Like many high school seniors considering college choices, I visited quite a few campuses.
I visited colleges in cities. I toured colleges in rural areas.
At the time, my requirements for a university were simple: a strong writing program and a diverse campus. The more schools I toured the more I weighed the pros and cons. Some schools were crossed off my list for not being strong enough in journalism.
Others were great schools, but located in places I couldn't imagine living for four years. Then in the middle of one tour at a particularly large campus, I looked around and felt lost, and not just because of the unfamiliar surroundings.
This wasn't an unfamiliar feeling. I went to a large, bustling high school, one with hallways dripping with chaos and overzealous teenagers. By senior year, I was more than ready for a change. How would I find myself if I couldn't even hear myself think? It’s strange to say, but at 18 I felt ready for some quiet. I’m an introvert; my brain is hardwired to respond to crowds in a different way. I can brave them if I have to, but ultimately, I find them overwhelming and draining.
Chatham University had been on my list of potential universities since my junior year, when I saw its booth during a college fair at my high school.
Knowing some of the benefits of an education centered for women, I found that I liked the idea of going to a women’s college. I liked that it had a nice air of calm. It had a number of clubs I could picture myself becoming active in. It had a lake with ducks where I could imagine doing my homework. Chatham felt like home.
Chatham’s not perfect by any means, but the quiet there helped me find my voice.
Here’s the thing about a small class that’s a blessing and curse: when there are only 15 people in a class as opposed to 100, a professor will notice if you’re not there. They also notice if you aren't speaking, which forces everyone to participate.
For most of my life, participation points and class discussions were the bane of my existence. But the smaller class sizes made the discussions feel more like conversations. This helped me develop the confidence I needed to share my opinions and answers, no matter the class size.
I’ll never forget the surprise I felt when I received an email from a professor just moments after my scheduled class had ended. I had missed the class that day due to a bout with the flu. In high school, we were told that when we were in college, no one would care whether we made it to class. As I read my professor’s email in which she expressed her desire for me to get well, along with a list of times when I could stop by her office to discuss what I’d missed, I realized those people back in high school had been wrong.
Just as there are benefits of a small school, there also are downsides. With only 2,100 students on campus, it’s often impossible to avoid anyone if one felt so inclined. Also, if a professor leaves, becomes ill, or takes time off, it can be problematic especially if those classes are a requirement for your major.
Choosing a small school allowed me to really get to know my professors. And it often meant that when I was having an issue, I got a response within the day. At Chatham, there was added security in knowing that people still cared about me.
This, of course, isn't to say that students at larger universities can’t cultivate supportive relationships with their professors and advisers, but I think it was made easier by being 1 of 2,100 students rather than one of 30,000.
Atiya Irvin-Mitchell, a former intern at the Post-Gazette, is a senior at Chatham University, majoring in communications.
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