Freedom, Autonomy, and Big Universities

September 9, 2011


This week marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of my entering college, so I begin by indulging, in an appropriately twenty-first-century narcissistic mode, in reminiscences. I had arrived in Los Angeles mid-August 1986 for the international student orientation at USC. It was my first time in the United States, and although L.A. stood in a pretty stark contrast to where I was coming from (see the photo on the right), I loved the place. Still do. Pretty much right away I bought a motorcycle and started exploring the city and Southern California. When I wasn’t taking classes, of course.

The author's home turf. Literally.

USC turned out to be an awesome place to go to college. Sure, its reputation as the University of Spoiled Children was true. Probably still is. But among the not-so-sharp and not-so-hard-working Bel Air and Pacific Palisades kids, you could find a bunch of much poorer and maybe less spoiled kids who had been attracted to USC by its generous scholarships and its undergrad honors program, Thematic Option. It wasn’t exactly a living-learning community, such as Michigan has, and obviously it wasn’t really a small liberal arts college. But it was intense and interesting. In my four years of college, I never had a class bigger than forty students. Some of the faculty teaching my small freshman-year classes were the best USC had to offer. My classmates were cool (John Singleton was in my freshman-year fall writing class, for example, but some less famous people were even more impressive). I ended up doing two honors theses, one in political science my junior year and one in philosophy my senior year, just ‘coz I was fascinated by too many things. And the pinnacle of my academic nerdhood? The one single class I missed in my four years happened when I went to the UCLA Law School to interview a professor for my honors thesis.

In the 1980s, most Tommy Trojans weren’t politically active, but I participated in our small Divestment Coalition — to urge the university to pull its millions from apartheid South Africa — and I did some journalistic work on L.A.’s exploding homelessness crisis. Because of I had started college at twenty, as opposed to eighteen, or sixteen as some of my peers did, there were a bunch of college experiences I felt happy to skip, having experienced some of them back home. But, still, those college years were fabulous.

Which is the first point of this post. Those years were fabulous because of the freedom they offered us. For most of us, college is the time of the greatest freedom we ever experience. (Yup. Sorry. Enjoy them while they last.) And that’s not just for the reasons many focus on while in college: being away from parental control and all the stuff that entails. That’s valuable, sure, but if you think the coolest thing about being in college is getting to pour beer on your head, as a friend of mine thought, you’re missing a lot.

<Theory mode on>By “freedom,” I understand the set of option a person or persons have available for them to choose from. <Theory mode off>

The freedom is also intellectual. College students, especially those people who get to take the conventional liberal arts approach, enjoy a huge set of options of what to do, even to pursue that very instrumental goal of getting a diploma. Liberal arts requires breadth! And there’s a lot of room for you to decide how you satisfy those requirements. That will never be true again. Even grad schools, heck, even Ph.D. programs impose far greater structure on the people who go through them.

But the reason I was happy that that honors program, cool as it was, was not an actual liberal arts college has a lot to do with autonomy, not just with freedom.

The author during his freshman year, looking all of twelve, despite his advanced twenty years.

USC was a major research university with a large student body. OK, it wasn’t — and still mainly isn’t — a top research university, like Michigan, say, but it was large, and world-class scientific and scholarly work was happening on campus. On the one hand, this means that one encounters faculty who don’t care a whit about teaching, especially undergrad teaching. But, on the other, it means you have a huge range of totally exciting activities, pursued by tons of smart people, going on around you.

The effect on undergrads can be bewildering, I admit. At USC — and even more at Michigan — one might feel lost and insignificant. It’s true! But only relatively speaking, and what it means is that you’re in a fabulous place: I feel insignificant in the Louvre and the Hermitage — even at Ferry Field, where Jesse Owens broke multiple world records exactly three decades before I was born. And I can feel lost in London, Paris, or St. Petersburg (Russia, not Florida). That’s way cool!

What the scale of the large research universities gives me, once I get past, “Wow! Sick!” is the challenge to take advantage of them. And because I am insignificant, I have to do it myself. Here comes autonomy, that is, the ability to act on reasons and motives that are your own. Freedom — all those options — can be pretty boring if you don’t make your choices yours. And that’s autonomy. The scary bigness of big universities makes that possible. Not by design, I admit. But, still, it does.

OK, I’ve never studied at a small liberal arts college. I went to USC, did my grad work at Michigan, taught for three years at the University of Washington before coming back to Michigan. All big schools. I also think that what small liberal arts colleges offer both their students and their faculty can be great. But, still, am I ever happy to be at a large research university. Autonomy, man, autonomy, for faculty and students alike!


About Mika LaVaque-Manty

I'm a professor of political science at the University of Michigan. I'm a philosopher by training, and I teach political theory.

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39 Comments on “Freedom, Autonomy, and Big Universities”

  1. Connor Baharozian Says:

    The author of this post makes an interesting point about feeling “lost and insignificant” at large universities such as USC or Michigan. Interestingly, after high school, I honestly longed to feel “lost and insignificant.” You see, I went to a high school with a grand total of 372 students (which includes an 8th grade). I went to a New England boarding high school called the Groton School. Yes, this is the same “élite” Groton that Louis Menand talks about as having 402 out of 405 applicants to Harvard between 1906 and 1932 being accepted. Weirdly enough though, I am embarrassed and ashamed by Menand’s implication that Groton is meant for a “privileged social class.” I am ashamed by this because, for the most part, Menand is correct in his assumption. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my high school experience, but coming from a middle class family, Groton was a total shock to my senses. I didn’t know what to expect when I showed up to Groton; actually, I was ‘recruited’ (I mean this in the loosest sense of the term) to play hockey there and basically knew nothing about the school itself. Once I arrived on campus, however, I found out that about 5/6ths of the students at Groton had more money than I could possibly imagine, while the other 1/6th , like me, had much less money and were attending the school on scholarship. The class and money gap was insane: the well-to-do students looked down upon their ‘poor’ peers, making for an uncomfortable dynamic. Just for you all to understand the wealth at my high school (I really don’t want to look like I’m bragging), here are a few Groton graduates: Franklin D. Roosevelt along with 9 other Roosevelts, Richard Whitney (President of NY stock exchange), Dean Acheson (former Secretary of State), Francis Biddle (former Attorney General), Pierpont M. Hamilton (US Army Air Force Major General) etc. I may be overplaying the point, but Mitt Romney gave the commencement speech at my graduation. Before my arrival to my high school, I never understood or even believed that social class or wealth could be the reason for someone thinking very highly of themselves; Groton taught me this and I regret that it did. The amount of money at Groton was freaky and honestly scared me. Throughout high school I wanted to get away from the money, and though I hate to call my former peers snobby, I wanted to escape the stuck-up nature of Groton. I felt as if this snobbishness would wear off on me if I was around it for too long (I desperately hope it didn’t after my 4 years there). Our nickname at Groton fit us well: we were the “snotty grotties.” Every day was intensely planned to compensate for the ridiculous amount of money being spent on our education. We had morning chapel, required afternoon sports, formal sit-down dinner, and required study hall. We repeated this everyday, even having Saturday classes. The tiny nature of the school also led to everyone knowing everything about each other. Again, I loved Groton and was spoiled to have the opportunity to attend, but I became sick of the school. I desperately wanted to leave to become “lost and insignificant” in the world of college. This is why it is interesting to me that the author mentioned being “lost and insignificant” at college. Some people can be intimidated by a huge university, but to me, it was a breath of fresh air. I didn’t want everyone around me to think of themselves as significant. I didn’t want to feel like I had to be important. I wanted to go away to a huge public college unlike the rest of my peers who applied mostly to small New England private colleges (it was looked down upon to not apply to Harvard). I didn’t want every minute of my day to be planned. I wanted to be part of a crowd, the majority of whom would know nothing about me and the majority of whom wouldn’t consider themselves to be “élite.”

  2. madelinedunn Says:

    Your post reminds me of my schooling experience prior to being admitted to the University of Michigan and prior to that of attending Northern Michigan University. Just out of high school I attended Specs Howard School of Media Arts, a small however one of the best, vocational training programs for television and radio broadcasting and film production in the metro Detroit area. Here I received hands on training relevant to the industry as well as being lectured on how to make a name for myself in such a competitive field. There is that funny concept again, autonomy, which I learned makes all of the difference in finding and keeping a job in this type of business.
    Not just anyone can become the next Channel 7 news anchor. Even if you are the eloquent and charismatic Glenda Lewis, daughter of broadcasting legend Diana Lewis, you are not simply guaranteed a job. Here is a little background story on her autonomous adventure to becoming an anchor in her mother’s footsteps.
    Glenda graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Advertising and Marketing. When she realized that she wanted to become an anchor, Glenda quickly learned that in this industry no one is going to hand you a job without you acting on your own motives. So Glenda went to Specs Howard School of Media Arts and learned the tricks of the trade, gained specialized hands on field training and insight on how to make herself stand out among every other equally qualified candidate.
    This specialized trade school, that both Glenda and I attended, taught us so much more than how to compose a proper wide angle shot or hold a boom mic. The most significant quality I gained from attending Specs Howard School of Media Arts was the push to be autonomous, or self-determinant. Whether you are going to be the next Diana Lewis or Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple and Pixar, being able to make your insignificant self become vastly meaningful is crucial and something that each one of us in this class should strive towards.
    Here is the link to Specs Howard School of Media Arts. Coincidently enough their slogan is “Make your life anything bur ordinary”.
    Thanks for reading!

  3. andydai92 Says:

    I think the timing of this post is great. Now that freshmen student are starting college for the first time in their life, I think it’s important for us, as students, to be able to depend on ourselves and not our moms, counselors, or teachers. For example, In High School, everything was assigned to you in a very specific way. The teacher made it very clear to you, the student, on what to do with it. Whether it was turning in homework, writing an essay, or extra credit, everything had a set route. Every student who wanted to get an A in the class had to take the teachers route otherwise the grade you wanted wouldn’t look so hot. I strongly think that by giving students their own route will strengthen our learning abilities for the future. Not only academically, but also in real life situations. Now some routes may be better than others, but the beauty of it is that it’s our own. We are no longer trapped in a set route. We no longer have to wake up at 8 a.m. every morning and sit for 7 hours. As college students, we will make mistakes during the course of this class but the beauty of it is that you will learn form it. Growing up, I personally didn’t listen to any advice given to me in high school simply because I think teenagers in general feel like they are always right. So whenever someone tried to help me out or give me advice, I would ignore them and even give it a second thought. But I found that when I made a mistake on my own, I would immediately fix it and never make that same mistake again. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that by letting us set our own route, it will ultimately help us in the long run. We, as students, will make mistakes. But ultimately, spending time and learning from them is what will make us stronger students and people in the future.

  4. Jason Cohen Says:

    Following the reading of the post. Various interesting points are raised about the autonomy students posses at a large research college like the University of Michigan. And while these are all great privileges us students receive, my peers whom i graduated high school with could possibly end up more prepared at small liberal arts school. My friends who are at tiny schools pursuing a degree in music theory for example, are in an excellent position to get a job right out of college, something my class (the class of 2014) will struggle with after graduation. The small class environment and rigorous structure provide the student with a path and the proper preparation for the working field. In fact, Many colleges that specialize in vocational training are become increasingly popular for this reason. The scarcity of today’s job market completely reenforces the author’s claim that we “are lost and insignificant”. And quite possibly, if most of the class of 2014 attempt to get jobs immediately following graduation or have unbelievable connections following internship opportunities, this will be a daunting task.

  5. ianbaker2041 Says:

    Like the first commenter, I come from a small town. Unlike the first commenter, I never wanted to feel “lost and insignificant.” I grew up in Mattawan, MI, which is just outside Kalamazoo. The town only has about 1,000 people living there, but the school district is much, much larger (it expanded into neighboring towns and even into parts of Kalamazoo over time). I had 280 kids in my graduating class. Even though this sounds kind of large when compared to the really small class D schools that dot Van Buren County from Kalamazoo to Lake Michigan, it felt small to me. Mattawan, like a number of other schools in the area, is set up so that the kids you start kindergarten with will be the exact same people with whom you graduate. There is one early elementary, one later elementary, a middle school, and a high school. That’s it. Four buildings on one campus.

    What I found as I approached my senior year of high school is that I actually liked this a lot. True, drama would tend to spring up over the smallest thing, and new boyfriend/ girlfriend relationships spread like wildfire through the student body, but I always felt as though I had a close group of people (almost exclusively in band) who I could turn to for pretty much anything. Coming to a large school like U of M meant that I no longer had that group close at hand. None of my close friends came here, so stepping on campus was lonely. Granted, I’ve met people, but in just a few weeks, it’s all but impossible not to miss those close friends from home who know exactly what I mean when I talk about the dairy cows across the field from the middle school. There is something liberating about not living in a sea of high school hormones, but at the same time, it can be a little lonely, too.

    Don’t get me wrong, I really like it here; U of M is an awesome place with a ton to offer me. I will make those close friends just like everyone else does. I’m just trying to point out that although the autonomy at a school like this can feel clean, new, and refreshing, it can also be overwhelming at first. I know that finding out one’s place and purpose here just takes time, but I for one sort of miss my spot at the top of the high school honors list.

  6. maryblee Says:

    Last year at this time, as a high school senior, I frantically gobbled up any advice I could glean from older friends, tour guides and websites like college confidential about college applications. And what I kept hearing about applying to top universities was that you had to make yourself stand out from “the sea of applicants” (a VERY common metaphor amongst admissions officers across the country). They looked for students that readily took on leadership positions, routinely did volunteer work, excelled at academics and, simply, outperformed their classmates. Out of the 29,794 applicants to the University of Michigan, 12,533 students did just that.

    We did just that.

    Prior to my senior year, I ignorantly believed that two paths lead to college: perfect SAT/ACT scores and GPAs or national gold medals in a sport of your choice. I resigned myself to the fact that my fun extra-curriculars, like rowing and weekly community service would reduce my A’s to A-‘s and thereby limit my post-high school options (my short stature prevented me from any gold medals so grades were the only chance I had), but I liked them too much to quit. Looking back on it now, I am so grateful I stuck with those activities because they have come to define me. I realize now that I was making an autonomous decision, ignoring what I thought was expected and making the decision I wanted to make.

    As I talk to students around campus I am continually amazed by the caliber of people this university has attracted. Whether in the marching band, a Stamps scholar or a member of the Ambatanta Diversity Council, people here are self-motivated, determined and know how to be, well, autonomous. It seems an acceptance letter to Michigan is an acknowledgement of the achievements of individuals in the areas they want to achieve in.

  7. shmily4k Says:

    Just like most of the students, I didn’t get much freedom until college. During high school, my parents always told me that getting into a famous business school is the only way to become successful and rich. Therefore, they often forced me to pick some business-related classes as the electives, even though my dream is to become a doctor. However, I had never given up my dream. After high school, I went to a small New England private college. By that time, I started to have the freedom to pick whatever courses I want to take instead of being “instructed” to do so.

    Like the writer, I also never had a class larger than forty students in the private college. Due to the small size of the class, I get to talk to my professors more and some of them are no different than my close friends in college. We used Facebook chat instead of sending emails and we hanged out for dinner like friends do. The close friendship between professors and students was the reason why that I would think myself as significant in the college. However, similar to the first commenter, the uncomfortable dynamic created by the huge monetary gap between students made me so eager to study in a huge public university. I’m not saying that I don’t like studying in a private college. The learning atmosphere there works for me perfectly. It’s just that I feel really uncomfortable watching rich students looking down upon those not-so-rich ones. This was why I decided to transfer to a public college like University of Michigan even when my parents insisted me to stay. Now I understand that I was making an autonomous decision, without being influenced by any others.

    I’m grateful that I am in a big university where it makes autonomy possible. The opportunities that University of Michigan can offer me is numerous and I hope I can make good use of these opportunities to make autonomous decisions.

  8. marckarpinos31 Says:

    This post sparked a lot of memories for me that I had coming out of high school. Similar to the first comment and the third comment, I too come from a small school in a small community. It was a community where everyone was involved in everyones business and it was difficult to do just about anything without everyone knowing about it. Similar to the first comment, I longed to graduate from my high school of 800 students and achieve my life long goal of attending the University of Michigan. I wanted to escape from the small town life! As the original post pointed out, a large institution such as Michigan or USC provided the ability to become lost and insignificant. As all of us from a small school can agree, sometimes this can be a breathe of fresh air.

    I came to the University of Michigan with two close friends and a freshmen class full of students who knew nothing about me. This was an exciting concept to me as outside of those two friends, nobody knew a thing about me and I could be whoever I wanted to be. I was no longer defined by that ground ball that went through my legs during the little league championship in 7th grade or the fact that I was the 12th best senior on high school football team that only had 12 senior players. I had the chance to push the “restart button” that I had desired to push for so long.

    After sharing my desires to get that fresh start in college, I have to share that I am now part of another small community similar to the one I experienced in my 800 student high school. I am again part of a community where everyone knows what you did at the party last weekend or who failed that last political science quiz. I think it is interesting and worthy of discussion that I am now a member of a fraternity, which I truly enjoy, and I have taken my fresh start and gone straight back to what I used to know in my small town. I think it shows that the grass is greener on the other side. I longed to leave my small community in New Jersey and I took my new start and joined a smaller community in Michigan. It am confident in saying that it is human nature to shift back to what one knows and what one is comfortable with despite how much they may dislike what they know.

    While at times it is nice to wonder around campus and see unfamiliar faces and truly feel lost as the original post says, I truly believe that eventually we will all shift back towards what we know and what are comfortable with, despite how much we may believe we dislike it.

  9. sbsmoler92692 Says:

    I found this post very intriguing. Like some of the other bloggers, I came from a small school of roughly 260 other students in my graduating class. About 65 of those students are now enrolled at the University of Michigan with me. Thus, before coming to the University I was not “excited” per se. I had always envisioned going to college and being able to branch out, do new things, and meet new people. I was extremely worried that going to school with MANY people from my area, and my high school, would be detrimental towards my ability to have the college experience many people get when they go away to school and “start over.” I suppose you could say I was narrow-minded and short-sighted, however, I feel that before I came to school I was very quick to judge the situation. The aspect of attending such a large university has made it easy for me to do have the “college experience,” despite the amount of students from my area that also attend the university. I have been able to meet so many kids from every coast of the country, and join so many different organizations. From the campus television station, to the A2LP student teacher spanish program, the autonomy and diversity present at the University of Michigan has benefited my college experience. Though the classrooms sizes are not comparable to the small and intimate lectures that the author had experienced while at USC, I still feel that the university does its best to make discussions worthwhile and intimate. Because I came from such a small and intimate learning environment in high school, having my first lecture with 300 kids was shocking. The aspect of autonomy at any large university allows those students who wish to succeed, to shine, and the others to slip through the cracks. You have to stay motivated in order to succeed. Many large universities also hold significantly more resources, whether in research or internships or even job opportunities. Networking and the alumni from any large university, gives those students a head up in the work force than others who have attended a smaller liberal arts college that may not be as well known or prestigious. The beauty of attending such a large university is the diversity that it holds. I am constantly surrounded by other intelligent students, that are just as determined, motivated, and interested in learning as I am. Though autonomy at first may seem like a complete shock to those who have previously attended strict and small educational institutions. Though it might be easy to get lost in the crowd at such large universities, it is also extremely easy to experiment with various clubs and organizations, and find your niche. The autonomous aspect of college allows us as students to create our own paths to success, and figure out whatever that may entail for us, individually. Overall, I am glad that I chose to go to the University of Michigan and have grown to like it.

  10. dchami Says:

    I find it funny that six years ago, I would’ve agreed with the author on these matters of autonomy; and funnier, that I still agree with him today. I came to realize early in my life that this “idea” that freedom isn’t only making your own choices, but having the ability to see the world through your own point of view can sometimes be as scary as it is exciting. See, I didn’t have much of a story tale high school experience growing up. That overwhelming, panic-inducing feeling of autonomy had kicked in long before I had ever stepped on a college campus due to the mad scientist experiment I’d like to call my high school.

    My high school had actually consisted of three schools on one centrally located campus. It was a college like campus with over 6000 students, all frantically running between our three different high schools to different classes. We all belonged to one of these schools, each consisting of it’s own sports teams, clubs, and staff. Though, our schedules sometimes could include classes at each school but our own “home schools”.

    Sounds pretty cool right?

    Well, as a fourteen year old sprouting the first whiskers I was pleased to call my mustache, I was scared shitless. I was thrown into an environment I didn’t feel ready for; it was hostile, chaotic, and overwhelming. Making friends was also quite an interesting feat; I felt that I had to learn my “place” in this chaotic world before I should attempt the act of befriending others. Why? Because I didn’t want to embarrass myself. Who knew if the girl sitting next to me in English was one in search of a friend as I was, or the nasty cheerleader who wouldn’t hesitate to destroy my life for a quick laugh.

    The point of my story is simply this: no matter where you are in life – whether it be starting high school, college, or your first job – there always stands a possibility of experiencing that overwhelming feeling of autonomy (in a good OR bad way, so don’t always be negative!). Today for most of the freshman in this course, it may be simply figuring out what to do on their first friday night. For others – like those who have just graduated from this university – it may be the mind boggling question of what’s next? Where to go with a degree which may put the world at your fingertips?

    What advice can I give to one who is starting over new and accompanying a whole new level of autonomy? Trust me when I say…

    Just roll with it.

  11. jsimon99 Says:

    Like some of the past comments, I too come from a small school with about 250 students in the high school and only 48 students in my grade. There was not much of
    an autonomy type atmosphere where I came from because of the tight restrictions
    enforced by the faculty and staff. There was also not much freedom to go about your business on you own because everyone knew every single detail about your life. Same goes from the town I grew up in, all my teachers and friends would mention how much my life will change when I go to college and when I get out of the “bubble” type town we are in. It is the type of town where everyone conforms to what others are doing so that way no one person feels alone from their different habits.
    Even through the application process while applying to colleges, you are forced down a certain path where you do not have much of a choice. I am not the best ACT/SAT test taker (and I hope I speak for other students too) but it is not fair for students to take that test because I am still smart with my work habits inside and outside of the classroom, while also applying myself to other activties to be a well-rounded person. People are forced to go down that path when they may have great personalities that colleges would love at their school. Unfortunately, that’s not the way the system works.
    The feeling of autonomy at a big school like Michigan has been awesome because I am surrounded with so many choices that I can make on my own. I could of easily gone to a small college with a small setting like my high school. By going to Michigan, I can make a big school seem small if I choose to, but I could never make a small school seem big. I can make the choices of what types of activities I want to assoicate myself with to help me choose what I want to do with my future after school. Even though it was cool my senior year to be at the top where everyone would know who I am, I know I can make it work with everything a big school like Michigan has to offer.

  12. Lilian Baek Says:

    I always envisioned myself living in the city attending a fashion school such as FIT or Parsons. However, my parents wanted me to stay close to home and follow my sister’s footsteps by attending the UofM. Begrudgingly, I agreed with my parents and decided to make the best out of the situation. I’d still be dipping my feet into a new environment amongst other kids from all over the world, right? Not quite. I soon learned that 50 something classmates were also joining me and I was a little less than enthralled (looking back it now, I think it was just more of a reason for me to give my parents so they would let me move to the Big Apple.) Reflecting back to my Freshmen year, I am glad my parents made me attend this great university. Under the LSA program, I had the autonomy to choose from many different paths that would lead me to my desired career. To me, this is clearly the advantage of attending a big university than a small liberal arts one. This freedom not only allows us to build character but it allows us to explore the different study areas that are being offered in which we have not considered. Also, living with fellow academically driven students (in a beautiful campus might I add) helped me that attending this school was to make my educational career enjoyable and successful. Althought I have no regrets in coming to UofM, I still find myself, every once in awhile, thinking about what my life would’ve been like if I were living in the city, attending one of dream fashion schools…

  13. springsteen1 Says:

    After reading this more times than I have listened to the Springsteen show of the day (Aug 6, ’84 for those of you keeping track); I read it 5-10 times immensely disagreeing with most of its points before realizing it may be in my top 5-10 pieces of literature to AGREE with. Ever.

    Not one to engage in hyperbole, I have to say that this concept of seeming lost and insignificant, of seeming too large (environment), too small (yourself), and surviving amidst the paradox of life at a university like this one is a plague that touches us every day. What we do with it is up to us. How much we choose to spend energy, time, and patience complaining versus doing something are up to us. This is where the fellas come in. What would Hobbes say about that? Would he want us to concentrate on school? Engage in more extracurricular s? He certainly wouldn’t favor too much parental involvement – and would opt for as much decisiveness/decision-making on our own as is absolutely possible. What would Socrates say?

    Further, as someone who currently has a part time job, two full time jobs, is taking 17 credits, and writes for the Michigan Daily, most would not call that ‘cool’; they would call it either ‘impossible’ or ‘insane’. Either way you phase it, the former has been proven completely untrue, the latter proven entirely true. (Though that is a bit of a different story.) In seriousness, the concept of balancing options and being pragmatic, but not overly cautious in your approach (such as doing things a bit over-the-top if they have an intrinsic value, like I try to do) is something both philosophers/political theorists could agree with.

    As far as autonomy, what do you think Hobbes and Socrates would say about this in terms of a concept overall? A personal concept? A political ruling concept? It is interesting when one applies both the biggest compliments/praises, as well as the biggest criticisms/negative approaches to the past several administrations/presidencies, as well as the current administration/presidency, autonomy is both the biggest criticism and the biggest praise: in terms of the environment, education, and the big factors such as the economy, jobs, and political ideologies. Look at how this concept not just applies to personal and political lives (as shown with this example), but specifically how Professor MLM’s example (as blogged here) and that of a large university directly ties to the concept of a large ‘university’ (used as a metaphor for a presidential administration).

    On a personal level, I love the concept. We are lost, perhaps too lost. But is the ‘too’, the extremity there, that provides for a more maturing, a more fulfilling, and a more growth-filled process of our college years. Going to school 2200 miles from home, hardly traveling home, and being depressed some of the time about myriad things is the life that will pay off in twenty years. Hobbes agrees. Socrates agrees. But right now, all that matters, in this autonomy of a school – is that I agree.

  14. Brandon Canniff Says:

    Sometimes getting lost is how you find yourself.
    Big universities like USC and Michigan can seem daunting as you start your college career; communities so large that they feel as if you are being swallowed by a tidal wave, but this is true only if you take it at face value. If you allow yourself to be paralyzed by the vast majority of opportunity and community that surrounds you. But this doesn’t need to be the case. College is, like stated in the original post, your time of greatest autonomy. The one time in your life when you have the freedom to explore, experiment, and find yourself. And a large university like UofM can be great for this process because of its size. There are so many students doing so many things that you will never find an area of interest unexplored.
    Large universities also help you find your place in greater society. Small liberal arts colleges may be pleasant because of their size, but this is not real world. The real world looks more like a large university where opportunity is available if you want it and you are, ultimately, insignificant. This might sound harsh, but I find it empowering. I know that after attending Michigan I will have a good idea of how the working world works and how competition functions in the greater society. I will know how to find my place and make my name in my area of choice. And I won’t be scared, I will be happy.
    Large universities like USC and Michigan might seem overwhelming at first, but they are ultimately the best kinds of academic institutions you could join. It’s just a matter of managing it.
    My advise is to explore and hone your interests. You won’t feel lost for long if you look into all the opportunities that surround you and eventually find a group that can help turn your large community into a smaller one as well. And while you walk your own path for the first time in your life, take a look around you and recognize what is happening, for the world is big, competitive,and full of opportunities, just like UofM.

  15. antuck Says:

    Like almost everyone else who has replied to this post so far, I can relate to Professor LaVaque-Manty’s enjoyment of freedom and autonomy at big school. And like most people who posted a reply, I transitioned from a small school to a huge university. However, I hold the distinction (among the current posts) of having attended the smallest high school: a whole 150 students, 7-12 grades, with a graduating class of nineteen.

    I went to a small Christian high school. For someone who went to a high school of 800 students to say they were sick of the “small-town” feel boggles my mind. Give or take a few transfers, I saw the same nineteen faces every day for six years (twelve years, if you include the many students that I had been schoolmates with since elementary school). While I think this allows close relationships to develop in a way that you don’t really get in large public schools, I don’t think it’s for everyone. And frankly, there are some people that you just don’t want to spend a lot of time with, and that sort of friendship is hard to avoid in a school with such close contact. And, as people change over time, the relationships you develop aren’t always as close as you might think, and bonds are severed just as often as they are formed.

    On the whole, though, I liked my classmates. What I didn’t like about such a small school was the homogeneity. Everyone was a Christian conservative. Everyone.

    The intellectual life of the school was incredibly stale, and I have only this homogeneity to blame. People could say increasingly ridiculous and/or offensive things about politics, ethics, religion, etc., and because no one disagreed, that person felt no pressure to justify his beliefs. I remember one student saying that welfare checks should explode upon contact, in order to get rid of “the problem”. The same student later said that gays should be rounded up and killed (he wasn’t an especially violent kid, and wasn’t being completely serious, but I think this is a good example of what I’m talking about).

    Why did no one call him out on it? In fact, why didn’t the teachers expel him for such blatantly offensive and dangerous talk? In short, because no one disagreed with him enough to hold him morally and factually accountable.

    You want to know what I think would have happened at UM? A classmate would have asked him if he even knew the first thing about the welfare system. A passerby would tell him that violent and homophobic remarks have no place in our society. Someone would have called him out on it.

    Diversity of opinions forces people to understand the issues and be able to defend their positions. Homogeneity of opinions leads to intellectual stagnancy and even moral decay. It’s this principle that led me to forego many small liberal arts colleges in favor of UM.

    But now I’m writing on freedom of speech issue, and I want to save it for my first blog post. 🙂

  16. roshray Says:

    I’ve always thought that going to college would be about more than just learning; like a lot of the previous posters, I believe that college is a place for students to mature and broaden their horizons. I can’t speak for everybody’s high school experiences, but coming out of a somewhat average high school in suburban Chicago, my high school experience consisted of being spoon-fed information, being tested on things that were always extensively covered in class, and being a slave to the AP curriculum. In high school, our teachers made sure our work got done, that we understood what was being taught, and even that we attended class. It’s time to grow up, and I can’t think of a better place to do that than a large university like Michigan.

    I won’t bore you with the details of my college search, but out of all of the schools I applied to, none could really be considered to be “small,” and Michigan was not the largest. I never seriously considered going to a small school, because I was afraid that it would be like high school all over again. Don’t get me wrong, high school was a great time in my life, but at 18, I’m ready to take myself a little bit more seriously, and to start taking more accountability for myself. Here I don’t have teachers spoon-feeding me answers or counselors planning my course load. Nobody really cares if I decide not to come to class or if I skip a few days of homework: except for me, that is.

    Michigan is unique in that it is such a large school, but the students here are exceptionally self-motivated. It’s a culture I wasn’t used to, coming from a high school where it seemed like most of the kids didn’t even care to try. Here, it’s not the teachers’ mandates that keep me working hard – it’s my own personal conviction that the work will pay off and the similar attitude that defines everybody that I have met in my three weeks here so far.

    There was more to coming to Michigan than just being in an intellectual environment – I didn’t necessarily need to come to a large school to do that. Ever since I was little, I hated the suburbs. I’d go to downtown Chicago by myself as much as I could once I started high school, and my dream has always been to move to Manhattan. The author of the original post mentions that going to a large university can make someone feel lost and insignificant. I agree with the first commenter in saying that this is actually a great thing. Unlike most of the posters so far, I came from a large public school in a middle-class neighborhood near O’Hare, with about 600 students per class and an atmosphere which was just about as ethnically diverse as UM. Still, it wasn’t enough; people were still too similar, did the same (if any…) activities, and were too closed off in their cliques. Typical middle-class suburbia. It was definitely time for a change.

    Honestly, I think that being able to experience this feeling of being lost and insignificant is the reason I chose to go to a large school. Being in a place like Ann Arbor, or NYC for that matter, provides so many resources, so many opportunities, and so many options – the fact that we are more or less free to choose among them and forge a unique path makes the feelings of insignificance diminutive, replacing them with empowerment to pursue literally whatever we are willing to work hard enough to go after. Sometimes though, it’s important to realize that we are pretty insignificant, but that we are a part of something much bigger than we could have previously imagined, whether it’s by taking a fully packed subway in Manhattan or walking down State St. on football Saturday.

    The world is a big place and it’s scary as hell. Living here for four years is a way to start getting over that. UM might not be as intimidating of a place as Chicago or NYC, but in terms of a good transition into the “real world,” being in an environment like this really forces us to mature more than a small school in the middle of nowhere could. It teaches us to be stronger people and more tactful individuals. Maybe I would be able to learn more or learn more easily at a small liberal arts college, but I know for a fact that I would not be as independent, as worldly, or as satisfied coming out of a small liberal arts college than I will be coming out of Michigan.

  17. jeanrichmann Says:

    Similar to many other posts, I am also from a small rural area. I graduated from Benzie Central High School (located in a rural area in Northern Michigan) with a whopping class size of 121 students. The community which I am from is very small; there is literally one stop light in the entire county which I live. For this reason, I am often stereotyped as a “poor uncivilized hick.” I find it rather strange that now, for attending the University of Michigan, I am now stereotyped as someone who is “snobby and rich”, yet I am the same person living in a different area.

    Coming to Michigan was a big change for me. The first week I moved here I felt entirely lost. I had no idea how to use a public bus or find my way around campus, and I was thoroughly scared that I was going to be hit by a vehicle as I was crossing the street in a cross walk. I felt lost walking around campus. It was strange for me not to know every person that I saw. In high school, I could tell you the first and last name of every person in my class, as well was what elementary school they attended. Lecture halls frightened me because of their immense size, and the classmates that surrounded me all seemed to be so much more intelligent. However, as classes progressed I became to feel less lost, especially as I figured out my way around campus. I realized that in such a large school, the enviornment is either sink or swim and that I shouldn’t let my fears keep me from succeeding.

    Also new to my college experience, was a newfound freedom. My parents were very strict. For example, I was not allowed to date until I was 16. At 18 years old, I had a midnight curfew. Arriving at college, none of these rules existed anymore. I remember going out my first night and thinking that I had to call my mom and tell her where I was going etc. I then realized I no longer had to do this. The feeling of autonomy was overpowering. For once, I felt independent. This is crucial in the life of a college student. It is essential for each student to handle situations on their own, as they will have to make big decisions for the rest of their lives, whether the decision be for a career or other matters.

    I am not ashamed of my background. My experiences, or lack there of, make me a diverse individual. Yes, it is harder for a student of my background to feel comfortable at such a large university, but the the experience is life changing. Attending the University of Michigan gives students a real life perspective, as well as a phenomenal education. In the ‘real world,’ no one will be there to hold your hand and tell you how to make your decisions. The world is much larger then the people in your high school, and attending a large University such as U of M or USC will created prepare students for the real world experience. Though large Universities are overwhelming, the experiences and knowledge gained will greatly benefit their students in the future.

  18. Obada Ghabra Says:

    I grew up in a small town like many of the previous commentators. I, however, grew up in a particularly small, isolated town in southern West Virginia. My four years in a high school consisting of about 1,000 students was an interesting experience.

    The school unofficially functioned in a way which allows autonomous students to flourish. If the teachers and administrators in the school knew a student was hard-working and did well in his classes, they generally allowed him a great amount of freedom. For me, in many ways, this was great. In my senior year of high school, I was allowed by the principal to travel abroad during the school year. The principal, knowing me as a top student in the school (which is not a great accomplishment as I will explain) granted me permission to visit both Saudi Arabia and Syria while missing classes on the assumption that I would quickly make up my missed work upon my return. I spent a total of 5 weeks in the Middle East during the first semester of my senior year. Furthermore, I was allowed to take only two classes (out of four typically) second semester of my senior year, allowing me to enroll in college courses at a nearby university. In this way, my high school allowed me to enrich my experience greatly by trusting me to work autonomously.

    Although this system was beneficial for me, it was very detrimental to others. If one did not have the motivation to be autonomous and figure things out on his own, the system was not supportive. Having the encouragement of my family to work hard in school and to try to get into top universities, I developed the motivation to work autonomously. For others, the school system worked against them in many ways. The school counselors, for example, did not help at all in helping students apply and get accepted into college. Even I encountered obstacles which were discouraging. For example, when I asked one of the two school counselors at our school to write me a recommendation letter, he agreed; however, he kept procrastinating. I had to beg him to get the letter sent before the deadline. To illustrate how ridiculous this was, only four students in the entire school were applying out-of-state and in-state colleges do not require any recommendation letters. Thus, he had to write a maximum of four recommendation letters, and he still held off until the last second. Furthermore, when he discovered that the letter was for out-of-state universities, he tried to discourage me from applying, telling me that the local colleges would be a more feasible goal. If he was discouraging me, a top student in the school, not to apply to out-of-state universities, I can only wonder how encouraging he was to students who were not doing well in school.

    Although this system (with the backing of my family), benefitted me greatly and built me into a more autonomous individual, I believe that it discouraged many others (like a friend of mine who dropped out of high school two months before graduation) from pursuing their ambitions. The district that I grew up in (Nick Rahall’s congressional district) is one of the top five least college educated in the entire country. When my former high school is seen as one of the best high schools in this district, I can only wonder whether this system – which benefits the few autonomous students while leaving others behind – is to blame for that fact.

  19. mfriedlander92 Says:

    Like many of the previous students, I had never felt “lost and insignificant” until Michigan. My 8th grade graduating class had 35 kids and I had gone to school with them for 9 years. I knew these kids like it was the back of my hand; where they lived, what their parents did, how many siblings they had, what everyone was involved in, and even who their grandparents were friends with. It was a very small community, despite the fact that I went to school in Minneapolis (not a suburb actually in the city). Everyone had their place and knew what they were doing and what they were supposed to do. For example, everyone knew that one girl who was so musically talented that she was supposed to grow up and do broadway or the boy who was expected to be an engineer when he grew up. To be on this path he knew what clubs and activities he was supposed to be doing and everyone else did too. My grade school experience was nothing different than my high school experience.

    A private school, right outside the city, drawing kids from all the wealthy suburbs and some city kids, provided everyone with the “path” they were “supposed” to be on. With a graduating class of 220 kids, it was the same as my grade school. Even if you hadn’t talked to a specific person since freshman year, you knew exactly who they were and what they were supposed to be doing. There was that girl who was supposed to be the leader of the dance team, the other girl who was supposed to run for student council, the boy who is going to join the army, and the boy who will build a robot to save the world. Everyone had a place academically and socially. I was very secure with my group of friends all through K-12 and I always knew what I was supposed to be doing with my life. I was the girl who was supposed to go away to a school far away, live the standard college life, and come back a doctor. I never had any conflicting ideas with that, it was exactly my plan.

    Then came Michigan. As of right now, it is still my plan but the path is less and less clear. I became “lost and insignificant”. At home, I was always the girl who did well in science and math class, who was in 7 school clubs, who had a job, and had a great social life. However, at Michigan, that is everyone. Everyone was smart, everyone was over-involved, and everyone was successful at what they did. It was a very overwhelming experience. Not that I wanted to be the best or the smartest, but realizing there were people who were leaps and bounds of intelligence in front of you is frustrating. I no longer felt significant. I no longer felt the need to be a doctor, because the fact is so many Michigan students are premed and just as well qualified or more qualified than me to be one. I then felt “lost” because I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with my life anyone.

    Was I supposed to join one club or seven? Was I supposed to join a sorority and focus on my social life? Was I supposed to be in the hardest classes and study all the time? What classes was I even supposed to take? These are some of the questions that arose when I got to Michigan. Then I realized life was no longer a checklist you follow that your guidance counselor gives you. There might be opportunities for you that are better than some for your future, but if it doesn’t benefit you personally it isn’t worth it. For example, I was in UROP and recently dropped. I did not find myself enjoying what I was doing and it was very time consuming. I would rather be doing something I enjoyed and devote that free time to something I am more committed to.

    So instead of feeling lost now, I feel the power of choice and freedom. I am not confined to path I was put on when I was child. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. I am going through life joining clubs that interest me, going out when I want to go out, and taking classes as they come to me. Everything will work out and you have to understand that life isn’t a straight road like it was when you were child and even if you get “lost” there is always someway to be “found”.

  20. danieltarockoff Says:

    This is an interesting aspect to consider. College size is one of the biggest influences when deciding which school to attend. The University of Michigan is a huge school, and I came here happy with that fact. A small school would be a completely different experience; not necessarily a bad one, but definitely different. To me, the benefits of a large university do outweigh the benefits of a small one, however. The main reason I think this is because I am so unsure of what I want to accomplish with my life, what my main goals are and how I want to achieve them. At a large university, the possibilities are endless. There are so many options that it seems no matter how much you get involved, you’re still not narrowed down into one singular path to continue your life on. At a small university, I feel like you are much more restricted. You have way less opportunities, although the opportunities you do have may be of greater personal value. The way I look at it is if you have a strong idea of where you want to end up, what you want to accomplish in life, then go ahead and find an incredible small university that can suit your needs and get you where you’re heading. But if you are open minded for your future, haven’t had enough time to decide what you really want, then a big university is the smartest choice you’ll ever make.

    Yes, I may be acting a little close minded here. Of course there are cases where you can enter a small or large university with either mindset and still be making the right choice. As far as my experience goes, however, I believe a large university better caters to my needs. The most obvious aspect I think people need to consider when choosing university size is that you can always find ways to make a big university feel smaller, but it can often be difficult to make a small university feel big. In a way, you’re getting the best of both worlds when you choose a large university.

    In the end, the choice is up to you. Big or small, it’s still college, it’s still going to be the best four years of your life (woo! living it up now!). As long as you utilize all the opportunities your school has to offer, you will gain a valuable experience that will guide you in the right direction toward your ideal future.

    If you’re interested in what other aspects are different, i found this site to be pretty helpful in terms of “decision making” between a small/large university:

  21. dkap7 Says:

    The main reason for attending the University of Michigan was to ensure that I would have my autonomy. Coming from a household and high school with strict rules and extensive structure, I found myself performing actions that were chosen for me, whether I wanted to perform them or not. My high school schedule put me on a set course, where my classes were picked for me, except for a few electives in which I had only several options from which I could choose. At home, I had a set curfew, a set dinner time, and was only allowed to watch a certain amount of television each day. My life until graduation had been planned out, but not by me. I experienced very little freedom, in a country that was founded based upon that same principle.
    The author explains, “Because of I had started college at twenty, as opposed to eighteen, or sixteen as some of my peers did, there were a bunch of college experiences I felt happy to skip, having experienced them back home”. I understand the author was discussing aspects not related to the pursuit of knowledge, but this quote has a direct correlation to the first eighteen years of my life. The only difference was I didn’t get to experience any of these freedoms in the past, and came to college eager to make my own decisions on when I wanted to eat, what classes/activities I wanted to get involved in, and all the other freedoms that are part of the college package. To go along with the endless freedom that I possessed, was a huge student body of exceptionally smart individuals that would make the learning possibilities endless. As a incoming freshman, I was excited to explore some of the interests that I was not given the freedom to explore in high school. I wanted to meet a wide variety of people from all over the country and the world. So far, the University of Michigan has led up to my expectations; I have met people from China, and from 12 states across America and plan on meeting many more people. My social autonomy has blossomed and I have dug up new interests that I never had known i was passionate about.
    I entered the University of Michigan as a pre-admit to the business school. Until recently, I was ecstatic about studying at one of the finest undergraduate business schools in the country. This was until I met with my counselor and was told that I would be put on a strict course guide with the rest of my “Ross peers”. I began to imagine experiencing High School all over again. My classes and schedule being picked out for me, giving me the option to select only a few electives that still had to meet the requirements of the Ross School of Business. I am beginning to get worried that my educational autonomy will be lost once I enter the business school my sophomore year. Even now, I am forced to take several classes that are required for the business school. The author’s point regarding the vast array of options that come even with a big university’s liberal arts school seems to be the more applicable option allowing students the opportunity to explore there different interests, helping them to land on a specific interest that they eventually want to focus on. Coming from a high school setting giving the students no freedom to choose classes, I am nervous that I am going to fall into the same hole, and lose out on a lot of the academic opportunities that college, and in particular, the University of Michigan has to offer. Autonomy had no relevance to me throughout high school, and in spite of the vast options that Michigan has to offer, I feel myself slowly sinking into the same spot that had me running away from home and to the University of Michigan.

  22. Jack Says:

    For those of you who grew up in Michigan, you have probably already realized that in terms of size, the public high schools were very similar. There were likely twenty-five to thirty-five students in each class and a jokingly solid seventy percent chance that the teacher would have at least a little knowledge about the subject at hand. If you were sitting in this situation at some point within the last few years, then you must have quickly realized that this scenario would rarely be experienced at the University of Michigan. In the few minutes I have to prepare for Political Science 101, I might not be able to count the number of people in the room. As for the professors, it seems like half of them wrote the required book, which they would later tell you is awful and that you would not even need it.
    As a freshman reflecting on my experiences exactly three weeks since the day I moved in, the class size and professor reputation were two of the three most significant differences observed from high school. The third and by far largest difference has to be the amount of freedom granted to students at this university. Last year, I was permitted to leave campus for fifty-two minutes and eat wherever I desired. Compared to middle school, it was like moving to a prison of lower security where your day was pre-determined by a group of executives. At the University of Michigan, the type of government seems to be autonomy. That is, the students govern themselves. Of course, students cannot do anything they desire but as a freshman comparing their experiences to high school, they basically can.
    Autonomy comes into play in many aspects of the University that I feel are taken for granted. Students not only get to choose every class they take but they also get to pick the time that class occurs. This way, they can fill their owns days with events for other organizations, studying, working out, etc. Autonomy also appears in students’ eating schedules. In high school, there was a set time to start lunch and a set time to end every day of the week. Here, the cafeterias are always open and you can eat whenever you would like as long as you arrange your schedule accordingly. Those are the freedom differences between high school and college. I am sure that the upperclassmen reading this are rolling their eyes and wishing they could shout to me, “go back to your dorm, freshman!” Well, maybe I could interest you with some ways that the University of Michigan practices autonomy greater than other colleges.
    You have heard the obvious one: Grand Valley State is a “dry” campus and the students are not permitted to have alcohol. But not too far down the road in dreaded East Lansing, Michigan State freshman are not allowed to move into their dorms until only three days before school starts, eliminating their “welcome week.” This, obviously because students in the past were swept away rather quickly with the “college experience,” forced them into a two day adjustment period and then class. As I’m sure you know, the welcome week at Michigan is a great time and for the most part, students behave responsibly. (At least more responsibly than those goofballs in East Lansing) In this respect, I believe it is safe to make the statement that autonomy is only efficient when the individuals in that society are willing and able to take care of themselves. Fortunately, at the obviously large University of Michigan, autonomy runs wild due to its size and cooperation by the students.

  23. Keith Pak Hung Fong Says:

    Like the blogger, I am also an international student. But unlike him, my first anniversary of college was marked three weeks ago, instead of the same time 24 years ago! As I look back at my freshman year, I’ve come to realize that my time at the University of Michigan has played an important role in my understanding and pursuit of individual freedom and autonomy.

    Coming from a more traditional and conservative Asian society (Hong Kong), my first year away from home in the United States placed me in an environment that granted me more autonomy, but in some sense did not grant me increased freedom.

    As a college freshman half the world away from his family, my first year of college presented me with the chance to begin living my life as a fully autonomous young adult. No longer were my decisions heavily influenced by my parents nor my actions constantly monitored by them. I chose when to wake up, what to do with my time and how I go about achieving the things I wanted. Indeed, I became a fully self-governing person who basically “called the shots” when it came to events within my control. I did things because I wanted to, more independent of other people than I used to be.

    However, it is debatable if my own personal freedom has increased. Although I can literally do what I want to do, as the “restraints” that are my parents are now gone, I still do not do many of the things that I can do given my increased autonomy. For example, I could have decided to skip classes and not do any coursework during my freshman year – I obviously had the autonomy and power to do so. However, given my then-goal of applying to the business school, I was, in a way, denied the opportunity to exploit my increased autonomy and abstain from my responsibilities as a student. Even now, with my own desire to succeed in the business school and personal code of responsibility, I am still not completely free to actualize all the possibilities that my increased autonomy now affords me. Instead, I’ve come to see freedom as being able to choose what to do given autonomy, not simply doing whatever autonomy allows one to do.

    In closing, I’ve come to see an important distinction between autonomy and freedom. As human beings, we are born autonomous and are in control of what to do in our day-to-day lives. However, given our own goals, beliefs, and the expectations or restrictions created by society, it can be argued that we are not completely free. Of course we can use our autonomy to its fullest and do anything we want, but what is the purpose in that? Are we performing some actions simply because we can? Are we simply wanting the satisfaction of being completely free? Will those actions truly be free, or will they just be a reaction to a compulsion to translate our autonomy into events? As I progress into my second year of college, these are the issues that I hope to gain a clearer perception of.

  24. remiforster Says:

    Similar to the author of this post, part of the reason I chose University of Michigan was for its autonomy. I went to a high school of 2,200 students with about 550 per grade and I never once wished I went to a smaller school. I actually did attend a very small private school for my middle school years and did not like it at all. I begged my parents to let me go to the public school in my area for high school and they finally agreed. I did not like having so few options of classes to take, people to be friends with, the little diversity in the students. I personally think that many small liberal arts generally consist of the same type of people. Part of the reason I like Michigan is because there are so many people to choose from to be friends with. At the private school I attended for middle school, there was only about 60 people per grade and your friends were basically whoever was in your grade. Everyone knew everything about everyone and gossip spread like wildfire.

    I never wanted to feel “lost and insignificant” nor do I feel this way. When I first visited University of Michigan the tour guides and presentation made it feel like it was not a school just based on numbers. I have done various things to make the school feel smaller such as taking part in Greek Life, joining various clubs, going to office hours, and talking to professors.

    I wanted to go to Michigan because it had so many classes to offer, majors to choose from, and opportunities easily available. I also love how Michigan has such a strong alumni base who enjoy helping other Michigan students and alumni (this is not always the same at a small school).

    College gives everyone the ability to live on their own, make their own choices, and do things on their own. This school does not only offer me freedom from the rules previously set by my parents and high school, it offers me freedom to be who I want to be and it gives me plenty of resources to do so.

  25. matthewlocascio Says:

    Coming from a large town (over 700 in my graduating class), I am used to the lost and insignificant feeling that this article refers to. In both high school and now at the University of Michigan I was and am one of many in a very diverse environment. I personally adapted and learned to enjoy this feeling of insignificance.

    For one thing, I felt as if i needed to prove my purpose and significance in my high school and now at Michigan. Another reason being I do not feel like I am being forced to take certain classes given the variety of offered courses.Either way, college presents the autonomy to use it in whichever way desired. In terms of Menand’s theories, you can use college for a strictly future purpose to establish the connections necessary to find a job after graduation, or you can use college to learn things to become a productive and contributing member of society. Every student has the autonomy to choose what they study and most importantly WHY they are studying it.

    Michigan, specifically, compared to other universities, offers much more autonomy due simply to the immense number of students in attendance. In a slightly cynical manner, the university (in my opinion) really does not care what you choose to take, if you are on tract to graduate, nor cares about the life choices you make. Either way, they are paid full tuition. So I feel it is up to each student to choose how to make the most out of college. Hence, AUTONOMY. I value the blending of Menand’s two theories, leaning slightly toward the first. I do not necessarily agree that grades are the most important statistic, because intelligent people who challenge themselves with the most difficult courses may not have the highest GPA. On the other hand, a liberal arts career where you have the autonomy to take a diverse group of classes does not appeal to me either. I feel like every choice must be responsible and have a purpose, and taking a “fun” class is not practical and in essence a waste of tuition. For me, it’s more of using college as an opportunity to invest in the future while learning how to be a positive addition to society. Using Ross to network for future jobs while learning how to be an overall businessman seems to me like a blend of both theories.

    Without having such a large school, I truly do not believe you can achieve autonomy in pursuing both what you would like to study and what you want to get out of your education. If a school is too small, it is easier to make course requirements and automatically enroll you in classes. If you look at Ross, the low amount of students and difficult application process already limits your autonomy. Other small schools that are difficult to get into will most likely have the same effect. The large nature of the University of Michigan, in combination with the insignificant feeling at a large school, allow autonomy to run its course. This is the situation necessary for someone to get the most out of their education.

  26. jacola Says:

    In my opinion, the autonomy that big universities such as Michigan and USC provide is well worth the hefty price tag. College is the first time in our lives that we are truly able to figure out who we are and what we believe in, and this experience is much richer and more thorough at a large University. Being immersed into a community of thousands of students, most being complete strangers, that are all eager to learn and discover new things is the most rewarding type of learning. The numerous interactions and new relationships that you have the ability to form just act as doorways to the unknown, where you are given the opportunity to explore and experience things that have never before been available to you.

    Sure, the academic rigor of many small liberal art schools is just as competitive as Michigan, but the social rigor is not. Attending a small college consisting of anywhere from 1,500 to 4,000 students is a safe move. The small size doesn’t force constant networking skills upon its students for the four years of their attendance, it doesn’t yield as many opportunities. That being said, not everyone has the social skills and stamina to attend such a large University. It is challenging, and often students who resort to small Universities would find themselves “lost and insignificant” at a school like Michigan. You need to be curious, outgoing and open to learning about all different people, cultures and ideas. You need to be comfortable with the fact that not everyone will be like you, that it will be a drastic change from your small, comfortable hometown where everyone was similar. For me, the diversity and unfamiliarity of Michigan made it the most appealing school that I applied to. I was so eager to leave the little bubble that I grew up in, to no longer live by my parents’ thoughts and beliefs, but to establish my own.

    While I have been able to branch out and expose myself to all different kinds of people, I have also been able to become a part of a smaller community at this large University. Joining Greek Life has provided me with a smaller network of people that I can interact with more directly and more frequently. Thus, I have the best of both worlds, being a part of a smaller group that is similar and comforting yet also attending a large University that allows me to meet and discover people who aren’t in Greek Life as well. The social opportunities that large Universities such as Michigan and USC offer are incomparable to the social limitations that small liberal arts schools impose due to their size.

  27. cece610 Says:

    This post stirs up a lot of important concepts when deciding what school to attend and what major to declare. I think there is more to a college than it just being a large school or a small school. Part of the reason I chose Michigan was because of its academics and its school spirit. I knew coming into it it would be difficult to attend a class of 400 students but I did what I thought would be most beneficial to me; in every lecture I attend I sit within the first 5 rows and never turn around. I do not want to feel “lost and insignificant,” I want to attend my classes and I want to be active in my classes rather than be just another student in the crowd. Being at the University of Michigan we are expected to graduate as the leaders and the best, I think being active in a discussion and/or lecture is part of gaining that status.
    This post also strikes me when it talks about freedom at college not only from parents but with classes. I think the University of Michigan provides plenty of different courses for a range of many different interests. This gives students the freedom to take whatever classes they want. On the other hand, there are many requirements and prerequisites for majors that are not always open. The closing of classes is where freedom becomes limited. Yes, there cannot be an unlimited amount of space in every class but at the same time the way the University does registration is unfair. The people that come in with the least amount of credits freshmen year register last for the next four years of their academic career. I believe this restricts their freedoms to take certain classes. I have many friends who are interested in becoming PSYCH majors but they have only been able to take two psych classes because those lectures fill up so quickly. The people in the psych lectures that are taking it for fun, or because they hear it is an easy class, cheat the people who truly want to and need to be there. This University does provide freedom of course selection but with certain limitations that not all students can overcome and that is where the system becomes unfair.

  28. dannilevin9492 Says:

    If I knew what college was really like before I came to the University of Michigan, I would have handled myself much differently. I was always a little skeptical about attending such a large, prestigious school since the moment my acceptance letter came to me via email. And, to be frank I still am skeptical about it to this day. I was always in the top of my class; portraying leadership in most of my activities and succeeding in everything I did. But now, I am a part of a community in which every single student here, all 40,000 of them, were in the top of their class back in High School and below. This type of environment brings about competition. This competition can be seen as both good and bad for while it brings about motivation and determination to thrive, it also brings about a sense of insignificance.

    I would say that I have experienced both side effects of competition that the University of Michigan brought about. I am determined to study hard in order to do well in my classes (something I have never really done until I’ve came here). But I also feel very insignificant in relation to all the amazing students that attend such school. I find it very difficult to get involved in the school, make a difference here, and be a leader. Last year, I was too caught up in the transition both school wise and socially. There was a sense of freedom that I had never experienced before, and I was looking to take advantage of such freedom. I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, so I took advantage of the different array of classes that are offered here. I rushed Greek Life to meet new people and be a part of a social scene that I have never experienced before. However, I ignored the freedom of extracurriculars that this school offered because I was struggling to find something that I felt so passionate about. So many people at this school already have a life path and I was (and still sort of am) struggling with how I wanted to proceed with the rest of my life. This struggle within it self made me feel lost and insignificant in relation to the rest of my peers.

    Just recently I have found a path to which I hope to travel down. I went to Diag Days with this path in mind and tried to search for organizations that I can get involved in where it will help add to my experiences and leadership abilities. I found that I wanted to rush a business fraternity and start to work on networking and business experiences that will be necessary in my future endeavors. Long story short, I didn’t get very far with this rush and once again I am still in a position where I am not involved in anything Michigan offers to help me academically. Situations like this still leave me questioning if attending such a large, prestigious school was really the right choice for me, and I will do so until I find an organization in which I can thrive in and make a difference.

  29. Isobel Kraft Says:

    I can honestly say that prior to arriving at Michigan last fall, I was actually very familiar with the feeling of insignificance that the author brings up. I come from a town in Maryland located just outside Washington, DC considered “one of the most affluent and highly educated communities in the country” that is home to the National Institutes of Health and the National Naval Medical Center. It’s the most popular home for all those hotshot DC execs and a good location for many high-level military families. I went to a high school in the largest school district in the state. It has around 2,000 students and is about 5-7 miles from three other high schools; all very focused on routing students to AP classes and IB programs. So, I spent my schooling surrounded by “important”, busy grown-ups and extremely competitive classmates and friends. It was easy for me to get lost in the demands of the school district and feel like I was just another AP test taker making the school look good for recruiters and boosters.

    Coming to Michigan, I hadn’t really considered that I would feel “insignificant” in the same negative way I did in high school. And I don’t. Like the author says, I feel insignificant because of the awesome place that is Michigan. But unlike my hometown, I feel that the insignificance is well received and embraced. There is really nothing like being surround by a sea of maize, letting the energy of the crowd wash over you, and knowing that everyone is feeling the same emotions.

    As for feeling lost at big universities, well, that may be the fault of the newly found autonomy that the author brings up. I found it extremely daunting to be faced with so many different opportunities with no one really guiding you toward the “right” ones. It took me a year to find the courage to engage myself in activities outside of class that interested me. Coming from high school when I was involved in clubs and sports that I had done for years with the same people it was hard to start over in a new (and very large) place. I had to find the strength of put myself out there, even if I had no idea what I was doing and risk looking overconfident or stupid.

    To make the most out of the big university experience you really have to embrace everything that is thrown at you. Let your feelings of insignificance remind you of the grandeur of your university and feel lucky to be apart of something fabulous. And don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! Getting involved can result most rewarding experiences you’ll have in these crazy years.

  30. mcdonmeg Says:

    I thought this post was very interesting, and how it mentions that college offers freedom and autonomy to college students. As much as I agree to this general concept, my experience of “freedom” at the University of Michigan is looked at in another prospective. I grew up in a split household; a mother who was raised a Spartan because her father was a MSU professor, and a father who is a die-hard Michigan fan who graduated from here in the mid 80s. Although I was raised in a split household, I was raised a wolverine. Actually when I talk about this with my friends I tell them I was “bred” a wolverine. Growing up, my father’s focus was just on one thing, me getting an education. When we talked about my future, there was always mention of me attending the University of Michigan. During the fall as a child, I spent most Saturdays either going to the Michigan football games, or watching them at home in my family room. When it came to buying college sports apparel, I was allowed to buy any Michigan clothes I wanted, but never any other schools clothing. As a child, I never thought much of any of this because I never really thought about my future. As junior year approached during high school, I was told that I needed to seriously start thinking about where I wanted to go to college. My father told me I could go anywhere I wanted to, as long I could get in and if I thought it would make me happy. As much as I wanted to believe that this statement was true, everyone else including my family members, extended family and friends knew that in all honesty he wanted nothing else but for me to attend The University of Michigan. When I was accepted into U of M, I had never seen my father so happy in my life, and tears actually filled his eyes. After I go accepted in, it was a given that I was attending here because my dad was paying for college. In all honesty, what I really wanted to do was attend Douglas J academy and go into hair and make up, but I was told I couldn’t waste my intelligence on that.

    My dad owns his own company, and soon after I was accepted into U of M he announced that his company was purchasing one of the new suites here at the Big House. As neat as it is, I knew this would mean that I would be seeing my parents every weekend, and I would be expected to sit in the suite instead of in the student section with my friends. After freshmen year of college, my dad gave me an internship with his company, and by the end of it I was responsible for one of his new and upcoming ecommerce websites. Currently, I go to school and on my free time I am conference calls discussing new products for me to add to the website. On weekends at the football games I sit in the suite, where I am introduced to different clients of his chemical company. This upcoming summer, I will be traveling and going on business trips with my father and his much older employees. The plan one day is for me to take over his companies.

    As for freedoms here at the University of Michigan, to me it doesn’t feel like there is many. Michigan offers so many wonderful things, and is full many possibilities. However, I do not see the University of Michigan as a huge university where I can achieve autonomy, instead I have tunnel vision because it already seems like my future is determined.

  31. Skye Says:

    I think that you make a really good point in this blog post – at schools like USC or Michigan, it’s so easy to fade into the background and have an awful experience because you feel alone, even though there’s 7,000 other people your age and about 30,000 people around you total. I don’t really know what I expected coming into a school this large, but I figured I would make friends somehow. I knew some people coming into this school, so I said to myself that if worst came to worst, I would always have someone.
    I think that some people think that because college doesn’t have the designated lunch times that force people to meet, it’s harder to meet people. But personally, I think it’s the opposite. I think it’s easy to meet people in college, you just have to put the effort. It’s not like high school where friends are handed to you on a silver platter. Personally, I joined a lot of clubs and met people with similar interests to me. I had people I know introduce me to other people (incidentally, those people have become my best friends), and if you’re living in a dorm, you also have the people in your hall.

    I almost went to a small liberal arts college, but I’m glad I’m here instead. I visited both types of schools, and the people seemed more friendly at the larger schools. They seemed like they knew more people and have more autonomy, and after all, isn’t autonomy the basis of college and why every high school kid cannot wait for it to start? They want the autonomy, they want the freedom, and no one should be concerned about making friends because it is part of the freedom and autonomy college comes with – YOU have to put in the effort to make friends.

  32. adamstillman2011 Says:

    The points that were brought up in this post were very similar to the questions that I thought about when I went through the college selection process. I went to a small private high school in Minneapolis, Minnesota where there were only 94 kids in my graduating class. Many of my classmates wanted to have the same small environment when they got to college because that was all they had ever known. Many of those students attended places like Colby or Bowdoin, which are small Liberal Arts schools in Maine. I feel that these schools compared to Michigan lack the diverse opportunities that Michigan’s large student body provides. Because Michigan has so many more students, each individual is able to bring something to the University and has the possibility to meet someone new and try something new everyday; whereas, at a small school by the end of your 4 years you know the majority of your class.

    When I came to Michigan on a campus visit, they told me that “you can make a big university feel small, but you cannot make a small university feel big.” I totally agree with this statement, at Michigan I was able to find myself a niche. I joined the Mock Trial team and became involved in Hillel, these have become great oppurtunities to gather a group of friends and familliar faces around campus, but because of Michigan’s size I am not limited to these groups, and I could go looking for something brand new tomorrow. It is true that there are a lot of people on this campus, and I see many people on the diag or in the library who I don’t know; however, it is very rare when I don’t one of my friends when I am walking to my classes, which helps make me feel at home at this large University.

    I have many different interests. To name a few: I love sports, I love the law and plan on going to law school, and I enjoy speaking and studying Chinese. Michigan allows me to pursue these passions. I can go to the Big House on Saturday (there was no chance I would go to a school without Division One football) , compete with the mock trial team on Sunday, and study Chinese Monday through Friday. In my opinion this is the definition of educational freedom. Freedom is achieved when the school that you pick gives you outlets to pursue your passions, and when you feel content try something new, and Michigan has given this to me.

  33. amgille Says:

    Much like a lot of the other bloggers, I also came from a small town, located in northern Ohio. Not much can be found in Ohio, other than a sea of sports teams that continually let us down, a potential visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and the largest amusement park nationally, Cedar Point. While this may seem fascinating to others, I was tired of living in a place where I knew how everything worked and how everyone worked inside of it. A graduating class of 112 doesn’t leave much room for freedom, as every single action one makes is watched up and down. It was the school where I was expected to take AP Calculus instead of the AP European History like I had wanted. I was used to class room sizes of less than fifteen people and instead wanted to be lost in the crowd and to have the chance to engage in what I wanted to do, instead of what was expected for me to do.

    So, I applied to the University of Michigan while the rest of my classmates applied to Ohio State University. Maybe this was, in itself, my first act of autonomy, my own form of self-government. I was going against what was expected of me from my town (which, coincidentally, stole everything from OSU, including colors and the fight song) that requires graduating seniors to have their number one college set as OSU from the moment one walks into the elementary school. As it can be imagined, my choice to go to the University of Michigan did not bode well in small town Ohio. There were the few hidden Michigan fans who would smile and tell me good job, but the overwhelming majority simply laughed at my “crazy” determination to attend the school up north. And so, this fall, my new autonomous life started.

    I was immediately thrown into the big university life. Yet, sitting in lecture as simply a number doesn’t bother me. I know that what I choose to do with my time at Michigan will ultimately be the path that I chose, not the path that others chose for me. I can be remembered for what I do, or I can be forgotten for what I haven’t done. I can take the language that interests me and not be limited to the basic French and Spanish at my old high school. My choices are endless here, my opportunities are endless. The only thing that is required of me is to take ahold of the things available to me, and since it is only my freshman year, I have the freedom to do just that.

    In a way, the University of Michigan in itself was a freedom for me – from expectations, from norms, and from Ohio itself. The freedom that it additionally provides is exciting, though frightening at times. The University of Michigan, however, is as big as one makes it, and can feel as small as one makes it. The choices are up to you, and that is why I have to agree with the fact that autonomy is indeed great for everyone.

    And so, in closing, I use my freedom and autonomy from Ohio to say this…GO BLUE!

  34. emlong04 Says:

    While reading this post I immediately start comparing the author’s experience to my own. I would say my life, in general, could be summed up as the “standard American life.” Obviously, my statement requires explanation. When I say that my life has been average I refer to the fact that I grew up in a relatively small town filled with good people. I have a loving family who stands through thick and thin and have the best friends out there. I played two varsity sports, was on homecoming court, got good grades, plan to be a teacher and for much of my life I was actually teased for having the “All-American” life. I began to accept the fact that my life may not seem too exciting, but it is a life that I love and wouldn’t trade for anything.
    You may be wondering where I am going with this, well this all changed as soon as I made the decision to go to the University of Michigan. I made the choice to come here very last minute and after HEAVY debate. I was extremely close to choosing the university where my parents both went to, where many of my aunts and uncles have gone, and a university which I had been visiting since my youth. Although, I was under absolutely no pressure from my parents I felt that Miami was going to be the place for me. This was until I took the tour at Michigan. Miami is a beautiful school with amazing programs and I am 100% certain that I would have loved it there, but it would not be the same experience that I am having now. During the tour I stopped and looked around at the sea of diversity that I had jumped into. I was in the middle of a culture. Ann Arbor is a different place, full of all walks of life. Michigan is unique and the people at this school are one of a kind. Newcomers notice, I did. I could feel the spirit in the air. The desire that everyone had to change the world, to make a difference. This place was different from every other place I’d ever been.
    I am now learning everyday I spend here. Ann Arbor is a diverse city with such a wide variety of residents. Unlike my small town, Michigan offers us a chance to change your life in any way you can imagine. Join clubs, teams, greek life, emerge yourself in this campus and experience everything that Michigan has to offer. The possibilities are overwhelming. You can talk, engage, and work with your professors to even more take advantage of this University. As a top research university this opportunity is particularly evident. Students here get a chance to do what they love with someone who has the same love who decided to dedicate their life to working toward improving whatever it may be. Not every school is as fortunate as we are. Not everyone gets to be a part of something so purely great. This is Michigan. This is the university full of the “victors and the best,” and I truly believe that of everyone on this campus. The faculty, staff and students alike. That is the difference, I believe, between Michigan and other places. Here we are one university all together making a difference. We are a united front. Sure, my small town is great and we all get along, but to be frank my town will most likely always be how it is now. Michigan won’t be. It changes everyday and always will.

  35. Skye Says:

    I think that you make a really good point in this blog post – at schools like USC or Michigan, it’s so easy to fade into the background and have an awful experience because you feel alone, even though there’s 7,000 other people your age and about 30,000 people around you total. I don’t really know what I expected coming into a school this large, but I figured I would make friends somehow. I knew some people coming into this school, so I said to myself that if worst came to worst, I would always have someone.
    I think that some people think that because college doesn’t have the designated lunch times that force people to meet, it’s harder to meet people. But personally, I think it’s the opposite. I think it’s easy to meet people in college, you just have to put the effort. It’s not like high school where friends are handed to you on a silver platter. Personally, I joined a lot of clubs and met people with similar interests to me. I had people I know introduce me to other people (incidentally, those people have become my best friends), and if you’re living in a dorm, you also have the people in your hall.

    I almost went to a small liberal arts college, but I’m glad I’m here instead. I visited both types of schools, and the people seemed more friendly at the larger schools. They seemed like they knew more people and have more autonomy, and after all, isn’t autonomy the basis of college and why every high school kid cannot wait for it to start? They want the autonomy, they want the freedom, and no one should be concerned about making friends because it is part of the freedom and autonomy college comes with – YOU have to put in the effort to make friends.

    If you really are concerned about not making friends or being lost in a big university, just join clubs, or join a program (like MT) that has a small amount of people, and you won’t be lost in the background.

  36. ngamin1614 Says:

    You know, being “lost and insignificant” is really the fun of it all. During my first high school years, I started out as that awkward shy kid in class. I wasn’t entirely sure how to be a fun person to be around. And sure, I had friends, but those friends for the most part were facing the same troubles as I was. Then all of a sudden, I made the tennis team and found other activities. I grew so much as a person the next three years. Although I was lost and insignificant my freshman year of high school, by the time my senior year rolled around, I was a much more confident and all around happy guy. I had a circle of friends who I spent a ton of free time with and I seriously think the number of friends I had grew exponentially as I went through high school. My friends and I always used to discuss college. It was gonna be the “coolest” times in our lives and oh my god, we would finally have freedom from the tyranny of our parents. Anyways, then my friends and I parted ways after high school. A few stayed in Nebraska (my home state…unfortunately), one went to California, one went to North Carolina, a few went to Chicago, and I of course, to Michigan. And then…

    Boom, it happened again.

    The beginning of college started out almost the same as the beginning of high school. Welcome week was a party for most people, but I was just a small fish in a vast sea. But, here is where it became interesting. Through all those feelings of homesickness, I began to wonder where that happy guy went. And, eventually, I found that guy again. It came because I started to make some choices. In high school, I always had someone to ask. Whether it be my mom, dad, or friends, there was always someone who could help me make a choice. In college though, those choices had to be mine to make. College is a place where you transition into adulthood from the teenage years of high school.

    So, it was time to make adult decisions

    Yes, I was lost and insignificant. But man, that became amazing the more I thought about it. This whole thing is an adventure really. I hate to sound corny or something, but life is just one giant adventure. I received the opportunity to go to a highly rated and fun college, and at the beginning, I wasn’t taking advantage of these new opportunities. So, I could choose to be that awkward, shy guy again, or I could be a happy and carefree guy again. I could choose to hate college and therefore hate the next 4 years of my life, or I could choose to view this thing in a whole new light.

    One of the best times on vacation i have ever had was when my dad somehow managed to take us to South Dakota instead of Minnesota (I still don’t know how he screwed up THAT badly). At first, we were frustrated. We went about 150 miles the wrong way, we were all hungry, we were tired, and South Dakota is a boring state (though not as boring as Nebraska, I must say). But eventually we ran into a tiny town, found a pretty good place to eat, and before you know it, we were so happy. When we started the 150 mile drive to the route we were supposed to be on, we were laughing and joking, and though it may all sound a bit boring, sometimes the boring times are the ones you remember the most.

    At college, I found myself lost yet again, though at least I wasn’t in south dakota this time. However, I didn’t have my family to help me make college a good time. This time, I finally helped myself have a good time and that choice, to view everything as a new adventure and everything as a great opportunity, has made these first two years of college one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. College became that fun thing everybody was talking about in high school. I had that freedom away from my parents and even escaped the treacherous clutches of med school that my dad was pushing me too by making my own choices. I had the freedom to grow up and become independent, and finally, these choices were all mine.

  37. cchevat Says:

    The concept of autonomy was one that personally took very long time to grasp. Prior to coming to the University of Michigan, there are expectations put on all of us that are hard to avoid. Those expectations were such that we all had to exceed academically, socially, and overall be well rounded people in order to go onto the next expected step of our lives which is college. For most of high school, I followed this track doing well in school, becoming a varsity member of the cross country team, performing in a state recognized school symphonic band, as well as being a tutor in my spare time. I really did enjoy all of my activities gained valuable lessons and friendships but nothing truly sparked a passion inside of me. But during my senior year, an opportunity presented itself.
    There is a program that some students from my high school participate in every year. It is the chance to go to school in Israel for two months, take classes, as well as explore Israel and learn about Jewish culture. Prior to hearing about this program, I had never been away from home for that long of a time period, let alone been to a sleep-away camp so that made me anxious. But even though there were a lot of things that I thought were keeping me away from this amazing opportunity including my cross country team, my normal routine, as well as finishing out senior year with my friends I decided to take a risk. The decision to go on this once in a lifetime experience was really the first decision that I truly came to on my own. I really took that decision as a time to be introspective and decide what was right for me at that moment. That is truly what being autonomous is; knowing what is best for you and then implementing the steps that will make you get to the point you want to be at.
    When it was time to board the plane at JFK airport, I was anxious for what was ahead. Meeting twenty-five new people and having to spend the next two months together was daunting as well as being in a new country where the culture is completely different from what we know in America. As apprehensive as I was, those two months in Israel were the best two months of high school even though I was thousands of miles away from home. I was able to make my own choices including how I wanted to learn my school subjects, how I spent my free time, even the things I really wanted to take away from the program. Some people wanted to spend the two months partying every night in Tel Aviv. Some people really spent the time to meditate and find themselves spiritually (Artist Matisyahu is a former alumni of the program who did just that). As for me it was a combination of those aspects as well as the fact that I had never been so independent before which allowed for me to fully express myself in ways that I never felt were ok when I was at home. Even though we all took away different things from the program, the twenty six of us had grown to be a family and we had changed together. Even when I came back home for the remainder of senior year, friends would tell me, “I can’t put my finger on it but something about you is different”.
    A lot of the reasons why people had thought that I had changed was the fact that I wasn’t as reliant on other people to make decisions for me; I was making them for myself. I have a better grasp of what works for me and I have become more intuitive as a result. That is a lot of what college is. Everyone takes different directions and steps in order to get to the end of goal of finding things that they love to do and want to continue after college. What makes big universities so special is that while everyone is autonomous in deciding what they want to do while at school, it all magically combines into one working unit where people work together with different skills and personalities in order to achieve more than what they could on their own.

  38. schoiidaho Says:

    The author mentions that the best advantage of attending big colleges is having the freedom and autonomy. Although it is true to a certain point, I do not completely agree with the argument.
    Like some students above, I also attended a small school for a large part of my life. I attended a private, Catholic high school in Boise, Idaho, and had 150 students in my entire graduating class. For college, I wanted to experience life in a big, public school for a change. However, I did not expect the transition to be this significant.
    “Lost and insignificant” is definitely the best way to describe how I felt all freshman year last year. It was completely different from my high school where almost everyone knew each other. I did not enjoy my freshman year not only because of the tough academics but also because I did not feel a sense of belonging at this school.
    It is believed that we have the freedom to study and enroll in the classes we want, but unfortunately this is not always true. Ross school of business and Ford school of public policy are two examples. These two institutions are very selective, and here the school gets to decide for you if you are qualified to study business or public policy. Also, since choosing classes is prioritized according to how many credits we have, the student who comes in with more credits will have access to the more fun, easier, or better professor and potentially a better grade while the one with less credits might not even be able to enroll in class.
    Lastly, autonomy, the ability to make your own choices, does not always exist in college either. There are innumerable subjects this school offers that we might be interested in, and we have the right and ability to study and get a degree in it. However, for a lot of students including myself, our parents are the ones paying our tuition. In reality, since it is their hard-earned money, they get a large say in whether the particular major we are considering is worth the money and time.
    Please don’t get me wrong. I love Michigan this year and everything is going great now. I just wanted to share my unpleasant first experiences I encountered at U of M, since it tied in well with the theme.

  39. kaitlinlapka Says:

    This post actually speaks a great deal to me. As a freshman I feel as if I am pulled many different ways. In one hand, I want to experience my four years of college. I want to stay in LSA and be broad and take a wide range of classes. I want to be well-rounded and say I’ve found and learned about many life things. On the other hand, I become overwhelmed by the compeitive nature of Michigan. The kids who waste their time at undergrad, never discovering new things, going out, or focusing solely on math for example. They scare me quite honestly. I respect they have a plan and want to directly focus on that. It is these sort of people that make me want to apply to Ross. I feel like I need to take advantage of the opportunity here at Michigan and get right on a plan to success. However, again I’m torn because that’s what grad years and work are for. For this one time in my life, I want to just try and do many things. I want to take advantage of this freedom while it lasts. Maybe autonomy is the biggest concept we learn in undergrad overall.

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