Deciding which college is right for you can be tough. There are several different factors to consider; what size of school, what the focus of that school is, what programs it has to offer, and even how this school could guide you into your future career. It’s daunting, I know. However, the best thing to do in this situation is to focus on your interests, what appeals to you, and what would empower you to be successful for the next four years of your life (at least). College is supposed to make you happy and help you grow into the adult you want to be, so it can take some careful consideration.
Four years ago, I found myself in that same position. There were so many schools with great offers and resources. I’m a relatively local kid, from Syracuse, NY. So I was well aware of the city of Rochester, but I didn’t know too much about the universities here. All I knew was that I absolutely did not want to go to a massive school. Honestly, I felt like I would get lost in the sea of people, and it would be harder for me to figure myself out in a world like that. So, I started looking for pretty much every small to mid-sized school that I could find in the upstate New York area. One of my friends told me about how the University of Rochester was coming to our high school library one Wednesday afternoon. She was really passionate about studies in ASL and started learning about the ASL programs Rochester had to offer. To spend some time with my friend (and possibly get out of class), I begged my English teacher to let me go. He denied me. But luckily, my friend picked up two information packets from Rochester for us to look at during swim practice. And that was really all we did that afternoon, until our coach yelled at us to get into the pool of course.
The pamphlet had a lengthy list of courses and programs offered at Rochester, the first program I saw was African and African American studies. This sparked my interest since I had fallen in love with an African American studies class I took my senior year; it was the only class like that offered at my high school. And knowing that Rochester was the home of incredible leaders like Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony (just to name a few), I knew my interest would only evolve when I started there. After that, my interest in the University only grew. Conscious of my overall passion for history, I started looking into the medieval studies department, religious studies, and even research opportunities like Meliora Scholars (which I was accepted in the summer after freshman year). I really started to picture myself in Rochester, becoming the academic that I always dreamed of being.
Eventually, I decided to apply early decision to Rochester. I started my first year in the fall of 2019. After taking some of my first classes and becoming friends with some of the kids on my floor in Sue B., I started to actually explore campus and begin to take advantage of the opportunities it offered. From the start, it was easy to find friends on campus. One Thursday night freshman year, I had to go to the dining hall early, at about 5:30 since I was attending a Douglass Leadership House meeting at 6. My friends at that point were my floormates but everyone had a schedule conflict, so I had to go to the dining hall by myself. Honestly, I was dreading going alone for the first time but I still pushed myself to go. Looking around the dining hall, I spotted a couple of girls I knew who also went to the DLH meetings and were first-years. As I approached their table they shouted, “Brynn! Hey, sit down, eat with us!” and the early jitters of eating alone quickly faded away. While this experience may be typical at different universities, I found that with the smaller-size of Rochester, I was able to build so many connections across the university with people in the same club, friends of friends, and even people in my 9ams who I saw at campus events. It felt like each time I hung out with someone new, they knew someone I did, or in some way had a connection with my friend group or people I was very familiar with. I grew to really appreciate that, everyone kind of knows everyone, or at least, has a friend that knows them.
On top of the manageable social world, I also found a lot of success with my professors in this intimate learning environment. To start off, I should make it clear that I am in a couple of smaller programs within the University: African and African American studies and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. Classes are a bit smaller and everything is generally more discussion-based. I loved the smaller class sizes that facilitated building relationships with classmates where it really felt like everyone in class, along with the professors, cared about what you had to say. The floor is always open to discuss difficult topics, personal stories, confusion about the topic at hand, even hot-takes on society as a whole. When done well, it feels like one of the best safe spaces you can be in, where everyone, even the professors, have the ability to learn. I believe the smaller university size definitely contributed to that intimacy, and allowed me to gain a greater appreciation for the subjects I was studying.
With the flexible curriculum at Rochester, and with the help of attentive professors, I was afforded both the time and opportunity to take classes in subjects I was fully invested in and complete work that I genuinely cared about. And (through some trial and error) I found several classes that really honed my interests in my dual majors, helping to guide me into the independent research project that I am completing for Meliora Scholars and my senior honors thesis on African American witchcraft. This is a very specific topic, and can probably be regarded as a bit unusual, but Rochester helped to build my confidence with the academic and social support that I genuinely needed to conduct this project. Rochester truly helped shape me into the person I am today, and I am incredibly grateful that I was able to spend 4 years of my academic career here.