Applying to colleges that are big can be super daunting–especially if you come from a small school. I graduated with a class of 55 students in high school. I gave a prayer that night…and a few months later I was off to explore my new university–the University of Central Arkansas. I’d been to the university a couple of times but I was still kind of nervous, as anyone might be. Going to college is a huge transition, and there are a few things you should look for in a college (especially a big one) if you are coming from a small school.
1. Community feeling.
The amazing community feel of my university was part of the reason I chose it. UCA has an incredible community full of fantastic people everywhere you turn. I feel at home here because every day I walk across campus, I see a friendly face. Even though UCA has over 11,000 students, I still feel like I belong because everyone is happy and talkative–and even when I don’t know someone, I feel like I could approach them and ask a question.
For example, I was a very confused freshman, and I had no idea where one of my classes was, so I asked a random person who was around the building where I thought I was supposed to be, and what do you know: They told me exactly where to go and I was able to locate my class. The small things that don’t seem very important were super important to the freshman me. I came from a school which was basically one long building, and I was not used to having 100+ buildings at my disposal. Being able to ask a simple question and get a non-sarcastic response back was awesome.
Another example of my school’s community feeling is our tailgates. Multiple people and stores from across Conway and people and organizations at the University of Central Arkansas rally behind our UCA Bears team at every home football game. At each game we literally block off the busiest street that runs through campus so that it’s a safe and pedestrian-friendly celebration. People tailgate with each other and share food, music and laughs, and it’s just an amazing experience. It makes you realize that not only is the UCA community behind you but so is the Conway community, and that’s so important when you come from a small high school!
2. Classroom size and professors.
One of the hardest things of going to a large college is the possibility of being just a number in the crowd. How big are the classes usually? How big are they in your major? These things are important because sometimes you need that one-on-one attention and you can’t always get that at bigger universities. Make sure you can see yourself being in the classes–even if they are on the larger side.
Another important thing is taking a look at your professors. Making sure that they are approachable and patient. Checking they are qualified but able to help people feel comfortable in a classroom is crucial. I highly encourage you to scope out RateMyProfessors (or your university’s equivalent) for all the professors in your major and see what the students say. It’s important to not take what they say on the site too seriously, but at the same time a lot of what is posted can be true. RateMyProfessors is one of the easiest ways to gather a lot of information about your professors at once.
3. Extracurricular activities and services.
When you are looking at colleges, it’s important that they stress student involvement. College would be ten times harder if I didn’t have some of the friends I have now through my extracurriculars! See if your university makes it easy to find organizations so that you can start building the community ties that were so easy to make at your smaller high school.
A good college also utilizes and advertises their services. Things like counselors, student life offices, and physical education/fitness centers make it easier to adjust. Make sure that you can easily access all these services, and see if they are advertised enough on campus to benefit you!
4. Residence halls and colleges.
You spend a lot of time in your residence hall–after all, you live in it! You need to make sure that a college’s residence halls reflect you as a person and that you can see yourself staying in any of them. My university has a ton of different types of residential options and also residential colleges (awesome themed residence halls that you can take classes in!).
I lived in an all-female residence hall my freshman year and loved it! All of the resident assistants took their jobs very seriously and tried to make the residence hall not just a dorm, but a community. Living with so many women who looked out for me, talked to me, and went to programs with me made for a much easier adjustment.
5. Huge discrepancies between university books and the campus.
If you go to campus and it looks nothing like the books,this should be a huge red flag. Obviously, most pictures are at least a little bit staged, but if it looks like they brought these students in one day a year to take pictures, run away! Marketing materials that the campus pays for should at least resemble the college a little, and if you don’t see the same community in the books as you see in real life, this isn’t the campus for you (unless the community is like 10 times better in real life!).