To all those high school seniors coming up on the May 1 deadline, keep in mind the essentials. Don't let reputation get in your way, don't base your decision on rumors heard from other people.
Do your research. All of it. Most importantly, feel at home.
Our transition from living with family to living with a roommate, in a dorm, is probably one of the biggest changes for every high school graduate coming up on higher learning. To feel safe and establish a community is an unnoticed essential, one that I think we take for granted when we have home base safely planted in our families, or in a house.
When you look at these schools, think about if you can see yourself truly living there. Can you become one of the kids on the street? You probably won't be special, you'll start out as one of the wide-eyed freshmen making wrong turns, asking for directions.
It's hard to figure out if you can actually live with these people. With a few steps, I have found that it is much easier to ascertain compatibility.
- Not unlike finding romantic compatibility, there should be some sort of chemistry. Simply by observing the people and setting around you, are you interested? Walking around campus, are there things that look wonderful to you? Do you want to keep listening to the conversations of the students around you? Perhaps you even know what they are talking about, a book you have read, a band you like.
- Go on a blind date(s). Find a student, maybe even two or three, and ask them a whole bunch of questions. Ask them anything that you care about, and these students should not be the tour guides. Ask them about the other people that go to the school, about the community. The tour guides are wonderful for the facts of the schools, but they tend to sugar coat. I was recently in a friend's room that is a tour destination, and when asked about outside noise, the tour guide responded that all one had to do was close the door and noise was no problem, that studying was peaceful! We looked at each other, not only thinking of the noise we hear from New York City, but of the Dub-step maniac who lives next to me, and the audible socializing or phone calls that go on in the halls, even past quiet hours.
- Notice the most poignant parts of your trip, what you remember in retrospect. If something truly makes a good impression, keep that in mind. Usually these are the things that matter to you the most. Keep an eye out for wonderful things, something that you will enjoy doing or seeing every day. When I walked into the Bobst Library of NYU, I knew that I would enjoy having classes there, studying, whatever I would do. It is an amazing piece of architecture, and is one of the only places that we can call 'on campus.' In the same breath, if there is something that bugs you, it probably won't change. When I visited Sarah Lawrence, it seemed to me that their social scene was more relaxed than I am used to. Perhaps I just wasn't with the socially active people, but after being in a busy city, I do not think that I would have as much fun on a secluded campus. I attended a poetry jam that was amusing, but what I remembered from the trip is that it was one of the few options for Friday night activities.
Lastly, keep in mind that even if you are bitterly unhappy when you first get to school, things can change. I have two friends who applied early decision to NYU, and when they got here, they realized it was far from what it seemed. Unhappy for a whole semester, they both stuck it out and have now realized that they have made the city their second home. As for myself, I had difficulty finding the exact people who make me feel like this is my school, but I think that these things simply come with time. The most important thing is that I feel comfortable here. Walking up Fifth Avenue on a warm spring night, I find that I know my way around and enjoy my school within my city.
Most importantly, don't forget to savor the time you still have at your first home. After all, dining hall food rarely lives up to a home cooked meal.