Faith Cotter is an award-winning writer and editor based in Pittsburgh, PA. She is pursuing a Master of Arts in Professional Writing from Chatham University, and works as a medical editor for Crimson Interactive. Her work has appeared in Jezebel, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and elsewhere. She independently published two short works in 2014, titled Paper Dragons and Clara: A Short Story.
You can follow her on Twitter via @FaiththeWriter or visit her blog at www.faithcotter.wordpress.com.
A long time ago, in a decade far away (2007/2008—I am An Old), the photos were all over Facebook: old acquaintances and their groups of friends having fun at parties and hanging out at the campus radio station, the newsroom, and their dorms, watching a movie and passing around a bowl of popcorn.
“When I transfer,” I said to my friend, “My life is going to be just like that.”
“Really?” she said. “I heard that transfer students have a tough time socially. At least at first.”
I ignored her comment, but in the end, making friends as a transfer student was hard. I was so wrapped up in the idealized culture of college life and had pinned so many hopes on it that I didn’t want to admit that she maybe had a point. After all, if I could wrestle the bear that is any kind of paperwork involved with financial aid—especially when transferring—I would be fine. Right?
It took me awhile to find my footing from a social standpoint, especially because my university had a large commuter population. Yes, you should try and get out there and join the newspaper, or whatever group or team you prefer. Eventually, though, I found that whether you are coming to a university from another four-year institution or from a community college, that the key to meeting new people was very much based on how much interaction you had with your fellow students in class.
Biology labs and writing workshops, for example, provide an environment where not only are you meeting classmates with similar interests, but there’s a degree of trust rooted in the communication needed for those classes, as well. Workshopping a manuscript is a deeply personal thing to do, and the process requires everyone to step outside themselves. You get an opportunity to see one another very clearly, because art doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and also because workshopping a piece requires people to not take themselves and their work too seriously, or you’ll drive yourself nuts. I met some of my closest friends in my fiction and nonfiction workshops during undergrad.
The same thing is happening with graduate school. With the exception of one course I am taking through Chatham’s Master of Fine Arts program, all of the classes in the Master of Professional Writing program are online. I never expected to get to know anyone, especially when a lot of these students live out of state or even out of country. Then an odd thing happened: the nature of online courses is that at some point, the students end up as part of the course work. With so many different perspectives and career backgrounds, it was impossible not to learn from each other. And while I can’t grab a pizza with my fellow graduate students, we’ve all acted as mentors for one another these past several months, e-mailing one another for support and celebrating career milestones, even when we are not taking classes together.
In the end, I didn’t get the Facebook version of the perfect college experience that I was expecting. I am happy with how it turned out, though: a collection of moments that make me smile and friends that have stuck around long after graduation. It sounds cheesy, but those moments will always be mine, and that will always be enough.
*Of course, this won’t be everyone’s experience. But for those who can relate, I hope this bit of advice is helpful.