Editor’s note: Michele was the winner of the Seton 2014 Christmas competition. You can read her entry here.
When I graduated from Seton in May, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the road ahead. I had known only Seton in all of my years of schooling, and transitioning to Florida International University, a very large and very secular university, seemed daunting.
FIU was the most convenient university for me to attend—the school is very close by where I live so I would not have to leave my family, I received a full scholarship, and it was the only college in Florida that had my desired major. The downside was that it is definitely—and I mean definitely—not Catholic at all.
The transition proved to be easier than expected. As I finish my first semester, I find myself feeling more organized, more connected, and even more confident in fighting for my Faith than ever before.
In the course of my transition, I have learned a few skills that I hope will be valuable to all college students, previously homeschooled or not. I have also found myself debunking quite a few homeschooling myths along the way.
In the following sections, I will talk about a few strategies that worked for me, in the hope that I can help you get the most out of your college experience, even in a secular setting.
1. Make Yourself Known
The first skill that I had to acquire coming into the college experience was the skill of making myself known; that is, making sure to develop a more personal relationship with my professors.
This seems to have been easier for me than for others—I’ve even been called an “overachiever” by traditionally-schooled acquaintances I’ve made, simply because I like to sit in the front of the class and ask questions.
In my experience, professors like it when you go to their office hours, ask questions, or just show an interest in the subject in general. Hiding in the background, whether you are doing well or not, will not let them know that you are really interested in what they have to say. Too many of my peers don’t show their interest in achieving even a passing grade, and even more of them disrespect professors outright.
My ease in talking to adults was a major advantage of homeschooling. Since most social experiences during my homeschool years consisted of talking to people of many different age groups, including adults, I already knew how to talk to people besides those of my own age.
I played a little game with the minds of my peers and professors at the beginning of the semester: I didn’t tell them that I had been homeschooled. Of course, at least in my very large university, most people don’t even care where you went to high school anymore. It’s almost like you have a clean slate to start over on. Because of that, no one ever asked. But when they did…
“You were homeschooled?”—and in a very secretive stage whisper, implying that I could bare my deepest insecurities and doubts—“Did you like it?”
“Yes,” I always answer, truthfully—and, gritting my teeth, I steel myself for the inevitable next question:
“Did you have a prom?”
They are always surprised when I tell them I had two proms, with two different local homeschool groups. Perhaps it is their first time being confronted head-on by the fact that the myth about “socialization” is simply not true.
If the students are surprised, the professors are even more. Before they knew about my educational background, they were surprised at the respect I showed them and my efforts to seek their advice, which they were very happy to give. Then they asked.
One professor, in particular, was very surprised and asked many questions about homeschooling. The fact that I had already shown myself to be socially adept and educationally advanced opened up her mind to the idea of homeschooling as an effective form of education.
The point of all this is to say: just be yourself and show your enthusiasm for your education. In addition to helping you get the most of your college experience, this strategy can help prove to professors and peers that we homeschoolers are well-equipped to handle the educational and social components of college.
2. Keeping a Schedule
One of the hardest aspects for many of us is probably the fact that there are many deadlines to keep. In my experience, the worst kind of assignment is the one that doesn’t count for much and doesn’t take much effort.
The temptation is to leave it until the night before it’s due. It won’t take that long, will it? The thing is, you don’t really know until you start exactly how long that assignment is going to take.
Also, these little assignments add up; and what seemed like a little work here, a little work there is now a night of bleary-eyed, feverish hurry as your brain jumps from one “little” thing to the other in an effort to finish them all—and most probably, none of them will be the kind of quality that you can produce at your best.
The most effective way I’ve found to avoid this is to take care of assignments the day they’re assigned. I actually somehow fool my brain into thinking that it’s due that same day. When I’m done, there’s an indescribable relief—the deadline is not until much later, but the assignment is already done. If your school requires you to submit assignments online, you can even submit it right away and be completely done.
The other key is to just produce. I learned pretty quickly that I had to produce work at a much faster rate than ever before. I’m quite a perfectionist, so this was a big hurdle for me to jump. I wanted everything to be perfect on the first try, and with the time I have, that is simply not possible.
My solution to this was to avoid over-thinking the assignments. However, this is a habit that should not wait until college! Developing it earlier would have helped me immensely in high school, but I realize now that it is much more effective to add quality to my work after it’s already on the page.
I think one of the other misconceptions about homeschooling is the assumption that we never had any deadlines or assignments before, and that we wouldn’t know how to deal with deadlines. However, when my peers and professors found out I was homeschooled, I think the question was very far from their minds—I had already proven myself.
Even though it might be a big transition from all the freedom we had with homeschooling, it can be manageable with a few changes of habit.
3. Keeping Your Faith
Last, but most importantly, we need to keep the strong Catholic education that was imparted to us by Seton. This would definitely be easier in a strong Catholic university, but even in a secular setting, it can be done. Since I knew I would be going to a secular college, I prepared myself to answer theological or philosophical questions. However, I haven’t yet been in a situation where I would have to use logical arguments—most “arguments” nowadays consist of bathos and moral relativism. I think that the most effective thing to do at this point in my life is to evangelize by example.
First, it is always a good idea to seek out other Catholics, as it can be comforting to know that you are not alone. I joined the Catholic campus ministry at FIU. The group has Masses and Confession on campus every week, formation talks, retreats, and Catholic volunteering opportunities. Overall, I found it to be a very solid group.
Secondly, it is important to understand that being holy means being consecrated or set apart. I try not to spend any time trying to fit in—wanting to be like everyone else and doing what they do would make it easier to fall to temptations. As Catholics, we are called to be different from everyone else. It needs to be apparent in the way we speak, the way we dress, the friends we have, and what we hold to be absolutely true no matter what the world says.
4. Advantages of a Seton Education
I believe that I made the transition more smoothly than expected because of the many advantages Seton (and Catholic homeschooling in general) have given me.
The independence that is expected of college students seems to have boggled the minds of my institutionalized classmates, and they spend their time asserting their “freedom” by doing all the wrong things. Homeschooling gave me independence from the start—the freedom to choose to do the right and responsible thing.
It also gave me a strong family bond in a setting where many of my peers are trying to break free from the influence of their parents.
Homeschooling also gave me the ability to think outside the box. My heart aches when I hear my classmates stating that they are trying to “find themselves” in college, all the while trying too hard to fit in with everyone else.
Homeschooling by its nature can give us the courage to stand out, to be unique, to not follow the status quo, and to not put on a mask to fit in. Thinking outside the box also gives an advantage when it comes to projects or assignments.
Another advantage that homeschooling gave me was the time to pursue my interests. This is not only an advantage when choosing a career that you are truly interested in, but this also helped me right away. For example, one of my projects was to create a video with a group.
Since I had spent some of my time editing and filming videos with my sister in my free time while homeschooling, I was confident that I would be able to film the group’s videos and audio, compile them, add music, and edit them together.
The most important advantage was Seton’s rigorous curriculum. The coursework that I had with Seton was much more intellectually stimulating than what I am doing now.
Not only is the rigor advantageous, but so is the vast wealth of background knowledge that I’ve acquired from having used Seton all my life. For example, in my first-level English class, were told to analyze a paper for word choice and poetic devices.
I immediately channeled all of the knowledge I had from the Seton poetry and English tests, and I wrote two pages about the alliteration, assonance, word order and connotation in the passage.
Then we were told to pass the paper to another person for them to review. I hadn’t expected that (I was hoping to have it be seen only by the professor). After furrowing her eyebrows thoughtfully, laboriously reading my two pages of verbosity, my peer reviewer looked up and said slowly, “You sound really smart.” I thought to myself, “Thanks, Seton!”
Another “Thanks, Seton!” moment occurred in that same class, where the professor asked a question about an Emerson essay, and I was able to express, thanks to Seton’s American Literature course, the flawed viewpoint of the Transcendentalists. That sparked a dialogue between the professor and me while the other students asked what we were talking about.
There have been many other “Thanks, Seton!” moments throughout my first semester, and I am so grateful for the existence of this rigorous Catholic curriculum. Seton has equipped me to succeed academically, grow spiritually, and fight for the truth.
I believe that all of us Seton students will be able to go out into the world and bring more souls to Christ by our example—and combining this with the intellectual rigor Seton has given to us, we can truly make the most of not only our educational paths but the rest of our lives.
When we continue the legacy of strong Catholic homeschooling that we have been given, we have a powerful ability to influence the next generation.
Everywhere we go, Catholic homeschoolers can truly be the light in the shadows of our dark and muddled world.