Adjusting to College from a Tiny High School

Nobody said college was going to be easy. They also didn't warn me, by the way, how hard it was going to be going from having 65 other classmates to having 7,000

I went to a small liberal arts combined middle and high school in the suburbs of Seattle. Yeah, we had 66 students in our graduating class. Our teacher to student ratio was usually ~1:22. The teachers knew every student's name, their personalities and their mannerisms. In fact, our senior year tradition was for teachers to "roast" each student individually in front of the rest of the school! After being surrounded by the same people for six years, my peers became like my siblings. In all honesty as I look back, I realize I was lucky to receive an extremely personalized education, and that small, family-like environment was something I thrived in. I felt loved, understood, and respected by my classmates. 

Fast forward to September of 2018: I joined the University of Washington as a freshman. The first few weeks of fall quarter were exciting! I got my own room, a roommate, and I covered my walls with posters and polaroids. I had freedom to do whatever I wanted when I wasn't in class. I could go out to eat with my friends whenever I wanted. But by November, it got old. It was hard making friends because everyone was so far away, doing their own thing. I felt lost, like another fish in the Pacific Ocean. My grades began dipping, I began binge eating, and crying regularly. I just felt worthless. Being at a school where you never have to see the same person twice was a huge jump from walking hallways where everyone knew my name. I felt like I didn't matter as an individual. 

Fall quarter was one of the roughest, lowest points of my life. Luckily things changed over time. By winter, I had a good set of friends that I loved and trusted, and by spring I felt a little more adjusted to UW's fast paced environment. But honestly, things only got better once my sophomore year started. I spent most of freshman year feeling lost and confused, like I had peaked in high school and that was all I had going for me. 

The biggest change I made in my second year was filling my free time with activites I enjoyed. Joining clubs such as HerCampus, cultural societies, and career-oriented organizations was what pulled me out of my rut. During freshman year, I had so much free time that I wasted either on my phone or studying ineffectively. Filling up my schedule with clubs I care about allows me to manage my time better while getting an amazing experience out of it. You know what they say - the busier you are, the better you prioritize your time. I also took freshman year to explore career paths I was interested in. That way, in sophomore year I went in with a clear idea of what I want to pursue and how I could use my extracurriculars and coursework to expand my curiosity. I was also much more confident in my abilities as a student in my second year -- its caused me to do better in my academics and improved my mental health a lot.

The second mantra I stand by is to work hard, play hard. Go out with your friends! Go to events and parties! Come back and grind as hard as you can. College will be exhausting if you just study all the time. Its important to blow off steam every once in a while and enjoy these four years. Finding a balance between having fun and studying was really tough for me, but with trial and error (ha!) I eventually figured it out. 

The last thing I'd like to mention is to network, network, network. After six years with the same 65 people, I knew everyone around me very well -- so I wasn't as motivated to go out and talk to new people. But that isn't the same in college at all! Talk to people at events, get Snapchats and Instagrams and Facebook friends. Set up coffee dates and hangouts. Expanding your social circle is the best way to make a huge, unfamiliar setting more comfortable. It's always good to have connections - theres a chance you'll always have a friend in classes to ask for help, a person to go to for career advice, and people to spend time with when Seattle's Seasonal Depression hits harder than usual. These are your prime networking years, so make use of them!

A large public school is never going to give you the same experience that a smaller school does. Both types of educational settings are equally important and have their own pros and cons. Its using your learnings from each to craft a well-rounded academic experience for yourself. Be confident in your skills, and know that even if the entirety of campus doesn't know your name, with time you'll find a small niche to make your own.