Selecting a college

Maggie Douglas is a recent graduate from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. There she received a Bachelor’s degree in Art and Digital Design with a minor in International Studies. She now lives in Des Moines, Iowa and works as a Graphic Artist for Gannett, a national media holding company.

When I was in my final stage of picking which college I would attend it came down to two schools: a large state university with an enrollment of about 30,000 students or a small liberal arts college of about 1,600 students. I went back and forth between the two, making pro-con lists in my head: “There is so much excitement and so much to do at a big school. I won’t just be another number at a small school. They both have art programs I am interested in. Is the small school just going to feel like high school all over again? Will my shy-self just get lost in the chaos of 30,000 students? Is this school too close to home or is that school too far away?” These questions just kept on circling around in my mind until it was the day I absolutely had to commit to one school. To this day, I don’t exactly know what made me decide to attend Loras College, the small liberal arts college in Dubuque, Iowa, but I do know with certainty that it was the perfect place for me.
For me, this sense of knowing it was the right choice did not come all at once, and there were definitely times I felt I had made a mistake in my choice. I was missing out on tailgating and greek life and the 30,000 new friends I could be making. These were my thoughts throughout much of my Freshman and Sophomore years at Loras, but I didn’t yet realize all of the amazing opportunities this small community could provide for me that would just not be possible at a huge university.
At a small school, everyone knows everyone. This may feel very high school or small town and somewhat unnerving to some, but I found it extremely comforting. You cannot walk even half-way across campus without seeing at least three people you know and say “hi” to. You never have to sit alone in the cafeteria, because as soon as you walk in you can easily spot a few tables to join. It was quite often you would see the president of the college walking around, talking to students, because even he recognized most people on campus.
Another perk I discovered was that you can actually make a difference on campus, whether that be through student government, or Dance Marathon, or the College Activities Board, or the Peace and Justice Club, (the list goes on and on). Getting involved was effortless because you always knew at least one person who was part of each organization and they would usually just drag you to a meeting and “BOOM” you were in. In my case, I joined the College Activities Board my Freshman year of college and helped plan events for the student body every weekend. After three years of being on the committee I ended up becoming the Graphic Design Chair for the organization and before I knew it my own designs were hung up all over the school. Every single student, faculty member, and staff member saw my work daily. Not many students get that much exposure in college, and I do not believe I would have gotten a chance like that at a big state school.
I think the most important benefit from my choice of going to a small college was the attention I received. I know this sounds a bit egotistical, but it is not meant that way. I assure you, this attention was not always welcomed, but overall, it really helped me grow as a person, especially in my art and design work. Each year, there were around 35 members of my major, IN MY ENTIRE SCHOOL! The small class size gave me the chance to get the attention needed by such a demanding major. Some people think that, as art majors, we just sit around and draw pretty pictures all day, but then I ask them to try and do what I do and that usually shuts them up. I aspired to be a graphic designer one day and in order to land an awesome job after graduation, I needed individuality, creativity, and skill. The attention I received from my art professors was not always the good kind of attention, but I realize now that having them challenge me really forced me to find what was unique about my work and how to expand and grow though experimenting rather than playing it safe.
I honestly believe that I would not be the same person I am today if I had picked the large state university. Attending Loras helped me gain the confidence that I was sorely lacking when I walked onto campus, it pushed me to explore what type of person I wanted to be and encouraged me not just to sit back but to act. I realize it is not for everyone, but I do think there is a lot to be missed by those who pass up the chance to go to a school with 1,600 faces you actually recognize. Whether you choose to follow the state school path or the private school path, remember that college is really what you make from the experience. As long as you cater to what you are passionate about and make your journey unique to who you are it will become more than you could ever hope for.

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