The Right Fit: My Story

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.

woman lying in field

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.]

From Here to There: The Right Fit

I learned a very important lesson during my time in undergrad: finding a school that is the right “fit” is a key component to academic success and overall happiness.

During the course of applying to law schools, it’s easy to fall into the same traps prevalent in the search-and-apply mission of the undergrad process. The allure of the “best” or most highly ranked schools is hard to ignore. Plus, who doesn’t want to be a student at one of the best universities? But these traps have been perpetrated by published reports from the US News & World Report and Princeton Review. Like many reports, formulas have been created, things have been quantified and studied, and variables have been accounted for. In this instance, the purpose has been to discover the “best” schools.

The attributes that separate the “best” schools from the rest may vary, with some overlap. There is usually a mixture of objective and subjective factors that are studied to provide a formula for what constitutes a good school.

But when it comes to making an important decision such as which school to attend, it is critical to consider a variety of factors using more than one source to guide you. My advice is to do your own research of the reports mentioned previously, but don’t make any decisions solely based on them. If you know what you want to study, give preference to schools that focus time, energy, and money into that program. If you aren’t sure exactly what you would like to focus on, give priority to other factors such as location, employment rate upon graduation, and cost — or whatever other attributes that are important to you.

No matter what, make sure to visit schools. I cannot stress this enough: visitvisitvisit! Here are some tips for your trip:

  • go during the school year
  • take a tour
  • talk to current students and ask them questions about their experience — you want to hear the good and the bad
  • walk around with a parent and a friend just to check out the campus
  • pick up a school newspaper. The newspaper will provide information on the focus of the school and student body. It can also give insight into the safety of the campus.
  • if possible, sit in on a class

Visiting a campus helps you to gather information first hand and provides you with a “feel” for the school that you can’t get by reading about it — a feeling, something intangible. I cannot overstate the importance of this. Believe me, I have visited a lot of college campuses. And I’ve been excited about schools only to walk away from a visit hugely disappointed. But I’ve also had the fortune of feeling so-so about a school only to be surprised at my experience there. This was what happened at the campus I mentioned in the last post.

I know this because I started my undergraduate studies at a small, private, religiously affiliated university only to transfer to a large, public university for my last two years. For me, finding and attending a school that was “the right fit” made all the difference.

Check back next week to read my personal story! 

[Thank you to the Wikimedia Commons for making the picture available for reuse.]

From There to Here: Law School Open House

The day of the law school open house was initially a bit nerve wrecking. As my husband dropped me off at the law school, it felt like an awkward first day of school complete with a wave and that split second where you nearly run after the car, arms flailing while screaming “Wait! Don’t leave me!”

The nervousness vanished when I turned around and was greeted warmly by one of the school’s staff. In fact, everyone I met that day from the school was helpful and eager to answer questions.

The day went something like this:

  • introductions by department (admissions, financial aid, career center)
  • brief faculty introductions on clinics, externships, and what to expect your      first year
  • a guided tour by current students
  • lunch in the cafeteria
  • mock class
  • Q & A with current students
  • speech by dean and farewell
  • also: lots of colorful brochures, folders, and other school-themed stuff to       take home

The mock class I participated in was on property law. When I think about becoming a lawyer, I must admit that property law isn’t the first thing I think of. But keeping an open mind that day led to big rewards because the professor leading the class was also an authority on the subject. And a very engaging teacher. He passed out a piece of paper with two scenarios on it, gave us time to partner up and review as well as brainstorm. He proceeded to ask questions about the scenarios outlined in the handout as he had attendees act them out — complete with oversized props (think: huge, silly ring with a colorful plastic “stone”). The result was hysterical. I will never think of property law the same way again.

It wasn’t the brochures or the bragging, the quiet, clean campus, or the newly renovated library that made it feel like the right “fit.” It was three things in particular: the friendliness of the students and staff, the focus on experiential learning, and the dean’s speech.

Come back to see why those things are so important to me!