How to Make a Big Campus Feel Smaller

U-M is a large campus, so I suggest some ways to make the size feel more manageable.

By Ellie Younger March 21, 2022
How to make a Big Campus Feel Smaller

University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus can feel overwhelming when you first arrive. With the distinction between North Campus, Central Campus, and Athletic Campus, it was very confusing to me at first, but at the end of the day it’s helpful to remember that big means there’s a higher chance that you’ll find your people here. Throughout my three years at U-M, I’ve done a few things to make this big campus feel a bit smaller:

  • Go on walks. One of my favorite hobbies is to take a casual stroll around the neighborhood. It’s a great way to explore campus and become more familiar with different areas. The great thing about Ann Arbor is there are so many beautiful natural areas to explore, including the Arboretum and the Huron River. Walking, whether it’s around downtown or through the Diag, is a great way to familiarize yourself with the town and allows for fun people watching.

A neighborhood near UM campus
A photo from my walk around the neighborhood today.
  • Ask your friends to show you their favorite places on campus. I love seeing where my friends go to study, whether that is a hidden spot that I’d never seen before or a specific table at the Union. Being with a friend makes a new place seem much easier to navigate and shrinks the size of such a large campus.
  • Keep a list of restaurants and places that people recommend so you don’t forget the places you want to try. Sometimes it can get overwhelming scrolling through Yelp or Google Maps at all the nearby restaurants, so it always helped me to have a premade list of ones that I had been meaning to go to. If it helps, you can also make a list of the places you have tried, that way you remember what you liked and didn’t like.
  • Get involved with different clubs or organizations. This allows you to meet new people and grow a sense of community. Developing friendships helps create bonds that make the school seem a lot smaller than it really is. Now I find that I am often running into people I know while out walking, and it seems that for a school with such a large student body, it is not actually that big after all.
  • Practice using the bus system, both the (UM-run) Blue buses and the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority The Ride buses. Both are available for students to use at no cost with your U-M ID, making getting around campus inexpensive and convenient. I was lucky to have experience using public transportation before coming here, but if you don’t, it’s a good idea to get some practice in. The buses are super manageable to navigate with apps that are easy to use, and bus drivers that are always willing to help. Once you unlock the bus system, the whole town becomes that much more accessible.
  • Get comfortable with not always knowing how to get places off the top of your head. Just like any new place, you will have to look up directions sometimes. It might be scary to not always know where you are, but very quickly you will get used to the campus and be able to navigate it mostly on your own.
  • Find a spot on campus that makes you feel good and keep going back. When exploring the campus, look for places where you feel comfortable, and use them as a home base. This can be a good space for you to study, rest between classes, or socialize with friends. Familiarizing yourself with one location can help the magnitude of the campus seem more manageable.
  • Make your residence hall or room feel extra cozy and safe. This is your home, and as such it should be a place where you want to hang out. As a first year, it was really important to me to make my residence hall comfortable, so that it was more than just a place where I slept, but also a place that I wanted to come home to after a long day. I hung up art and pictures, filled my bookshelf, and decorated my desk. Cultivating a space that makes you happy gives you at least one spot on a big campus that is your own, a spot that is familiar when you are still unfamiliar with so much.
  • Befriend people who live in different residence halls. Through my classes and various clubs I was a part of, I was able to befriend people who lived in residence halls that were different from mine. When visiting their residence halls, I was able to get to see it through the eyes of someone who lived there and knew it well. Having a friend there always made campus feel closer together and made the walk from one building to the next feel much shorter. 
  • Go to office hours and get to know your professors. This is something that I was afraid to do until recently. At the end of the day, though, your professors want to support you. Getting to know your professors and graduate student instructors (GSIs) can help make you feel seen and heard, which was important to me, because I worried that with attending a large school I would be invisible. Just remember that there are people out there who want to get to know you, there are people out there who see you.
  • Go to athletic events. I find it almost impossible to feel lonely when you’re surrounded by a crowd of people all rooting for the same goal, all filled with the same overwhelming team spirit. It helps build community, and makes a great activity for when you have some free time. I just recently went to my first women’s gymnastic meet, and I can’t believe that I’d waited until my third year to go – it was a blast!

UM gymnastics event
A photo from the gymnastics meet I attended, after Gabby Wilson scored a perfect 10.0 for her  floor routine.

The campus may be big, but that just means that it’s full of opportunities: people to meet, buildings to study in, restaurants to try, trees to hammock in, things to learn. With a little bit of effort, however, you can make a large campus feel small and cozy if you want to.

Ellie Younger

Ellie Younger is a sophomore in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and plans to study Biopsychology, Cognition and Neuroscience. Ellie volunteers with the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC) and is happy to have found her U-M community in the club Survivor Michigan, for which she is an HR executive. She loves hiking in her home state of Oregon, conversations about social justice, and good poetry.