Big to Small
After four years at a large, public high school, the transition to a small, cozy college might come as a refreshing change. But navigating a small school comes with its own challenges, too. Here's how three collegiettes made the transition.
Be on your academic “A” game. Sure, you can get away with slacking off in a 400-person lecture at a huge school. But do you really want to be known as that one kid who always falls asleep in your fifteen-person seminar? We didn't think so. “I like that my professors call on me by name when I raise my hand in class. That type of relationship makes me more comfortable answering questions,” says Alexandra Court, a freshman at the College of William & Mary. Although a small school tends to foster close student-professor relationships, it's still important to put your best foot forward. “Even at a small school, you can't expect your professors to come up to you and start chatting,” says Katrina. The bottom line? A small school typically means you can get as much help from your professors as you need – as long as you make the effort!
Enjoy the tight-knit community. “Although my high school wasn’t very large, my college only has about 85 students per class,” says Ari Chae, a freshman at the Olin College of Engineering. “The level of trust that comes from knowing everyone at a personal level is amazing – we have an honor code in place that we all live by, so we can leave our stuff anywhere, and we’ll often find money tacked on to bulletin boards with notes that say, 'Is this yours?'”
Know how to navigate the social scene. We know you've heard this a thousand times, but if there's ever a time to put this motto into practice, it's the big move to college! If you went to a big high school, you're probably familiar with the classic Mean Girls-style social scene – lots of cliques with defining features, like the Plastics or the Mathletes. At a smaller school, though, the social scene is a little different. Katrina says, “It was kind of hard to find a group of friends. There weren't a ton of people to choose from, so it was hard to find people whom I really clicked with." Whatever you do, don't give up! The close-knit community of a small college is the perfect place to make friends. “I really appreciate being able to fit in anywhere on campus,” explains Ari.
Small to Big
Tiny private high schools – the kind with only a few dozen students per grade – are fantastic places to be educated. But after spending so much time with the same people (we bet you know each and every classmates' dogs' names), it's only natural to want a change of pace. A large university with thousands upon thousands of students might be the ideal way to shake up your academic opportunities and social scene. Here's how three former small private school girls adapted to their new schools.
Speak up! At a big university where each class can swell to five thousand students or more, it can be easy to think you're just a number in the school's database. One of the best ways to avoid feeling lost is to speak up in class. According to Ally Koss, a senior at Northeastern University, “Being at a small high school for so long actually helped me to be successful at a large university, since I was already comfortable talking to teachers one-on-one and asking questions in class.” If your classes are mostly large lectures, attend office hours on a regular basis (aim for at least once a month) to get more face-time with your professor. When you're in class, strike up a conversation with the people next to you – it could be something as simple as, “Where are you from?” or “How do you like the class so far?” – and set up a study group. You'll instantly have a study buddy and potential new friend.
Get involved. Large universities typically offer a wide variety of clubs (some schools boast literally hundreds of clubs!), so there's no excuse not to be involved. “Joining a plethora of clubs and publications makes me feel like I have a strong presence on campus. Also, they're a great way to meet tons of awesome people who share your interests,” says Kelsey Mulvey, a sophomore at Boston University. If you're feeling overwhelmed by the size of your school, joining a club or two is the perfect way to instantly create a smaller community within your school. “I am involved in the Dance Society here and participated in the show with 180 other dancers. Even though there were a lot of people involved, the society really feels like a community,” says Hannah Anderson, a sophomore at the University of St. Andrews.
Don't be afraid to be yourself. At a small high school, you probably knew everyone – or at least recognized most people in the halls. While a small community is great, it doesn't exactly promote risk-taking; it's easy to feel judged for taking a fashion risk or hanging out with a new social circle. A large university is the ideal setting for being the truest, most confident version of yourself. Kelsey says, “Instead of fretting about what random classmates would think if I sported a red lip or took a certain class, I just do whatever I want and don't worry about it. Who's going to care?” (Answer: Nobody! In fact, they'll admire you for your rock star confidence.)
No matter where you came from or what type of college you're attending this fall, we'll let you in on
secret: all of these tips apply for any collegiette's experience. So go ahead – step up your academics, be bold and confident, and open your mind to new experiences. You'll adapt in no time.