Large colleges and universities are often depicted as impersonal, get-lost-in-the-crowd types of institutions. Some say it’s better to be a big fish in the small pond of a tiny college. The truth is, large universities have so much to offer their students by way of classes, extracurricular activities and life experiences that anyone can make a large university feel like home.
I’m speaking from experience, since I attended Penn State, a school with more than 45,000 students at its main campus. Surprisingly, that large enrollment doesn’t even put Penn State in the top 10 universities based on size. In case you’re wondering, Arizona State University gets the honors as the largest university with more than 60,000 students.
These large universities not only afford their students more opportunities than their smaller counterparts, they also offer irreplaceable life lessons. Here are five things I learned from going to a big school.
Sure, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and anonymous during the first few weeks at any college or university. Add swarms of students and tens of thousands of upperclassmen, and you’ve got a recipe for feeling seriously isolated.
I learned an important lesson those first few weeks. I simply had to dive in and get involved if I was going to make friends and meet new people. For example, I got involved with a major fundraiser for pediatric cancer research called THON.
I remember a tour guide during my college visit saying, “You can make a big school smaller but you can’t make a small school bigger.” I made my big school smaller by joining clubs and meeting people, and I instantly put dozens of potential friends into my orbit.
Another great tip for making a large school feel manageable is to get a job on campus. The work experience will look great on your resume and show that you can juggle schoolwork and job responsibilities at the same time. Beyond that, you’ll make friends with your colleagues, meet students and earn a little extra dough.
For example, I worked as a note-taker for Nittany Notes and was a T.A. for ECON courses. Granted, the job as a Teacher’s Assistant didn’t pay, but it was a great experience and I got credits for it. Depending on where you work, you can get some awesome perks, too. A friend worked at the campus bookstore and got a pretty great discount on textbooks and PSU clothing. Another friend worked at the library, and was able to finish schoolwork during the slow, quiet hours when the library wasn’t busy.
Big universities have lots of public transportation options, since campuses are larger and there are more people to move. The expansive campus – as well as the crowded buses – encouraged me to bike or walk to my classes, sometimes miles every day. This not only helped me fend off the infamous freshman 15, it also introduced me to a new hobby: Riding my bike to work and class.
Even if you don’t need to bike to class, a habit of staying healthy is a life lesson to carry with you into adulthood.
It’s impossible to go to a large school and not find yourself in a lecture hall with a few hundred of your classmates. It was up to me to find a way to stay focused and engaged in class, since my professors couldn’t tell if I was paying attention or not.
Of course, the job as a note-taker helped, but was a tough adjustment at first. I quickly realized I would have to be self-disciplined and responsible to get every bit of information down. This has helped me as I transition to the work environment, since my boss isn’t here to keep me on task. Going to a large university can help turn a slacker into a self-starter.
Even though the classes are large in the beginning, once you select a major and phase out of the general required classes, the student-to-professor ratio drops significantly. Because of the renown of large universities, students have the opportunity to study with some of the top experts in their field. At first you may work only with a professor’s teaching assistant, but eventually – through hard work, visits during office hours and networking – you can work directly with professors.
Again, these skills translate very well to the workplace. If you work in the field of your major, a reference from your renowned professor can help you land a dream job. Even if you go outside of your field of study, the skills of networking, asking for advice from a mentor and connecting with accomplished professionals are necessary to advancement.
Simply put, there are life lessons to be learned by attending a large school. Don’t discount a university based only on its size, because going there could end up being the smartest decision you’ll ever make.
Did you attend a large school? What lessons did you learn there? Leave your advice and comments below!
Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer and the founder of Punched Clocks, sharing advice on finding happiness and success in life and at work. After graduating from Penn State, she moved to Harrisburg to start her career – and is loving every minute of it. Follow Sarah for more advice and a glimpse into the many, many things she learns from @SarahLandrum