Alumni share tips from life outside VHHS


Illustration by Lee Judilla

By late summer of this year, 329 VHHS graduates will rush into the real world. Although many students are excited and ready for this new step in their lives, they might also feel fear and anxiety for the unknown. The more traditional post-high school path is attending a four-year university. Right now, navigating college courses, new environments, and new friends may seem like a daunting task. However, five VHHS alumni offered their tested tips for a successful and fun college experience:

Advice for college

“You really have to be on top of your work and take initiative to do well academically. I’ve spent hours every single week working on my resume, getting career advice, applying for internships, and applying for more exclusive clubs.” — Zak Baumann

“Don’t spend all your time with your head in your books. What you learn in the classroom is very important, but college is also about the learning from the experiences you have outside the classroom.” — Joe Zhai

“Do something that makes you feel uncomfortable every day. Try new things and embrace the initial awkwardness you may feel, because college is all about learning who you are.” — Emma Schuster

“Take it easy your first semester and try to get acclimated to your new environment. I think starting off strong in your coursework really helps in cutting down in stress later on and in keeping your options open.” — Udit Nangia

What VHHS didn’t prepare students for

“VHHS didn’t particularly prepare me for the whole life aspect — like, I don’t know how to pay bills, do my taxes, or balance a checkbook. My mother helped me do everything.” — Rikki Laser

“I would have liked to learn more about the career opportunities that are available to me. My advice to VHHS students would be to attend the career/job fairs at your university, even as a freshman.” — Joe Zhai

Advice for after college

“Don’t stop learning. There are plenty of opportunities in formal education and informal education in your community and workplace to do so.” — Joe Zhai

“Don’t feel pressured to know your entire career path or plans for graduate school. Even after college, you’re still young.” — Emma Schuster

“Try to reach out and find mentors in your field.” — Udit Nangia

About the Alumni

Rikki Laser is a second-year undergraduate student at the University of Iowa, where she is majoring in Neuroscience.

Zak Baumann is a first-year undergraduate student at the University of Southern California, majoring in Chemical Engineering and minoring in Business Economics.

Joe Zhai earned his bachelor’s in Aerospace Engineering with a minor in Computer Science at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Currently, he’s a software engineer at Boeing and pursuing his Master’s through the University of Illinois online program.

Emma Schuster earned her bachelor’s in Biochemistry at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Now, she is pursuing a PhD in biomedical sciences as a first-year graduate student at Northwestern University.

Udit Nangia earned his bachelor’s in Molecular and Cellular Biology with a minor in Statistics at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Right now, he’s attending medical school at Mount Sinai in New York.