As a prospective college freshman, I remember being attracted to the idea of going to a small liberal arts college, self-described as "intensely residential." I thought this meant that I would make a ton of friends and never get homesick because I always had people around. I couldn't foresee that this title would actually be one of the things I liked the least about my top choice for college.
First of all, here are some of the facts about residential life at St. Olaf:
1. You have to live on campus all four years in dorms. It is extremely difficult to get permission to live off campus, even in the neighborhood. The closest you can get is applying to live in an honor house, where you still have to work on a project in order to live there, and it is hard to get a parking pass.
2. Parking passes are limited. The parking on this campus is really terrible and poorly constructed so living off campus can be challenging especially in the winter, unless St. Olaf could make some changes for the well-being and safety of their students since public transportation in Northfield is very limited and inefficient.
3. There is only one cafeteria on campus, which is fairly small and becomes ridiculously crowded at every weekday meal. All three food options (The Caf, the Pause, and the Cage) are in the same building. Meaning if you can't find some place to sit during lunch, or you want a quieter lunch, you should probably just get a bag lunch and go to the library or back to your room. (Bag lunch lines get really crowded and can definitely make you late for class). You also get sick of the food options really fast.
4. The dorms are hit or miss. Only two of them are wheelchair accessible and have easily accessible elevators. Personally, during my first two years I really liked living in the dorms, but after coming back from being abroad, I felt like I was being treated like a teenager again. There are intervisitation hours and alcohol is not allowed on campus. This is obviously for safety reasons, but it does feel like St. Olaf isn't willing to give you a shot at living more independently and freely, the way I did when I was abroad. As a result, a lot of St. Olaf alums feel like they've been extremely sheltered throughout college. (P.S. good luck doing laundry on the weekend when/if you have time, there are not enough machines).
5. This is a more personal grievance, but I really hate sleeping where I study. There feels like no separation between work and relaxation. To be fair, no one really relaxes at St. Olaf anyway. There is nothing like bumping into your super stressed friends everywhere and then trying to go to bed knowing that you could/should be sitting up at your desk working all night like some of your friends probably are. This past semester, I was extremely reluctant to return to school anytime I went off campus because I knew that I would feel my stress levels rise as soon as I set foot back on campus.
Most people ask me, "Well if you hate it that much why did you decide to go there?" To be clear, I do like St. Olaf for its academics, and it is a really beautiful campus, but I feel like I have outgrown it by now, and I still have another year left to go.
I wish there were more options. Why can't juniors and seniors opt to get apartments instead of getting stuck in the dorms? Why can't there be more space for eating and spending time with your fellow students where you don't feel the pressure of always having a thousand people around you? I just have the horrible feeling that when I graduate, I will feel completely unequiped to handle adult life, having never signed a lease or payed for things directly, outside of just the tuition bill I see online every month.
All this complaints seem petty. I should feel lucky to go to a school where I get financial aid, feel safe leaving my PO box unlocked, and have never had anything stolen. And yet, sometimes it feels like living on top of everyone else is unhealthy, and it gets overwhelming.