In my junior year of high school, I visited a small school similar to Wesleyan that looked fantastic on paper, and I left before the tour feeling nothing less than terrified. The college selection process (which, congratulations, is entirely in your hands at this point!) can be messy, as you probably know.
What could have been so horrible about the school? There were letters from alumni on the walls of the admissions office that described being at the school as “perfect,” “in a bubble,” and “the happiest I could ever be, and ever will be again.” It was awful. First of all, the odds of a place being perfect are exceptionally small, and it scared me that no one seemed to know that. Everyone was smiling, and giddy, and, well, bubbly. Second of all, college is supposed to be great, but the people at this school sounded like it left them incredibly unprepared to deal with the realities of life. Namely, things aren’t always bubbly.
Wesleyan is not that place. And that’s good. The people here are real, and they’re multi-dimensional.
One of the hardships of the college search is that we are all looking for the “perfect fit.” You might want a school that has more money, or that will get you instant recognition no matter with whom you’re speaking. You might want a place with printers that are always working when you need them to be. You might want a place where students and administration always have the same goals and expectations. You might want a place that is always filled with intelligent protest of campus- and world-wide issues, which, unfortunately, Wesleyan is not. Sometimes it definitely is, but not always.
But maybe it’s okay. In its place, you will get a school you can shape to become your own. Wesleyan supports growth academically, extracurricularly, and socially to an extent, as long as you pull your own weight. You will not be coddled, but you will be given the tools to thrive. Wesleyan is not perfect, but its problems are the same problems you will struggle with when you are 30, and 50, and 80 years old.
You will leave as a better person than when you arrived, and the odds are good that you will leave knowing how to function in the real world. You will most likely have had four surprising, fascinating, exciting years filled with memories, some beautiful, and some educationally grotesque. You will think differently, having been taught by everyone you came into contact with (even if these people were “just being ridiculous”).
The Wesleyan you will see at WesFest is not the Wesleyan you will live, though it is a part of the culture. Your biggest challenge will be determining whether the reports you hear have any legitimacy. The same people who complain about their housing or their culture being under siege by the administration will also tell you that this is the school for you. In a way, that’s a testament to the other aspects of this school; both accounts are honest. For most of us, the problems are balanced out and outweighed by the overall experience, and that’s worth a lot more than blind love for a flawed place. At the same time, keep the flaws in mind. This school isn’t for everyone.
The people here are special. Not all of the people here are special. The odds are good that whomever you are looking for, you will find. There are people who get angry about everything. There are people who don’t pay enough attention to be angry at anything. There are people with whom you always disagree and you love them for it. You will find people to have fun with, and to exist with, and to grow with, which is what friends are.
The debate over whether or not Wesleyan is truly “Diversity University” still stands, though I will leave that alone for the moment. In terms of diversity of interests and beliefs, this is one of the only places I have found in my life where nothing is strange, and everything happens. Everything. For better or for worse.
Culturally, Wesleyan (especially the student body) does a fantastic job of creating variety and avoiding the “bubble” feel that another medium-sized school in a not-scintillating town could easily fall victim to. The Film Series screens movies four nights a week, some of which you’ve “always wanted to see,” others of which you may have never heard. There are weekly or near-weekly plays, lectures, music performances, dances, sporting events, and reportedly games of “Giant Jenga,” in case that happens to be your thing.
College nightlife is college nightlife. Sometimes it will exceed expectations, sometimes it won’t live up to them. This isn’t your average party school, though things are far less than quiet at least three nights a week. Realistically, you’d be hard-pressed to avoid being in the presence of alcohol and/or drugs at least occasionally, but there is minimal pressure culture, especially compared to other places. Some of the best nights I have had have involved nothing more than sitting around arguing about anything and everything.
Bottom line, you may sometimes have to make an effort, but the effort will be more than worth it. You will find your people, and most nights you will find your activity.
But maybe “activities” aren’t the only things you are looking for in a school. Wesleyan also has a strong academic program, and its most enticing feature to most is the freedom of course selection. If you decide against Wesleyan because you think it won’t be rigorous enough, it had better be because you don’t think you can challenge yourself without others telling you what to do.
Some classes can be hard to get into, but course selection is a time to put aside the pacifist views you came to campus with. Send emails. Show up and do the homework. If you demonstrate that you’re willing to put effort into getting into a class, you will almost always get it.
The power of this freedom is often underrated. You can take classes that interest you and classes that scare you. You can do that here and come out the other side unbattered, because scaring yourself safely is what the system is designed for.
Wesleyan institutions do a good job of serving the population, for the most part. If you have an idea, crazy or not, that you want to implement, you will be able to get a room and funding. If you want a private classroom to eat dinner and screen “Breaking Bad,” it’s yours. If you want money for traveling to compete in a marathon two towns away, you can get it. If you want to start a movement to get drunk during class, well, realistically, somebody will probably say no.
Just like in the real world, if you need to get something done, you should have a backup plan and plan an extra half hour. Have extra soap, in case the school runs out (as seems to happen now and again). Plan an extra few minutes to wait in line for meals. The meals are worth the wait.
Wesleyan University gets a strong A+ on the bread and circuses, and the students are not rendered apathetic as a result of them: it’s the best of both worlds. You will work hard and get a meaningful education, but you can also lie on Foss Hill when it gets warm and be aware of a universe outside of library walls. You will find new ideas, new activities, new people. You will write articles defending a school that you also freely criticize, just because you love it anyway.
Zalph is a member of the class of 2016.