With all the high school seniors going off to college and the inspiring article by George Chen giving great advice to others about college admissions, I thought I would share my own college choice story. Unlike the tiger daughter with parents from Harvard and Yale, I was first generation going to higher education in the U.S., so I pretty much figured everything out on my own, too, the way Chen did. Hopefully my little anecdote can help others make a good choice for their own college.
While in high school, I applied to and was accepted into the Harvard Secondary School Program the summer before senior year. Best decision ever. Why? Because I realized after spending two months taking college level classes alongside Harvard students at Harvard that Harvard was NOT the best fit for me.
Find out why after the jump.
Classes were too big.
I realized then that I was an up-close-and-personal student. I learn best when I’m right there in the middle of a conversation, right up in front of the teacher, right up face to face with every classmate in the room. While I was at Harvard, both my psych and calc classes were 100 students each. That’s a far cry from the 1600 student bio class my friends took at Berkeley, but still, 100 is way too many kids with one teacher at one time in my book. I would literally pass out in class because I was so unengaged in what was happening. I seriously learned more reading the assigned reading on my own.
Then there were the teaching fellows that were supposed to provide the “small group” individualized experience for us. For my calc class at Harvard, I got stuck with a very smart teaching fellow who definitely knew her math but could not convey that information to us no matter how many times she did the problems on the board. I found myself HUNTING down other teaching fellows to try to figure out which one was the best. The time wasted on that could have been spent actually learning calculus.
Campus was too big.
It took me forever to walk from my Lowell House dorm all the way to the Radcliffe center for classes, labs, and small group sessions. I appreciate the nice walks through scenic Boston and the beautiful Harvard campus as much as the next person, but when I’ve got four 1.5 hour calculus problems every night and 1,000 pages of reading for Psychology and I’m trying to hunt down the best teaching fellows because finding time to speak to the profs means waiting in a 30 minute line after class, every minute counts. I’m the student that leaves my text book open and highlighter ready on my desk so that the first thing I do in the morning when I wake up is roll out of bed into my desk chair to study. Thirty minute walks to and from class just takes too much time. And I’d much rather exercise doing katas in karate class than walking across campus.
Sorry Boston, but Los Angeles food pwns yours big time. Not only do we get fresh produce and seafood from our abundant California sea ports and rich farmlands, but we have food from every part of the world within a 60 mile radius. And it’s more affordable. Hey, it makes sense that California rolls are a lot cheaper in California, right? Another fail for Boston is no In-N-Out burgers. I grew up 10 minutes away from the original In-N-Out burger joint. Harvard is just too far for comfort.
I admit it. I’m a super spoiled Southern Californian girl. I’m currently sitting at a café on Wilshire Boulevard staring out at beautiful clear blue skies with a perfectly cool breeze that’s inspiring a relaxed smile to play across every pedestrian’s lips. I like spending Christmas Day lounging by an outdoor pool filled with sparkling crystal blue waters. The Boston summer I experienced was okay, too humid of course, but I wondered what the underground tunnels at Harvard were for until someone told me about the snow. I like to drive to snow, not through it.
So where did I end up going for college? A small liberal arts college in Los Angeles County called Claremont McKenna College. As soon as I discovered the Claremont Colleges, I was in love. It had everything I wanted that Harvard didn’t have. Small classes (3 students to 2 profs in my advanced Chinese class—beat that!), super accessible professors (yes, that’s professors, not teaching fellows), lots of personalized attention and in-depth conversations, small campus (5 minutes to everything!) and the weather and food were…well…just like home because it was. It didn’t hurt that our dining hall serves some of the best college food in the world.
I didn’t even apply to Harvard because you couldn’t have paid me to go there. Money can be earned back, but time can’t be bought back. And I got everything I wanted at my dream college. It would have cost about the same going to Harvard, and for me, I got more bang for my buck.
Moral of the story? When picking a college, above all, know thyself.