I love prospective students. I love their energy, their nerves, their goading parents. I love it when they swarm campus carrying maps and admissions folders, and I love it when their parents stride up to me as I’m on my way to class and say, “Miss, you’re carrying a backpack; you go here, right? What’s it really like being at this school?” I love telling those parents, and the embarrassed student shuffling next to them, all about my university and how very much I love my professors, my friends, and my cafeteria food (okay, maybe I exaggerate).
Yes, I love prospective students, because I remember what it was like to go through the agonizing college selection process, and how every college I visited seemed to advertise exactly what every other school advertised. So, to all of the prospective out there, let me offer these words of advice:
Regardless of where you go, especially for liberal arts majors, the education you’re going to get is basically going to be the same. All professors pull from the same resources; Oscar Wilde is still Oscar Wilde, regardless of whether you study him at Brown or at your local community college. Perhaps it’s scandalous to admit that, but the fact is that the United States system of higher education is phenomenal. No matter what school you attend, you’re going to meet amazing professors, you’re going to study harder and more in depth than you ever have before and you’re going to do awesome college-y things that you didn’t get to do in high school. Rather, I truly think the location of your school, the size of your school, and the students at your school deserve much more consideration.
Location: City, country, suburbia—the location of your school makes a difference. City schools offer a wealth of opportunities for research positions, internships, libraries, museums, and theaters. For people looking to go the intern route, especially political science people, cities are often the way to go. Of course, schools in suburbia can be nice because they avoid the hustle, bustle, and constant sirens of the city, but are also usually close enough that one can commute for internship/research/cultural opportunities. Country schools are especially conducive to contemplation. Remember Thoreau? Walden Pond didn’t come from walking through the ghetto every day. Though there is less opportunity to get off campus with most country schools, many of them will compensate for this by bringing awesome speakers or bands to campus and providing a lot of weekend activities.
Size: Every single school you consider is going to advertise that they have some impossibly low student to teacher ratio. Don’t let them fool you. If you go to a large state school with 25,000 people, you’re going to be in a lot of classes with 60-200 other students. Yes, it will be much harder to get to know your professors on a personal basis, and yes, at times, you may feel like “just a number.” On the plus side, more students often means better and bigger sports, much more diversity, and many more student orgs to choose from. If you’re looking for a more intimate classroom setting, stick to the medium to smaller schools with student body populations less than 10,000. Smaller classes allow for much more personal attention, though it is likely you'll end up taking classes with many of the same people over and over again.
Students: I would argue that the student body itself is the most important factor one should consider when choosing a university. Even if you were accepted to the most prestigious university in the country, if you visit and find that all of the students seem to be cut from the same snobbish cloth, or perhaps, if you’re a fan of North Face and you visit a school that is full of hair-legged hippies, take it seriously. Even if you’re getting the best education in the world, it won’t matter if you can’t make friends. Like I said earlier, especially for liberal arts majors, you’re going to get a similar education wherever you go. It’s the material itself that is awesome, not how it is presented. Try to put yourself into the student body population of the school you’re visiting. If you don’t fit, you must acquit.
The very best of luck to all the prospectives out there as you make your final decisions. You’re about to embark on the four best, craziest, and most challenging years of your life. You’re going to love it.
Do you agree with Lindsay that academics are the same everywhere?
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