Making a Big School Feel Small

Ways to gain comfort and familiarity on campus.

By Annabelle Marenghi December 7, 2022
Making a Big School Feel Small

The first morning of my first year at the University of Michigan, I walked into an economics class the size of my entire high school.

Whether you come from a large high school or a tiny one, out of state or from Michigan, the 32,000+ undergraduate population at the University of Michigan likely feels daunting. Finding your place at a large university comes with time, but there are a couple steps you can take upon your arrival at the university to quickly feel more at home. You probably have heard some of the cliches: Talk to your professors often, go to office hours, join as many clubs as possible. These suggestions are all absolutely true. However, in my time at Michigan, I have already picked up on a few other tricks to finding comfort and familiarity. Here are two of the things that helped me the most in making U-M feel small.

First and foremost, be friendly. Ridiculously friendly. It may feel a bit uncomfortable, but asking to sit down at a stranger’s table for breakfast or starting silly conversations with the people next to you in class will make a world of a difference. Leave your dorm door open, knock on the ones next to you. Through brief first-year introductions in the South Quad dining hall line, I met two girls who ended up being in my class later on. Grateful for the familiar faces, we often studied together. Now as sophomores, we have all wound up in the same sorority! A conversation from last year’s biology class may resurface when that same person is president of the pre-med club you want to join. An approachable smile in the gym may turn into discovering a shared hometown. You will soon realize that this school is not nearly as large as it seems. And of course, not every person has to be your best friend, but making small connections with the people around you will provide countless benefits. Not only will you gain the comfort of familiar faces and more “hellos” on your walks to class, but establishing friendly relationships with a large web of people will serve you in unexpected ways.

The second most meaningful experience I found that made Michigan feel far less daunting was establishing my surroundings. Get to know this campus, and this town, front to back. Let yourself get lost. In the first few months of my first year, my roommate and I would try dining halls across the campus from our dorm. We would take walks through the Nichols Arboretum, or explore downtown Ann Arbor and beyond with friends on the weekends. (The Kerrytown farmer’s market on Saturday mornings is my absolute favorite.) By having a real awareness of your surroundings, both of the entire campus and the surrounding town of Ann Arbor, you will be less overwhelmed by the size. Ann Arbor is an absolutely magical college town, and the more comfortable and knowledgeable you feel with the area, the more this place will feel like home.

Establishing yourself in an undergraduate population of over 30,000 students is no casual feat. However, it takes only a few weeks, an open mind, and a few intentional actions for the University of Michigan to be familiar, manageable, and dare I say it… small.

Annabelle Marenghi

Annabelle Marenghi is a sophomore in the College of Literature, Arts, and Sciences, pursuing a major in English and a minor in entrepreneurship. She is from San Diego, California. At school, Annabelle is involved in her sorority and several of the outdoors clubs at the University of Michigan. She loves to travel, and is planning to study abroad for the 2023-2024 academic year. In her free time, you can find Annabelle surfing, cooking, or hiking with her dog.