I mentioned in the last post that I had my own story as to why “the right fit” is important. As promised, here it is:
I started my undergraduate career at a small, private, religiously affiliated university but transferred to a large, public university for my last two years. As much as I loved the academic rigor and competition that the first school provided, a lot of the other aspects were unnecessarily stressful and impossibly difficult to ignore. It was as though I left my all-girls private high school as a senior and started all over again a few months later in a place with a different name in a different city where the attitudes remained the same. It was the wrong place for me.
I’m not going to share the gritty details of my first two years of college at the Wrong University. I will say, however, that I made it work while I was there. I loved the challenge that my classes provided and the endless opportunities for exploration that the city provided. But those things weren’t enough. I didn’t fit in — it wasn’t right. So, during my second year I applied to a few local schools as a transfer student. I was thrilled to be accepted by a large, public university full of history and character. (It also happened to be on a short list of “dream schools” I applied to as a high school junior, but was rejected admission.)
Before accepting admission to the university, I visited twice. — once to walk around and get a feel for the school, and another time to go on a formal tour. The more time I spent on campus, the more I liked it.
I had always attended private schools so I was naturally apprehensive. The nervousness and uncertainty melted away my first day in the dorms when I attended a mixer with other people from my floor; residents were comprised of half freshman and half upperclassmen. Everyone was so friendly! They were genuinely interested in me: where I was from, what my interests were, what I was studying, who I was. To this day, I’m still in contact with friends I met that at that mixer. It couldn’t have been more different from my experience at the other university.
Ahhh … bliss!
And the campus! It has made the Forbes magazine “most beautiful campus” list. It is one of the largest in the state complete with meadows, fields, redwood trees, hiking trails, and ocean views. Walking to class was an experience in and of itself. You can walk from one side of the campus to the other — starting in the redwoods where it’s cool, and end up quickly shedding a sweatshirt at your destination because you were standing in direct sun under a cloudless blue sky — in about 20 minutes. Wildlife is abundant. One night I was startled — nearly to death — on the way back from a class in the center of campus when I came across a deer just a few feet away.
Things were different in regards to classes, too. Some had 200+ people, others had about 10 — and that’s when I discovered I could excel in both situations. It wasn’t hard to stand out as a top student. I had more sections to attend, mandatory time at the library for watching movies, and an abundance of places to study and eat. At this school, I was no longer living next door to the same people I was taking classes with — sure, my friends and I may have shared a class or two, but it wasn’t like the private university where it felt claustrophobic: shower-eat-class-study-sleep-rinse-repeat with all of the same people. This made all the difference.
Having said all of that, I don’t mean to imply that there weren’t problems — no place is perfect. But the things I didn’t like I could live with and the good outweighed the bad by leaps and bounds. I look back on my time at the public university and it brings back a lot of really fun and happy memories both in and out of the classroom. I’m proud of my time and experiences there, of my grades, and my degree. And in my opinion, that’s how it should be. I attribute a lot of that to finding the school that was right fit for me — I may not have gotten it right the first time, but I put in the work and ended up in the right place.
And you can, too!
[Note: I did not name either school for reasons of my anonymity.]
[Thank you to Earlham College for making the classroom photo available for reuse and to Microsoft for the woman in field photo.]