Senior year of high school brought with it the promise of a new chapter of my life hanging in the distance, so close that I would sit at home and fantasize a hundred different scenes. Being on my own, having new friends away from the microcosm of my town that I had been stuck in for my whole life; growing and learning and doing things that I loved. And now I'm more than a year removed from those winter nights spent dreaming up a future for myself, and so far I can say that almost nothing happened the way that I wanted or expected it to, yet somehow I think I may be better off for it.
In high school, I was a nerd. No doubt about that. I took as many AP classes as I could, spent late nights and entire weekends studying for exams or finishing projects, and would often forgo going out to parties and doing other questionable teenager things for fear of "getting caught," which in my mind was the worst thing that could possibly happen to me, and could jeopardize everything I had spent 4 years to make for myself.
This might sound kind of selfish, but my logic went like this: because I spent all this time focusing on school, and had achieved my goal of being one of the best students in my school, I deserved to go wherever I wanted for college. I had done my part, and there would be nothing stopping me from going to the school I had dreamed about in the big city, as if there's no other factors that play into what school you go to, besides whether or not you actually get in. And so I got into my dream school, and refused to think about the price tag, insisting "I'll worry about that later, just let me think about how great my life is going to be right now." And when all of the people around me insisted that I had better go with the "safe" option instead of the one I really really wanted for the longest time, I cried and I argued and I held onto my dream until the last day in April when I realized, for real, it actually couldn't happen.
And in September I moved into Ramapo College. I thought that there would be no place for me here at this 6,000 student New Jersey state liberal arts college. I really thought that I would need to have a huge program and a crowd of 20,000 students to fall into and a city outside my window for me to be happy. But really, one semester in and I think I've already found a place here, and opportunity that I may not have had in such a big place.
1. Shorter Commutes
Personally, I can walk from my room to any classroom, or any building on campus really, in 5-15 minutes. I know from friends at big schools that they sometimes have to leave 40 minutes or more before their classes to get there on time. Being 10 minutes away from all of my classes means that I can roll out of bed at 7:40 for an 8am, and that I won't have to worry about spending so much time outside when the weather really gets colder in the winter.
2. Scenic Views
The downside to my school may be the lack of a city feel, but the upside to that is that we're surrounded by small towns and beautiful mountain views. I've spent many fall days taking my time walking through the quad and looking out at the mountains
My walk to class across our cute little campus never exceeds 15 minutes, even if I stop to look at the beautiful mountain views surrounding me on all sides. My friends came easily; evidently all being from the same state is a great icebreaker to start out with. And a comprehensive liberal arts education means that my communications major has room for classes in Biology and Psychology, but also allows me to take hands on classes within my major starting in my second semester this spring. There's no way that I would be handling a camera this early, had I attended some huge university.
3. Small Class Sizes
Had I gone to a big state university, I could look forward to my first two years or so consisting mostly of lecture hall style classes with upwards of 200 students each. This idea seems totally crazy to me, because even my required math and english courses max out at about 35 people. My professors all know everyone in their classes by name, and are able to take time in class to work one on one with everyone, whether on working through tough homework problems or workshopping a thesis for a paper. In addition to the extra in class time, our small academic building makes it super easy to find any professor's office to ask them additional questions during their office hours. The experience I've had with the small classrooms I've been exposed to so far has made my transition to college even easier.
4. More Extracurricular Opportunities
My small school has allowed me to have a large role in many events so far, even though I'm still a Freshman, and at many other schools wouldn't be trusted to take such an active role in clubs and activities. I'm not a theater major, but this semester I had a role in one of our two mainstage dramas. I was elated to be given this opportunity, because I am passionate about acting and may want to pursue a theater major or minor going forward. At another school, it would be nearly impossible for a freshman who was in the theater program to get a part in a show, let alone someone in a totally different major. The experience I had this semester with the drama department introduced me to so many extremely talented people, many of whom were upperclassmen who I may never have met otherwise, and that makes me extremely grateful to be going to a school that is so inclusive of people outside their concentration.
5. More Inclusive Programs
Being at a school with less people means, naturally, that the program you're studying in will be smaller than it would be if you went to a larger school. For me, that program is Communication Arts, concentrating in Film and TV Production. Initially, I was dead set against the whole small program idea, because I assumed it meant that there were less connections and less qualified people to work with. However, in just a few months I've learned that just because my school might not be the biggest or have the most competitive program does not mean that there aren't amazing people who are a part of it, and all of the people from my program whom I have met so far have been extraordinarily talented, and I'm very excited to continue working with them. I've also found that I'm going to get to do hands on work in classes within my major earlier than I would have been able to at a bigger school. For example, I'm taking a filmmaking class spring semester of my freshman year, where some bigger programs restrict working with some equipment to upperclassmen.
Overall, I'm super happy with my experience at this little New Jersey school, and that makes me excited for all the semesters to come and all the opportunities I might not even know I have yet. I'm so looking forward to meeting more great people and making more great things with the next few years. Surprisingly for once, the smart and rational option was the one that turned out best.
lead image credit: Dave Topkin Via Unsplash https://unsplash.com/search/photos/university?photo=lguU6sOKwZA