Along with “What’s your major” and “How are your classes going”, this is one of those quintessential college questions you get asked by your relatives at literally every holiday dinner.
For me, it’s the most difficult one to answer, usually because they’re not actually asking why I chose this school. What they really want to know is:
“Why on earth would you choose to go to a historically women’s school? Won’t you miss men?”
“Do you hate men?”
“Are you secretly super smart?”
“Are you secretly a lesbian?”Honestly, the whole no-men thing really weighed on other people a lot more than it weighed on me, and a lot of people had opinions about what a historically women’s college is like. One rude customer at my old job delightedly informed me that Bryn Mawr used to be a finishing school, which is a.) untrue and b.) misogynist as hell. I was told by friends and strangers alike that it would be terrible because everyone would be catty and gossipy, that as a relatively tough woman I would be driven crazy by all the weak girly-girls I would have to live with, and that our menstrual cycles would sync up and we would all turn on each other Lord of the Flies style.
I wish I was exaggerating, but that’s really what people think! And literally none of it is true. I thought we as a society had finally managed to acknowledge that women are strong, whole, rational people, but I guess not. When I was growing up nearly all of my really deep and meaningful relationships were with girls and women, so I honestly didn’t think twice about applying to Bryn Mawr as a “women’s school”.
“Why Bryn Mawr” is also a difficult question because I’m not quite sure what drew me to Bryn Mawr. For all of other schools I applied to, there was a specific thing that drove me: either they had an interesting political science program, or my parents wanted me to apply, or it was just where everyone else in my class was going.
When I went on college tours, a lot of the tour guides would answer “Why _____ college?” with “It just felt right! As soon as I stepped foot on campus, I knew that this was where I had to be”. This, of course wasn’t helpful to me at all at the time. I really liked a lot of the schools I visited! How was I supposed to know which one was more right than the others?
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had already figured out where I wanted to be.
Though Bryn Mawr has some interesting programs and opportunities, they’re not nearly as dramatic and exciting as the ones in the big universities I was looking at. Really, the only thing that stood out to me about Bryn Mawr was its campus culture and traditions.
Of course what sparked my interest was Lantern Night and May Day– who doesn’t like cryptic ceremonies and frolicking in the flowers? But I also really liked the vibe on campus. It’s intellectual without being cutthroat, friendly without being overwhelming, and traditions-oriented without being old-fashioned.
When it came time to choose a school, I was paralyzed by indecision. I had narrowed down my choices to American University, which had a really interesting international school and was offering me a decent merit scholarship, and Bryn Mawr, which had nothing in particular going for it, at least on paper.
Luckily, my parents could afford for me revisit both schools. It turned out, all it took for me to make my decision was a few minutes on each campus.
American University is a nice school, and I’m sure it’s a great fit for some people, but it was just way too loud. I felt tired and strung out only twenty minutes into the tour. Bryn Mawr, on the other hand, felt like coming home.
I think that the hyper competitive nature of young adult life has distorted the process of higher education. A lot of people choose schools based only on how competitive they are or what programs they offer, but prestige is only one piece of a much larger and more important puzzle. It’s hard to do well in school when you don’t vibe with the culture or don’t feel like you belong.
College doesn’t have to be the best time of your life– in fact, one of my teachers even told us “If anyone tells you school was the best part of their life, they’re having a pretty sad life.” However, I think it’s important to go to a school where you feel you belong, and that is what I found in Bryn Mawr.