The Day

Tips From A Well-Traveled Undergrad

By Anne Wildermuth

Published on 5/20/2007 in Home »Editorial »Perspective

While my final destination as an undergraduate happens to be the University of Connecticut in Storrs, I am a rather well-transferred senior. Having been to five different schools over the past four years, I have learned several things that would have been valuable as a senior in high school. In my opinion, being satisfied with a college involves three broad categories: the people, the academics and the location.

It is critical to like the folks you will be spending a significant amount of time with, including peers, coaches, administrators, and teachers. If you can't be yourself and be accepted as such, being comfortable and happy will be difficult. Also of utmost importance are the schools' academics, and while that is the main purpose of higher-level education, the reality of daily academic life is often overlooked when searching for a college.

What everyone does know is that there are different types of schools, and they all serve a very important role. While the ivy-leagues, technical schools, liberal arts colleges, big state universities, small private schools, community colleges, military academies, and more all have a pretense about how hard or easy it is to gain admission, think about what happens after you are enrolled. Some things to consider: does the school offer the classes you want, are teaching assistants going to be teaching your classes, if you want to change your major are there other possibilities you would consider, do they have general education requirements, is the academic environment as competitive and interesting as you want it to be, do people graduate in four years? Finally, consider the town in which the school is located and its relative geographic location. At some point most students venture off campus, and having a town or city nearby that offers a variety of entertainment is important.

Additionally, if you're moving far away from home, consider the proximity of the closest airport and transportation to and from it, as most freshmen cannot have cars on campus. With experience comes wisdom, and the time I spent at the University of Georgia, Connecticut College, the University of Mary Washington, Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, and the University of Connecticut in Storrs taught me a lot about the college selection process.

The University of Georgia in Athens is a state school with an enrollment of 33,660 people, and it was my first destination as a freshman in college. While I had great teachers, every other star was out of alignment, and UGA proved to be a difficult fit. Despite the fact that they guarantee housing for freshman, they ran out of dormitory space, and residential life instructed me to find an apartment.

So, without a car or knowing a single soul, I lived off campus, and as a result I had an extremely difficult time meeting other freshman. Some things to consider about southern schools: students often go home on the weekends, some folks have yet to think past the Civil War and do not like having “Yankees” in their state, and sororities and fraternities are extremely active. Georgia was a very big party school, and far more emphasis was placed on football and alcohol than on academics.

After leaving Georgia prior to the second semester, I enrolled in one art class at Connecticut College, a small, private liberal arts school in New London. My professor at Conn was one of the best I've had in my four years, and the school takes great pride in its art department and academics in general. Many of the students I met, however, were pretentious and cliquey, and it reminded me of high school. While I did consider applying there to be a matriculating student, I realized that paying for three years at $44,000 each was a stretch.

My next stop was in Fredericksburg, Va., for my sophomore year. The University of Mary Washington, enrolling 4,000 students, turned out to be my favorite school by far because the faculty and students were absolutely incredible.

Every class I had was engaging, students had fun and focused on school, and all of the instructors were professors, not graduate assistants. Most students live on campus, and a plethora of good restaurants, shopping, and entertainment was a short public transportation ride away. I left because transferring in credits was extremely difficult, and as a result it was going to take six years to finish my undergraduate degree.

The summer between my junior and senior year, after I had already transferred to the University of Connecticut in Storrs, I took anatomy and physiology I and II at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport. Taking the classes at a community college saved me at least $1,000 and I had a phenomenal teacher in Barbara Dolyak. As many students can attest, it is often difficult to retain information learned, especially minutiae, after the class is completed, and I can honestly say that I still remember almost everything taught in my anatomy classes. I was pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the teaching at a community college; taking summer classes at Housatonic was one of the best decisions I have made in my academic career.

My tenure at UConn has been my most frustrating college experience, mostly due to the poor quality of teachers. Ninety percent of my teachers make PowerPoint presentations, which are generally available online, and then read them word for word to the class. Is that teaching? UConn's professors are highly educated; most are experts in their field.

Many, however, do not have a passion for teaching, only research. People think UConn has great value for its price, but the yearly cost was less as an out-of-state student in Georgia and Virginia than what I pay at UConn. And many students will be there far in excess of four years, partly because classes required to graduate may be offered only once a year, and they fill up extremely quickly.

Additionally, only four semesters of housing are guaranteed, and this year the university cut 1,500 juniors and seniors from on-campus housing through their lottery system. UConn is a fun school, but if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't have picked a place known among students as a “drinking school with a basketball problem” to get my education.

I went to East Lyme High School where I graduated in the top 3 percent of my class. I've been on the dean's list every semester in college, I belong to four academic honor societies, and I am a student athlete. I have been through the gauntlet regarding colleges, and my best advice is to put yourself in the shoes of a student who already goes there and go with your gut instinct about whether you will be happy at a particular school.

Anne Wildermuth is a 2003 graduate of East Lyme High School and a Nutritional Sciences/Dietetics major at the University of Connecticut. You can email her at Anne.Wildermuth@gmail.com.