Friends for the Long Term

While scrolling through Facebook the other morning, a photo of two smiling, college-aged girls appeared in my feed as part of the “See Your Memories” feature. The photo’s subjects, Kate and Emily, appeared just as they were six years ago on the date in question – two newly-minted college seniors enjoying their last summer break before adulthood. Both were active in music and theatre as undergraduates and Emily rode on the IHSA hunt seat team I advised. Today, one is an officer in the U.S. Navy and the other is a children’s librarian at a major urban library; they’ve been best friends since their first year of college.

Why were they in my feed?

I’m the one who introduced them.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve undoubtedly absorbed the fact that I’m a strong proponent of small colleges. I attended a small college and worked for (that same) small college in the admission office – which is how I came across Kate and Emily and recruited them to join our community all those years ago. And yes, during their college careers they had wonderful faculty to mentor them and sat in classrooms filled with (at most) 25 students and sometimes also complained that the campus rumor mill was too insular to be healthy and that the rural campus was far from a Starbucks or a mall.

But the number one thing that – to this day – makes me proud to be the alumna of a small, private college and makes it a top recommendation for my clients (when it’s the right fit for their needs and their personalities, of course) is the very thing that popped up in my Facebook feed the other morning:

The connections people make at small colleges are unlike any other.

Before I continue, I want to be clear that I have nothing against large colleges. There is a distinct need for the big research universities that are often part of each state’s public higher education system. And thousands of undergraduates flourish at these institutions every year; they enroll and make friends and forge connections and absorb knowledge in their areas of interest and go on to have wonderful, productive, impressive lives. So the purpose of this piece isn’t to slam large schools, but instead is to outline the one vital factor I believe a lot of people overlook when they discount small colleges from their consideration lists:

It’s the connections.

I’m not simply referring to the connections made by students in classes or in the (one central) dining hall – or even with the students I got to know through my years as an admission counselor and as advisor to the equestrian club. Those types of connections happen at all colleges and universities. Instead, I’m talking about deeper and broader connections – connections that begin with one person befriending another befriending another and ultimately uniting groups of people across disciplines, interests, and eventually class years.

I’m talking about my undergraduate roommate creating an astronomy club on campus and selecting Jim, one of the campus fundraisers (class of 1969) to serve as advisor. At the same time, I took a job as a campus tour guide and reported to the director of the campus visit program, Marsha (class of 1970 and wife of Jim).

Through Jim and Marsha and our (now more than a decade of) friendship, I’ve connected with alumni from classes both near my own and separated by decades. Through my job in the admissions office and advisory position to the equestrian club, I connected with students from classes that came long after mine – students whose weddings I now attend, students I meet for dinner when I travel to their towns, and students whose names and photos creep into my Facebook feed on a daily basis.

I can’t say the same for classmates from high school or from my graduate program.

So as you build your school lists in the New Year, students, don’t overlook the big opportunities that might await you at a small school simply because you’ve heard the name of a big school or you think that a big school automatically offers bigger opportunities because big + big must = big. It’s not always the case.

Just ask Emily and Katie.

(Need help finding big opportunities at a school of any size? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book today!)


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