Transitioning From High School To College: From Cities To Small Towns, Small Schools To Big Schools

How To Deal With College 'Culture Shock'

By Hannah Orenstein

The transition from high school to college is undoubtedly one of the biggest you'll make throughout your life. Some of those changes come easy – no curfew? No problem! But others, like adapting to a bustling city when you grew up in a town where everyone knows everyone, or finding yourself at a tiny liberal arts college when you're used to a huge, football-centric high school, can come as a culture shock. Her Campus talked to girls across the country who dealt with those same changes. Steal their tips for making a smooth transition so you'll feel confident when you step on campus this September.

City to Rural

City girls, if you're used to subways, skyscrapers, and lots of noise, moving to a small town or rural area for school might come as a shock. Incoming University of Wisconsin – Stout freshman Laura Bauman worries, “I'm going from high school in a large town near Milwaukee to college in a town the size of pinky finger in the middle of nowhere. How am I going to get a fashion degree in 'Farmville,' Wisconsin?”

Be open-minded. It's easy to think that everything worth seeing and doing happens in major cities, but that mentality won't get you anywhere at a rural school. Katrina Margolis, a University of Virginia sophomore from Boston who spent her freshman year at the rural College of Wooster, says, “I've been told, 'I'm so sorry you went to school in Ohio,' from people in Boston. But my school was driving distance from Cleveland, which I think actually has a better fine arts museum and symphony than Boston does.” Even the most remote locations have something exciting to offer. Once you're at your new school, ask friends who grew up in the area where their favorite spots are. You might just discover a beautiful place to hike or a restaurant that makes the best local food – something you'd never get to experience at home!

Get your city fix. Weekend trips to visit friends at city schools kill two birds with one stone – not only will you get to see your friends again, but the change of scenery will come as a relief. “I plan on getting my fill of the city by visiting friends in the Twin Cities,” Laura says. If you're within driving distance of a city, make the most of the proximity by coming in once a month for concerts, girls' nights out, or whatever you miss most about city life.

Make summer internships a priority. Sometimes, internship experience can be tough to come by in a small town. If you're a future investment banker with an eye on Wall Street, internships at the local bank are only going to take you so far. Plan on interning for at least one summer in a city to boost your resume and gain experience you won't be able to get during the school year. “I plan on spending my summers in New York, Chicago, or L.A.,” says Laura.

Rural to City

If you're trading in a small town for a big city, you might be itching to start school already. The excitement, city lights, and occasional celeb spottings couldn't be more enticing – but nevertheless, the few hundred miles (or a few thousand miles, cross-country gals) to the city of your dreams can sometimes make you feel as if you've arrived on another planet. Two small-town girls who made the big move to New York University dished on their experiences.

Be prepared for culture shock. If you're used to knowing the name of everyone at the grocery store and crossing the street without looking twice, be prepared for a shock. Nicole Gartside, a New York University freshman originally from a small town in Colorado, says, “In my hometown, there's a lot of trust among the residents. We never lock our doors. When I came to New York, I locked myself out of my room six times in the first month and had several items stolen from my kitchen.” While safety is definitely a vital issue, expect even the smallest aspects of daily life to change, too. “At home, everyone nods or waves to you if they pass you on the road. That doesn't happen here; no one has the time,” explains Ellie Siddens, a New York University sophomore who grew up on a farm in Kentucky. It's crucial to learn street smarts (preferably not the hard way, like Nicole did), but stay true to yourself – if saying hello to everyone on the street is your thing, don't be afraid to keep it up and brighten someone's day.

Spend wisely. Between all the clubs, restaurants, and shows, life in a city can be glamorous. But those outings quickly add up. “Being in New York City had always been a vacation to me. It took me a while to register that I was living there and that I had to start spending like it,” says Nicole. Create a budget detailing how much you want to spend on food, transportation, and fun (like going out and shopping) each month – then stick to it! Try keeping a log of everything you spend, or tracking your money on your phone with's app.

Get ready to pound the pavement. In high school, you (or your parents) probably drove to school, to sports practices, and to friends' houses. But once your parents drop you off on Move-In Day, it's time to pick up the pace and start walking. City schools often have buildings spread out over several blocks; because parking is so expensive in cities, bringing a car to school is completely impractical. “It took a few weeks for my body to get used to the miles I was logging every day just walking to class or to the grocery store, since I was so used to being in a car,” says Nicole. She recommends purchasing a comfortable pair of walking shoes to accommodate your new routine.

For more tips on transitioning from high school to college, read the rest of the article at!

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