How to find the right college fit

Allison Marino is an alumna of The George Washington University, class of 2013, with a major in Communication Studies and a minor in Judaic Studies. She works in nonprofit development and fundraising, and currently resides in New York City. Her passions include dance, fashion, volunteering, reading, and being a hostess with the mostess.
When I began to tour colleges, I knew one thing for sure- I would only be happy in the very middle of a big city. Ivy covered brick buildings, sprawling quads and picturesque campus grounds were not a part of my college checklist. At one tour in particular, up hearing that the city of Boston was a mere seven minute shuttle bus ride, I promptly left the tour group where they were to give a quick browse at the book store and then head out. I wanted hustle and bustle, restaurants and theater, adventures that only a city could afford me. I wanted to live in a city for four years, not visit one.
The culture that a city could afford me is certainly one of the reasons that I wanted to be in a big city for college, but my true desires were much more aspirational. I knew that I would be working during college- I had a work/study award to make use of, and maybe a propensity to allow money to burn a hole in my pocket. While perusing the work/study position offerings at all of my best fit schools, I realized that schools in big cities had vastly more varied positions to be applied for. Employers throughout cities such as Boston, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. were clearly taking advantage of the bright students in their midst with resumes ready to go. And, here’s a cool tidbit I learned only once I started employing work/study students myself at my first position after graduation: hiring a work/study student is actually very inexpensive for an employer. The amount a work/study student/employee earns at their job is highly subsidized by the federal award that makes work/study happen. So not only are employers able to source highly qualified, easily molded individuals to fill their empty desks, but it’s pretty cheap labor, too. Work/study opportunities at prestigious law firms, museums, cultural institutions, and marketing and technology companies, and financial powerhouses sounded like the kind of job offerings I wanted to take advantage of in my post-grad life. Why not get paid to do a little exploring and professional development during college?
I interviewed for my first really exciting position at the age of 18. I became a Public Programs and Special Events assistant at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.- a position that had to be filled by a full-time student. I made great money, but most importantly I learned what it was like to be a real working adult. I had to commute to my office on the Metro, dress professionally, manage my time in such a way that work was still a priority, but ensured that school came first. I even learned how to file for unemployment. The National Archives is a government entity, and I experienced one of the most recent almost sequesters that were all over the news as a government employee. All of this culminated into great life and job place skills that I genuinely believe translated into my studies. It broadened my knowledge base to which I could apply what I was learning in class. I found myself testing out many of the theories of communication I learned in readings and other homework assignments without realizing it as I interacted with my coworkers and museum guests. Having expanded my worldview, I was able to truly put my theoretical classroom thinking to work. Furthermore, I was really able to jumpstart my career. Working in public programs and special events for the government taught me a great deal about my future career. It showed me that I definitely wanted to keep pursuing events, but that I didn’t want to work for the government ever again.
So one job experience really helped me choose my future career path? Not entirely on its own. There were many other realities that I lived in college that helped me narrow my focus. One great example was my sorority involvement. GWU currently has the highest percentage of students participating in Greek Life of any urban campus in the country. When I went through recruitment as a freshman, GWU Greek Life was about 22% of the student body, and by the time I graduated, that number was up to 33% and climbing. GWU was an interesting Greek experience for many reasons, but especially for its focus on philanthropy. GWU Greek Life focuses its philanthropy in a great mix of social and educational lenses. I can vividly remember dancing in a skit for a fundraising event one night, and the next night sitting in a room with almost every sorority girl on campus about the plight of children with rare diseases who have improved in their fight tremendously due to the help of Children’s National Medical Center, the beneficiary of our fundraising and booty-shaking. Because we were in the middle of a huge city, where opportunities such as medical resources are more heavily concentrated than in more outlying areas, our fun and fundraising endeavors were tempered with not only facts, but site visits, opportunities to meet those we were helping, and a front row seat to the real change we were helping to make with our silly costumes and cheers. Not only did this shape my social scene tremendously- I loved every minute of fundraising we did for any organization both in my social calendar and in my heart- but it helped me choose where I wanted to add my event management expertise. I now work in nonprofit development, which draws on my event planning and fundraising experience every day. My resume really caters to the positions I seek because it combines events and philanthropic experience, and I am not sure that I would have left college with such a well-tailored CV if I hadn’t gone to school in an urban center.
I understand that the overwhelming nature of a city is not for everybody, especially during the already difficult transition to college life in general. I also understand that all of the opportunities I fought out could definitely be found on many schools that have a real suburban campus. But it was the right choice for me, for social, cultural, and employable reasons.

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