The New Social Experiment: How Well Do Thacher Students Adjust to College Life?

Photo Credit: ingfbruno, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.
Photo Credit: ingfbruno, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

It’s move-in day at George Washington University, and thousands of freshmen are gathered at orientation. The sun is beating down at them as their voices echo and overlap throughout all four corners of the quad. A sea of white name tags begin to peel off shirts, the corners of the “Hi, My Name Is:” stickers folding into themselves.

For the first time since her freshman year at Thacher, Clemencia Garcia-Kasimirowski CdeP 2014 doesn’t know a single soul. She is surrounded by thousands of her fellow classmates, all excited and eager to begin their own college experiences. Here she is left at a crossroads. After four years of being happily enveloped within the Thacher bubble, she has now been thrust into a completely new world—a new city, a new school, and a new start.

“I went from growing up in Ojai and knowing every person’s name at Thacher to a school with over 10,000 undergraduates in a sprawling metropolis.”

It’s more than a little daunting.

Thacher is categorized as a college preparatory institution, meaning its main focus is to give its student body the skills to succeed academically in a higher-education environment, and, eventually, to succeed in the careers of their choice. But when graduation rolls around and Thacher seniors are once again faced with the prospect of entering a completely new academic and social environment, Thacher seniors have to ask themselves: how well are we really prepared?

One of the most common responses from former students is that the skills they learned when interacting with others in a smaller social scene like Thacher actually helped them meet new people during the transition to college life. Entering college is surprisingly similar to entering Thacher: one is thrown into a group of strangers that come from different backgrounds, all with the same purpose.

The difference in size in obviously intimidating, as most undergraduate universities have a larger student body than the entire population of Ojai, but applying the same skills they learned when they first came to Thacher can be used to establish new relationships in a different community. While those first few days as a baby freshman were uncomfortably and excruciatingly awkward, from them emerged the life-long friendships that many students continue to value years after graduation.

As Katie Kellner CdeP 2014, now at Vanderbilt University, discovered, “Thacher prepared me well for the social scene of college because it taught me how to make life-long friends when thrown into a group of people I didn’t really know at first. Being able to do that at Thacher and then here I think has made it a lot easier for me to get to know people.”

Thacher students have more social skills than they think they do.

Thacher students also have a lot of experience with trying new things. Since the very beginning of their Thacher careers students have been encouraged (or required) to try things that are usually way outside of their comfort zones, and usually, it’s a pretty rewarding experience. Even if it turned out to be a total flop, there was still the chance to try.

Those experiences actually prove to be of great advantage. Colleges offer such a wide range of clubs and activities, some that many will have never heard of, that Thacher students shouldn’t let their inexperience hold them back.

The flip side to coming from a school with only 60 students per grade is that meeting new people and finding your niche in a new community takes a little more effort the second time around.

Thacher freshmen are given the luxury of organized events and a small campus. With only 250 students and one social event per Friday night, students are basically forced to interact with people 24/7. The school provides every opportunity to make friends.

While college offers the benefit of having the freedom to take care of yourself, the responsibility will fall to each individual to go out there and make connections within the community. In addition, not everyone freshmen meet during the first week of college will become lifelong friends.

Photo courtesy of Olivia Simonson CdeP 2014.
Photo courtesy of Olivia Simonson CdeP 2014.

According to Olivia Simonson CdeP 2014, “Not everyone is going to know or even remember your name 30 seconds after your initial introduction, nor will they listen to what you’re saying past the small talk. This is what was most difficult for me—at Thacher people actually care how your day is going or which classes you’re in, where as the first few weeks of college it seemed like my new classmates were only interested in collecting as many phone numbers as possible then by process of elimination would determine their friends.”

Joining clubs and student groups, going to student-run events on campus, or even just going up to people and making introductions are the best ways to get to know people and meet those with similar interests.  Pursuing something of interest makes it easy find others that are doing the same thing.  After a few weeks, just like at Thacher, college freshmen find a rhythm.

Thacher is most definitely a unique place. It gives students the opportunity to do so many things that other high school students don’t even think about. After four years at Thacher, students know how to write a paper, how to live under the same roof as thirty other teenagers, and even know how to ride a horse.

And while college is something Thacher students have yet to experience, Thacher alums are (surprisingly) a bit more prepared than they might think.

“I’m excited to meet people who have grown up from all over,” commented Briggs Boss ’15. “Like here at Thacher, there will be people who have experienced all different lifestyles all in the same place. I am also excited to go to a school in which students from all majors and interests interact inside and outside of the dorms.”

As Garcia-Kasimirowski looks toward the second semester of her freshman year of college, she realizes she had no reason to be worried.

“I was able to use the values instilled at Thacher and apply them to a college setting, and I now have a great but also diverse group of friends!”