How to Not Feel Small in the Big House (& Other Ways to Make a Big School Seem Small)

For anyone who has never been, the University of Michigan Big House really lives up to its name. It is absolutely gigantic and the experience of seeing a football game in the Big House is unlike any other. Every Saturday, the Hail to the Victors chant fills the stadium as students dripping in maize and blue pack into the Big House, ready for another afternoon game. For anyone at their first Big House football game, it is hard to not be overwhelmed. All you can see around you is a sea of bright yellow shirts and pom poms and baseball hats. It is nearly impossible to hear anything above all of the shouting and chanting. Maybe there is one familiar face, in the roommate who walked into the game beside you, but other than that you are surrounded by 109,900 complete strangers. The stadium is gigantic and seems to be the only thing that can comfortably fit the entire student body of the University of Michigan all at once. This is terrifying. Standing in the Big House gazing over my very first football game in my first week of college, I realized something I had never realized before: I was a number. I was part of the 43,651 students enrolled at the University of Michigan. 43,651 students. Equivalent to three full Madison Square Garden stadiums. More people enrolled as students than living on the island of Turks and Caicos. Some of these people next to me or who I met at a tailgate I would never see again. Something even more overwhelming than that first football game quickly became the size of the school I called home.

It was a feeling unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I went to a high school where everybody knew each other by name and could remember at least one time talking to each student in our graduating class. Our high school barely tipped 900 students and it is shared between two towns. My hometown is one square mile in length and has a pizza parlor and a small food store past the main four-way stop light in the center of town. In all my childhood, I never realized how different it would be to suddenly be somewhere that it’d be impossible to know every single student by name and have to be okay with that. Since being here the past few weeks, I have definitely adjusted to the size. There is something really intriguing and wonderful about being a part of such a large and diverse community, where everyone is going after different goals and accomplishing amazing things. That being said, it’s really easy to get lost in the sea of maize and blue at the Big House and fall into becoming a number in the population of this gigantic University. Creating and finding communities within a big University is the solution to making a big school small. The nice thing about a big school is that you can always find a small community without giving up that big University feel. Starting out in a new place, it can seem so difficult, but if you want to make it in a big college, you just have to figure out which communities work for you, and suddenly the Big House won’t seem so big anymore. 

The first thing I did here to help my adjustment was joining clubs. The activity fair or “festifall” as we call it here in Ann Arbor was one of the most helpful opportunities for a new student at the University. I signed up for a bunch of email lists and talked to many upperclassmen about their clubs and activities. I am so glad that I went and joined clubs because this is one of the most fantastic ways to meet people and find a community that feels right for you. I met people that day that I still bump into around campus all the time. 

Another thing that really helps the transition to a big school is joining greek life. Most big universities have greek life as an opportunity for students to get involved on campus and meet people. Prior to rushing sororities this fall, I was meeting a ton of people but it was frustrating because if I didn’t have class or a club with them, I wouldn’t see them again. In my rush line when I was going through the rush process, I exchanged numbers with so many girls and even got to know people who live in my building that I had no idea lived so close to me! Rush was definitely a stressful process, and I didn’t even know it was for me at first, but now that I am a new member in a sorority I am so happy I went through it. I have already met girls that I know I will be friends with for the rest of my life and it is comforting to have so many people to see around campus throughout the day. 

I really recommend trying to branch out! Keep your door open when you are in your dorm room doing homework, try and eat at a different dining hall then the one in your dorm room, sit next to someone new during your lecture. Sure, you will never meet all of the students enrolled in your graduating class, but you will make connections and relationships that could open doors to other things! You never know what could happen from simply being adventurous and trying something new. 

One other thing to take advantage of is making friends in your classes. I am so glad to be in a program at the University of Michigan that makes the big school really feel smaller. The theatre program at the University is so nice because I see familiar faces every single day in the main building where most of our classes are housed. Being in a specific program really helps to create a small community within a large school, however, just meeting people in your classes or in your major can really help make a huge place feel just a little smaller. 

 

Being at a big school is incredible. It can be overwhelming when your school has multiple zip codes and enough students to populate a small country, but once you find your place, you realize that a big school is absolutely one of the best decisions you can make. You can make a big school small, but you can’t make a small school big. The opportunities presented at large universities are outrageous, and once you get past the initial fear of just being another face in the crowd, you realize that everyone at this school has found their place, and you will too. Now, walking into the Big House is one of my favorite feelings. The chanting and pom poms and excitement all around me is the exact feeling I’d equate to being a student at the University of Michigan. My initial fears have transitioned into feelings of satisfaction and happiness, knowing I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Looking around at all of the students surrounding me, I am so proud to be a number at this University. I am so lucky to stand next to the future’s incredible doctors and lawyers and writers and government officials and famous musicians. I know that each and every one of them has found their own sense of community just as I have and know as well as I do that it is scary at first, but every big school can be made just a little smaller. The size of Michigan will always be something I want to take advantage of in my time here. There is something for everyone at the University of Michigan--you just have to be willing to go out and find it.