The Successful Student Series is an assortment of interviews with students who have worked hard and earned degrees from top universities. The purpose of this series is to learn about their study habits, college survival skills, and making the transition from college to career.
Mona Ying Reeves
BA in Architecture
Harvard University, Graduate School of Design
Masters of Architecture
[High School Questions]
How would you describe your study habits in high school?
I was diligent about studying, although a procrastinator too. On school nights, if I had 6 hours of free time to study, I would use all 6 hours while multitasking with other things such as talking on the phone or watching TV. But if I only had 1 hour, I would still somehow get it done. I was fortunate enough to go to a school where studying was a valued part of the culture, so not studying was not an option.
What types of extracurricular activities did you choose – and why?
I was part of a lot of clubs and tended to be involved with ones that had some sort of volunteer or service component. It was fun making new friends while also feeling like what you did helped make the world a little bit better.
Tell me about any goal planning or organizational strategies you used to get everything accomplished.
I tried to see the big picture in what needed to get done, whether it be writing a research paper or meeting deadlines for college admissions. Once you break down a goal into smaller, achieveable tasks within a timeline, then projects are a lot more manageable.
If you could go back in time – and redo high school all over again – would you do anything differently? And why?
I don’t really regret anything about high school, however if I was to do it again knowing what I know now, I would leverage my youth to learn about the world more. A lot of adults are happy to share information about career and life, and all a student needs to do is just ask.
What practical tips do you have for high school students who want to attend a top college?
Be yourself and learn to communicate that with others. I’ve met a lot of students who struggle because they are looking for someone else to tell them what to do. Top colleges look for independent thinkers who have something to offer to the greater society.
What was the transition from high school to college like for you?
Fun and scary, all rolled into one.
How did you decide on a college major?
I had picked my major (architecture) back in high school because I was good in math and wanted to do something creative. While in college, I actually took as many courses outside of my major as possible, just to be sure.
How did you balance your academic life with social activities?
My program was centered around the design studio so I made sure all my free time in the evenings was spent there because I work best at night. Most students in my program did the same, so it was actually a very social situation to be in.
Did you take any internships in college – if so – what types?
Yes. I did one for the local merchant association and another during the summer before my final semester. That actually transitioned into a fulltime job upon graduation.
At what point were you thinking about graduate school – and did you know what program you wanted to attend?
I had a pretty good idea that I would be going to graduate school when I chose the college I would attend. By choosing a four-year program in architecture (vs. five), I knew that I would supplement with a 2 year master’s program in order to meet the standard of my profession.
Any tips for college students planning on attending graduate school?
Yes, take all your exams for graduate school while you are still in college. While it may seem like an extra workload, your test-taking skills are probably at its best as opposed to when you’ve been out in the workforce for a year or more.
Did you take time off between college and grad school?
Yes, I took a year and a half off to work in my profession before pursuing additional studies in it.
[Graduate School Questions]
What was the application process like applying to your grad program?
My grad school application process was very much like applying for college, except with more emphasis placed on a portfolio. Unlike college, you have a body of work to show already for grad school, so the challenge is to communicate it succinctly and in line with what you want to study.
Why do you think you were a good applicant to the grad program you applied to?
I applied to 3 grad schools and to my surprise, got into all 3. I think I was a good applicant because I had visited each school beforehand and was able to tailor my application to each.
Do you have any recommendations for students planning on going to grad school?
Research, research, research. Visit the school and talk to students in the same program. Also, ask for informational interviews from employers you may want to work for one day. Find out whether a particular grad school or program is even desirable from their perspective.
Aside from the academics, what was the biggest benefit of grad school for you?
Grad school was all about giving myself the time to learn how I work best by having a safe, encouraging environment to test ideas out in.
[Career Path Questions]
What was your transition like form grad school to your career?
Grad school is a microcosm of the professional world. It’s all connected.
Any recommendations for college grads making the transition to their first “real” job?
Use the job as an opportunity to learn about what you enjoy and want to do.
Any other advice for college grads getting their first job?
Keep your mind open and remember that interviews go both ways.