Class of 2021, What are your plans after high school? Any college/life advice from mentors?

We’re in our last year of this wild ride. The time has come (for most) to stress over college applications and essays. So, what’s everyone’s plans? Straight into the workforce? 2 or 4 year degree? Where do you plan on applying to?

For all mentors, any life or college advice you would like to share with the class of 2021?

  • Take classes outside your major, sometimes they’re the most fun.
  • Don’t get complacent because intro STEM classes are easy, they ramp up very quickly.
  • Join a club.
  • It’s never too early to start applying for internships.
  • The dorm experience is overrated anyways.

Hey Ben!

My advice–don’t try to jump back into FIRST as a mentor too quickly. Give yourselves time to adjust to living in a different situation (whether you go to college or not). FIRST will be here when you’re truly ready to come back, and if you’re really starving, volunteer at events! (whenever they start to happen again…)


I’m probably going to be going for a 4 year degree in math or data science. I also plan on hopefully mentoring a team. I know that a lot of people say not to do that but honestly I don’t really care. Good luck to everybody else!


Regarding FIRST:

I know a lot of people are going to be itching to jump into mentoring as soon as they can wherever they may go. You’re coming up on two years of mininal events, and may feel like you need to make up for it. Don’t try to recreate your student experience when you are mentoring.
I know it’s been said time and time again, but your overall impact as a mentor, both in terms of achievement and growth, is severely stunted when you come in right away. Subconsciously, many of us end up becoming “super seniors” rather than impactful mentors to our students. I learned this the hard way. I think many might believe “well I’m built different” but you only hurt yourself if you don’t have a clear plan of the mentor you want to be. Volunteering is much less time commitment and in some cases equally as fulfilling.

Regarding college:
Don’t rush yourself. If college takes you more than four years, it takes you more than four years. Don’t sacrifice important experiences, friendships, relationships, and other things that make you human for the sake of putting your nose to the grindstone and tunnel visioning your way through college. You miss out on a ton like that; again, a lesson I learned the hard way.



With events going virtual, there will probably be opportunities to volunteer without having to take a lot of time away from your studies. You can even volunteer at events that normally are not so accessible for you.

I totally agree with @DRandhawa suggesting that you prioritize your education over participating in FIRST while in college. If you divert too much of your time and energy from your studies and you flunk out, you would not be a very good example for those still in high school.


Slow down, breathe, and do what’s best for you. Take a moment to decide where you want to be eventually and make moves based on that.

If it takes you a bit longer than peers to get that degree, certification, apprenticeship, etc., who cares? If you need to take a break halfway through or right before the finish line, by all means do it. If your socioeconomic situation demands some expedience in your plans, try to find a way to reach your goal without losing your head.


I’ll most likely aim for a degree in physics or mechanical engineering. I’ll focus on schools which are successfully pulling off hybrid models or will guarantee me a gap year. If college is still online and I can’t secure a gap year, I’ll plan to transfer from a community college, online school is just not worth paying 4-year tuition for.


Echoing this, while I did mentor full time as a sophomore, it really made it painfully difficult to do well in classes, enough to threaten my admission into the college of engineering. Everyone is different, and it varies by what degree/school you’re in, but overall the most important advice I could ever give would be to take care of your education and your well being before jumping back into FIRST in a mentorship capacity.

However you could probably volunteer at FIRST events without the strain of a build season commitment, it’s super fun to work with that side of the program as well :slight_smile:

(For context, I mentored full time 4/5 years in college pursuing an Electrical Engineering degree)


“Survey of Theater Technology”, “History of Africa”, “Introduction to Museum Studies” and “Severe and Hazardous Weather” agree.


When it comes to resume experience:
Hands on work is better than coursework
Self-led projects are better than in-class lab projects
Independent projects done in a team are better than individual projects
Leadership of technical projects and leadership of people are both important. Superstars find a way to do both, but both can be taught.

If you put FIRST or VEX on a resume and come to me at a career fair, I will have an extended conversation with you about it :slight_smile: .

Sure can be. I found a great group of folks who were the bomb to live with (and got me involved in this thing in the first place). But not a guarantee dorms are where you’ll find your group. Just look for the people, wherever you can find them - that’s what will make for a good experience.


I’m likely going for a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering or Mechanical Engineering (Or Robotics Engineering if the school I end up at has it), with a lot of focus on robotics / motion planning research. I’m probably going to try to stay away from mentoring initially, though I may offer to design review and/or help a local team at competition, depending on how freshman year is going. If not mentoring, I’ll probably try to volunteer as an inspector, so I have an excuse to yell at kids :upside_down_face:.


Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help when you need it. Whether it is academic advisor, office hours, financial or health, that there are places to go and find some advice, homework help or more.


Seriously consider a gap year or semester. Get a full-time apprenticeship at your local machine shop. Support a humanitarian effort in a foreign country or right by home. Create that startup company you’ve always dreamed about. Learn a new language. Especially now, when millions of students are paying 60k+ annually to watch youtube videos, an impactful gap year experience can make a big difference, especially if you aren’t 100% sure how you want to spend the next 40 years professionally.


Class of 2021? Aren’t those guys still a bunch of middleschoolers?

Anyway, if you do the standard intro class mousetrap car/eggdrop/king of the hill robot, exploit every loophole you can to instantly polarize all the TAs and professor(s).

That’s the only unique thing I have to provide.


I took a Badminton course as an elective because it was held right next to the city bus stop. It was first thing in the morning so it got my blood flowing for the rest of the day. Two of my classmates took the scuba diving course and got their PADI certification for much less than a course with a dive school and got credit towards their degree.

I have met many people who got their first full time job as a result of internships. My wife was one of them. Often an offer of full time employment was made towards the end of the internship in a very informal meeting “do you want to come back after you graduate?” It takes a lot of pressure off in your last year. One only has to pass and does not have to divide one’s time between studying and looking for a job.


I’m planning on either doing a 4 year bachelors in CS or doing a 4 + 1 program to get my bachelors and masters in 5 years, although I’m not against taking an extra year to do co-ops

For advice, I strongly recommend you apply early somewhere. It’ll take a lot of stress off your back. I’m going to do it myself when I apply.


Conversely if you are going to stay in a dorm make an effort to get involved in the community there so it is worth it. I have a very close group of friends who I met from my dorm in college, including the Best Man at my wedding. But I also know plenty of people who got little out of dorm housing and some who hated it. Speaking specifically to my school (University of Arizona) older dorms with more compact layouts and no self closing doors typically led to a tighter knit dorm community, as did those with a specific focus (Honors, Engineering, etc.).

Get an internship or co-op before you graduate college. Probably the biggest thing most companies will look for to know you can handle the typical work environment for your field, and it can lead to a job offer before you are finished with college. It’s hard to get an internship with the Mega-corps before you have finished your Junior year because of how competitive they are, for earlier opportunities look to smaller local companies or programs targeted at younger students (the NASA Robotics Academy was a good opportunity, not sure if it has continued). As a manager at a few hundred employee company we get very few internship applicants compared to when I worked at PepsiCo and P&G.

Go do some fun cheap traveling or experiences while you are young and don’t have pets, family, work, etc. dependent on you (once everyone can again safely). Life can change quick and you may find you don’t have the time or desire to in the near future.

Last thing, if you really don’t like college don’t feel forced to do it. Working in the industrial sector, there are plenty of careers you can get into and succeed well with vocational classes or even going right into and showing the interest and drive to learn. The skills that help you succeed in FIRST can carry you far, motivation and willpower are harder to find than you think.


As someone on residence life at my college (we have sophomore advisors [SAs] and resident assistants [RAs] for freshman halls) and a freshman last year, participate! Some of the best friends I made were both opposite of me floor layout wise in our hall and across campus in general. Also, if you have an idea for an event or you liked something in particular, be it Jackbox or watching Sharkboy and Lavagirl (might’ve run that tonight :shark: ), let us know! If residence life anywhere else is like where I’m at right now, the staff do wanna give you a good experience and do wanna help facilitate a nice little community in the hall.

Other advice, as someone who got busier this year due to COVID classes making just about everything I’m taking asynchronous (still on campus though :0 ), continuing my internship, aforementioned residence life job, and club positions, explore options outside of FIRST but also don’t stretch yourself thin between competition teams and clubs! I’ve quickly found that a combination of all of that and being convinced by other staff last year to apply to be an SA on a whim has made my free time even more limited than before. While I thoroughly enjoy everything I partake in, dropping leadership in certain clubs definitely is in the back of my mind for next year if I try for the RA gig and keep interning over the course of the school year. More a note specifically aimed at the women in FIRST graduating, attend events like the SWE national conference and Grace Hopper if you can get sponsored through a club at your uni/college/higher ed: these conferences specifically recruit us and have everything from the normal prof dev conference-style sessions to companies there to recruit y’all!

As for if you return to FIRST, chances are the team you mentor and the team you were on have different circumstances. They may be minute or they may be quite different (3128 and 5188 certainly are), but that being said its room for growth on both ends. You bring a wealth of knowledge as a former student for what works and what doesn’t but to that end you also are very much no longer a student and to that end, do give the students room to fail. Like Aidan (Leap) mentioned, mentoring really isn’t your chance/second shot at FIRST: it’s rather a time to give the students you mentor as great of a time as you had during their tenure :blue_heart:
I think I’ve rambled long enough but my last note is to apply, apply, apply for internships/co-ops/jobs in college. The most you’re gonna get is a rejection and event at that, if you’ve had a half-decent conversation with the recruiter, that’s someone to followup and thank after a career fair/ recruiting event that will hopefully be an extra step in the door come next time you apply :slight_smile:

If anyone has any questions about Rose-Hulman feel free to reach out: I think from the thread last year I know at least 3-4 people I talked to that ended up coming this year, one of which being my resident in my hall (Scharpberg Best Berg :rainbow_flag:)! You don’t even have an additional essay to the Common App so come one come all :smiley:

Alright, it’s 2am now and it’s about time I actually get some half-decent sleep after dead week but feel free to reach out if you have any questions about the college application process or other college-y things :+1:


As someone who went to the same school, despite most of us being three years out of college and living in different states, I still talk to the people from my freshman dorm weekly, and we make a point to try to go on vacation together once or twice a year.

It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the practicalities of college, but remember:

a. For many of you, it’s the place where you’ll first get to grow on your own for the first time in your life. Building a resume is important, but don’t forget to branch out and try some non-engineering activities as well.

b. You’ll potentially make the closest friends you’ll ever have. Like Donut mentioned, there’s a pretty decent chance these will be the people in your wedding one day. Make an effort to be social, it’ll pay huge dividends in the future. Worst case you might make some good friends that’ll give you a great jump start on having a professional network once you’re out of school.

I, as your typical FIRST-obsessed high schooler, went out of my comfort zone and joined a fraternity in college (with a lot of the aforementioned people from my freshman dorm) and it was probably the best life decision I’ve ever made.


Man, I thought I had diversified a bit in college, but this guy has it covered. I am honestly envious.

The fact is, in any given major, you’re going to be sitting in a bunch of classrooms with people who are basically the same as you. If you want to interest prospective employers, or indeed, interest yourself, you have to branch out. As a mechanical engineer, my most valuable college classes, by far, were some of the ones only tangentially related to mechanical engineering.