How I Chose My College: “Home Away From Home”

home away from home

Flickr user Alan Kotok

My name is Paulina Andre, and I’m currently a student at the University of Iowa studying Informatics (HCI cognate). I applied to about two dozen schools, ranging from smaller liberal arts programs to larger-than-life state schools.

Hometown Charm

When I started applying for schools, my mother told me that while, yes, college is about earning a higher education, it’s also about finding your home for the next four (or more) years. There are holidays and breaks to visit your hometown, but almost nine months of the year will be in a new place. I had plenty of friends transfer colleges after being fraught with homesickness.

This drastically changed my college search. Campus visits became more vital, as well as the college’s nearest town. Suddenly, I wasn’t comparing alumni statistics or program benefits. I imagined taking the long-way to class to pass my favorite mural or finding a lunch spot to reward myself for a hard-fought exam grade. I took the childhood memories of exploring my hometown with friends after classes and poured it into my college search. Of all the colleges I applied to, the University of Iowa best matched that vision; it felt like it could be my home away from home.

Freedom of Choice

Going into college, I had no tangible idea of what I wanted to do. l had a list of hobbies and intellectual interests, but career paths eluded me. I eased into college by taking a few low-stress general education classes—”Age of Dinosaurs” was by far my favorite—and kept delaying essential post-college questions. I started as an EnglishPsychology double major. The following semester I was a Secondary Education major. And after that, I was a Cinema major. And so on, until I finally found my fit with Informatics. Looking back, I don’t know what I would have done had I not attended a school with such a large catalog of majors to choose from. I’m grateful the University of Iowa had opportunities to experiment with my academic interests.

The Grass is Always Greener

During my freshman year at the University of Iowa, I hadn’t yet settled into college life and was missing my family. At the time, my brother was attending Notre Dame, and I had fallen in love with the school during a holiday visit. To anyone who would listen, I would gush about my visit. Out of pure curiosity, I researched the requirements for transferring from the University of Iowa to Notre Dame.

To my surprise, I met the criteria. As a high school student, I assumed Notre Dame was unrealistically out of reach for my grades and scores; it never crossed my mind to consider applying. Had I used a tool like the College Raptor search, maybe I could have attended the school with my brother. The University of Iowa will always be my alma mater, but I can’t deny that a little more research could’ve led to a very different college experience.

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