I go to a big school. No, really. With an average undergraduate population of 40,000, I go to a BIG school. That sort of number can sometimes frighten people and make them think like this:
“How will I make any close friends when there are so many people?”
“Will I lose myself in a sea of faces?”
“Do any of my social choices have any true bearing or will they be forgotten like the hundreds of other people who’ve made those same choices in the past?”
So let me provide you with a short list for how to make a big school small. Here are some helpful hints to calm you down when you arrive for orientation and realize that you’re terrible at remembering names and start to consider whether this gigantic collegiate thinktank was the right choice for you.
1) Take a deep breath. It was the right choice.
Especially first semester, there is a lot of speculation whether or not the college you chose was the right choice for you. Maybe you aren’t best friends with your roommate, or you change your major because you don’t enjoy the subject, or you drop your plate in the dining hall and everybody claps (don’t worry, it happens to everyone). Don’t forget that you’re surrounded by 25,000-plus other people who have all dropped their plates in the dining hall at some point. If you’re feeling alone, you’re not the only one feeling that way. Take a deep breath, pick up your plate, and throw away your now-ruined mac and cheese.
2) Find your family in the clubs/teams/groups/co-ops.
The number of groups and clubs and teams at a big school can be daunting but they are truly your yellow-brick road to lifelong friends. The best way to make a big school small is to participate in one of these groups. That is where you’ll find people who think like you think, who believe things you believe, who like things you like. You’ll find that you start spending most of your time with those people, having fun, and doing work and exploring. Then you’ll graduate and realize that you are leaving with a handful of people who you call family that you just happened to meet because you were interested in the arts and crafts co-operative. Fully explore your options when you first get on campus. Freshmen year you need to be more outgoing than ever before.
3) If you don’t feel good about your friends, you can find new ones.
Here’s a little secret: At any school where the undergraduate population is larger than 25,000, you can go to any number of student-run social events and make new friends that are a better fit for you than the ones you are now trying to avoid. Some people don’t gel with each other. If you’re feeling that’s the case, no need to beat yourself up about how socially inept you are, just go to a college radio concert or an improv comedy show or a student-led jazz concert or an art gallery or a paranormal activity club meeting or a field hockey game or you get the point.
Also, if your undergrad population hits the 40,000 mark, you are lucky enough to have the magical ability to not see the people you decided to stop seeing. Use it to your advantage.
4) Learn how to be alone.
This is something that I am still learning, but it’s important to understand. When you’re at a big school there will be days where you have to do your own thing: Complete your assignments, rush to class, eat meals, have an advising meeting, pass out in bed exhausted. With as packed a schedule as most people have and with the sheer size of most big campuses, it’s important to remember that doing things alone can be to your advantage.
Sometimes eating dinner at a table by yourself can be really refreshing. Don’t be afraid to get out of class at noon and go for a walk or eat some lunch on a park bench. As much as a social presence is important at a big school, it’s not as important as your mental well-being, and being alone is a great way to check in with yourself.