Going to a Big School: The Pros and Cons

When I was trying to figure out where to apply for college last fall, I remember constantly getting hit with the age-old question: “Well, do you want to go to a big or small school?” Coming from a small town, I felt like everyone around me expected me to go somewhere small to match my high school experience, but the opposite was true; I wanted a chance to get out and join a big community – so I went with my gut. And I’m glad I did.

(Note: not everything I list here will apply to EVERY big school, but they all apply to Iowa and I’m assuming they’re general enough to be the case for most big schools)

The Pros:
– You always have new people to meet. If you’re ever feeling like you don’t fit in with the people you’ve been hanging out with, you will always have the chance to find new friends. Friend groups are much more fluid and flexible than they are in high school, too, so it’s easy to join a pre-existing one.

– You have a city at your disposal. In my experience, most small schools are in small towns. The opposite is true with big schools, and it is extremely convenient. If I need anything, it’s a five-minute walk from my dorm to the Target downtown. There’s plenty to do, which is not usually the case in small towns.

– Your school’s sports teams play on the biggest stages for college sports. If you’re someone who isn’t that into sports, you might not think this point matters much to you. But personally, as someone who never really was into football before, I’ve become the Hawkeyes’ #1 fan. Just this week, we got to play (and BEAT) #4 ranked Penn State in a sold-out Kinnick Stadium to move us up to the #2 ranked football team in the nation. I’m from Pennsylvania, so getting a win over my local state school felt SO good. The energy was insane and is something that you could never find at a small school.

– There are (typically) more resources available. More buildings, more places to study, more clubs, more options for majors, etc.

The Cons:
– At a big school, you’ll have a really hard time being the “best” at something. For example, an RA I met is insanely good at Chess. He can beat people blindfolded, is an International Master, and in an online format, is considered a Grand Master… but there’s another guy in the Chess club that consistently beats him. In a setting where so many people from all over the country come to study, the competition is really stiff.

– It can be tough to stand out to a professor when you have large lectures, which you wouldn’t find at a small school. Luckily, Iowa doesn’t really have this problem; despite the large student population, most classes are pretty small. However, it can be difficult for some people to get used to having educators that can’t match their name to their face.

– The transition from high school to college at big schools can be more overwhelming than at small schools. Feeling lost and lonely in a huge sea of unfamiliar faces is really difficult, and small schools usually have environments that are less intimidating.

Overall, I’m really happy with my decision to go to a big school. I feel like I’ve been well-equipped to overcome a lot of the cons, and I enjoy being a part of such a large community. Iowa has been great so far, and I can’t wait to tell you guys even more about it here.

How to Make a College Schedule That Works For You

To me, one of the worst things about high school was the lack of autonomy over your own schedule; you sat in class for 1/3rd of the day, then went to your practices afterward, then crammed in time for your homework at some point once you finally got home before going to bed and doing it all over again. That system (specifically, spending so much time in class every day) is designed in the most rigid way imaginable and doesn’t allow students to set their schedules up in a manner that fits their needs.

Thankfully, college introduces an incredible amount of freedom that changes this. You have almost complete control over your day/week, and it’s one of the biggest reasons I’ve enjoyed my time at college so far. But since you, as a high school student have never had the opportunity to make your own schedule before, how do you even go about it once college starts?

Before move-in, you’ll talk with your advisor to create a class schedule. Personally, I recommend going lighter on the courses for this first semester; you don’t want your first experience at college to be made up of countless deadlines, endless papers, and overbearing readings. Going light also gives you the chance to feel out what a college course is like and gives you some extra free time to dedicate towards homework/studying if you feel like you need that.

Also, when you make your class schedule, you get to choose (to an extent) what times your classes are at. This is really nice and allows you to choose what is most convenient for you, as opposed to the 7:30-2:30 schedule you were forced to follow in high school. Now, this is a controversial opinion, but I recommend taking an early class your first semester. Having an early class forces (or at least, encourages) you to get on a healthy sleep schedule, and it gets you used to waking up early and starting your day at a reasonable hour. You also don’t want to get used to sleeping in too much, because you’re guaranteed to have to take some early classes eventually in college. Getting used to it from the beginning makes the process much easier.

Finally, once your class schedule is set, you get to choose how you’ll spend all of your time that you’re not in class. It might be easy to put a ton of that time towards having fun, but you definitely want to pencil in some dedicated time that you’ll use to get your work done. A generally good tip is to do work or study for a class for an amount of time equal to twice the credits (or semester-hours) that class is worth per week. For example, if your Rhetoric course is worth 3 credits, you’ll want to spend 6 hours a week doing homework or studying for that class. From my experience so far, that rule is sort of flexible, and you’ll learn early on which classes require that level of dedication and which ones don’t.

On one final note, remember that with the pros that come with the increased freedom you get at college, you also take on an extra amount of responsibility. No matter how much time you spend creating a schedule, if you don’t keep yourself responsible and stick to it, you’ll have a hard time handling college courses. So break out your planners, hang up those neat whiteboard calendars that you get from Target, and get scheduling 🙂

The Transition from High School to College

I just finished my first week of classes at the University of Iowa, and I feel like I’ve already learned a ton about what to expect over the next four years. A lot of the qualities of college life are easy to assume and prepare for, but there’s also a few things that you definitely don’t expect when you’re getting ready to move in.

I’ll get the obvious things out of the way. Classes move much, much faster than in high school, so you need to come to school prepared to stay on top of your work. I can already tell that if I slack for even one week, I’ll be spending the rest of the semester trying to catch up. But, you also have a lot more time on your hands than you did in high school. I find it easy to just walk a short distance to the Honors Center and get a few hours of work done in between classes. It’s so much nicer not having to sit in class for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week.

Something I didn’t expect to be such a nuisance is the dining. One thing that’s nice about high school is that lunch is built into your schedule, so you and everyone else goes at (roughly) the same time every day. College is a lot more freeform, so you might eat at different times every day. It’s a hassle to walk down to the dining hall, and it’s even more difficult to find someone to eat with. I’m excited for the Market2Go program to launch at Iowa soon because that will make eating a lot easier, and less time-consuming.

Also: waking up to use the restroom is ANNOYING. You have to throw on shoes, grab your key, and walk all the way down the hallway. And, at Iowa, the restrooms don’t have paper towels and only have hand-dryers (which are really loud), so it wakes you up a bit more than you’d like if you’re trying to go right back to sleep.

Finally, the height of your bed has a much bigger impact than you’d expect. I live in Daum, and most people there chose to have their beds lofted so they could have more space in the room. That sounds great until you sit up and smack your head off the roof. Again and again and again. I set my bed to the Captain height, which is high enough to have some room under my bed, but not too high to be a bother. The thing is, if you plan on filling a lot of space in your room, you probably need at least one of the two beds to be lofted. It really isn’t too much of a problem, but it’s something that you should put some thought into before you choose how you want your bed to be oriented (and, if you don’t like it, you can always have it changed later in the year).

I know a lot of the things I just mentioned are unexpected annoyances, but there are even more unexpected joys that come with living at college. Making friends with everyone on your floor is something I didn’t really expect, but I hang out with people on the same floor as me every single day. Something else that has been really nice is the ability to just go to the library, or the Blank Honors Center, or the IMU, etc. to have a nice space to study and get work done. For me, one of the biggest challenges during virtual learning was having to do work at home. I felt so much less motivated knowing I could just walk 15 steps to my room and take a nap instead of doing work. At college, there are tons of places to go and study that make you so much more productive.

A final note: for a lot of people, the summer after high school graduation is filled with anxiety, dread, and a longing to go back to high school. Once you move in, those feelings go away so insanely fast. You realize how much better college is than high school and you can’t believe you ever felt hesitant about going to college. Once you get a taste of what campus life is like, you never want to go back.