All my life, I just knew I wanted to attend a small, Catholic university. I grew up in a small suburb, attended a Catholic grade school and high school, and knew my faith would be a key factor in my college decision-making process. When the time came to actually make this decision, however, my campus visits gave me a new perspective.
One spring day while I was a junior in high school, I visited a large public university to experience a true college town. I fell in love with the campus and the learning environment I felt the school could provide. For that and many other reasons, I chose a public university despite my past experiences and the path I thought my life would take.
As one might expect, adjusting to my new life wasn't as simple as moving all my things into the dorms. When I first got to school, I was nervous about how I would keep my faith close to my heart in such a large setting and around so many different types of people. Not everyone would believe what I believed or understand where I was coming from. What if I couldn't find people who shared my faith? What if I lost it?
Being one in a sea of (literally) thousands can be daunting. Being one who holds fast to religious beliefs in a public setting can be downright overwhelming. But faith and beliefs are made stronger when tested, and the larger university setting provided that for me. Faith and beliefs are also made stronger when you understand and value people from all different faiths and backgrounds. The larger university setting provided that for me as well, and ultimately, despite my initial fears, created a stronger, surer faith in me.
Attending a large school allowed me to meet new people who had grown up in different settings geographically, educationally, and religiously. It gave me the opportunity to expand my understanding of the common denominators in all religions and it provided me with a more widespread knowledge of believing something despite doubts. It gave me a chance to question things I had formerly been "told" to believe and to really seek out answers as to why I believed them myself.
And even in a place with so many different people with so many different pasts, I was able to find people who held beliefs similar to my own–and I found them more easily than I thought I would. In the same way I learned from others, I was able to share my beliefs and find other people who had priorities that aligned with my own.
Don't be afraid to be who you are or to speak your beliefs and keep them close to your heart, even in an environment that, at first glance, doesn't seem to hold them in the same light as you do. Oftentimes, especially as young people, insecurity causes people to not stay true to themselves out of a fear of being judged or being different. But it is only in being yourself and being different that you will find the people who you are meant to have in you life–and it is only in being yourself that you will continue to create the path you are meant to follow throughout (and beyond) your college years.