|Amongst the Baggage|
As I neared the end of high school I was keenly aware of the implications to my later life of choosing a college. On the one hand, I knew that there was growth, experience, and learning to be gained in any institution that I went to, so I was sure to benefit greatly from wherever I chose. On the other hand, I was aware that college networks and local networks near where a student goes to college seem to exert a very strong influence on people's live well after graduation.
This was the first real decision of my adult life, and I wanted to make it as carefully and consciously as I could. Here is my thought process in a nutshell:
Getting Away I loved Haddonfield, but I was ready to be somewhere else. I was not terribly fond of the rest of New Jersey as well, so if I was going to go somewhere I knew that it had to be in a different state.
Thinking People Perhaps it was reading The Transcendentalists, but I had developed the notion that New England was a more 'philosophical' place where people spent time thinking rather than just doing, so I focused on New England.
Sense of History Growing up in a historical town I had come to value the sense of perspective that history brings. I was very interested in what was new, but I loved being connected to what was old as well, and New England certainly had plenty of connection to American History.
Beautiful Surroundings Maybe it was all those bulletin boards in elementary school, but I also felt drawn to New England because it represented my image of what 4 seasons of beauty looked like; electric foliage in Autumn, snow-covered mountains in Winter, dense forests blooming in Spring, and sandy beaches in the Summer.
More Than a Number Coming from a small high school the idea of being in a classroom with hundreds of students getting lectured to by professors or TA's that had no idea what your name was sounded horrible. I decided that I would do better at a smaller school.
Liberal Arts From high school I knew that reading, writing and thinking were the things I was most interested in. The umbrella for what I wanted to study was listed as 'liberal arts', so I narrowed my search to small liberal arts colleges in New England.
How Much? The idea of going to a private school sounded great, but the idea of paying for it did not. I started looking at the price tags for some of the schools I was considering and was shocked. I took a second look at state schools in New England.
People Like Me vs. Diversity I thought that if I could find the small New England liberal arts college that most closely matched my own philosophy I'd be in the ideal place. As I was explaining this to a recent graduate of just such an institution he said, "Yeah, it was great at first everyone was just like me. But after 4 years I was dying to be with anybody except people like me".
This changed my focus. I knew that I wanted diversity in my experience as well as in the people I spent time with. I had already seen how small, specialized schools seemed to attract a small, specialized group of students. I decided it would be better to go a bit bigger. I fully turned my attention to the state universities in New England with a strong liberal arts focus.
A Clean Slate I was looking at all the state schools in New England and asked my high school Guidance Counselor about The University of New Hampshire. I got an interesting response: he said that he couldn't tell me too much about UNH because no one from my high school had gone there in more than 5 years, and he suggested that I might want to look at some of the other ones where HMHS had graduates.
I think his point was that the school could offer no Haddonfield alumni network, but what struck me was that I would have the golden opportunity to go someplace where no one had any preconceived notion of who I was. At UNH I would have all that I was looking for, plus the opportunity to reinvent myself.
Once I settled on UNH I had great confidence in my choice, since I knew both where I wanted to go and more importantly why I wanted to go there.