By George J. Hill
As you have probably heard before, college is one of the greatest experiences of your life. It gives you a chance to explore new ideas, it exposes you to opportunities that you wouldn’t have anywhere else, it teaches you ways of thinking that help shape your entire life, and you make long-lasting connections.
Except, deep down, it may not look that way to you right now. College can also be a frightening prospect full of unknowns and new challenges. If you are a recent high school graduate, you’re just coming out of an environment where a lot of the choices about your education were made for you by your parents or teachers. You might have taken some time off between high school and college and are concerned about going back to attending classes and writing papers. You’ve heard all about how great college is and while you know everyone means well, you might feel a little intimidated by it. You’re anxious about doing well, so that you don’t disappoint them. I know, because I was there.
My senior year of high school started in my College Guidance Counselor’s office. She asked me questions about what I wanted for my future, what kind of schools I was interested in, and where I wanted to go with my life.
“I know that high school has been the best time of your life,” she said, “but believe me, college is better!”
I didn’t believe her.
I was happy in high school. I had friends, many of whom I had known for most of my school-age life. I was involved in drama club, had co-founded a gamer’s club, and was known and liked around my school. I had a reputation as the campus Star Trek fan for occasionally wearing my Starfleet uniform to class. Despite a rocky start and some bad marks in the 9th grade, I had a solid B average by the time I got to junior year. I knew that it was all going to end soon, and I was secretly dreading graduation.
A couple of my friends from the drama club were planning to go (or had gone the year before) to a college in New York State which was known for having a strong conservatory program. I figured that if I went to the same college as my friends, that things would be the same as they were in high school. From then on, I didn’t even consider looking at other schools. I went on one campus tour and decided to apply.
Unfortunately, my fear of college combined with my wanting to stay in a safe, comfortable, and familiar environment led me to pick a college that wasn’t right for me. My friends picked that college because of the conservatory programs. They wanted to be professional actors, directors, playwrights, and musicians. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my career, but I didn’t want to be in a conservatory, so I applied to the general Liberal Arts College.
All my friends quickly made new friends with their classmates. The conservatory classes were small with a maximum of twenty students, so everyone got to know each other quickly. My smallest class had over sixty students. As a shy, introverted sort, it wasn’t easy for me to just strike up a conversation with someone, and I didn’t find very many people who wanted to hang out regularly. I didn’t find a gaming club or another Star Trek fan, nor did I find anyone interested in starting any clubs like that. I spent much of my freshman year alone in my dorm room until I met my girlfriend (now wife), Tara. Soon, I was spending every weekend off campus at Tara’s college.
Tara’s school was a small, liberal arts college with a student culture that was more in line with what I was looking for in a college. There was a gaming club, a bunch of people who enjoyed going to events like the Renaissance Faire, and other things that matched my interests. Spending every weekend there, I got to know the college community and I liked what I saw. Then I visited some of Tara’s classes to get a feel for the curriculum and the professors’ teaching styles. The classes were small and the professors knew everyone’s name. They even knew mine and I didn’t go to school there! I decided to change that and transferred for my sophomore year.
I do want to be clear: I did not transfer to the second college because Tara was there, though it was nice to go to the same school. I transferred because I found that I fit with the college better than I did at the first school. My mistake was that I picked my first college solely because my friends were going there. I closed myself off from exploring any other options and I didn’t do enough research to make sure that it was a good fit for me. For the second college, I spent a lot of time there before enrolling, getting to know the campus, the student culture, and the faculty.
When deciding on what college to attend, make sure that you are choosing a college that fits who you are as a person, while also giving you opportunities to grow. Perhaps the college has an academic program that you really want to be in. Maybe you like the student culture. It can be because it is close to your home, or a thousand miles away. Whatever the reason, be sure you’re choosing the college that is right for you.
Ge0rge J. Hill is an Academic Advisor at Kingsborough Community College.