I know that several of my readers are considering and deciding on colleges right now. My sister is as well, so it’s made me really think hard about how I wish I did things differently when choosing my college. If you’re a junior or senior in high school, I highly recommend you take the time to read this post and learn from me!
I’ll preface this post by saying I’m not just going to hate on University of Maryland. I have seen its flaws though, which I will discuss. If you are considering going to Maryland and want to talk about what I’m saying, feel free to send me a message and we can chat!
When I was applying to college, I really focused on three things.
- I wanted a college within a 3-hour driving radius to my home
- I wanted a smaller college
- I wanted a college that had art, education, and architecture majors
Some other items I was looking for was a college that had ice hockey, had sororities, allowed freshmen to have a car, and was in an area that had a lot of activities to do outside of school.
In the end, I was deciding between Saint Mary’s College of Maryland and University of Maryland. There are both very different, but when I went to admitted student’s day I knew that St. Mary’s just felt too small for me. I went to small private schools for K-12, so I was worried going to a small school would be like that again. If you’re considering any of these schools I’m mentioning, feel free to message me and I can go in to more depth!
So, I ended up at University of Maryland. It was 45 minutes from my house, it had a ton of majors, classes were small, it had ice hockey, freshmen were allowed cars (at the time), and it had sororities. What I failed to consider was the safety, the actual courses I would be taking, the services our college did/didn’t provide, and which major I would end up in. I limited myself to just those these things, and in doing so I really missed out on some amazing schools.
You will grow so much over your college years. You’ll be more independent, you’ll develop or change your interests, you’ll travel, and your life will change. That’s exactly what happened to me; now my wants and needs are totally different than they were when I was applying to college.
If I went back and did my college search again, I would tell myself to not limit myself to a radius. I was told that any school I wanted on the West Coast, I could find on the East Coast. While I still believe this is true and I wouldn’t consider schools on the West Coast, I wish I expanded my search on the east coast. I’ve had the ability to travel more and found that I loved Boston and Charleston. I wish I had considered schools in these areas. While I do love DC and live relatively close to it at UMD, the Metro line we are on isn’t safe and it’s a big hassle to get into the city. I was so worried about being homesick that I tried to keep myself close to home. However, my version of home was totally turned inside out when my parents divorced so I don’t think it would have really made a difference if I went to a college far from home.
I would also tell myself (and encourage you all) to examine the safety of your school and the surrounding area. College Park is NOT safe. Our police force has a laissez-faire attitude, we are constantly getting UMD safety alerts, and they can never seem to catch people who commit crimes. When I was applying, all of the schools said that they were really safe and I took their word for it. However, you should consult some outside sources. You can examine police statistics at this website https://www.crimereports.com/ and I would suggest reaching out to a student at the school (if you know one) and ask them what they think. I think it’s important to go to a school that you feel safe at. I do not feel safe at University of Maryland anymore, which is sad to say and makes me despise my school. I would have transferred, but I’m too far along in my academic career to transfer. I just take as many steps to make myself safe if possible, such as not leaving my apartment after 10pm, walking with other people outside, keeping pepper spray on me, and being aware of my surroundings.
Another element that our school is missing are strong counseling services. This was another issue of misrepresentation on my schools front. On our tour, our tour guide mentioned that it was easy to see a counselor and have on campus therapy sessions. I, again, took that to be the truth and looking back now of course they said that. Their job is to literally exaggerate the school and sell you on it. So when I got to school, I quickly learned how difficult it was to get an appointment for a psychiatrist and therapist. A few people I know had been waiting months to a year to get an intake appointment. That is ridiculous and incredibly uncalled for, especially because college is only four years long. The main issue is that they’re most focused on taking people who are in emergency mental health situations, which creates a major dilemma. This causes some people to exaggerate their situation to receive mental health services but it also takes away from those who have been struggling, but might not be at an emergency level. I believe that an ounce of prevention is a pound of cure, so it’s unfortunately that that isn’t happening on campus.
As someone who suffered depression, anxiety, and PTSD even before I came to college, I knew I would need to see a counselor weekly to bi-weekly for my treatment plan. And I would also need to see psychiatrist every 6 weeks-2 months based on my medication plan. I’ve found counseling, specifically talk therapy, extremely beneficial to me and it’s something I will continue my whole life. Thankfully, since I live close to home, I can commute and drive to my therapist and psychologist in Annapolis. But that includes car and my own time; which not everyone has in college. College can be a tough transition for anyone. It’s important to understand the counseling situation on campus, just in case you would need it one day. I wish I would have looked more in depth at this.
The next element that I really dislike is Maryland’s attendance policy. It differs based on department or college you’re taking courses in, but it’s typically that you can only miss 3 courses. If you miss more, your grade will drop a letter grade and you need a doctor’s note to be excused for an absence. This, again, is ridiculous considering you’re the one that is paying for your classes, so why should you be forced to adhere to a strict attendance policy? While I’m not one to skip class, some days I wake up so anxious and depressed that I cannot force myself out of bed. Unless I can get to my therapist or get a doctor’s note for that day, I’m S.O.L. Some teachers are more understanding than others, but the attendance policy for college is absolutely ridiculous.
The final element I wish I would have considered was the courses I would be taking in the major I chose. If you have been following along, you may know I have changed my major five times…yep. While Maryland is a great school, I feel as though they focus most resources on STEM majors since we are a research institution. I have been in Arts & Humanities majors, so I feel like I haven’t benefitted from a research institution. University of Maryland also has many course restrictions. It’s very difficult to take courses outside of your major which is something to consider if you are studious and want to learn from different departments.
The last thing I will say, which I wish I knew, is that it is SO easy to transfer colleges. If you didn’t get into your dream school, continue going to a community college or another college for a semester or two, and then transfer into your dream school. Or if you’re at a college and it isn’t what you thought it was, consider transferring. It is SO easy to transfer after spending a semester or two at a college or community college with good grades.
My dream school was UVA, but it’s almost impossible to get in if you’re an out-of-state student. However, their transfer acceptance rate is very high, so I have no doubt I could have gotten in if I transferred. When school was really rough for me, I considered transferring, and I filled out an application online to another school. By just submitting an unofficial transcript, I was accepted! It’s THAT easy. So don’t be discouraged if you didn’t get into your dream school or your college isn’t what you thought it was.
My main take away for you is to not believe everything your tour guide says as truth. Consult other sources such as students at the school, graduates, professors, outside reviews, Reddit pages, etc. Be extremely critical of what you find, especially since college is an investment, and don’t settle. You deserve the best school for you.
If I had to do it over again, I would have chosen a different school, or transferred. Hindsight is always 20/20.While I’m blessed to end up at a great school, it just wasn’t the best fit for me. My college isn’t without it’s flaws. There’s plenty of things I like about my school, but it’s really lacking on what matters most to me; safety, my correct major, and a strong counseling center. I am finishing a semester early and moving away from College Park in May to live in a safer area. I wish I had been more critical when I was searching for schools and I wish I hadn’t settled. I strongly believe that everyone deserves the best college for them and that it’s out there!
If you’ve been to college or graduated, feel free to leave an advice for those going through the college search in the comments below!
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