“I need to get out of here!” It’s a feeling shared by teenagers almost daily that is expressed loudly to anyone within earshot. And “here” is wherever you are at the moment — home, school, community. Just about anywhere else would be better than where you are.
Perhaps you recognize the symptoms. It seems the older you get the more claustrophobic your world becomes. Everybody is in your business and you need space. You’re ready for a new look, a change of scenery. And right about now, college seems like an inviting destination.
As eager as you might be to get up and go, though, the chances are there is a quiet voice inside you (never to be heard by anyone else!) that says something like, “I’m not sure I want to go. They feed me and let me drive their car. Besides, my friends are right around the corner. I actually have a good life here. Do I really have to leave?”
The answer is “yes.” At some point, you will need to find a change of address. And, if that place will be a college, why not find one that bears the qualities you like in your home environment — a place that includes people with shared values and interests, a place where people will encourage you on bad days and celebrate with you on good days? Why not find a community into which you can settle comfortably?
The best college fit will be a place that offers a community in which you will feel comfortable.
It will be a place where you won’t be distracted by worries about how you fit in. You won’t worry about what people think about you — how you talk, what you say, how you dress, or what you think. You won’t have to prove yourself to anyone. Instead, you can relax and focus on getting the most out of your college experience, and that includes, by the way, your academic work. There is a strong correlation between one’s comfort level in college and one’s grade point average!
So, how do you find such a place?
It’s hard to search the Internet for such a fit. Chat room conversations can be deceptive as they tend to reflect only the opinions of those who participate. And the images you see on videos and in printed materials are rarely unattractive.
As a result, you will need to do some original research. Specifically, you need to experience college campuses and, in the process, be sensitive to your “gut” reactions. Quite often students who believe they’ve found the colleges of their dreams are hard-pressed to explain the attraction, except to say, “It’s a gut feeling. It feels right — like I would be at home.” As you think about living apart from the comforts of home, finding your niche is vitally important! So let your gut go to work for you.
What “gut feeling” do you hope to find as you look at colleges?
Look for students who come from similar backgrounds — who share your interests and your loyalties. While they shouldn’t be exact clones of your friends from home, it’s a good sign if they are people from whom you can learn, and around whom you can grow personally. In all likelihood, your gut will tell you when you have found people you’d like to get to know better.
Moreover, what does your gut tell you about a college’s inclination to stretch and support you through various aspects of your college experience? Do you sense that people in a given environment will encourage and support you in your journey of self-discovery? Based on your experience on college campuses, where do you see evidence that interaction with others will help broaden your perspective—get you to take risks and think outside the box periodically? What does your gut tell you about how an environment will respond if you struggle? Will anyone know? Will anyone care?
The answers to these questions will help define the ideal college community for you. At a time in your life when you might be aching to get away and have a different experience, it’s vital that you “land” well when you get to college. Be careful not to react impulsively, then, as you consider your college “home away from home.” Be sure to test your reactions. Until you can experience such a place first hand and come away with a really strong, positive “gut feeling,” that feeling only exists in your imagination. Be prepared to visit campuses—and revisit and revise your list accordingly—as your college search continues until the day you know the place that feels right for you because it feels like home!
Article by Peter Van Buskirk, Director of Student Advocacy at Revolution Prep