I stepped gingerly down the aluminum bleachers along my high school's football field. It was a steamy Texas October evening during my sophomore year, and some friends and I had gathered to watch our school's football game. I wanted a hot dog, and, since it was almost halftime, I hoped to beat the crowd to the concession stand.
As I stepped onto the blacktop, I heard someone shouting, "Charity!" I looked around and realized the voice came from my friend Paige, who'd graduated the previous spring. "Hey, wait up!"
She climbed down the bleachers and gave me a quick hug. "Hey, it's good to see you," I said. "How's college life?"
Her eyes filled with excitement. "Awesome. You would love Sterling College, Charity. I could so see you there."
"OK," I said, impatiently eyeing the line forming at the concession stand.
"Seriously! There are tons of activities to get involved in, and I love the atmosphere on campus. Sterling is perfect for you. You should really think about it."
"Hmmm. Where is Sterling?"
"It's in Kansas, and
" I frowned and interrupted. "No thanks," I said curtly. "I really don't like Kansas."
After our conversation ended, I figured I didn't need to know any more about Sterling College. After all, I already knew enough about Kansas. My family went to Wichita every summer for a church convention. I was completely bored the entire week we were there, so just thinking about living in Kansas for four years was enough to make me yawn. Plus, I was a homebody with no car. I'd miss my family in Texas, and I'd have no way to make the trip home.
On top of all that, I already knew where I wanted to go. Since seventh grade, I'd wanted to attend this Christian university in my home state. So even though Paige loved Sterling, I didn't see any reason to change my plans.
The Right Place for Me?
During my senior year when it was time for my college search, my family and I visited my dream school. I'd been to the athletic facilities for track competitions a few times, and I was excited to learn more about the rest of the campus.
As we drove around the campus, I was overwhelmed by its size. It felt more like a city than a school. As I sat in on a class in one of the lecture halls, I realized there were more seats in that classroom than students in my high school. Well, maybe if I talk to some students, I'll hear more about what it's like to be on such a large campus, I thought. But I never had the chance to talk one-on-one with any students, and the professor I met was rude. I felt overwhelmed and unwelcome.
By January of my senior year, I was deeply discouraged about finding the right college. Even worse, so many of my classmates at the Christian high school I attended had found colleges they were excited about. As my entire class boarded a bus to attend a Christian college fair, almost everybody talked about their futures and the schools they hoped would be at the fair.
I felt miserable. I turned my face to the window and held back tears.
Lord, what am I supposed to do? I prayed. I feel like it's too late for me to find the right school.
When we got to the college fair, I walked aimlessly down the aisles. As I rounded a corner, a picture in one of the booths caught my eye.
I moved closer to the display. "Is that Paige?" I asked no one in particular.
An admissions counselor near the table responded, "Yes, it is. Do you know her?"
"I went to high school with her."
"Have you heard about Sterling?"
I nodded. "Paige told me about it."
A couple of my classmates joined me at the display, where the admissions counselor talked to us about our interests and asked us what we wanted to study. She listened carefully to what we had to say, and seemed genuinely interested in each of our lives. I felt like I'd received more personal attention during those few minutes than during that entire visit to the school of my dreams. Before we moved on, she gave us information about Sterling.
For the first time, I was willing to seriously consider this option. That night, I looked at the information packet and decided to complete the application. A few weeks later, I received an acceptance letter from Sterling. But before making the decision to go there, I knew I needed to find out more about the school.
Finally Finding Peace
Sterling hosted a get-together at a local restaurant for Dallas-area students in March. I wanted to attend, but I couldn't miss a track meet also scheduled that day. So my mom and dad went without me.
Top 10 Campus Visit Questions
During your campus visits, get answers to these 10 questions.
1. What kind of extracurricular activities are there? Find out about clubs, sports and volunteer service opportunities.
2. What do students do for fun on weekends? What activities are offered on campus? What kind of stuff is there to do in the community?
3. What are the dorms like? Are there study areas in the dorms? How are the laundry facilities?
4. How's the food? Find out what options are available that will give variety to your meal plan.
5. How much time do students spend studying? This is a good indicator of how much free time you can expect.
6. Will the profs help me outside of class?
7. How safe is the campus? Do students feel safe walking alone at night? Are walkways well-lit? Is there on-campus security?
8. Where can you go for privacy? Ask where you can go when you need some time to yourself.
9. Where do students go to church? Ask students about the churches they attend.
10. What opportunities are there for spiritual growth?
Holly Vicente Robaina
When they got home that night, they spoke excitedly about the time spent with the admissions counselor and the parents of other prospective students. They were convinced I needed to schedule a visit. But whenever I thought about going to college so far from home, I was terrified. I'd never been away from home by myself, and I thought I'd be miserable and lonely. I was also convinced I'd have a hard time making friends.
At the same time, there were things I wanted to find out about Sterling. I knew that visiting was probably the best way to get the answers to questions like: How big was the campus? Did the professors really know and care about their students? How did Sterling promote Christian values? Would I be OK being more than 400 miles away from home? I realized I'd only get answers if I went to visit. So I reluctantly agreed to give Sterling a chance.
As our family made the seven-hour drive north on I-35, we passed a number of metropolitan areas. Shortly after sunset, we were surrounded by nothing but cornfields. This is such a rural area, I thought. I'm still not sure visiting here is a good idea.
Eventually we arrived on Sterling's campus. When I went to the dorm bathroom to prepare for bed, I saw posters the girls used to post praise reports and prayer requests. I was captivated. Wow. I thought. These students must really care about encouraging each other in faith.
Right before I climbed into bed, my hostess poked her head around the corner. "You have a phone call."
I picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Hey, girl! It's Paige. I won't be on campus tomorrow, but I thought I'd call and talk for a minute." As we talked, I thought about how nice this personal touch was.
The next morning, I woke up feeling well-rested, which was strange. I never feel well-rested away from home, I thought. Why do I feel so comfortable here?
Before breakfast, I walked through the student union. Both the posters I saw and the service activities they advertised helped me see what a strong Christian influence Sterling could have on my life. My hostess introduced me to several students at breakfast, and I was surprised at everyone's friendliness.
We walked practically everywhere on the campus tour, and I felt good about the campus' size. I also liked the small classes I sat in on. I knew that if I attended Sterling my professors would know me by name. I sang for the choir director and read for the head of the theater department, hoping to earn partial scholarships.
By the time my parents and I loaded up the car to drive home, all of the questions I'd had were answered. In fact, I was so excited about college that I didn't want to go home. I'd spent a lot of time worrying and praying about my future. But those two campus visits were a huge part of my college decision.
As we headed home, I finally had peace about going to Sterlingand being in Kansas. I knew everything would be fine. I'd miss my family, but I'd already made friends who were looking forward to seeing me the next fall.