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Earlham College

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What should every freshman at your school know before they start?

Dear Rebecca, I know you are nervous about going to college in the fall. It will be the first time you've lived away from your childhood home, your family, and friends you've known since preschool. I won't sugarcoat this for you - college is going to be hard. Academically, you will learn things about the world that will shake you to your core. Socially, you will have to learn how to live with your best friends and people who drive you crazy (often, these are the same people). Emotionally, you will experience extreme loneliness and even depression, at times. But you are strong. Not only will you graduate college in four years, you'll graduate a better, smarter, more mature person. You will graduate knowing yourself and feeling confident in who you are. It will take you these next four years to get to that point. When you have trouble - academically, socially, or personally - seek help. Tell a professor, a friend, or a counselor. You never have to endure anything alone. Just look to the light at the end of the tunnel. Do your best, and remember never to worry about that which you can't control.

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As a homeschooled student, the best advice I can give is to homeschoolers: find a school that non-traditional. Unless the student really wants the formal learning experience, I highly recommend finding a school that doesn't give grades, allows students to design their own major easily, does only one class at a time, etc. Try to get a feel for how flexible the school is in doing things a little outside the norm. The hardest thing for me (and one of my other homeschooled friends at my college) was adjusting to being told how to learn (what classes I have to take when, doing busy-work homework, etc.), when, as self-dictator of my own education for 10 years, I already knew perfectly well how to do it. I resented conforming to what the school said my learning cycle should be, and I resented that I had so much homework that I couldn't properly pursue my own interests. Even in classes I enjoyed, I only barely had time to complete all my homework anyway, let alone going deeper into a subject. So I suppose to summarize: find a place that mimics the homeschool style/values of learning.

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Something I did when I was choosing a college which helped me was really thinking about what I liked and disliked about my high school and using that information when looking at colleges. For example, my high school had very rigid general education requirements and I wasn't happy with that and so I looked for colleges with more flexible gen eds. In other words take the experiences you have already had in school and use them to figure out your own preferences about your future education. As for making the most of the college experience, seek people out who have things in common with you by getting involved with what you're interested in around campus, try new things, and go to campus events. Colleges bring a lot of free music, workshops, and lectures to their campuses, so take advantage of them. Finding a community to be a part of while you're in college will make all the difference. I also recomend studying abroad. My experience abroad was excellent and colleges tend to offer great opportunities to study in other countries.

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Search long and hard; use all resources you have to the maximum yield that they can offer. Doing lots of research as well as following up with visits is vital. College is important, and not just to find a job. College is an experience that helps you find yourself, and your place in the world. It shapes who you are. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to really devote a lot of thought, time, and effort into finding a school that will be right for you or your child. Do not leave the decision to your high school guidance counselor, they often do not have a broad enough background or knowledge of schools that are not focused on "traditional" areas such as law and medicine. Schools with more specialized and less-common areas of interest will be entirely up to you to find. Do not give up, or settle for what others tell you is good for you. Find your own path; e-mail the admissions department, ask for more information, set up an interview, visit the school.

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Think about what is rewarding, not what is interesting. Do you want to deal with the philosophy of life, or do you want to help people directly? Do you want to contemplate the theory of how history affects the present day, or would you feel more rewarded by helping others? My high school senior self was selfish and egocentric. It is doubtful that these questions would change her opinion, but it is always worth a shot. I could have saved myself several years of a low-paying job and soul-searching had I not focused on being a historian. At 18, the difference between an intellectual reward and a spiritual reward was small. Yet, maybe posing these questions would have persuaded her to at least think about what makes her happy to the core, not what is fun to debate. Life experience has proven to me that philosophy is not rewarding, and that true joy is seeing how my actions directly improve the well-being of others.

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In finding the right college it is important to have an idea of the community you are looking for. Decide what is important for you not only accademically but also what sort of environment you think you would best be able to live in. What is most important is that you are happy at your college and learning what you want to learn. It is important not to get caught up with what is a more prestigeous school and rather what fits you, personally, the best. Make sure you visit the college! Colleges always try to make themselves pretty on paper but if possible stay the night at colleges you are seriously thinking about attending. That way you will better be able to get a sense of the town, and the on-campus environment and community. The best thing to remember is that learning can happen anywhere as long as you are motivated and happy. So make sure you choose a place that you are happy at.

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I would encourage incoming college students and their parents to invest in their interests and motivations, and to access the value they seek in a college education. I would strongly recommend looking into smaller-name colleges, with an appreciation for an individualized education and overall college experience. Campus life is also integral to how one relates to their college and their peers, and it's important to choose a setting which enriches your goals. Keep an eye out for programs to study abroad as part of your major or general studies, and pursue opportunities unique to the campus, whether through a professor's expertise, a peer's cultural background, or surrounding the school's own issues and traditions. You'll find a more complete understanding of yourself if you are receptive to budding interests, new perspectives, and challenges alike.

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Picking the right college is more than choosing where your fellow classmates choose to go. I picked a college that most of my past classmates would not have even considered, and I loved it. The school that you select should be the best fit for you, individually, or not even the best fit for you at all, if that makes any sense. Choose the college where you think you will learn the most about yourself, as well as the field that interests you the most. For example, I am from a conservative background and chose an extremely liberal campus. At first I was unsure of my decision, but after completing four years of school there, I know that I could not have picked a better option. The best way to learn is from those who may not have the same viewpoints as you do. If we spent all of our time around people who were like us, we would never grow as people.

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1) Do not let your child have complete control over the choice of where to attend college. High schools seniors are entirely uncapable of making that choice, especially given the financial aspect in respect to our current economic crisis. 2) Make sure to send your child to a campus close to home. Your average college campus is a vial corrupting place. Maintain close supervision of your child is the only to make sure your child gets anything whatsoever out of college, unless you are looking to be grandparents anytime soon. 3) Accept the fact that your child will never be the same. 4) Finally, be sure that you get your child hitched to that nice little neighbor girl, if not your son your son will end up in the arms of some sad drunk girl.

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Students- Wherever you end up, you have the ability to make or break your experience. Those that are the happiest are the ones that find the positives out of any situation. My parent's choose my school for me, and I resented it. Yet, if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing. I found my passion and my future. I loved my undergraduate experience because I made it what I wanted and did the things I loved- intensive learning, athletics, photography, and study abroad. Things don't always work out the way you want, but if you can find what makes you happy and embrace it- it won't matter. I walked away from my undergrad getting everything I ever wanted and then some- I challenge you to do the same.

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