Nooks, Groups, & Mentorship in College
I remember visiting colleges with my grandparents when I was a sophomore in high school. At a wonderful liberal arts college in New York, my grandfather shouted: “What’s all this garbage up here on the grass?” in reference to the school’s outstanding modern bronze outdoor sculpture collection. At another more urban university tour, I recalled seeing a squirrel running away with someone’s abandoned sparkly Halloween wig from the previous weekend. I spent most of my northeastern college tour chilly, overstimulated, and still unsure about how campuses are run. My main concern was both the academic workload and the urgent thought: “Will I be lonely in college?”
Working with so many students each year, I often hear what boils down to these 3 things: “I just want to fit in, find some friends, and do my WORK!” Our clients utilize many tools that help them sort through all of their campus visits through their high school years. We developed a Campus Visit Evaluation Form- a subjective rating system that helps them determine which colleges to apply to, especially if their visits were 10 months ago and a gazillion life events have occurred between this visit and sitting through and applying online to a university.
Lots of information can be found on school’s websites, rather than on college tours, too. (see Clicking Around Websites Blog). So, here are some ideas I wish I had explored when checking out schools:
- Tally the Chill Spots:
If you visit a number of campuses, keep an eye out for nooks and crannies. Benches and gardens. Rocks to sit on. Clean carpet in buildings to organize projects on. Labs that are open past 8:00 PM. If applicable, smaller libraries (they may have nicer bathrooms and possibly cozier chairs than the main library). Memorial bonsai gardens, planetariums, practice bleachers, old chapels, sculpture exhibits. These nooks and crannies are useful for an easy meetup spot with friends, places to read, or meditate/pray/nap/snack. These chill spots are vital for one’s workload, transitioning between exams or a quick hamstring stretch between classes. Tally the outdoor ones and the indoor ones for the rainy or stormy times.
- Student Support Groups:
An accessible Health Center: ask the tour guide how many therapeutic groups are there weekly at the student health center? Do you have support for international students? Homesickness groups? Students dealing with a recent loss in the family? This is great for yourself and your peers. Understanding who is available and when, and HOW to get support is crucial. Mental Health groups (Al-Anon, bereavement, NA, Homesickness, trauma) I joined a bereavement group for a semester, and literally, I credit this weekly group to helping me graduate faster, with better grades- and less anxiety. I have heard some students tell me that a counselor ran an evening running group for students, where they all ran together and one could either talk, or not talk- all students welcome. Simple, small, confidential support groups can really enable students to hit their strides personally and academically.
- What About Those Short Breaks And Holidays?
What faculty should I be referred to for breaks? If not traveling home for a 3 day weekend, or a 2-week break is too much trouble to travel for- ask: What activities are there for students who stick on campus? I remember being completely envious of my neighbor senior year of college- as an international student, he had sought out some faculty and staff and referred to the department head of his program as his “Auntie”, and he spent weekends and Holiday breaks with her family. In any size university, staying on campus for breaks can be a huge bonding experience for students and faculty and can lead to very meaningful staff mentorship and cross-cultural adventures. One only needs to seek it all out.
- What non-competitive team sports are there that can help us blow off some steam?
I ended up going to a college where lots of students rush for Greek houses, and I didn’t (probably because I found it confusing and was nervous about getting kicked out for a poor lab-science grade). I ended up joining a broom-ball league, which is kind of like goofy hockey. And you fall a lot on the ice, which elicits a lot of bonding with others over hip pain at dinner. Anyhow, super non-competitive sports were another element I KNOW does wonders for students, especially if club team sports are still super intense and students just want a 1-2 afternoon-a-week commitment.
So, during visits- ask, ask, ask away about what is available on campus. Or search for it on the school’s website. You will not regret it.