Posts Tagged advice to the young at heart

Thinking About The College Experience

I have a relative who is really struggling with how to decide which college to attend.  My relative asked about my college experience.  Here, more or less, is what I said:

Grinnell College is part of a group of schools that is sometimes called the Ivy League of the Midwest – it’s an archipelago of small, liberal arts colleges that pride themselves on their academic programs but also on their unique identities.  In four years at Grinnell, I think the largest class I had was 35 people.  In my fourth year, all but one of my classes had fewer than 10 students (the exception was Victorian novels – a really great class with about 16 people).  A small residential campus like Grinnell is a unique experience – you very quickly recognize almost everyone on campus, you know the familiar faces; you feel as if you are surrounded by extended family and that we’re all in this together.  For students, campus life can be very inexpensive – movies and plays are free, the gym is free, meals are included as part of the residential living plan, contraception is readily available and free.  I once had the same five dollar bill in my wallet for an entire semester.  You develop very close relationships with friends (no surprise there) but also with faculty.  The campus at Grinnell feels very homelike – dorm life is casual, comfortable and familial.  With relatively few people on each floor, you get to know the people living near you very well.  The structure and rhythm of campus life is intentionally designed to support the academic experience.  It’s a safe environment to try on new identities and to be challenged by new ideas.

For grad school, I attended the College of William and Mary.  The graduate program sought to create the familial, intimate experience I had at Grinnell.  But, set amidst a much larger campus (IIRC, William and Mary’s enrollment is about the same as USU), the graduate school of Business felt oddly isolated from the larger rhythms of campus life.  I also took to living in Williamsburg like a duck to water.  I was an American Studies major at Grinnell and for me, CW was manna from heaven.  I spent many happy hours at the Abby Aldrich or the DeWitt-Wallace, I toured the Governor’s palace again and again, I know the stories of the Capitol building by heart.  I loved having free access to the colonial district with student ID and I took full advantage of it.  I loved grad school – not for the school but because of where it was and what I had access to while I was there.  I made amazing friends at Grad schools and met amazing people.  I’m better for having met them.

The funny thing is I regret most the opportunities I missed.  My third year at Grinnell, I undertook I sizable independent study project; I spent my spring break of that year at home in Kamas finalizing my independent study project.  I said “No” to an offer to go to Galveston for spring break and I wish I hadn’t.  I wanted to do Grinnell in London – but I felt I couldn’t ask my family to spend the extra money and I didn’t want to take out student loans to pay for study abroad.  I wish I had.  I wish I had believed in myself enough to enroll in the 3-3 program – you do three years at Grinnell, three years at Columbia law school (yes, Columbia in NYC) and at the end, you receive your Grinnell Degree and your JD at the same time.  I passed up a chance to spend spring break my fourth year with friends; I didn’t have the money and I didn’t want to run up a credit card bill or ask my parents.  So I spent spring break at home working for two weeks.  At W&M, I didn’t want to spend money I didn’t have so I skipped the chance to go with a whole group of folks for a week of playing on the beach.  I look back and I wish I’d done those things.

So my advice to my relative was don’t not do something because you doubt yourself or you don’t have the money.  Ask for the money – your family adores you and we will find a way to make those things happen.  You want to study abroad – say so, we’ll figure it out.  Love your college experience – date the wrong people, fall in love, get your heart broken, and don’t for even a minute miss an opportunity that might come only once.

What would your advice be?


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