By Stephen Edwards
In a few short weeks, the class of 2014 will be walking across the stage at graduation, accepting their diplomas, and taking the first awkward steps into adult life. As a student about to take the semi-self-annihilating dive into law school, that last part scares me a great deal. One of the ways that I cool my anxiety about finding a job later in life is reflecting on how good my Furman education has been. As a student who transferred to Furman from a big state school after freshman year, I can attest to the quality of the schooling we get here. While sweating under the pressure of the rigorous academics here at Furman, many students look longingly at their friends who went to state schools, where football is big and the beer flows like water. Those students should take a step back and realize the many benefits of coming to a place like Furman.
One of the stereotypical talking points associated with small liberal arts schools is the benefit of small class sizes and individual attention from professors. This is something that we as Furman students can easily take for granted since we go to a school that makes good on that promise. Until you have had it the other way, it is hard to appreciate just how great small classes are. At the University of Tennessee, many of my classes had over 50 students in them. These classes met in auditoriums, and the professor stood at the distant front of the room attempting to speak to everyone, sometimes with the aid of a microphone. Discussion was a non-option in such a setting so the material for these classes had to be condensed in a manner that would not confuse anyone. If you were one of the people who were still confused, you could either wave your hand frantically to get the instructor’s attention from 50 yards away while aggravating your classmates who just wanted the lecture to end, or speak to a graduate student teaching assistant after class. Freshman year at Furman is much different. We attend seminars with ten or so of our peers, where discussion is essential and the professor is available to guide our thoughts. A 50-person class is unheard of at Furman, and that is a blessing.
At state schools, students are allowed to live off-campus, and have a variety of housing options to choose from. This situation sounds like heaven to Furman students (especially if you are one of the unfortunate 150 juniors in the dorms this time around, God rest your soul) but it is really not all it’s cracked up to be. The effect of everybody living off-campus is stratification: students go to campus to attend classes and afterward immediately return to the small circle of friends at their respective apartment complexes. The seeming benefits of a huge student body are lost in this process. It does not matter if you have 20,000 classmates if you drive back to your apartment immediately after class and never see any of them. By contrast, Furman achieves a real sense of community by keeping everyone on campus. You run into people you normally would not meet and have experiences you would not expect to engage in when the majority of the student body are your neighbors.
We all have our gripes about Furman. Indeed, it seems like Yik Yak exists only so that Furman students can whine about how miserable they are. If not now, perhaps in the years after graduation we will realize what a great education we have earned here at Furman. Hopefully that realization will come in the form of job offers obtained by transcending the pool of state school applicants with our fancy, expensive Furman degrees.
One can only hope.