When I first started my college search I was convinced I knew the type of school I was looking for: small, private, and liberal. This was what I was used to, having exclusively attended private school since the age of two. I graduated middle school alongside a whopping ten people, while my high school graduating class clocked in closer to fifty. There were downsides to attending such a small school, of course, but I always believed the good outweighed the bad. When your entire school can comfortably fit in two small hallways, you get a (really) close sense of community that you probably wouldn't find at a public school.
So when it came time to apply for colleges, the vast majority were private. I come from a Boilermaker family: my dad graduated from there with an engineering degree and my older sister went there for her BA in Psychology. It was practically blasphemous not to apply—besides, a "back up school" couldn't hurt. I never anticipated that Purdue would end up being my first choice. Of course, I was still hesitant (read: terrified) to attend a university that had an undergraduate class size of roughly 30,000 people—and there was a lot that my private schooling hadn't prepared me for.
1. You'll have to relearn how to make friends.
When you're younger, making a friend is as simple as sharing the same sandbox. A lot of my high school friendships had lasted since my "Early Learner" days in elementary school (and let's be real, any friendship that can survive the awkwardness of middle school is worth holding on to). In college, though, you lose the security of old friendships and suddenly have to convince other people that you're fun and interesting and worth their time. It's like emotional dating, and a big school means there are lots of candidates. You'll probably latch on to people your first week of classes, only to realize that you don't actually mesh that well. It will feel like everybody else has found their new best friends and is getting along fine but let me assure you: that isn't true. Talking with my friends now, we realize that we had each put on a "perfect" front when we were actually all struggling.
2. You're responsible for your academic performance.
In a small high school, the staff all but sets out on a manhunt when you don't show up to class. Your parents are notified, your email blows up, and your teachers interrogate you the following day. Then they hand you your makeup work, send you out in the hallway with that pop quiz you missed, and/or give you the synopsis of the lesson you missed—basically, they work really hard so you don't have to. In college, when you're attending a lecture with 200 other students, the professor doesn't care if you show up or not. They're not going to have the notes and the work that you missed in a nice little pile on their desk—they probably don't even know you're taking the class. It may be tempting to stay in bed and watch the lecture online, but you're bound to fall behind, and it'll be on you to catch up.
3. You'll want to join way too many clubs.
My high school's extracurriculars basically consisted of a small theater program, Spanish club, Academic Super Bowl, and sports. College was a whole other story: a club for petting puppies? Sign me up! Swing dancing? Sure, I'll pay a $20 membership fee—even though I have no rhythm and way too much on my plate. This happened far too often. I thought the key to a memorable college experience was joining as many clubs as possible, but the truth is that quality is definitely more important than quantity. Don't overload yourself: find a few select things that you can actually dedicate your time and attention to.
4. You'll learn that parties are not at all glamorous.
Going in to college, I didn't really have a desire to party; drinking isn't my thing, and neither is socializing in crowded settings. So it wasn't really a surprise that the few frat parties I attended were very underwhelming—unless, that is, you're into sticky floors and obnoxious drunk guys and deafening music. Then by all means, party on.
5. You'll have to actually make an effort when it comes to dating.
I had this (very, very) unrealistic expectation that it'd be a breeze finding a boyfriend in college. They always say there are plenty of fish in the sea, and what bigger sea than a college campus where literally everybody is around the same age and also looking? I have an unfortunate tendency to completely ignore any guy that I find attractive (because acting aloof and uninterested is definitely going to get their attention), but I wasn't too worried—you see, everyone acts like college guys try to pick up girls in class, on their way to class, at parties, or even in the dining courts.
Well, I don't know what college they're attending, but the guys at Purdue are (understandably) not so fearless. If you are really interested in finding a relationship then start talking or swiping or something. Don't just sit and wait. That being said, don't feel pressured to find a partner right away: looking back, I think I was more into the idea of a relationship than actually being in one.
6. You'll realize that there are a lot of perks to attending a bigger school.
This is the most important realization of them all: that you made the right choice to go out of your comfort zone. There are a lot of advantages to attending a big university, like the freedom in not knowing every single person that you pass on campus, or the ability to meet diverse people from different backgrounds, or the countless clubs and events that are always going on around campus. There's also the chance to cheer on your D1 sports teams or to join Greek life, if that's your thing. You'll have the opportunity to join professors on research projects, to study abroad, and to intern with various organizations in your field of study.
If you're facing the transition from a small school to a state school this fall, don't let fear hold you back from making the most of your college years. Embrace the change, even when it's uncomfortable and scary. Put yourself out there, whether that means joining clubs or messaging your floor GroupMe or just talking to your neighbor in class. If you're authentically yourself, you'll attract the community and opportunities that will make your college experience one to (fondly) remember.