It would seem that our society tends to focus a lot on the traditional high school experience and the stereotypical college experience. Numerous books, movies, songs, and television shows in mainstream media have done a fine job of capturing the feeling that commonly pervades both educational institutions. The transition from high school to college, however, is often glazed over.
The transition to college is different for everyone. There is any number of factors that go into what surprises some students, what worries them, and what comforts them.
For William Halliday ’19, the transition was relatively smooth despite the many differences between the University and the community in Virginia in which he grew up.
“My high school didn’t really promote a creativity of thinking,” Halliday said. “It was very into pounding in A.P. courses. Coming here, you can take classes that really force you to think in different ways. It’s not just reading out of a textbook. I just feel like there wasn’t as much creative thinking in my high school. It was a lot about getting the quantitative result. Which I think is kind of messed up. It’s been really cool being here and not having that drilled into you as much. It’s more discussion based. I also feel like there was an air of conformity, and here people aren’t afraid to be different and really express themselves.”
Despite attending college in a location fairly removed from his home and gaining independence, Halliday’s transition to college was aided by the fact that his older brother also attended the University.
“I have a brother here, so I wasn’t completely separated from [my family],” Halliday said. “I can see [my brother] whenever I want to. He was there at the beginning if I wanted to talk to someone, which was probably not a fair thing because I had what other freshman didn’t. I was homesick for maybe the first couple of days, but once I got adjusted it started feeling like home and now Virginia doesn’t feel like home anymore. I think that means that I’ve adjusted pretty well.”
Will Bosha ’19, who is from Connecticut but attended an all-male boarding school in New York, was struck by the huge differences that came with attending a co-ed school.
“I remember thinking before I got here, ‘Man, it’s going to be weird to see girls,’” Bosha said. “When I was in high school, it was news when a woman was on campus. People would text each other and talk in the dining halls, and be like, ‘Oh my God, there’s a girl on campus,’ ‘There’s a girl walking by this dorm,’ ‘Try to go get a peek of the girl.’ It’s really sad and incredibly creepy, too. Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned coming from that school to Wesleyan is that single-sex education doesn’t work, and it shouldn’t be done, and there are no benefits. All it does is make everyone weird and horny, and in particular with men, somewhat misogynistic.”
Bosha was also exposed to people with experiences and backgrounds completely unlike those of his high school classmates.
“I’ve always been socially liberal and forward thinking, and I always was sympathetic and tried to be understanding of things like transgender people and gender neutral people, but I never knew them [personally],” Bosha said. “I didn’t know what it was like, and I didn’t know what to call them. So that was something that I also had to adjust to because I wasn’t used to that. It was an exciting experience to start meeting people who are from these communities and meeting all these people from diverse backgrounds. I immediately felt like I was becoming more educated to people’s experiences around the world that I had been completely isolated from my entire high school experience.”
Additionally, Bosha was surprised by the small aspects of freedom that he had not been able to enjoy in high school. For the first time in a while, Bosha was not on a strict schedule for when he needed to be in his dorm or when he had to eat meals.
“When you go to a boarding school and then you come to Wesleyan, the freedom of college is really, really sort of amplified because you’re allowed to do so little in high school when you go to a boarding school,” Bosha said. “I came to realize just what a gift it is that at 10:30 p.m. I’m allowed to leave my dorm and that’s fine. Nobody is going to ask where I am. I’m allowed to do that. I can also choose when I eat. I wasn’t allowed to choose when to eat in high school.”
Ellie Donner-Klein ’19, from California, experienced a transition that differed vastly from Halliday and Bosha’s. Donner-Klein came to college with slightly more baggage than your average freshman who was moving across the country for school.
“I have chronic migraines,” Donner-Klein said. “It’s been hard because living with something that isn’t a physical illness takes a different toll on your life. It was definitely really hard for me at the beginning of the year when everyone was going out and doing stuff on the weekends while I was just struggling to get through my week. It made me realize that no matter what I do, I shouldn’t compare myself to other people, because what I can do is what I can do. I needed to realize that it’s okay if I need to go to bed that night at 10 and not do all of my reading.”
In the past six months, while at school, Donner-Klein has had to make three trips to the emergency room for migraines.
“On one hand, you don’t want to be like, ‘Oh my God, I went to the emergency room last night,’ but at the same time you kind of want to broadcast it and be like, ‘Look at what I’m doing. I’m doing this and also going to school,’” Donner-Klein said. “It’s definitely hard, and there were some times when [I] definitely felt alienated. But the more people that I’ve talked to about it, the more I’ve realized that everyone has their own problems, and you shouldn’t belittle yourself because no one else is outwardly experiencing the same thing.”
Despite her illness, Donner-Klein does not regret making the choice to come to the University and encourages others who might have complications like hers to embrace their situation and all that comes with it.
“For people who are worried because they have mental problems or illnesses, different learning disabilities, or a chronic illness, they should know that Wesleyan is a really amazing place for helping people in terms of what they need,” Donner-Klein said. “My accommodations process has been literally the easiest thing and in high school I had to fight really hard to get accommodations, whether it was from the College Board or my high school. Now, I have a support system: Every single time I have been to the ER, I immediately get an email from Dean Wood and all the teachers are so supportive of me and really flexible with me. I think that makes Wesleyan very unique in that way.”