On Big Schools vs. Small Schools: Part 2
Read Part 1, where I talk about my friend Claire, her life as a UC Berkeley student, how we chose our respective colleges, and my experiences visiting her in Berkeley.
One of my favorite babysitting techniques to make nervous kids more comfortable is to ask them to show me their room. Kids love showing off their special place in the world; they love being able to be the expert, the one giving the tour and answering the questions. They get so excited to have someone genuinely interested in their world. A few weeks ago, when my friend Claire visited me here at Kenyon, I felt as though I was that little kid, showing her every detail, pointing out where I have classes and walking her through my schedule. It’s always so much fun to have visitors, so I was thrilled that she made the trip out here (and that I got to introduce her to the Midwest for the first time)!
A few nights ago, I talked to Claire over Skype. She’s back in her apartment, and we chatted about her thoughts on Kenyon and UC Berkeley while she cooked dinner before a biology study session. Here were some of her thoughts:
“It’s just very different from Berkeley,” she said, when I asked her what she thought of Kenyon. “It’s small and rural, which is opposite of big and urban. The people and the atmosphere seemed less stressed out.”
I asked her why she considered big universities as opposed to smaller colleges. “I think just because I grew up with my whole family going to big schools,” said Claire, whose grandparents met at UC Berkeley. “My grandma would take me to Cal games, and then our school would take field trips to these schools; I just kind of saw myself there. I wanted the big-school atmosphere in terms of school spirit and athletic events; I didn’t want to be far away from home.”
Much of our conversation revolved around the differences between UC Berkeley’s urban setting and Kenyon’s rural environment: “There’s a lot more stuff immediately around you to do,” Claire said about city life, noting the diverse food options downtown. “I don’t know if there’s ever been a day that we haven’t heard a siren drive by. But most of the time, I don’t feel that unsafe, and I like that we can go places on buses. I’ve gotten used to it, too.”
“I think as far as safety goes, Kenyon is very safe, as in you can call your campus security about a bat in the lounge and they’ll actually send someone out,” Claire said, referencing the night she arrived at Kenyon, when some friends knocked on my door to tell us that a rather agitated bat was flying around the lounge of our residence hall. We called Campus Safety, and an officer promptly came by to check out the situation. I asked Claire what she would have done had she found a bat in her lounge last year, when she was still living in a residence hall. “We would call our RA, but he probably wouldn’t do anything. It probably wouldn’t go any further than that. You called, and someone was there right away.”
Claire lives in an off-campus apartment this year, which I asked her about. “It’s really stressful finding a place,” she said, “but once I got it and settled into a routine, it’s really nice to have my own space. You can’t live off campus,” she said about the fact that Kenyon students live on campus (in residence halls, apartments and houses) for all four years, “so it’s nice in the sense that you have guaranteed housing — you know that you have somewhere to live, and it’s consistent and close to campus; here, it’s gotten very expensive and hard to find.”
“I’d like to say that I really liked your bookstore and your old-fashioned buildings,” Claire noted. “Your bookstore serves ice cream and has real books that aren’t just textbooks.”
Choosing between a big school and a small school means prioritizing the things that matter to you and finding the place that works best with your collegiate expectations. “Kenyon was completely different,” Claire added. “I think they’re two very different college experiences. Just very different.”