I went home this past weekend. It was great to catch up with my old friends and swap stories of our new adventures away at college. Although my close friends went to a variety of different schools, from small, Catholic schools in rural Minnesota to Big Ten schools, or elite private schools on the East Coast, we all have had a lot of common experiences. College is a time to explore so many different things and develop into individuals that will eventually go out and change the world.
Even though our college experiences are very similar, they are also very different. One thing that I think leads to this difference is the size of the school. When I first began my college search, my motto was basically “the bigger the better”. Then, when I got to orientation, I kind of had an “oh shit” moment. It hit me all at once how big this school really is and I questioned whether or not I would like that. As it turns out, I absolutely love it (clearly) and would not have it any other way. It’s that time of year where high school seniors are putting the final touches on their applications and anxiously awaiting the responses. Making a college decision is stressful, not everyone makes the right one, but I figured maybe I could offer some of my own insight. College is not one-size-fits all, literally and figuratively. There are so many students that enjoy being in a small, close knight environment and everyone is looking for something different. Although different things work for different people, and different schools exist for exactly that reason, I wanted to share why I personally enjoy going to a big school.
There’s a wide variety of majors.
Excuse me, what are Classical Languages? Can I actually get a degree in Fundraising and Philanthropy Communication? Speech and Hearing Science? There’s a major for that. Looking at the list of majors they offered here at Iowa when I visited was overwhelming. I had no idea what I wanted to eat for breakfast the next morning, let alone what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Okay, I still don’t really know either of those things but I think I have it figured out a little more than I did a year ago. I personally came in with the thought that I wanted to study business management. After looking at the course work, however, I decided that that specific major was probably not for me. I was able to work with my academic advisor to find a major that was tailored exactly to my interests: people and how businesses work. I probably could not have done that as easily in a smaller school.
SO MANY STUDY SPACES!!!
The library isn’t the only space to study. Not only are there 11 dorms each with their own study lounges, but there are so many other places as well. Almost every academic building has a great little place to study. Not to mention the Student Union, the “quad” (we don’t actually call it the quad here, we call it the Pentacrest, but I guess “quad” is the universal term for a university’s central courtyard), coffeeshops, and bookstores. Even the rec center has study spaces. It’s almost guaranteed that you won’t ever get bored with your own little study spot, and if you do, you have so many other options to choose from.
College football. That is all.
I know many small schools have football teams as well, but you have NO idea what football is like at a big school until you experience it yourself. Tailgating is such a fun experience (especially when you’re young and have the energy to wake up at 6 am to tailgate for a 2:30 game) and the games have literally left me speechless at times. Seeing a stadium filled with 70,000 people coming together for a single common interest is such a beautiful thing. The band, the cheerleaders, the announcers, everything coming together is quite the sight. School pride is an absolute must on even non-game days, and you will see people sporting the team logo every day of the week.
There’s always something to do.
This can be dangerous for the college student who doesn’t manage their time well, but in general it’s a good thing. Any given day or night, there’s at least something going on. On the weekends, downtown is never a ghost town and there are plenty of parties. Don’t want to party? That’s cool too. There’s plenty of other stuff going on if you look hard enough. On the weekdays, there are so many study groups, clubs, activities, and other things to do. It can get overwhelming, but it’s nice to know that I will never be bored here.
The campus itself is way bigger.
This is one thing I learned this weekend while visiting my friends at a smaller school. Although it may be convenient to have your classes right by each other or not have it take 30 minutes to walk across campus, a big campus is also a really nice thing. I personally like to walk between my classes instead of take the bus because it gets me moving when I’ve been sitting for the last hour. Also, morning walks by yourself on the weekend are a 10/10, I would highly recommend them. Another thing that’s interesting is that at least at Iowa, each department has it’s own building (for the most part). It makes it a lot easier when you’re trying to find your classes or your professor for office hours.
You can screw up and nobody ever has to find out.
This is another thing I noticed this weekend. At a small school of 5,000 or less, if you do something stupid on Saturday night (and you will, it’s college, we’re all stupid adolescents with underdeveloped brains) everyone finds out by the morning. At a big school, you don’t find out about anything unless it’s posted on Total Frat Move or it’s something so embarrassing that everyone finds the need to tell their friends about. You are a small fish in a big pond, so you can probably go all four years of college without making a name for yourself if you want. You can fly under the radar, and when you screw up, the whole world won’t have to know about it. You will most likely be able to learn from your mistakes without being criticized or completely shunned.
You meet all kinds of different people.
Like the lovely lady I met on the bus this morning, who wasn’t wearing shoes, was taking up two seats, and refused to move her bare feet off of the only empty seat on the crazy crowded bus. Or just people with common interests. And people with completely different interests. There are so many different kinds of people at a big school, and you’re bound to make genuine connections with people you really enjoy being with. You also will learn so much from those who are very different than you, if you are willing to put those differences aside.
So far, going to a big school has been a great experience. It’s definitely not for everyone, but I do encourage anyone that is leaning towards a big school to take these points into consideration. The adjustment is hard for many people at first, but it will absolutely pay off in the end. At a big school, you will absolutely find your place, no matter how weird or quirky you are.