Alumni share tips for college survival with high school seniors
Fifteen alumni offered humorous insights, practical advice, and reassurance about college and life after graduation during a lively forum on Jan. 6 for Martha's Vineyard Regional High School's (MVRHS) seniors.
Of all their tips of the day for the college-bound, they uttered this one in unison: "Stock up on Easy Mac."
Sitting with their legs dangling at the edge of the stage in the Performing Arts Center, the six women and nine men passed two microphones back and forth down the line as they answered impromptu questions from an audience made of up of their younger peers from their alma mater. Their advice covered many of the anxiety-producing topics that graduating seniors want to know about, such as how to pick a college, decide on what possessions to take, handle course workloads, and cope with a roommate you can't stand.
The alumni represented a cross-section of students attending Eastern colleges and universities that were home on the Island for winter break. Although their experiences varied, depending on the size of their schools, their advice was much the same.
The program was sponsored by the school's Parent-Teacher-Student Organization (PTSO) and hosted by Michael McCarthy, guidance department director, and Pam Carelli, PTSO president.
After a little prodding from Mr. McCarthy for the first question, one senior asked, "What's the one thing you wish you brought with you to college that you left home?" My dog, a moon chair, and more money, were some of their answers. But as Christine Brissette recalled, "I brought too much. You can always get something if you find you need it."
Heading into their last semester, high school seniors are understandably nervous about choosing a college. How did you make your choice and was it the right one, someone asked. That depends on the person, the graduates said, and there is no wrong choice.
Michael Shea picked a smaller school, Bryant College, and likes it there because, "Being from the Island, I'm not used to being in a big community." Megan Leland chose her school, the University of New Hampshire, for its program in occupational therapy.
For Jon Parker at Westfield State College and Sam Bryant at Sarah Lawrence University, the high ratio of women to men was definitely a plus factor.
But whether a student picks a college based on a "feeling," as Erik Monterosso of Mary Washington University did, or for a specific program (aviation) as Matt Montanile of Bridgewater State College did, the alumni reminded the students it is easy to transfer to another school. "It is not a bad thing to make the wrong choice," Ms. Brissette reassured them.
In terms of coursework, the alumni agreed that the volume takes getting used to, especially when it comes to writing. "Papers are the big thing," said Mr. Monterosso. "We are prepared academically, but it is a different kind of work." Added Sarah Greenberg, who attends Tufts University, "We have less work than in high school, but at a lot higher level. One weekend, I had to write two 10-page papers."
In fact, the most common feedback from the alumni was that they lacked experience from high school in writing 15-page papers college professors require, said Peg Regan, MVRHS principal. "We do up to 10, but the 15-page paper is a little more difficult in terms of thesis, research, and design. We should prepare kids for how to do that type of writing."
Coursework aside, the discussion turned to the social aspect of college. Questions about roommates prompted some horror stories. Everyone agreed that Jessica Stone took top prize for the worst, with a roommate at American University who talks incessantly and lacks personal hygiene and laundry skills. However, Kerry O'Donoghue came in as a close second for having to keep her head down whenever she was around her baton-twirling roommate at Roger Williams College.
John Gaskill, on the other hand, finds he has a lot in common with his roommate at the University of Vermont, since they are both from the Island. "We can joke and use the same terms, and no one else understands," he said.
Several people spoke of the dreaded "forced triple," a room for two with an extra bed that often adds up to an imbalance in personalities as well as numbers. Roommate compatibility is important, the alumni agreed, and advised making a switch if unhappy.
One senior asked what the college students do on weekends. As young people who grew up on an Island, not surprisingly most of them spoke enthusiastically about their more active social lives and access to cultural and musical events in big cities near their campuses. Although Jonathan Ryan, who attends Emerson College, said the party life is available as well, he cautioned, "Moderation!"
Whether close enough to go home on the weekends or not, the alumni advised staying at school during the first semester to take part in campus life and make friends.
Sounding somewhat wistful, Kara Rosenthal, who attends Tufts University, reminded the seniors, "Enjoy your last couple of months in high school. College is so different."