Westchester is an educated county: we have more than 30 post-secondary institutions that attract students for everything from liberal arts to nursing to rabbinical studies. According to the Westchester County Department of Planning, our county houses 68,400 students. But why? We asked. We rounded up six local students, who come from as far as the other side of the world and as close as the other side of the street, and asked why they all wanted to come to school in Westchester.
Name: Maria Liberatore
Major: Speech/Language Pathology
Activities: Gaels Activities Board, Speech and Hearing Club, Edmund Rice Society
Why did you choose Iona? Iona is close to home, and I wanted to stay home. It also has my major—speech and language pathology—which not every school has. I wanted to go to school in Westchester because eventually I want to work here.
How do you think your college experience differs from those who aren’t going to school in Westchester? Some people think that commuters just get on campus, go to their classes, and leave, but I’m very involved on campus, so I’ve made more connections. That might be different for other commuters.
What’s it like living at home? There are some disadvantages. I’m still under my parents’ rules. I have to call them when I get somewhere and call them if I’m going to be late, and they’re always checking up on me. On the other hand, it’s kind of my escape. I do all of my school stuff at school, and when I get home it’s mostly relaxing. Plus, I love being with my family. My grandparents are getting older and my little cousins are growing up, so it’s great that I am not missing out on anything.
What’s the best—and worst—thing about your college experience so far? The best thing is that I’ve gotten to meet many different people here. In high school, everybody came from the same background and knew all of the same people. Now, I’m getting to know people from other parts of the state, other parts of the country, and even other coun tries. I didn’t limit myself to just other commuters. The worst thing is that sometimes it’s hard to balance out involvements, social time, and work. You can wind up putting yourself and your schoolwork last.
What is academic life like on campus? The workload is pretty heavy. If you start missing classes and don’t keep on top of your assignments, you’ll be in trouble. But professors are always willing to help and they’re really approachable.
What is your social life like on campus? I’m part of the activities board, so I know we have something going on all the time—concerts, comedians, events. Sometimes students just hang out in TV rooms, computer labs, the Starbucks on campus, or the gym. Sometimes we go out in New Rochelle—we had a night of movies on the lawn with the College of New Rochelle and Monroe College—and we’ve organized trips into the city to see Broadway plays.
What surprised you most about college life? You do a lot of growing up in college because you’re responsible for yourself.
What would you like to do after graduation? Go to grad school for speech and language pathology, and then work with children as a speech and language pathologist. I would like to stay in Westchester for grad school to build local connections.
Name: Shan Huang
Hometown: Zhongshan, China (“But I moved to Brooklyn in 2002”)
Why did you choose Purchase College? Because of the film conservatory.
How does Westchester differ from your hometown? It’s very different. I lived in a city in China, so there were more people. People’s attitudes were very different. They were much warmer in China. But it’s a hard question because I grew up there, so I’m kind of a foreigner here.
How do you think your college experience differs from those who aren’t going to school in Westchester? Here, you can pretty much create your own space. You’re free to study what you want. Your professors are not as controlling or as dogmatic as they could be in other places.
What’s the best and worst thing about your college experience so far? Purchase is pretty liberal, which I think is a good thing. The worst thing has been the school’s finances. There’s less money for scholarships and for film equipment.
What is your dorm room like? It’s pretty convenient. I live in a dorm for upperclassmen and international students. It’s apartment-style. Everybody has a single, but I share a kitchen and bathroom with three other people. There’s laundry in the building, so it’s very convenient.
What is your social life like on campus? If you want to be sociable, you can have a social life. We go to concerts and things like that fairly often at the Performing Arts Center on campus.
What surprised you most about college life? In Purchase I can say what I want and not worry about what people will think of me.
Where do you go for good Chinese food? You probably can’t find it in Westchester. The Chinese restaurants here really target Americans. I’d say you should cook for yourself. Otherwise, go to Chinatown or Flushing.
What would you like to do after graduation? Get into a graduate school and study photography for two more years.
Name: Julian Morris
Activities: Crew, Squash, Swing Dance, Capoeira
Why did you choose Sarah Lawrence College? I met Sarah Lawrence’s head of international students in Botswana at a collge fair. She really took a lot of time to talk to me about the college. I only applied to Sarah Lawrence.
How does Westchester differ from your hometown? There’s no comparison. The most striking thing is how much easier it is to get around. You can walk to most places. Everything in Botswana is really spread out, so you wind up driving to everything. I lived in the biggest city in Botswana, but it’s small compared to here. It’s only about four-hundred-thousand people, but to me that always felt big. Everything here seems more expansive. You have access to Bronxville, or Yonkers, or the city through buses and trains. There’s much more accessibility to everything.
How do you think your college experience differs from those who aren’t going to school in Westchester? I’d say half the people I know who came abroad came to the United States and Canada, and no two of them ended up at the same place. There’s just a wide range of experiences out there. One difference is that Sarah Lawrence doesn’t have majors. You have to get a minimum number of credits in certain subject areas, so the college actually steers you away from focusing on any one thing. Also, you have to meet with your advisor once every two weeks, just to talk about what’s going on in your classes. And every semester, you have to organize some kind of independent study with your professor, whether it’s writing a paper, or creating a piece of art, or choreographing a dance. You really get a lot of personal input.
What is academic life like on campus? Sarah Lawrence doesn’t have exams. No exams mean that you can bluff your way through a class. But you get out of your classes what you put into them. You’re learning to take advantage of a class, not striving to do well on a test.
What is your social life like on campus? Pretty good. Theater is really big here, and there is a weekly theater show. Believe it or not, I met the most people eating in the dining hall my freshman year. I met some people through rowing crew, a couple through squash, and some people in classes, but I probably met as many as that all combined just eating in the dining hall.
What is your dorm room like? My freshman year I lived in a townhouse with thirteen others. Now I live in a small house on campus with five other people. I have my own room.
What surprised you most about college life? Probably all of the speeches and warnings about safety on campus, and all of the fire-safety rules. I’ve not had that before. All of the rules about what kinds of extension cords we can use and not burning candles or having Christmas lights in the room. That was all very weird to me.
What would you like to do after graduation? I don’t know, but I might move to Europe and possibly pursue architecture or industrial design.
Name: Keisha Roberts
Hometown: Pinole, CA
Major: International Management
Activities: Kappa Iota Nu (a business fraternity)
Why did you choose Pace University? I came here because the nursing program is good and I was interested in nursing. Then I switched my major.
How does Westchester differ from your hometown? It’s not very different. Pinole is in Northern California, close to the shore, but it’s a small, suburban community just like Westchester. It kind of feels like home.
How do you think your college experience differs from those who aren’t going to school in Westchester? It’s less congested, so there’s fewer distractions than in other places. It’s also very scenic here. It gives you the opportunity to be free and independent and do all your work.
What’s the worst thing? The food here. I heard from one of the employees that everything in the cafeteria basically comes from a box. There’s no nutritional value; nothing is fresh. Pace should link up with one of the farmers’ markets around here to bring us some fresh produce.
What is your dorm room like? It’s okay. I have a roommate. The rooms in Pleasantville are smaller compared to the rooms on the Briarcliff campus. It’s a little bit annoying.
What is academic life like on campus? It’s tough. I’m trying to get into the business honors program. Recently, Pace told its professors to start taking RateMyProfessors.com very seriously, so they’ve all been kicking it into overdrive. They’ve been very nice lately.
What is your social life like on campus? Everyone has their own clique. The basketball players stay with the basketball players, the volleyball players stay with volleyball players, the fraternities stay together. It would be nice to have a social life, but I don’t mind putting that aside for now.
Does that make you feel lonely or homesick? Not at all. I managed to unpack my bags and feel right at home.
What would you like to do after graduation? Either work for one of my favorite fashion designers or launch my own clothing line.
Name: Trent Anderson
Hometown: Seward, AK
Minor: Legal Studies
Activities: Theater, Volunteering
Why did you choose Manhattanville? I’d always wanted to come to New York because I’m interested in theater. But I’ve lived in small towns my whole life—Seward has about three thousand residents, and I graduated with fifty-seven students out of a school of around two-hundred-fifty—so I didn’t want to jump into the big city right away. Then I heard from a friend whose cousin went here about Westchester, and I heard about Manhattanville. The school had all of the programs I wanted. I applied before I had the chance to visit.
How does Westchester differ from your hometown? Even without New York City, we have White Plains next door. My hometown is very, very isolated. White Plains is similar because it’s a small community, but there’s a greater interest in the arts, which is nice for me because I’m a theater major.
How do you think your college experience differs from others? Our president, Richard Berman, knows every single student by name. I know that’s not at all usual.
What is your dorm room like? I live in the President’s Cottage—they opened up some rooms there for students. It’s in a quieter part of campus, but I have a bigger closet than most dorm rooms and a nicer bathroom.
What is social life like on campus? This semester has been so busy that I haven’t had a chance to go off campus in a while.
What surprised you most about college life? I am almost never bored.
When the election happened, and Sarah Palin was picked as a VP candidate, did everybody look to you as a representative of Alaska? Absolutely. People were always asking me about Alaska and cracking jokes about her. When I first came here, I would get questions like, ‘Do you live in an igloo?’ or ‘Are you an Eskimo?’ During the election, people were finally asking me actual questions about Alaska.
What would you like to do after graduation? I’d like to stay involved in theater, but I’m not sure I want to be an actor. I might want to go to law school. I want to stay in New York, but I don’t think I’d like living in the city. I like the situation I have now.
Name: Rachael Alden
Activities: Honors Program, Math Tutoring, Student Special Events Committee, Volleyball
Why did you choose Mercy College? Because of its small classes. The biggest class I’ve had had forty students. It’s also close to home—I live one stoplight away from Mercy—so it’s easy for me to live at home and commute. When it’s nice out, I walk to school.
How do you think your college experience differs from those who aren’t going to school in Westchester? I went away at first, to SUNY Buffalo, so I know how it’s different. Here, I feel comfortable. I’m someone to the administration—I’m not just a number. In Buffalo, I was in these big, impersonal lectures.
How is it living at home with your parents? I went away, so my parents understand that I need freedom. They also push me to do better. I graduated high school early, and it’s partially because of them—they really pushed me hard because they knew my potential. They’re a huge motivator for me.
What is academic life like on campus? It can be stressful. I’m an on-campus tutor for math, so I know about the tutoring services on campus, so I know exactly where to go for help.
What is your social life like on campus? It is a small school, so we really are close, but I really don’t have an on-campus social life.
What surprised you most about college life? People come from all over the world to go to Mercy, and I live right down the block! That’s definitely different from the way it was in high school.
What would you like to do after graduation? Go to med school. I’d like to either stay in the area or go to Long Island. It would be really convenient to be able to commute.
Photography by Chris Ware