt like I was going to die. Symptoms included waking up in the middle of night, shortness of breath, chest pain, and uncontrollable shaking during a meeting or having lunch with a friend. I got scared for no reason whenever I was indoor. At night I went outside to take a deep breath. If I was with someone at a meeting or a restaurant, I pretended going to a restroom but I rushed outside.
This “dark cloud” or “scary feeling” choked me without any sign or warning every day. I had the enormous pressure from my advisor to publish my research, and I expected big accomplishment myself. But I could not function as a normal person. I honestly thought I might have to go to a mental institution. I wished I had some physical illness like broken leg rather than suffering from a mental illness. Many people including me still see a person with mental illness as a crazy or nut and somehow that was his/her fault. Mental illness definitely carries some stigma. I thought of burning myself on campus or jump out from my second floor window rather than being locked in a mental institution.
How did I recover from it? I was exhausted, mentally and physically, and really wanted to feel normal again. So I sought any help I could think of. I received some counseling from an on-campus psychologist. I even called a suicide prevention office in the middle of night because I was so lost and desperate. Also, I went to see a medical doctor to verify what I was really suffering from. A MD confirmed that I had an anxiety attack. It was a very sad diagnose. I was shocked and thinking, “Me? Anxiety Attack? I am not crazy, am I?” Finally I conceded the fact that I was having anxiety attack, I made a decision to share my secret to some trusting friends. What a relief I felt! I found out some of my friends had a panic attack from work or school in the past but I never knew about it until I told them my story. “You are not alone.” “You are OK.” These were words from my friends set me free. Consequently I decided to drop out from Ph.D. program. I felt like a failure but I remembered the encouraging words from my pastor. She said, “Just because you failed one thing, you are not a failure. A failure is someone who never try anything new or challenging.”
College can be stressful. If you are not a traditional college student, it is more stressful. If you don’t have a good friend at a school you attend, it is stressful as well. If you receive a bad grade at college courses – C, or D, or fail a class, it makes you cringe, especially if you used to be a top student at high school.
You might get well-adjusted in college life but if you face a problem, do not keep it yourself. Keeping it a secret make you more depressed and helpless. Talk to someone you can trust and not judge you. They are more likely your friends, parent, mentor, a counselor, or psychologist. Find someone you can trust and talk about it. There is no shame in sharing your struggle!

Choosing a college when you don’t know what you want to be or study

This topic is tough one and very common. I honestly did not really know what to major at college before starting my freshman year at University of Washington. People in this category might be thinking “I will figure out what I want to study while I am in college.” If this sounds like you, ask yourself and/or research the followings:
1. What do you like doing even you don’t get paid?
2. What is your strength? For example, are you good at analyzing large amount of data? Are you good at interacting with people? Your strength is something it comes out from you naturally without much effort.
3. What kind of jobs are there using your skills and passions? If a college major of your interest does not have any practical use in the real world, you might want to rethink of the study field.
4. What potential earnings do these jobs give you? Money is not everything but financial independence will give you more freedom.

O.K., some of you might say, “I love singing.” Or “I like playing a basketball.” I personally love playing the piano and wanted to be a pianist. These are great passions but I must tell you that there are no middle class for art, entertainment, music, and sport fields. I do not want you to lose your dream but I want you to think what you can do with your skills to earn a decent income. Passion and dream alone is not enough. Unfortunately the most of us are not the top performers. So if you want to study singing at college, think of what other skills you can acquire at college and use all skills to market yourself in the real world. For example, if you earn English and music degrees at college, then you might be able to market yourself as a music writer for music magazine or website.

Passion alone is not enough; job marketability alone worn you out later. Ask yourself what you love to do and then how you could apply your passion and college degree for your future.

How to decide which college you will attend?

If you know why you want to go to college and what you want to study, your college choice could be narrowed down in your favor. More specific goal you have, you will find the appropriate schools. For example, my cousin had a dad who became terminally ill while she was in high-school. She wanted to help sick and injured people so she picked a nursing school and became a registered nurse. Knowing what you want to be and how and what college degree helps achieving your goal is the most important. If you know what you want, Congratulations! Research which school has the specific study field and program. School website will tell you the curriculums and expertise of each faculty member.

The second step is writing down the cost of schools you have in mind. They should include:

  • Tuition – most likely the biggest cost
  • Books – surprisingly huge burden if you don’t shop around! Reading assignments from professors are usually overpriced books written by the professors. These books do not have much value in real world after you are done with school. So do not buy a new textbook!
  • Facility fee or any school fee – For example, some schools charge students separate lab fee, technology fee depending on major or type of classes apart from the tuition. These fees are academic version of overweight baggage fee of airline.
  • Room and board (or dorm cost) – usually you can save money by living off campus with lot of students and cook yourself. Dorm is expensive and noisy. If you are not required to live in a dorm, find an inexpensive place and share with your friends.
  • Transportation – Find out if you can get around from/to campus with public transportation and the cost. Some colleges provide free bus to/from, or around campus; some give students deeply discounted bus passes. Also you may want to go home during a holiday season. Know what the round trip cost to see your folks.

If you or your family has abundant wealth, or you receive enough scholarship to cover the college expenses, go to the college of your choice. But if you can’t afford it, the cost of attending college must be the top criterion.

After identifying and evaluating these two things – college curriculums and the cost, you might want to research weather, alumni, neighborhood atmosphere, crime rate, student organizations, and other amenities.

In summary,
1. Figure out what you want to be,
2. Identify how to reach the goal (which school has a program you need), and
3. Find out the total cost to achieve the goal.

Knowing what you want to be is a critical question for your future. But I understand at age 18, or even some grown-up folks, “what do I wanna be when I grow up?” is a confusing question. I didn’t’ know the answer when I was 18. In the next blog I will talk about how to pick a college if you don’t have a clear idea what you want to become or study but you want to go to college anyway.

New York College Tuition Free Program

State of NY has just started State college tuition free for NY State residents. Please go to the following link to read more,  Besides usual and predictable rules such as family income, academic achievement, etc., there is a big string attached on this program. A student must stay in NY for four years after gra duating from college; else you need to pay the tuition back. This sounds awfully familiar to a student loan forgiveness program – you need to work for certain public sector jobs. NY is a great place but do you really want to limit yourself where you work and live? “Free tuition” sounds great. But anytime there are some restrictions, you lose some choices. You might be Missing Out Great Opportunities (MOGO)! You are obligated to stay in NY even you see greater job offers in other places. No one knows what choices and possibilities you will come across in the future. Do you want to miss a great out-of-state or out-of-country opportunity?
Instead, I will rather find a college I can afford, study hard to receive scholarships, and work and save money for college. Besides, this is a state government program. You never know when they ax the program because of the budget problem, change of policy, or anything. NY college tuition free program is NOT free.

Student Loan Forgiveness Program

Student loan forgiveness works like this. If you work for a qualifying “public service” job such as a public school teacher, the balance of your student loan will be forgiven after 10 years while you make some payments. You need to fill out a certification form if your employer is one of qualified agencies. You will receive a letter of acceptance or rejection from FedLoan Servicing, the Department of Education’s student loan service contractor. About 550,000 people went through the process and received approved letters from FedLoan. But some of you on the program might get a huge surprise, unfortunately.
According to NY Times on March 30, 2017 article, Student Loan Forgiveness Article by NY Times, the Dept. of Ed said that some of approved loan forgiveness were invalid. Invalid!? You thought you are on the student loan forgiveness program. You have the approval letter. How could that be possible? I do not know because the Dept. of Ed has not explained the reason. But I am guessing two possibilities:
1. People who issued a letter were incompetent, or
2. The Dept. of Ed has changed some policy about the program without telling us publicly.
If I have a student loan debt, I will work more and make an extra payment every month so I can be debt free faster. I will not rely on a government program. This is one more reason not to borrow at the first place. You better check your status if you have been approved for the student forgiveness program.

Tutoring Services – February 15th, 2013

Tutoring services are popping up everywhere to help children from preschool to 12th grade. I started wondering if enrollment in one of tutoring service institutions such as Sylvan, Kumon, Huntington, and others is really effective. Parents spend money to let their children go to “school” after school.

I decided to investigate personally as a prospective tutor at one of learning centers. I won’t name it but one tutoring place I visited seemed like a quiet factory. There were many different age groups in one room. Each student took a booklet from his/her own file and sat down quietly solving problems. And s/he took the booklet to an instructor to be graded.

The concept is simple – each student progresses at own pace. It is just simple drills, tons of drills. After these repeated practice, a student can solve math or reading problems easily and quickly.


  • Quiet classroom environment
  • Practice makes sense
  • Curriculum supplement for what the regular schools don’t have much time for – drills



  • You could do this at home simply doing homework from school
  • No creative thinking – everything is mechanical and automatic response in the end
  • Costly

My take is that if you or your child is easily distracted at home, then this kind of institution might be helpful. But you can do it for free by creating an environment you can concentrate. For example, turn off music and a cell phone in your room. Decide what you want to accomplish and time yourself. It is all about your decision and self discipline. Don’t waste money!! You can do it!

Social Media – January 26, 2013

What you write or upload on your Facebook or Twitter is not private. And it will stay in the cyberspace forever. If you have Facebook or Twitter account, please do not have anything I list below:

  1. Your naked or near-naked picture,
  2. Vulgar language or threatening message to someone or something, especially anti-social messages,
  3. Racist comments, and
  4. Your picture or someone else supporting underage drinking consuming drugs.

Even you might have perfect SAT score, you are risking yourself not be admitted in some colleges. Academic record is the first thing admission officers will look at but if they detect some behavior or attitude problem in you, then you will be crossed out.

I hope you will never publish anything described above because they are not right, not because you want to get in your dream college. Be accountable what you say on web or any other form or shape! (including me and other adults, too)

$10,000 College Degree in Texas – January 14, 2013

Last year, Texas Governor, Rick Perry announced that State of Texas offer $10,000 undergraduate college degrees. It sounds like a savior from a heaven to lighten financial burdens of prospective students. I wanted to know more. How can they do it? The average State college in nationwide costs about $8600 per year. In summary, $10,000 undergraduate college degree program combines credits from some high school classes, community colleges, and 4-year colleges. What is new then? Many students have already gone or are going through this path – finish AA degree at community college and then transfer to 4-year degree in order to save money.

My take is that State should educate students well prepared before college. Then many students will be able to graduate from college, on time.

Happy New Year!

Do you think that your State can manage college education?

My answer is, unfortunately No. From admission policy to budget management, I am disappointed with public 4-year colleges. Under the name of diversity, State run universities have been admitting many academically insufficient students. The result is half of students in public universities won’t graduate. I hope State will emphasize K-12 education to make students well prepared before starting college. 

Senator Paid off Student Loan Debt – Dec 6th, 2012

Senator Marco Rubio from Florida has just paid off his student loan. He had $150,000 loan while he was in law school. In his case, he had written a book, “An American Son” and the proceeds of the book helped him pay off his student debt. He graduated from a law school and passed a bar exam, and then has become a senator. Writing and selling the book was a bonus to pay off the student debt faster. But reality is that many people won’t finish school – about 50% of public college students, at the same time accumulate an enormous amount of student loan debt.

Is it just an issue of college affordability or something more complex such as college admission policy?