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Making a Big School Small

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how to make a big school small

Rectangles and squares, colder and warmer, more and less of a certain ingredient. These are all things, we are told at various points throughout our lives, that can be manipulated in one direction, but not the other.

A square is a rectangle, but not vise-verse. If you’re cold, you can wear a sweater, but there’s only so much you can remove to cool down. You can always add a little salt to your meal if you need to, but it’s nearly impossible to take any away. So it is with colleges and universities as well. You can make a big school significantly smaller, but the other direction doesn’t quite work.

There are advantages and drawbacks to both types of schools, and certainly every individual institution is markedly different. But the pattern holds on a general basis — even if it should not necessarily be the deciding factor.

What are some advantages of big schools?

Well, for the most part, they tend to have a greater variety of programs because, by sheer student quantity, they know they can fill a greater variety of classes. Oftentimes, they have access to research facilities that smaller schools by nature can’t have (although there are exceptions). Additionally, larger schools can sometimes afford to keep up to date on things like scientific equipment and technology because they can guarantee someone will use them and because they can foot the bill. On a personal level, you’re more likely to find some friends who share your interests or sense of humor if there are, pardon the expression, more fish in your particular sea.

Still, a large school (as I, in my first month at Maryland, have surely found out) is daunting. For one, the place is so expansive that it can feel at times like a major city. Not only are there more people bustling about than you may have seen in your entire life, but (if you’re from afar like I am) you don’t know nearly any of them. It’s a really big change, but it’s one that can be mitigated by — as the saying goes — making that big school smaller. Here are a few select tips:

Leave the Door Open

No, not all the time. Not when you’re sleeping and not when you’re out. Not when you’re studying hard (or writing that TeenLife blog post). But when you’re just idly reading or having some free time, leave the door open to the hall. It’s a simple way to meet more people. Folks walking by might pop in to say hello, and there’s a friend right off the bat. In my case, in a small living learning program, I already know most of my hall mates. But this works in a large building, too, where passersby might in fact be strangers. Just make sure you keep some semblance of tidiness, or else you might not want that door open.

Find or Start a Communal Activity

Some of my friends and I, for the first few weeks, would often come down to the Basement Lounge of our building and watch a movie. Now, we’ve turned that into a club, currently pursuing official status. It started as something natural and effortless, and now we’re simply expanding something we’d already do, for others. Already through the club, I’ve met people from far-reaching residence hall communities I otherwise wouldn’t have. Additionally, and more pressingly, it gives me something to do to have fun. As a person who has never been much into partying, it’s an important component of my social life.

Set a Schedule

Some of my friends and I realized soon into college that all of us were converging in the dining hall at rather similar times. Now, we have it pretty much set that at 6:15 — a group of us will head over from our dorm. Not only does this help to form yet another communal activity, but it also helps all of us settle into a bit of a routine.

Routine is comforting. It helps make the distance from home that much smaller. And it’s not just meal times. Try to set a laundry day, a bed time if you can, and maybe even a wake up or work out routine (not to mention homework). In addition to the comfort of a planned routine, this ensures that all necessary tasks get done (literally) on schedule. That being said…

Be Flexible

It has been hard for me to realize that I cannot control everything in my life here, and furthermore that nobody else can control things in my life either. Nobody is telling me what to do; all my out of class commitments are ones I myself determine. That means that sometimes things come up that are unforeseen, in both good ways and bad. In those cases, I have struggled to become more flexible. Humans are creatures of habit, and I am no exception. But to be the best Terrapin I can be, I know I’ll have to come out of this particular shell a quite a bit. And that means breaking with my schedule where I must and being open to new, unforeseen things.

Learn Names

Part of being flexible means meeting new people, and part of that means learning people’s names. I’m okay at names, but I certainly have to think about it. In this world of Facebook et al, it can be a little easier, so make an effort to first know everyone in your hallway, and then (if you’re in a smaller building like me) everyone in your dorm. It makes an immediate connection that helps make that big university quite a lot smaller.

In conclusion, I hope these tips were helpful, and please know that they can be carried into avenue of life — even those entering high school or middle school for the first time. New things are scary, but we must also realize that their newness is a virtue and a major plus. For that reason, we must consciously commit ourselves to making that new, exciting world a lot less scary.

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Written by Evan Berkowitz

Evan Berkowitz is a freshman at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is a graduate of Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, where he was Managing Editor of the student newspaper, The Forum. He is a regular blogger at TeenLife and contributed to the now-defunct Boston Globe GreenBlog. He is also a staff reporter for the University of Maryland Writers' Bloc, a literary and arts-focused news website.

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