Big school, bigger opportunities


By Matt Silich

There are certain people who seem destined for a specific career path from birth. That one girl from kindergarten who says she wants to work for NASA, and then does exactly that. Or that one boy from fourth grade who aspires to become a professional hockey player, and ten years later finds himself drafted by an NHL team.

But the vast majority of people don’t know what they want to be until they’re well into high school, college or even beyond that. At the ages of 17 and 18, high school begins to fade away and college decisions come to the forefront — it’s time to choose how to spend the rest of one’s working life, which isn’t an easy decision.

And that’s the primary reason why, especially for people who haven’t been preparing for one job since childhood, a big school such as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the best place to spend one’s college years. The University offers the opportunity for unsure incoming students to spend four semesters in the Division of General Studies before declaring a specific major. Speaking as someone who took classes in DGS for a full year, taking a wide range of classes loosely based on one’s interests is one of the best ways to find an educational direction.

With over 150 majors to choose from, many of which are nationally ranked, the University makes it much easier to discover an academic passion. I began my time in Champaign as an undeclared engineer, then selected an industrial engineering major, then moved to DGS and finally wound up feeling at home majoring in news-editorial journalism. Plenty of students undergo similar transitions in their college careers and the University’s widespread academic excellence facilitates those changes.

“Yeah, (the size of the University is) daunting at first, but I actually really liked it after a while,” said undeclared freshman Nick Kertz. “The more resources you have, the more you can learn, and the more opportunities (you have).”

Considering how many students change majors — an often reported number is between 50 and 70 percent — it’s extremely important to attend a school that has a plethora of potential pursuits for students, even if you feel confident in your initial major decision. At a smaller school, there likely isn’t quite the same array of quality professors spread out over a multitude of subjects.

And once an area of study is chosen, there’s no better place for internship hunting than a school with connections to almost any prominent company one can name. Networking can be a cinch when part of one of the largest alumni bases in the world. There are unique opportunities presented by the University’s connections, which aren’t available anywhere else. These can include studying abroad and mentoring.

Still, small schools can absolutely be the perfect choice for some students. Friends I had in high school would visit a small school’s campus once and fall in love with every aspect of the college. Smaller universities often specialize in one or two majors and if one falls into those specialized areas of study, attending a smaller college is a great decision.

Many students are apprehensive about attending larger schools because of the initial wave of scary 100-student lectures or the thousands of kids who roam campus during Welcome Week. It can certainly be overwhelming to be a fly on the wall for those lectures or be one tiny ant in an army of Quad-wandering insects.

Eventually, for most people at least, those feelings fade away. At larger schools, there are registered student organizations for every passion as well as increased diversity, which helps students find those with similar interests almost immediately upon starting college.

Going beyond the hundreds of RSOs and Greek organizations, incoming freshman also have the opportunity to choose between a crowded, social living area, such as the Six Pack or Bromley, and quieter options such as living off campus or at the Newman Center. Those who prefer a more secluded lifestyle have an opportunity to do that, even at a school with over 40,000 students.

“I don’t even live on campus, so for me it’s really easy to avoid (the crowded social scene) if I want to,” said Leslie Del Carpio, a senior in LAS. “There’s so many organizations you can become part of where you have your own group (of friends) and that makes (the University) feel smaller.”

A big school is truly only as big as one wants it to be. It provides an expansive canvas, on which one can paint whatever one deems to be the masterpiece of college life.

For those who have yet to decide how to spend 40-plus hours a week in perpetuity, and even for some of those who have, there’s no better place to take the next step in adulthood than a large school like the University of Illinois.

Matt is a junior in Media.