How to not feel cramped in a small school

If you’re reading this, I assume you just started at a small school and are a little nervous about it. Maybe you’ve been there for awhile, but are just starting to feel cramped. I’ve been there. My college campus was on a peninsula- so it literally felt like we were on an island. Three sides of our campus was water. We were stuck.

My graduating class in college was only about twice the size of my high school graduating class. When I was gearing up to go off to school, everyone kept talking about what a “big world” college would be; how it could be intimidating and easy to feel lost. Then, when I got to college, I actually felt like I was suffocating inside a tiny little bubble. It was like our own island- I would just see the same faces day after day, no matter where I walked on our 1 mile x 0.5 mile long campus.

In my first day of college, I promised myself that I would make this campus feel bigger than it was. I didn’t know how I would do that, but I found ways. So now, I’m here to save you time and tell you exactly how I did it.

1. Get involved on campus!

This may be suuuuper obvious, but the first (and best) thing I did in college to make myself feel like a smaller fish in a bigger pond was join clubs. Being involved in different clubs and organizations in college helps you interact with different people, making it feel like there are more people on campus. Plus, if you stick with a club, you will (probably) eventually rise up into leadership and be trusted with a lot of responsibilities...and, if these responsibilities are anything like the ones I had in college, you might get access to secret parts of campus (hidden hallways...tour guide lounges...creepy storage basements…) that keep things exciting and make it feel like a whole new place!

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2. Take alternate routes

Again, probably obvious. But I sometimes would leave extra early to class to find a new route to take. Campus is obviously going to feel small if you take the same path each day and come across the same people, so even changing one small part of your journey (i.e. walking around the business school) can give you new sights, help you come across new people, and can trick your brain into thinking you’re in an unfamiliar place.

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3. Have several study spots

In general, change things up. If you study in the same spot every day, or take the same route, or hang out with the same 5 people, things will start to get old pretty fast. There are so many places to study on a college campus, between the library, student rec center, dining hall, etc. It’s okay to have a favorite, but you could always change it up a bit- library one week, student union the next, or even library on Mondays and dining hall on tuesdays? You’ve got options!

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.4 Don’t go home until you’re done

Off the back of finding different places to study, I recommend not making your dorm room one of those places. If you immediately go home every evening, you’ll start to get tired of the place and the people there. Even a study room in your building is enough to keep a distance between your room and your “life.” It leaves the opportunity for you to get a “change of scenery” at the end of the day, both in terms of people and surroundings. Of course, though, sometimes you’ve just gotta go home and get cozy. Totally understandable.

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5. Live off campus (if you can)

This is something I never did in college, but I really wish I had. Many of my friends who lived off campus in their junior/senior years said it made them feel less trapped, as if they had escaped from the campus “bubble.” Living on campus all four years made me begin to resent it by the end. I felt the need to go home to visit my parents (read: dog) for the weekends, because I just felt suffocated. I would walk 100 feet from the library to my apartment at the end of the day and just feel grumpy to never get a change of scenery. My friends off campus, however, would get to go home and recharge in a new space at the end of the day (which is probably why they never got as sick of the school as I did!).

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6. Don’t live with people in your major

You may make your best friends in your major. I did, but not until later on in college, because I was in the wrong major for a while. However, if you can help it, try to live with people you don’t spend your entire day with. If you have a group of BFFs in your major, and a group of BFFs in the club you’re a part of, and a group of BFFs that you live with, you’ll be much happier. You’re less likely to get on each others’ nerves, and you get to interact with different people at different times of the day, rather than being a hermit with the same three people 24/7. And, if your different groups of friends get along well, you’ve hit the jackpot!

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7. Study abroad (if you can)

I know that not everyone can go abroad, whether it’s for financial reasons, due to the structure of your major, or a myriad of other reasons. But, if you can do it, do it. I studied abroad a bit early (fall of sophomore year), and sometimes I wish I had waited a year to do it, but when I got back from my semester away, I appreciated little things about my small campus that I hadn’t before. The school I studied abroad at was huuuge, and it was comforting to come back to a cozy little school. I began to find it endearing when the maintenance staff mowed the lawn right outside my window at 7am on a Saturday, and I learned how much I took dining hall food for granted when I had to make my own food for three months (I also miss having a dining hall now that I’m an “adult”). It’s true that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and studying abroad is a great way to give you that exposure and insight with the ability to go back and relive it after. Almost like “It’s a Wonderful Life.” (except studying abroad is the most fun thing you’ll ever do and is nothing like the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”)

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8. Take time to yourself

When you’re in a confined space with a bunch of people who are practically ON TOP of each other, you can get frustrated with everything and everyone around you. I found this to be the case, even though I’m, like, the Queen of the Extroverts. I had a car, so I would take drives alone some evenings- but if you can’t drive anywhere, even doing things like going to the gym alone, or finding a quiet corner of the library, or taking a nice walk alone can be refreshing and recharging. Everyone needs to breathe!

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9. Explore your surroundings!

If you have the ability to go off campus and engage with your college town, DO IT. Even if you don’t have a car, lots of colleges have free shuttles into town, or you could even walk or take a bike, depending on the distance. Go study at a local cafe, hang out at a local park, go for a jog around town, or even volunteer at a local animal shelter and pet some pups! I know you’re extreeeemely busy in college, but you’ll regret graduating without having a favorite pizza place in town, or not feeling connected to the town you lived in for four years. Plus, it’ll feel good to get some alone time in a new location.

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10. Internships

Off-campus internships are the PERFECT way to make the world around you feel larger. Of course, many colleges offer on-campus internships (one of my internships was on-campus), but if you have the ability to go somewhere else, it’ll give you a taste of the “real world,” help you learn 10x what you’d learn in the classroom, and of course it will help get you out of your regular routine. It’s totally possible to do without a car- you can use your town’s bus, or a local train, or even ride your bike there. And, if you need a car to get there, there’s always Zipcar!

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