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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

“Please don’t gut your fish in the dorm kitchens”

I’ve never really known what I should do with my life. All throughout my k-12 education, I had someone there—teachers, my mom, other students—to look to when I was unsure of what I should be doing, who could tell me what I was expected to do. When the time came to apply to colleges, suddenly no one was there, telling me what I was supposed to do. I applied willy-nilly to a smattering of schools across the western half of the united states without visiting any of them or looking into cost/how much I could afford, and sat back to rake in the admissions letters. My dreamy suburban existence was shattered when, upon receiving acceptance letters, I realized that school costs money—money that I didn’t have. I panicked and, fearing the life of debt and ramen noodles that surely awaited me, I applied last minute to a state school in Wisconsin. I’m from Minnesota, so I was able to get in-state tuition thanks to a reciprocity agreement between the two states’ public university systems, which saved me a bunch of money.

It quickly became clear to me that I had enrolled at the wrong school for me. During my campus visit we were shown the campus armory, where we were advised to “keep all guns, bows, arrows, and ammunition in a locker, rather than in your dorm.” While registering for classes I saw that intro to deer hunting was available as a gym credit, and while making pasta in the dorm kitchen my attention was drawn to a sign: “please don’t gut your fish in the sink here. Use the campus fish house.” Once, while walking across campus, I noticed a massive amount of feathers blowing through a parking lot. My initial guess that a bird had gotten caught in a lawn mower proved to be incorrect as I rounded a corner and discovered a student field dressing a Canadian goose he had shot earlier that day. People rode their horses to the bar.

The facilities available on campus were a strong reflection of the student body. 95% of the students were from Wisconsin, and the remaining 5% were from Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, or the Dakotas. I had expected college to be a place where I could meet people from all over the country, from all different walks of life. Instead, I was in an environment where large groups of students graduated high school together, and then all went to the same college. The resulting feeling was one of high school 2.0, especially because my freshman-level classes actually felt easier than the AP courses I’d taken in high school. So, instead of taking 5 classes a semester I took 6, and I joined Amnesty International, WisPIRG (Wisconsin Student Public Interest Research Group—actually much more fun than it sounds), Students for Free Thought, and became captain of the women’s Lacrosse team. As if that wasn’t enough, I decided that I could double major (Philosophy and International Studies) and double minor (Religious Studies and English) and still graduate on time because hey, I wasn’t struggling, so why not take on a little more work?

I knew during my first semester that I wanted to transfer but, since it was my first time at college and my research into other schools had been so minimal, I assumed that I’d grow to love the school…eventually. I found an amazing group of friends, and they really helped me to enjoy my time there. When after three semesters I had finally had enough, those friends were incredibly supportive. At the ugly sweater going away party they threw for me, my friend Ty hugged me and said “I think we all secretly knew that this wasn’t the right place for you. You’re destined for something different.”

I know I want to transfer. Now what?

The following semester was spent living at home, working two jobs, lonely and desperate for human contact and intellectual stimulation. I toured six schools on the east coast, got in, and hit the same wall I’d hit the first time around: money sucks, and not everyone wants to give it to you. I was frustrated and freaking out—what would I do next fall, if I wasn’t in school? Would I find a school that fit me and that I could afford? I was talking with my boss at one of my jobs during a performance review sometime in April, telling him how nervous I was about my current lack of direction. He told me to check out Prescott College—he’d gone there without knowing what he wanted to study, and came away with a passion for education. So, on his insistent advice, I found myself exploring the school website on an idle spring afternoon, and applying the next day.

I wasn’t able to visit before enrolling, which was nerve-wracking given my track record the first time around, but something felt different about Prescott. In my first days on campus, I knew I had made the right decision. Sometimes I wish I’d found PC the first time around, but at the same time I know that my experiences in Wisconsin had a huge impact on my reasons for transferring here. I realize more each day just how lucky I am to go to a school with a different way of looking at higher education, whose mission isn’t simply to give out degrees and pump workers into the real world. I don’t feel the need to fill my spare time with a plethora of clubs and classes, because I’m able to control how challenging my courses are. And, most importantly, I’m able to afford this school, with the help of my mom and a merit scholarship (and a little debt). But to me, having a few loans is totally worth the education I’m getting here. I feel valuable here, and I feel important, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have found this school.

~Claire Tuchel, 02.2012

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