It’s been close to a month since I’ve arrived in St. Mary’s and I feel like I’ve finally begun to settle in to college life. I’ve also been able to ease into that bitter-sweet feeling of independence. Being separated from home and from your family really teaches you how to take care of yourself. No one is there to ask me if I’ve eaten dinner, or if I’ve finished my homework, or if I’ve set my alarm for school. While it took a little getting used to, I have come to enjoy being on my own, because I know that I can handle most of the situations that I come across without the help of an adult.
After being around campus for a handful of weeks I’ve had plenty of time to think about what really matters when choosing a college. Sure, when you visit different schools you compare the environment, size, courses, cost, and other typical characteristics. These however only cover the surface of what college is really all about. What most seniors need to realize is that whatever school they choose, that school will be their home. They will have to function in a condensed space with a whole new group of people, and be able to get along with each other while still keeping their sanity. In order to make sure their new abode will be as compatible as possible I thought it would be a good idea to make a list of important things to consider when choosing a school.
#1: The food in the dining hall. Trust me, when you eat here three times a day you will want to make sure that the food options are to your liking. Otherwise meals become unsatisfactory and you end up eating junk. Thus the infamous “freshman 15”
#2: Dorm size: Don’t worry about how plain the rooms look when you first see them because it’s very easy to decorate the walls with photos and posters. What you want to make sure is that your dorm gives you plenty of space to store clothes, food (for midnight snacks), a fridge (if allowed) and any other miscellaneous items you choose to bring with you. Keep in mind college freshman, even though you are moving in for a number of months, please don’t bring a U-Haul truck to store everything. I can guarantee you will have trouble fitting everything. You’ll come to find, surprisingly, that you don’t need much to get by in college, because most of what you lack is provided by the college one way or another.
#3: The size / terrain of the campus: St. Mary’s, being a relatively small college, never fails to tire me when I have to walk from my math class to the other side of campus for my political science class. You have to decide how far you are willing to walk to get from one place to another, because it can be exhausting for some, especially if you have only ten minutes to get there (bikes really come in handy in this situation). The terrain is also a big factor, because not only are you traveling considerable distances, but you are adding hills into the equation. I find it a rewarding workout to be able to cross the entire campus in about 7-8 minutes without stopping, but for some this may prove to be an inconvenience that over time can become a nagging problem.
#4: The party scene: Some college kids prioritize this above most other things, but it’s important if you feel strongly about how much partying there is around campus to ask when you visit. The worst situation would be for you to choose a school and suddenly realize that you aren’t comfortable with the social life going on around you. The preference is different for each individual, so you need to make certain that if you do find a party school, you are okay with it.
#5: Dorm bathrooms: This may seem insignificant, but sometimes it’s the little things that can bother you the most. Be sure to check if they are clean and presentable. Don’t be afraid to step in the showers either. Check the size, the privacy, the condition of the fixtures, etc. You will after all have to shower there every day, so be sure to know what’s important to you when it comes to bathroom amenities. I’m talking to you teenage girls out there.
#6: Campus activities: Many people assume that if a college is somewhat secluded from familiar places such as restaurants and stores, then they will likely get bored when they have free time. At St. Mary’s, this assumption is so very untrue. Just today I went kayaking on the Chesapeake for a good hour and loved every minute of it. Each college is different however, so be sure to ask what the students do on the weekends to entertain themselves. It might surprise you how much there really is to do.
Hopefully this little list will help some struggling seniors in their search for the right college to attend. Aside from the physical characteristics though, it really comes down to how the campus makes you feel. If you get a good vibe from a college, go with it. Alternatively, if something just doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not the campus for you. Listen to your heart and not just what your parents, friends, or teachers tell you. It should be your choice and you should feel confident that it’s what you really want. Good luck in the college search!