My university is huge. Not just in how many people there are (almost 30,000 undergraduates), but also in terms of the size of the campus (703 acres). There are many misconceptions about large schools—that people float through them anonymously, that professors and administrators don’t care, that you would be better off at a smaller school. They aren’t true.
Going to a big school doesn’t have to be daunting or overly challenging. There are several ways to shrink down a huge campus to a manageable size and maximize its potential. Large campuses offer so much more than small ones: you won’t find the opportunities available at a large school anywhere else. Don’t let the size of a school deter you from achieving your goals. Here are nine ways to make a large campus seem much smaller than it really is:
1. Get Lost
Grab a campus map, and go out exploring. The sooner you acquaint yourself with your campus, the sooner it will feel like home. Figure out where your classes are, where the rec center is, where the health center (or hospital if your university has a medical school), and where tutoring programs take place. Make mental notes of shortcuts between buildings, bus stops, trails, quiet places to study, libraries, etc. Figure out where stuff is, and you’ll feel less like an outsider.
2. Seek Small Communities
Finding a small, supportive community at a large school is an easy way to shrink it down and to meet people with similar interests or goals. This can be achieved in a variety of ways: joining student organizations, academic programs (like your school’s honors program or a department-specific group), and creating study groups for large lecture courses.
3. Use Your Resources
Your tuition covers more than just the courses you take. Rec centers, counseling centers, career centers—almost everything on-campus is also subsidized by your tuition fees. Since you’re paying for all these services, you might as well use them to your advantage. If you are unsure about which classes to register for, make an advising appointment. If you want to make sure your resume and cover letter are up-to-date, stop by the career center. These resources will help you stay on-track and guide you during your time in college.
4. Befriend Your Advisor(s)
Over the course of your four (or more, or less) years at a large university, you will have several advisors guiding you along the way. You may have a general advisor while you are still an undeclared major, an advisor for your specific major(s), and an advisor through the honors program or other programs that you participate in. “Advisors” also don’t actually have to have the title “adviser” per se. Advisers could also come in the form of mentors who give you advice and guide you along the way—professors, older students, grad students, staff.
5. Do Something
Participate. Find something that you like to do, and do it. You could join an already-existing student organization or found one to satisfy a particular niche. You could take your passion for learning to the next level and spend time outside of class exploring a particular topic. You could volunteer in the surrounding community or on-campus. There are so many different ways to get involved and to cultivate your skills and passions at universities—that’s part of the reasons universities exist, to cultivate students’ potential. Participating in something will link you to the campus community in a tangible way.
6. Make Acquaintances
Not everybody you meet has to be your best friend. Acquaintances are great to have too—the people you meet and get to know, but maybe not on as deep a level as someone you would call a friend. Knowing people on campus, especially at a big school, will make it more personable. Just knowing people all around campus can make it friendlier—and you will have an endless store of people to casually grab coffee with.
7. Attend Events
Meet new people, acquaint yourself with your campus, and get free stuff at campus events. Within a particular week, there are typically dozens of events happening—everything from orchestra concerts to political debates to departmental hang-outs to guest lectures to trivia nights (and usually featuring food, because college students like snacks). If something sounds interesting to you, go!
8. Ask Older Students
For advice about anything—courses, internships, majors, relationships, etc. Because they have been there and done that, and most likely have pondered their past mistakes and wished they could have done something differently. Listen to their advice, think it through, and evaluate it in the context of your own life.
9. Choose Sections Carefully
Just because you go to a big school doesn’t mean you’re stuck in 500-person lectures. You can avoid large lectures by taking introductory courses with graduate students, who teach much smaller sections with the same exact content as the large lectures. Since these courses cover the basics, taking them with graduate students will not affect the quality of your education or how much you learn.
It is definitely possible to go to a big school and enjoy your experience there. Millions of college students are doing so, thriving, and not just surviving, at their respective institutions, including myself.