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International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

What is College Really Like at a Public University in the United States?

Clara Mello (right), WIS Class of 2021, and her friend on game day at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). (Courtesy of Clara Mello)

Alumna Clara Mello, WIS Class of 2021, is a freshman at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). Mello was Dateline’s Illustrator during her senior year of high school.

So far, Mello has had a positive experience apart from some adjusting to a lack of cleanliness. “On my first night when I tried to take a shower, the water came out brown,” she said.

Mello enjoys the independence of college. “Moving out is the hardest part, but also the most fun part because you have so much independence, you really go by your own schedule and not anybody else’s,” she said. “You don’t depend as much on what teachers do or the pace that your peers go at.” 

Mello also changed her major. “It’s very natural to change,” she said. At least 80% of college students change their majors at least once according to Frank, a college resources organization.

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In high school, Mello was interested in criminology but UNC didn’t offer it so she chose to major in Peace, War, and Defense. The unique major “provide[s] undergraduates with a range of approaches to the fundamental issues of human conflict and national and global security and defense,” according to the UNC website.

“I just figured that that would be the closest thing [to criminology] and it seemed really interesting to me. It’s also a UNC-specific major so I just thought that was cool,” she said. 

Later, Mello realized that its focus wasn’t what she expected it to be. “Peace War and Defense is not very peace centered, it’s more war and defense centered and that’s not really what I wanted,” she said. 

She changed her intended major to media and journalism after learning that UNC has the 17th best journalism and communications school in the United States according to College Factual. 

Mello also plans to minor in studio art and Spanish. “My advice is to look into different things,” she said.

Because UNC is such a big school,  Mello has had many academic opportunities. However, going from WIS, with around 60 students per grade, to UNC, with around 4780, has been a drastic change. “[Campus] is definitely huge and I feel like I’ve met so many people, but at the same time, it’s only [a small portion] of my grade,” she said.

Although Mello expected to have a hard time making friends, however, she made many off the bat because everybody around her was also trying to meet people. “Maybe it’s part of the southern charm, but everybody’s very friendly so it’s been really easy to make friends,” she said. “It makes it feel like a small school.”

Although it was a big transition, Mello likes that there’s always something going on on campus. “There’s always some club bringing puppies or goats to campus or whatever else, so that’s fun,” Mello said.

Rameses Junior, a goat brought onto the campus of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) to cheer students up around midterm season. UNC’s mascot is a ram named Rameses. (Courtesy of Clara Mello)

Mello also enjoyed stepping out of WIS and D.C.’s “bubble” where she felt she rarely interacted with people who had different beliefs than her. “Big college schools will have lots of different people with very different perspectives in terms of political views,” she said. “Although it’s nice to feel understood by the people around you, I think UNC has made me grow up a lot faster than at WIS because I have to socialize with people who don’t believe in the same things as me, and understand that that’s normal.”

Mello heard that being in a sorority and the recruitment process itself is a good way to further expand her social sphere. “I decided to try out being in a sorority,” she said. “There was one where I liked the girls, and I wanted to try for a week and if I didn’t like it I would just drop it.” 

Clara Mello (left), WIS Class of 2021, and her friend on bid day at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Bid day is the last day of sorority recruitment when potential new members receive bids to join chapters and become new members. (Courtesy of Clara Mello)

Although she is not as involved as a lot of other girls, she’s made a lot of friends, especially at the sorority house where she goes for meals. 

“It’s just organized fun and what I like is that you can decide how involved you want to be,” Mello said.

Also, logistically, the sorority includes a meal plan which is cheaper than UNC’s meal plan. “That was the main appeal for me in the beginning,” she said. 

Nonetheless, Mello spends the most money on food. “Even with a meal plan I’m just always running out of food in my dorm,” she said. She mostly eats pasta or sandwiches because they are easy to prepare. 

There are many stereotypes about college and Mello thinks that UNC plays into them. “When you think college campus, that’s exactly what we look like, so sometimes when I go with my friends, we look around, and we’re like ‘Oh, my god, this is a movie,’” Mello said. 

She also thinks that the Greek life at UNC plays into those stereotypes. “You always see sorority girls and frat guys as being terrible people, and very superficial and that’s what I was scared of… There’s a lot of people like that, to be honest,” Mello said. However, she feels that UNC is big enough that she can choose who to be friends with and she chooses not to be friends with people who embody the negative stereotypes.

One of her closest friends is alumnus Fabrice Gray, WIS Class of 2020, who attends UNC. She urges WIS students to reach out to alumni at schools they’re applying to or get into. “[Gray] has literally answered every single one of my questions and my experience would definitely be very different without him,” Mello said.

Clara Mello (left), WIS Class of 2021, and Fabrice Gray, WIS Class of 2020, at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Courtesy of Clara Mello)

Mello and Gray miss WIS a lot. “WIS raises great students and I think that we don’t really realize that when we’re there and when you leave, you’re going to miss it,” she said.

Mello notes that at WIS, many people love to complain about the school. However, she thinks that her experience at WIS made managing classes in college much easier. “Really take advantage of it because it does such a great job of preparing students,” she said.

She also said that her experience in the IB improved her transition to college because she got used to a large workload. “It makes managing classes here so much easier,” she said. “We’re used to writing very long essays, and here, people are just starting to get used to that.”

Mello appreciated that WIS allowed her to hear and talk about different backgrounds and experiences. “Here, it’s a different environment… people are just starting to get used to ‘Oh, we don’t come from the same place’ so I feel at an advantage that I went through that in high school, ” she said. “I feel more worldly.”

Mello had great connections with all of her teachers at WIS. “I feel like it was a very individualized experience because you’re able to tell your teachers what you need, like an extension,” she said.

Consequently, since Mello depended a lot on teachers catering to her needs at WIS, it has been hard to transition out of that and be self-reliant. “I have great professors, but I can’t really rely on them to cater to every individual need that I have so that’s been different, but I think it’s good because I feel like it’s more like the real world, rather than WIS which is a smaller bubble,” she said.

Mello thinks that WIS needs to “draw a line” because in college and in a career, one can’t necessarily be dependent on others. “Training us to think in a more professional way earlier on would have helped, but again, it was nice when I had it back then,” Mello said.

Mello offers advice to WIS students. “Take advantage of WIS because it’s such a special little place,” she said.

Get ready for the next article in which International Dateline reveals what college is really like abroad.

By Zoe Hällström

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Zoe Hällström
Zoe Hällström, Managing Editor

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