Though I have never left the college environment, my role has evolved over time. Four years in undergrad, one year in transition, two years in graduate school, three years in a new professional position and now back at my original university in a new role. Each experience brought a change in my interaction with the college environment. While there is much I appreciated while seeking that initial bachelor’s degree, the next step brought new realizations about what undergraduates take for granted. Here are my top five elements easily under-appreciated in the college environment:
#5: The Bell Tower (aka Overall Environment and Unity)
While there are organizations that foster a great campus-like feel (such as Google), nothing truly beats the college campus. At the top of the hour, the bell tower chimes the school alma mater, instilling that little bit of pride in the institution in each of the students, faculty and administrators traversing the campus. Young minds are hard at work in the library, lounges of the residence halls, empty classrooms and even on the lawn in the campus mall. On a Friday afternoon, you may catch the marching band practicing their routine for the upcoming home football game. There are truly thousands of little elements that can be easily overlooked until a student moves on to the next stage of adulthood and looks back on their collegiate pass.
#4: The College as a Mini City
You are never far from a necessary resource when you are on a college campus. The Student Union is host to multiple stores, restaurants and attractions (like a campus theater, comedy shows and musical performances). Many of them have elements like post offices, copy centers, barbers and bowling alleys. Individual academic buildings may even have their own snack bars or cafeteria’s. When you feel like there is nothing to do, resident assistants are available in the residence halls to provide programmatic opportunities, such as movie nights and game competitions. When you want to tap into that athletic side, there are gyms, athletic fields and even stadiums to either play in the big game or watch one.
#3: Fostering of the Mind
Between classes and special lectures/guests, there are a number of educational moments to be had. Classes provide a structure to learning that truly helps drive retention of material. Alumni of certain programs commonly come back to interact with the new classes of students. Representatives of special projects or publishing are more than interested in meeting young people. And besides the directly academic resources, most schools are open to educational student group experiences through the Student Activities offices or specific academic departments. In election years, you can commonly find national debates occurring right on your local campus.
#2: Ability to Make an Impact
Recently, the National Mall in DC hosted an energy conservation activity where students and faculty from 20 colleges across the globe competed to develop the most energy-efficient and natural homes. My school actually won the competition and the students could not be happier. Experiencing like these are happening all of the time in all sorts of fields. Students can enter into research assistantships/internships, taking a significant role in the process of analyzing and interpreting data. Protesting, though contentious at times, is also more of an accepted norm on college campuses and generally sees more of an impact than in the general public. Even with the number of protests that occur around the nation, there are also more channels willing to listen.
#1: Structure & Time
Students generally do not understand the balance of freedom and structure they have during their academic years. While the focus is on academics, most students are either able to balance extracurricular activities or employment (or potentially both) while taking classes. Grade school provided a much more directed schedule. Students select their classes to take place during whatever part of the day they can get (unless few options exist for a core/required course) and the rest of the time can be devoted to coursework, extracurricular activities, socializing and sleep. Another aspect about the structure is actually in the ability to make mistakes. Since schools operate with their own guidelines and rules, public safety offices and judiciary organizations do not traditionally get involved in minor offenses. This means an alcohol situation that may get cited with a fine and court proceedings in the real world only initiates a warning or probation in the college system and no real threat to one’s academic record for the first few incidents (at most schools). Most poor choices during one’s college years do not even transition into life after college unless they were either severe issues or they mistakenly got posted on Facebook.
While I certainly could expand on each of these categories at great length from my own experiences, it is interesting to even just interpret these themes based on one’s own time in college and reflect on the moments passed by with new stages of life. My hope is that I can still make a small impact to encourage current students to value these elements before they become overwhelmed with life after the ivy tower.