Amongst  the  Baggage

Choosing a College

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.