University Options

The time has come for seniors to start thinking about going off to university. Wherever they are with applications, the thought looms large in their minds. For some, it just seems like another four years of school, but for others it is like embarking into completely unknown territory. No matter where you stand, most of us can agree that the prospect of leaving behind our friends and family is a scary one. I believe that the scariest part about heading off to university is also the best part.

One of the most challenging aspects of university is being on your own without anyone helping you or reminding you to do your work. The weight of independence suddenly thrust upon your shoulders is really difficult at first and can seem to weigh tenfold when there aren’t any familiar faces around. As hard as it is to leave behind all your friends, and as nerve-wracking as it is to go to a place where you know nobody, ultimately you will to push yourself outside of that comfort zone you’ve spent years cultivating.

Teacher Joshua Winicki grew up in Colorado, but moved to California to go to UC Berkeley. Winicki went to university not knowing anybody and, in doing so, got to know himself better. “ The thing about going to a place where you don’t really know that many people is you figure out kind of who you are,” said Winicki.

In high school most of your decisions are subject to some kind of influence or bias; especially from your friends. “ Other people put on to you what they want from you, When you are true to yourself and not taking in all this input from other people, you can go the course you’re intended to go,” said teacher Frank Mathews. Mathews also went to university alone, attending University of Wisconsin. When you go to university without your friends you are free to make choices that are unaffected by the judgemental ambiance that is so prevalent in high school. The thing about going to university with your friends is that, even though you aren’t at high school anymore, that same looming atmosphere of high school lives on through being in your friend group.

Forming your own opinions and stances on things, whatever subjects they are on, is all part of growing up. When you’re with your same group of friends from high school, you never break free from the group norm and think for yourself. Take Mathews’ experience, he grew up in a conservative Illinois household, but going off to university allowed him the space to form his own moderate opinion. Being able to form your own opinions and arguing for them is a monumental part of life, and university is a perfect place to explore on what you believe in. Surrounding yourself with the same people from high school takes away from that independent level of thought and you end up never changing your outlook on life. According to counselor Kelly Milford, “[you] rely on who you’ve always been when you’re around people you’ve always known.”

Besides just leaving behind your high school friends, another important part of university is making new ones. “ I chose my friends. It wasn’t just because we were in the same situation. There were like 50,000 students so you chose the ones that you relate to the most,” said Mathews. Being able to choose your friends is an invaluable part about university. Where, the people you hang out with are no longer dictated by geography or similar situations. You will find yourself being drawn towards people who you share common passions with, and those who share your interests and views will gravitate toward you. You end up surrounding yourself with people who like you because of who you are, not for the mask you used to put on everyday in high school.

Picking your friends might be challenging at first, but according to Winicki, there is one important thing to remember: “ No one knows you… so you get to know yourself better by meeting a bunch of people.” An important part about finding new friends is that you have to step outside of your comfort zone to find them. If you just stay with the same people from high school, you will never allow yourself room for improvement; it’s like you remain tied to high school.

Many think that finding new friends is one of the hardest parts about going to university alone, but if you play your cards right, it won’t be nearly as difficult as you think. The act of finding new friends can potentially help you grow as a person. When Mathews was at University of Wisconsin, he tried numerous new activities that were outside his comfort zone in order to find new friends. After about a month, Mathews found himself feeling comfortable because he put himself out there and did activities, such as skiing, hiking club, and sailing, he wouldn’t have thought to do if he was still with all his friends.

Making new friends and being in a different group from your high school friends is also beneficial to your self-awareness. “ There are some things that you might not like about yourself that you might want to change, and if you go [to university] with a bunch of people you know, it’s going to be harder to do,” said Winicki. When you stay in your same friends group, you are less likely to branch out or change your behavior. By staying with the same people from high school you are disabling your ability to find room for improvement.

The payoff of going off without your friends can help you throughout your life not just at university. A large part of university for Mathews was constantly being outside of his comfort zone and because of this he felt free to do things he wouldn’t have done otherwise. Mathews tried skiing for the first time in university and he joined an art history class, knowing nothing about the subject prior to joining. Despite this, he found success in the class and was even the lead in the play the class put on at the end of the semester. Outside of university, Mathews found it easier to acclimate to new environments and meet people. Immediately after graduating from Wisconsin, Mathews moved to Taiwan to teach; something he wouldn’t have had the courage to do otherwise. After a number of years in Taiwan, he moved to Portland. In Portland Mathews worked at Reynolds High School, before finally transferring to Wilson. Mathews states that meeting new people and adapting to a new environment has been much easier due to his experience at Wisconsin. Not staying in the same bubble of friends after high school made it easier for Mathews to do things like travel over 7,000 miles to teach in Taiwan or simply move between schools in the same city. “ If you’re hanging out with your comfortable friends all the time you, sometimes you don’t take risks,” said Mathews.

When you first go to university, it is natural to feel outside of your comfort zone, and though it may be difficult, I encourage you to remember that this too shall pass and you will acclimatize to your new surroundings and, along the way, meet lifelong friends and have great experiences you’ll never forget. I’m not saying that you should completely cut ties with your friends from high school, but a little distance can’t hurt you. Don’t be afraid to let go of the life you’ve always known at Wilson and embrace this experience, knowing that it will prove prosperous in the years to come.

Words and Photo by Aidan Ormond