Alumni College Panel

In December, Senior Class Dean Gabe Bernstein, along with CA’s College Office, hosted a virtual alumni panel on Zoom for the class of 2021. Many thanks to the five CA alumni who joined for this fun and informative event: Adam Dorsheimer ’19 (College of Charleston), Liam Caplan ’18 (Wesleyan University), Story Wolf-Tinsman ‘19 (Colorado College), Jane Doherty ’19 (Georgetown University), and Justin Bassey ’16 (Harvard University). (Justin was even Story’s CLT leader back when he was a Senior!)

Many topics were discussed, and Seniors submitted their own questions through the chat feature. Here is a short sample of the wisdom our great alumni group shared.

How to Choose a College:

  • It’s important to figure out what you need. What the world at large tells you is needed may not be relevant for you.
  • Think about factors such as location. Are you someone who needs to be in a city? Do you need a place with sunshine? Your physical location dictates a lot about your college experience.
  • Also consider campus culture. You can ascertain this best by talking to current students, or even alumni as old as your parents! Talk to anyone who has attended the school you’re considering. Schools can seem very similar as you narrow down your list. Know that you will likely be happy at any of them! But try to really figure what people on that campus are like and interested in. It’s OK if you get it wrong! Transferring is a normal thing.
  • Trying to quantify schools by scales and ratings in order to decide is very tough—in the end, it’s more of a gut decision.
  • Reach out to CA alumni! The College Office has contact information and surveys from alumni about their schools. Try not to be close-minded and latch onto one school—stay open to new possibilities.

The Transition:

  • CA students are definitely prepared academically. “Help Time” at CA, more than anything, prepares students to talk to their professors in college and to take advantage of office hours. “It’s a gift I got from CA. So few of my friends use office hours and get to know professors.”
  • Roommates: There will be challenges, but remember it’s fun to be around people who are fundamentally different from you.
  • Specific majors: College is about reading and writing. This is very true for humanities majors—you will read and write a TON. You develop and practice those skills at CA. Since there are no limits on that kind of learning, you need to set boundaries, manage your time, commit yourself, but know when you need a break. For science majors, college is about pipetting and lab reports. You may love science classes at CA, but there are no 4 ½-hour labs in high school. Science in college is a big adjustment, because it’s a different kind of time commitment.
  • So much of college is about experiences beyond classes—clubs, people, interests.
  • Put hard stops on your life—if you let work expand without limits, it will seep into all of your time. Be able to balance, to succeed academically while doing the things important to you. Know that priorities in college can shift from week to week.

Question from Seniors: Have you ever considered transferring? If so, why? And what stopped you?

  • Yes. First semester is tough. I didn’t know if I fit in, or if I liked living in a city—it can all be overwhelming. But put your pedal to the metal; tell yourself you’ll revisit the thought in January/February. This is the best way to approach the decision, because if you linger on the idea of transferring, you wind up in a negative cycle that prevents you from truly engaging with the school.
  • It is TOTALLY NORMAL to think about transferring. Thinking about it every day in fact. Give it time. Remember, this is the first time you’ve actually chosen to be somewhere. Most attend CA because their parents chose. Second-guessing that decision is natural.
  • Gen Ed requirements at schools can be overwhelming and make you consider transferring. Research those Gen Ed course requirements before you go! It’s great to be pushed out of your comfort zone in subjects, but do research ahead of time and be aware of what’s required.

Another question from Seniors: Did you have any unexpected struggles? If so, what did you do?

  • My assigned academic advisor was not a fit. Expectations for choosing a major were super high, and I wanted to explore.
  • At CA, teachers let students know how they’re doing—mid-tri reports, grades, comments, conversations. At college, that can be rare. Sometimes you submit a paper and don’t receive a grade back until the end of the semester.
  • It’s up to you to find ways to check up on yourself and how you’re doing. Especially in large classes, it’s hard to get feedback.
  • There are SO many things to do when you first arrive—you think, “I might as well never sleep and just try everything!” So many things will entice you, especially when you have friends on your floor and in your dorm. But sleep is vital.
  • Making the decision not to drink or use substances during your first year can be tough, but it’s important to know it’s not mandatory in order to be happy socially. Choose your friends wisely! Seek friends who align with you and your lifestyle.
  • There are a lot of smart, creative, ambitious people in college. It’s important to find space for yourself, to allow confidence in yourself without comparing yourself to others. It can be easy to get lost in that sea. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you.
  • Remember, it doesn’t have to be one group of people. You can have an academic group of friends from classes, and then one from intramural sports, and then one from the random jewelry-making class you signed up for. Expand! Find diverse groups.

Life skills:

  • Develop a general sense of resilience. There are aspects of dorm life that may seem intolerable. But develop a thick skin for uncomfortable situations.
  • Go in without expectations about dorm life. Focus on soft skills. Your emotional well-being is most important.

Separation from family:

  • Going to college is like breaking up with your family. The transition for us as kids is a similar one for parents. Their lifestyles will change after 18 years of living with you. When I’m home now, I put more effort into relationships with my parents and siblings—it’s more special. And when you head off, set boundaries, create space for yourself to develop independence when you start college. “I’ll call if I need you and know that it will be very important. But I want to become more independent.”
  • You’ll recognize that your parents are independent people of their own, who have largely put their lives on hold for the past 18 years to care for you. You’ll become more like friends with them, rather than dependent on them.