I was bullied from grade school through the middle of high school. While you may read about bullying today in the context of race or sexual orientation, I am a straight white male. I am Jewish, but I was never physically bullied because of my faith. I had crooked teeth until the 11th grade, but I have no documented deformity or learning difficulty. I was bullied because I was very fair skinned, with thick glasses and very limited athletic ability. Sometimes I was dumb enough to let the bullies do their worst.
There were the bullies who didn’t like you at all, and let you know it. They threatened you, got in your face, and pushed you around. At least I knew where they stood. Halfway through my sophomore year in high school they left me alone. I guess they had better things to do. A few even respected me because I got good grades. Some even stayed in touch online more than 40 years after our class graduated.
Then there were the bullies who pretended to like you. They were the worst. I could take a punch better than I could take a group of people laughing at me behind my back. At least I could see when the punch was coming. Eventually, I was able to see through them. Probably later that I should have. But better late than never.
I wanted to go to a school where I could start over and meet new people. I did not date girls in middle school or high school. I felt that they would not want to date me for fear of embarrassment, because I had been bullied, or because they genuinely didn’t like me. I learned to turn off the teasing and the sarcasm that I dealt with in school. But I could not shut down feelings of inadequacy. I had learned to deliver speeches in class and competitions. Yet I was, and still am, an introvert.
Academic success was far more respected and rewarded than it ever was in high school. It took a little while, but I eventually found the best places to study or find quiet time to be alone. That’s harder to do at a smaller school. As an added bonus, I could take a train to New York from campus, or get in my car and drive home in 40 minutes.
New Brunswick was not much of a college town in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Unless you wanted to catch The Rocky Horror Picture Show or a musical act at the Melody, you practically never went downtown at night. The social life at Rutgers was campus based. There were weekends when there was literally nothing to do but study, unless you liked to party. The Greek social system thrived on Thursday nights and weekends. That was not for me. I would not have survived the pledge process. Too many brothers reminded me of the bullies who had given me a difficult time in grade school and high school.
Fortunately for Rutgers’ current students, New Brunswick has become a much nicer place, and so has the campus. If I was considering colleges today, and I still lived in Central New Jersey, Rutgers would be on my list. It has everything academic and social that I would want from a school, and it would likely be my least-cost option. But I would also consider schools in large cities. I might want to have the options of living, socializing and working off campus that I would be less likely to find in a college town.
I thought that I might have a better social life at a larger one. But as a college advisor I have come to see that small colleges have their advantages. Teachers and counselors are more accessible when you need help. So are many academic options to do independent research or study off campus. But smaller schools have fewer extracurricular activities and groups than larger schools. The right school can help an introvert to open up, step out of a comfort zone. It takes more than a campus tour to find that school. You need to talk to more students, learn what is in the social mainstream, and what is on the fringes.
When your grade school and high school social life have not been what you hoped, you owe it to yourself to find a college where you might find a better life. The most important things you can get from any school are your degree, a direction for your future, and a network or alumni and friends who can help you long after you have graduated. Colleges are like the cities and towns we live in. Some will feel right, others won’t.
Listen to my talk, College Is A Learning AND Living Community, hosted by Dr. Cynthia Colon from Destination YOUniversity on Voice of America Radio!
Listen to my talk, What Exactly Is a Good College? hosted by test-prep experts Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin on Tests And The Rest!
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