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Visiting Colleges – A Student’s Prospective

By Sidra Eschauzier, 11th Grade

It’s a little alarming that I’m almost old enough to go to college. The concept of full independence, though oftentimes desired, makes me nervous. My parents will no longer be there to remind me to do the laundry, or give me Tylenol when I need it, or tell me to go to bed when I’ve stayed up too late. I have to learn how to self-moderate.

As of now, though, I can separate myself from all of that. I went to Manhattan this past weekend to check out some of my favorite colleges (according to the web). I have spent hours pouring over the little details of these places, displayed in internet perfection, but the filters must come off at some point or another.

I toured three schools: Barnard College, Columbia University, and New York University (NYU). I went on a guided tour and to an information session for all except Columbia. I had a lot of preconceived notions, mostly gathered from the internet, of how these schools work and what their “vibe” is. I knew they were all a bit different—Barnard is a female Ivy, a small liberal arts college with complete access to Columbia, the large, prestigious university across the street; NYU, less than forty minutes downtown, is an absolutely massive research university with tens of thousands of wildly diverse students and an infinite list of majors. I knew some of their similarities, too—they are all very difficult to get into, with acceptance rates of less than 20%, and they all have unlimited access to one of the most opportunity-filled cities in the world.

We first visited Barnard. I have always adored the concept of it: a small, academically rigorous women’s college with the resources of an Ivy League university. The best of both worlds, which is perfect due to my simultaneous love of the anonymous city crowd and personal, quiet spaces where I can connect with people. The campus was amazing, a mix of the old and the new in an odd kind of beauty that really appealed to me. The things that I remember most about the tour were passing comments the tour guide made: “Sorry if the doors are heavy, opening them helps power the building”; “I took a class about the perception of witches throughout history to fulfill a requirement”; “Double majors are really manageable, I know a girl who is a triple major.” These passing comments told me so much about the school, from their focus on innovation to their engaging curriculum to the ease with which students can double major (which is perfect for someone like me, who wants to major in literally everything humanities-related). I absolutely loved it. At the end, I asked my mother what she thought. “Well, this place is perfect for you,” she said, like it was a given, “but maybe you should just stay home with me forever.” We both laughed, but it felt a lot more real than it had in the past. We had gone to a college. We had both pictured what I would look like walking through that campus in a different context, two years older and a five-hour drive away from my mother. College became more concrete than statistics and photos and student testimonials online.

It was difficult for me to get an opinion of Columbia beyond what I knew, without the tour and information session. The campus was beautiful, the perfect image of Ivy League prestige (an aesthetic that never fails to impress me), though my enjoyment of it was definitely tainted by the temperature outside, which floated somewhere between 90°F and 100°F. Despite the heat, I could definitely picture myself there, whether as a Columbia student or a Barnard student taking Columbia classes. Perhaps I’ll write a second blog post another time, after I get a full tour and information session. Next summer, maybe. In sub-90°F weather.

We saw NYU the next morning. Greenwich Village, the neighborhood that NYU dominates, is far more beautiful than I had ever realized. It has a bit of a Boston feel; it lacks the signature glass-and-metal skyscrapers and swathes of scaffolding that characterize much of Manhattan, instead opting for a more brick-building, tree-lined residential style (yes, I actually spotted the ever-elusive trees that somehow survive in Manhattan!). Townhouses are a common sight, with little cafés or tall NYU buildings punctuating most streets. The entire campus is centered around Washington Square Park, which both visually and functionally serves as the quad. My tour guide seemed to genuinely love the school’s every aspect, gushing about the study abroad program, diversity in student body and course options, and guaranteed personal bathrooms for each dorm (something of which I’ve never heard before!). My opinion of NYU, which was already very favorable, vastly improved during the tour.

Still, while I can imagine myself in these places theoretically, it’s more difficult to imagine living in them, so far away from my home and my family. It’s especially difficult to imagine my home without me—my brother and sister heading off to junior year of high school alone, dinners made for four instead of five, a perpetually empty bedroom upstairs. I will most likely not see them in person for months at a time. However, that is just the less-welcome part of a welcome change. I love my family, but everyone has to make it on her own at some point. College is the perfect time to experience and learn and prepare for the adult world—and I am rapidly nearing adulthood, whether I like it or not. I might as well embrace and enjoy it.