Been There, Done That: Advice on College

Most seniors have decided which college they will be attending next year, while juniors are just beginning the college search process, taking APs, SATs and visiting schools. Three local alumni discuss what to expect in college -- and what they wish they had known in high school.

May 14, 2018

“Don’t choose a major for the paycheck.”

Lauren+Weller%2C+pictured+right%2C+graduating+from+Boyertown+in+the+class+of+2013.+She+graduated+from+Temple+University+in+2017+and+currently+goes+to+grad+school+in+Bowling+Green%2C+Ohio.
Lauren Weller, pictured right, graduating from Boyertown in the class of 2013. She graduated from Temple University in 2017 and currently goes to grad school in Bowling Green, Ohio.

Lauren Weller, pictured right, graduating from Boyertown in the class of 2013. She graduated from Temple University in 2017 and currently goes to grad school in Bowling Green, Ohio.

Lauren Weller, pictured right, graduating from Boyertown in the class of 2013. She graduated from Temple University in 2017 and currently goes to grad school in Bowling Green, Ohio.

What matters from high school?

Test scores — SAT and ACT — get used to place you into your general math, your general reading and writing; so for that they do matter. Your grades can determine scholarship-type deals. If you take AP classes, sometimes the credits will transfer. AP Lit actually did help me more than I thought it would, because it taught me how to write papers that weren’t five paragraph essays. Five paragraph essays are a lie. And no matter what major you’re in, you’re going to have to write papers someway, somehow.

How did you choose your college?

I liked Temple because it was pretty close, but it was a different feel than in Boyertown. It’s only an hour away, but it’s definitely not Boyertown.

How  did you choose a major?

I hated my business classes; it was terrible my freshman year. I had one of the worst GPAs I’ve ever had in my life. So, I switched majors from business to international business, and finally to a double major of linguistics and German. It’s more enjoyable when you like what you’re doing. Don’t choose a major for the paycheck.

How was the adjustment to college life socially?

My roommate was terrible. I came back after Easter break and she had moved half of her stuff out and was living in the house where all the ultimate frisbee guys lived. But that’s what the RA is there to help you with. Being without someone to nag at you, makes you learn the responsibility, as opposed to being forced to do it. We do the dishes pretty much as soon as we’re done. It was weird at first, but I was close enough that if I wanted to go home, I could. So that was part of the reason why I did stay in-state and relatively close.

How was the adjustment to college life academically?

Going about figuring out how to do homework [is hard], because homework is very different from high school. You have to sort of re-figure out how you live. Being without someone to nag at you makes you learn the responsibility, as opposed to being forced to do it. It’s just different.

You are currently getting your masters degree in College Student Personnel in Bowling Green, Ohio. How is grad school different?

It’s a lot harder, but it’s only two years. Like, you’re here for a specific purpose and then you leave. It’s a lot more, ‘Okay I just gotta get through this,’ as opposed to, ‘Yeah, college is fun!’

I’ve always got readings to do, always. So there’s a lot less of ‘hey, let’s go hang out’ on the weekends. There’s a lot less of that because we’re all doing our homework and our reading and our writing on the weekends, because during the week we’re lucky if we get to eat real food, as opposed to cereal, for dinner.

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“College is more about learning who you are as a person … than anything else.”

Sean+Gregory%2C+graduating+from+Ursinus+College+as+the+class+of+2017.+He+graduated+from+Boyertown+in+2013+and+plans+to+go+to+grad+school+in+the+near+future.%0A
Sean Gregory, graduating from Ursinus College as the class of 2017. He graduated from Boyertown in 2013 and plans to go to grad school in the near future.

Sean Gregory, graduating from Ursinus College as the class of 2017. He graduated from Boyertown in 2013 and plans to go to grad school in the near future.

Sean Gregory, graduating from Ursinus College as the class of 2017. He graduated from Boyertown in 2013 and plans to go to grad school in the near future.

What do you wish you knew about college in high school?

Say this is beginning-of-senior-year Sean. I would’ve told him to not get into any high school relationship or anything and just go to college completely independent; go without any attachments. Don’t worry about your friendships, don’t worry about keeping contact with people you’re not gonna really care about anymore. At the end of the day, the people that I was friends with from high school in college are the people I was going be friends with anyways, no matter how much effort I put into it. My freshman year, I realized everyone here is coming in with the same exact mindset as you. Most people are coming into college without any friends, without any connections. Also, avoid buying textbooks if you can. You can usually find PDFs online for free — it may be illegal, but it’s cheap.

 

What matters from high school?

My senior year, I was an administrative fellow, which means I got to interview incoming freshmen or people that were applying. I think the most important thing to me and to the administration at Ursinus was how well-rounded you are and how well-adjusted you are. A well-rounded person, to me, is just someone who shows interest in multiple things, not someone who excels at everything.

ROTC gave me a sense of discipline. It gave me confidence, which I think I desperately needed going into college. I think drama club and musicals and singing helped me because they got me used to putting myself out there, and that was extremely valuable to me. I don’t think I would’ve been able to adjust as well without those things.

 

How did you choose Ursinus?

I visited on a weekend during my senior year at BASH. It was my first experience seeing college life outside of a tour or outside of postcards. Everyone I met at Ursinus was super friendly. It was a really, really welcoming atmosphere, which I thought was one of the coolest things. I never really felt as welcomed anywhere else I’ve ever been. I applied shortly after that.

Ursinus also gave me more money than Drexel did. What cemented my decision was actually the class sizes. At Drexel, the class sizes are very large with over 13,000 students attending the university — compared to Ursinus, a college of 1,500 students. At Ursinus, they focus less on academics and more on character when admitting students.

 

How did you pay for college?

I think I owe $30,000 in student loans right now. Somewhere between $30,000-$40,000 total, which relative to any other private school is really low, so I’m thankful for that. Compared to any other state school, it’s average.

How did you choose your major?

At Ursinus, everyone goes in undeclared. I declared my major at the very end of my first freshman semester, as soon as I could. I went into college wanting to either major in physics or chemistry. I compromised with a physics major and a chem minor. But then after taking a few physics classes, I was like, okay, physics is going to be a lot of work, I don’t know if I want a chemistry minor. But physics overlaps a lot with math. Eventually I was like, alright, might as well just be a math major too, cause I was halfway there.

How was the adjustment to college life socially?

Generally you can count on having a couple of parties to go to every Friday or Saturday. But they’re usually pretty calm; they’re not like the movie Animal House where people are going out, crazy, breaking stuff and driving cars around. It’s usually just people listening to music in a room and dancing and having some drinks here and there.

My advice is count your drinks, keep an eye on them, and drink Gatorade on the weekends.

I spent three of my four years at Ursinus as an RA. Resident advisors, or RAs, are meant to resolve issues in your dorm hall. They’re student workers who are usually a year older than the students they’re assigned to. It’s a lot nicer, in my eyes, to go to an RA for help than administration. At the end of the day, they understand the issue more. We’re glorified babysitters, basically.

How was the adjustment to college life academically?

After freshman year, classes become a lot more personalized and detail-oriented to the major you choose. It’s a lot easier to fall behind because if you’re not keeping up, then you’re going to miss a lot of important information that’s never going to be touched again. Once you’re done with a section, you’re never going to relearn that section. It’s on you to relearn it. If the professor isn’t interested, the students have a hard time being interested too. Go to class, unless the class is pointless and you can do it without going to class, whatever, you do you. But I recommend going to class as much as possible, taking as detailed notes as possible.

I recommend to research what professors you’re going be taking and research before you sign up for a class.

Homework differs largely depending on the class and the field. When you start at Ursinus, they say you’re probably going to have about three hours of homework per class a week, and that is just a downright lie. If you’re spending three hours per class per week on homework, you’re spending too much time on homework.

I recommend talking to professors and becoming friends with them. In the long run, they’re the ones giving you recommendations, they’re the ones letting you research under them, they’re the ones helping you in your classes.

What’s the point of college?

I think college is more about learning who you are as a person and what your values are and understanding the world and how you fit into it better than anything else. If you’re going to college and all you’re doing is learning your field, you’re not doing it correctly. Some people come out of college the exact same as they were in high school, or they come out of college with the wrong ideas of how the world works and the wrong ideas of what people should act like. And that’s sad to me. Those are the people that you see not succeeding in life. I don’t mean succeeding as in making a ton of money and being a CEO or whatever. Anyone can do that, and I’m sure there’s plenty of people who are not well-adjusted and are CEOs and Presidents. I mean succeeding in life in that you’re happy.

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“It was really nice to be able to finally do everything for myself.”

Caitlyn+Kondradt%2C+graduating+from+Upper+Perkiomen+High+School+in+the+class+of+2015.+She+spent+her+freshman+college+year+at+Mass.+Art%2C+but+transferred+to+Juniata+College+for+her+sophomore+year.
Caitlyn Kondradt, graduating from Upper Perkiomen High School in the class of 2015. She spent her freshman college year at Mass. Art, but transferred to Juniata College for her sophomore year.

Caitlyn Kondradt, graduating from Upper Perkiomen High School in the class of 2015. She spent her freshman college year at Mass. Art, but transferred to Juniata College for her sophomore year.

Caitlyn Kondradt, graduating from Upper Perkiomen High School in the class of 2015. She spent her freshman college year at Mass. Art, but transferred to Juniata College for her sophomore year.

What do you wish you knew about college in high school?

Fitting into college is not nearly as difficult as it seems. I feel a lot less anxious than I did in high school, because in college no one really cares if you’re different.

What matters from high school?

Four to fives on AP exams can possibly score you free credits in college, with enough you can graduate a semester or more early. Some schools, though very few, will give credit to an AP exam score of three.

Why did you change colleges — from MassArt to Juniata College?

We were only guaranteed housing for the first two years [at Mass Art], so it would’ve cost me over $1,000 a month for a one bedroom apartment. Also, I was paying out-of-state tuition, so it wasn’t worth the stay. It’s the only public art school in America, and I can see why no other schools have adapted that system — it doesn’t work well; it’s too expensive for a lot of students.

You changed majors from Illustration to Integrated Mass Arts when you transferred schools. Why?

I’ve wanted to do some type of illustration and design for a long time, just the specifics have changed. I changed because a lot of people that were illustration majors at MassArt were wanting to do book illustration or cartoons, which wasn’t close enough to what I wanted to do.

How was the adjustment to college life socially?

It was really nice to be able to finally do everything for myself, like waking up in the morning, planning when to do laundry, especially going food shopping for things I wanted, not things my family wanted. Being without financial support is definitely a hard thing to do, though. So, that was an obstacle initially when I started college.

How was the adjustment to college life academically?

Most of the courses are five-hour lectures that meet once a week. These consist of making art, lecturing, critiquing, and testing. You won’t have two five-hour lectures in the same day unless you schedule yourself that way.

 

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“Get your stuff together the first year and don’t slack off, because it only gets harder.”

Dylan+Lear%2C+pictured+right%2C+graduating+from+Boyertown+in+the+class+of+2015.+Dylan+spent+his+freshman+college+year+at+Salem+State+University+in+Massachusetts%2C+before+transferring+to+Juniata+College+for+his+sophomore+year.+
Dylan Lear, pictured right, graduating from Boyertown in the class of 2015. Dylan spent his freshman college year at Salem State University in Massachusetts, before transferring to Juniata College for his sophomore year.

Dylan Lear, pictured right, graduating from Boyertown in the class of 2015. Dylan spent his freshman college year at Salem State University in Massachusetts, before transferring to Juniata College for his sophomore year.

Dylan Lear, pictured right, graduating from Boyertown in the class of 2015. Dylan spent his freshman college year at Salem State University in Massachusetts, before transferring to Juniata College for his sophomore year.

What matters from high school?

AP courses in general helped prepare for the workload of college.

How did you choose your college?

BASH’s program allows students to put in specifications such as school size, specific majors, living arrangements, and more, so I chose my college easily from what remained. I transferred schools for two reasons: I was not very happy being alone a lot of the time at my old school, because it was a lot less personable and my girlfriend lived 90 minutes away. The second reason is the cost of going to school out of state. I am currently paying around $10k a year less by going to college in PA.

Do you have any tips about how to pay for college?

-Scholarships can save many college students a lot of money, and some students can even earn a full ride. Even if you’re too busy with school and work, most colleges have scholarships available when you apply. Financial aid is another way to temporarily lessen college’s price.

I applied for FAFSA as well as PHEAA. The process is pretty quick and easy actually. You just need your parents tax info and you’re ready to go. It shouldn’t take more than an hour to file for FAFSA and PHEAA.

-Take as much free stuff as your college will give you. For example, one day I went to the post office on campus to get my mail and they had free Old Spice body wash. Haven’t had to buy body wash for months.

How did you choose your major?

I chose my major based on my immediate interests. I’ve always liked and used computers and technology in some way, so I have been a computer science major for my fourth semester now. I decided my major only six months before my first semester of college.

I want to be a software engineer, SE for short. They write code for companies, and sometimes the companies are video game companies. I realized what I wanted to do in life based on my goal of wanting to be financially stable for the rest of my life. SEs start at $90k a year, so that should cover it.

How was the adjustment to college life socially?

It can be liberating. Managing money and living in the city was a lot harder to adjust to.

How was the adjustment to college life academically?

College is overall harder than high school. Most majors in the freshman year can give the impression that they will be a breeze. Sophomore year will make you think otherwise really quickly. So get your stuff together the first year and don’t slack off, because it only gets harder.

A typical college class schedule is five classes a semester. Three of the classes will be core “important” classes, that meet for 200 minutes per week, four days a week. The remaining two classes are electives that meet maybe twice a week for 100 minutes per week. This varies amongst colleges.

Work assigned is very inconsistent. Some weeks I have three sections of stats homework, one java program to write, one ruby program to write, some readings in textbooks, and a digital audio production assignment. Other weeks I can have all of that and five programs to write in a single week. Other weeks, next to nothing.

My current college classes are great. The lectures are engaging and meaningful. I have actually connected with my professors and can go to them for advice on anything I ask and they will respond with kindness.

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