The Old Alma Mater

I had a rather odd college experience in that I attended a community college, a private college, and a public university. I loved two of them, hated the third. But what I learned from the experience is that the best way to choose the type of school you attend is not something they tell you at career day.

Ready to choose your college? Read below for pros & cons of Private College.
(For more, see my lists for Community College and University.

The Old Alma Mater

I ended up at a Private College to finish my Bachelor’s degree as a non-traditional student (married and with one child). I didn’t get to enjoy the social side of the college since I was commuting from a half hour away and also working full time. Every class was demanding, drowning me in papers, exams, and special projects. But I loved every minute of it.

Private schools aren’t for everyone – they sure weren’t in my spectrum until I started qualifying for grants and loans – but it’s an experience you’ll always be fond of.

Who will love it:

  • People who want a challenge. Private colleges are more demanding in every subject, so be prepared for the work load. But if you believe that what you get out of education is proportional to what you put in, you’ll find that true here.
  • Kids looking for a social scene. Though most Private Colleges can’t compare to Universities in the spectrum of entertainment offered, they still offer plenty of opportunities for socializing.
  • Big Fish. Unlike a University, Private Colleges do tend to have kids that everybody knows. You don’t have to be a sports star to be BMOC here; just bring a big personality.
  • Follow-up-question lovers. So you loved reading The Iliad and want to know everything about that era, from fashion choices and food to the types of trees they used to make their boats? Welcome to the Private College where professors have spent their lives waiting for someone to swing in and ask precisely that question.
  • The kids who aren’t really excited about college but are doing it to appease their parents. What, really? Yep. I can’t promise this will be true for everyone, but of all the kids I’ve ever met doing this at a Private College, 90% of them not only stayed in school, they flourished. Unlike other types of schools, your advisors aren’t going to let you skate by and skip classes. They’ll call you in on it and do everything in their power to motivate you.

It’s a toss-up:

  • People living off-campus. You will always feel like an outsider, that’s certain. And I was constantly frustrated when professors would schedule mandatory assignments in the evening with no regard to the minority of us who had jobs. On the other hand, Private Colleges tend to be far more inclusive toward non-traditionals than Universities.
  • Anyone with a really uncommon major. This gets tricky. If you’re looking for something incredibly specific, do your research and find a school that has decided to specialize in it. Otherwise, you’re likely to get classes from several other majors lumped in as requirements just to round it out. Also, whereas a University might offer several specific majors in a field, a Private College is likely to offer only the generic major.

Who will hate it:

  • Kids who grew up poor. Most of the people going to the expensive schools are getting financed by their parents. They don’t have to work, let alone worry about how expensive the textbooks are. If you are paying your own way, it’s easy to build up a resentment to everyone who isn’t.

Quirky bonus:

Check the list of big-name alums for the school you’re considering. It shouldn’t be hard – most colleges look for any opportunity to name-drop. Why does it matter to you? Because the big dogs in the administration building are still courting them, to get them to drop by the campus now and then. If you care about networking, this is the avenue for you. For the rest of us, it’s just cool to be able to say, “Yeah, George Bush gave my commencement speech.”

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But I’m a Big Fish!

I had a rather odd college experience in that I attended a community college, a private college, and a public university. I loved two of them, hated the third. But what I learned from the experience is that the best way to choose the type of school you attend is not something they tell you at career day.

Ready to choose your college? Read below for pros & cons of Universities. (For more, see my lists for Community College and Private College.

But I’m a Big Fish!

My high school guidance counselor always told us that when we went to the University, we’d feel like small fish in a big pond. I didn’t believe him because in my heart I was convinced I was a big fish anywhere. Boy, was he right!

I wasted a year at a school whose only ambition for my tuition was to fund their football team. I wish I’d stayed home and just bought the merchandise.

My best friend, though, went to the same college at the same time and loved it.  So, once again, it’s all about what you bring into the equation.

Who will love it:

  • Kids looking for a social scene. You’ll find something to do every night, if you’re motivated to look for it, from parties to clubs to events, and I’ve never yet seen a university without a nearby bar scene. Heck, there’s even culture – museums, plays, concerts – you name it.
  • Anyone with a really uncommon major. Not only is University the best chance of finding the classes you need, but you’ll have enough other people attending that you won’t feel like an oddball for loving, say, Aquaponics Studies.

It’s a toss-up:

  • Non-traditional students. When you’re working full-time and possibly raising a family, it’s hard to say whether University will be a good fit. Much of it depends upon the specific school, but other factors include:
    • the flexibility of the classes vs. your schedule
    • whether you’ll have any time to enjoy the social side of the school
    • how much support you are getting at home toward your studies

Who will hate it:

  • People living off-campus. I tried this, living only a few miles off, yet far enough that the buses didn’t come near me. Parking was a nightmare, parking passes only applied to areas on the far fringe of campus, and the meter maids got rich off of me.
  • Follow-up-question lovers. I had gotten used to being able to ask questions in class and even chatting with the professors afterward. That goes out the window when you are sitting in a lecture hall of 300 people, and don’t expect much more if you’re obligated to a follow-up class lead by a Teaching Assistant (shorthand for: some kid who took this class 2 years ago and is now trying for a Master’s Degree.)
  • The kids who aren’t really excited about college but are doing it to appease their parents. If you’d rather take time off, you need to be honest about it. The first thing you’re going to learn at college is that it’s easy to skip classes and nobody’s ever going to call your folks when you do. The second thing you’ll discover is that it’s incredibly hard to stay motivated to go every day after you’ve found out that first thing.

Quirky bonus:

If you love the football team, add five hundred points to your list of reasons to attend the school. For four years, you’ll get into every game for free and in between seasons you’ll automatically have something to talk about with everyone you meet.

Community College as a First Choice

I had a rather odd college experience in that I attended a community college, a private college, and a public university. I loved two of them, hated the third. But what I learned from the experience is that the best way to choose the type of school you attend is not something they tell you at career day.

Ready to choose your college? Read below for pros & cons of Community College (For more, see my lists for University and Private College. )

Community College as a First Choice

I went to community college straight out of high school, so I found a familiar face in ever hallway. Our running joke was that the only difference between college and high school was the ashtrays in the halls.

Who may love it:

  • Kids not ready to move away from home. My primary reason for going to Community was to live at home a couple more years, and I’m so glad I did.
  • Anyone who didn’t really pay attention before Junior year. Hey, it happens. If you sluffed off classes in high school, Community is the best way to get up to speed before you hit the upper-level classes. Essentially, every college everywhere will force the same core classes on you, so why spend four times the money for English 101 if you don’t have to?
  • Anybody frugal. Like most kids at Community, I worked my way through so I could save up a nest egg before moving out on my own.
  • Shy guys. I always had a hard time speaking up in class. Only at a Community College do you get one-on-one time with professors in the basic classes. Most CC Professors aren’t juggling the high number of classes, so they tend to take time actually responding to requests, answering follow-up questions, and even making themselves available after class. Also, most classes tend to be smaller so even if you do have to talk in class, it’s a less intimidating group.

Who will hate it:

  • Kids looking for a social scene. Sure, some of your friends from high school might turn up here, but even if they do, odds are they’re also working, so they’ll have little spare time. And most of the students are just there for classes, not to hang out.
  • People embarrassed about not going to a “real” college. There’s still a stigma for some people, like everyone will think they’re going there because they’re not good enough to get in anywhere else. If you are in this camp, pass on going to Community or you’ll spend two years mumbling the name of the college and scurrying away whenever someone asks where you go.
  • The kids who aren’t really excited about college but are doing it to appease their parents. If you’d rather take time off, you need to be honest about it. The first thing you’re going to learn at college is that it’s easy to skip classes and nobody’s ever going to call your folks when you do. The second thing you’ll discover is that it’s incredibly hard to stay motivated to go every day after you’ve found out that first thing.

Quirky bonus:

This isn’t universal, but at my Community College, most of the teachers were doing this as a side job. (Remember that I’m from a small Midwestern area before you laugh too hard at this, but …)  The Business classes were taught by upper management of local businesses. I took a Psych class from the County Attorney and a Juvenile Delinquency class from a Police Chief. And our Mayor taught History!

It’s easy to tune out when someone is reading to you from a boring textbook, but nothing brings it to life more than people riffing with stories from their own lives.

Two Sermons

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In all of my years of attending church, there are two sermons that always stayed with me, and both were given by my father.

Dad wasn’t your usual minister. Though he was well-versed in the Bible, he rarely quoted scripture and never used it to win an argument. He never tried to convert anybody. In fact, he was never troubled by anyone who disagreed with him about religion; what mattered to him was that people had faith and that they found a way to connect it to their daily lives.

He delivered what they called “the talk” at our church about every two months, on a rotating calendar.

As a child, I was always in bible class while he spoke to the adults. But one Sunday, because my teacher was out sick, I got to stay and listen. He started out talking about me. Now that’s a sure way to get a kid to sit up straight!

He had taken me fishing the day before, just the two of us, and when we got back he told everyone that I’d caught twice as many fish. That was a very sweet lie, when in truth he’d simply caught more on my fishing pole than on his own. He was tending to both of them most of the time, while I wandered down the shore playing in the mud.

That next day at church, he talked about sitting there by himself, watching the water … and how he noticed a caterpillar crawling up the tall grass along the dock. The wind kicked up and the caterpillar fell into the water. Dad watched him absentmindedly for a while, struggling against the gentle waves … until finally he realized he could save it just by dropping his net down to give it something to crawl onto. Ten seconds later, it was back on dry land, getting on with its life.

It made my dad reflect on all the times he’d seen people helping others, and how often a simple act of kindness can mean so much. We are conditioned to waiting until people ask for help, then deciding whether to respond. But often people won’t ask for what they need. Maybe they don’t want to be a burden, or are convinced that help won’t come. Perhaps they don’t know where to turn.

He challenged us to look around, past the borders of our own lives, and notice people struggling. Then find a way to lend a hand.

***

The last time I heard my dad give a sermon, I was an adult visiting home. It happened to be Communion day, and dad began by commenting on the low attendance. That surprised me because he’d never been the type to look down on anyone for not attending, or to insist that sitting in a pew is what makes one a good Christian.

Communion Full.jpgQuite the opposite, he was saddened that so many people were skipping that day because it was Communion.

I need to explain at this point that in our church there is no such thing as not being in “good standing.” After your baptism, you are welcome at any point to attend Communion, drink the wine, and eat the bread. However, like most churches, people who don’t feel they are worthy will pass. And that is what my dad was rallying against.

It’s such a shame, he said, for people who are feeling lost in themselves to forego church because they feel they don’t deserve it. Or for people who feel they have let themselves down to stay away altogether.

Church, as he saw it, was the best place for healing. For finding community. For learning the ways to overcome the aspects of yourself that you’re not quite proud of.

And as church members, he said, we need to remember that the people who shy away from Communion are often the people who need it the most. Reach out to them with love and fellowship.

In other words, put down that fishing pole and lend a hand.