Now that you’ve had a good 3 months to explore the Learning Laboratory for Illinois’ Best and Brightest™, you may be getting a hang of the school lifestyle. But whether you’re second guessing your decision to come here or you’re perfectly comfortable with life at the academy, arm yourself with this disclaimer. Your time at IMSA will not line up with the notions you had before attending. If you’ve realized this already, great. If you haven’t, let’s debunk some common myths.
- When you arrive, you will be told IMSA is like no other high school. After the 6565th time hearing this, presumably followed by the 6565th reiteration of IMSA’s mission statement, please rid yourself of this illusion. Yes, IMSA is probably different in the sense that it’s a boarding school. At the same time, you’ll find some teachers that you don’t like and teachers that you love. You’ll complain about the cafeteria food, study for APs, and put off doing your problem sets. You’ll make some good friends and some bad ones. IMSA is no utopia.
- You will be homesick. In my case, at home I didn’t have to vacuum or do my own laundry or, for that matter, any other chores. But that sounds selfish, so I’ll also say that I missed my family. Especially if you are coming from downstate, IMSA might not be able to compensate for your home life.
- Contrary to what your parents may believe, sending you to IMSA is not a sign of complete independence. There are probably more rules here than at your old school. Of course, you’re freer to roam around without your parents constantly interrogating you about your latest grades, but the academy approaches residential life conservatively. Among other things, this means no more late night walks, venturing outside the bounds of Sullivan Road, or tree climbing.
- Being a small school, you might have assumed IMSA would be a tight-knit, welcoming community. But like anywhere else, you won’t find your niche right away. When I asked a classmate about who she thought the average IMSA student was, she said that they were “someone who has a small group of extremely close friends, and spends most of their time with [them] without making an active effort to make friends outside of that group.” Even when you do find that group, you might become rather out of touch with family and friends back home or elsewhere- which can be regretful once you return.
- So you’ve made it through the last few steps, huh? Don’t forget to get your 9.25 hours of sleep! It’s hard to sleep when you’re surrounded by hundreds of students who are worried about everything from academics to relationships to stolen orange juice and beyond. It’s true, then, that the presence of all your classmates can work as a multiplier effect on stress. But at the same time, there are arguably better resources- a friend network and counselors- who will help you survive the toughest times.
- With the Best and Brightest™ all around, you might grow a sense of inferiority at IMSA. For many of us, this is the first place we are no longer at the top of our class. You may have trouble asking more questions in class, when material would come easily to you in the past. You may become envious, angry, or disappointed when you see your classmates succeed at grasping the same concepts you’re struggling with. It’s okay, it happens all the time, and it means you’re going to have to rely on others to better yourself.
- Likewise, a smaller student body means you’ll have met everyone on campus during your time here. That one guy at your old school who used to stare at you in the hallway? You have to see him every day at 10 check. Or how about the girl who loves to gossip about others but can’t acknowledge her own flaws? She’s in 5 of your classes. It’s a small school, so expect a lot more interactions with everyone here – both good and bad.
There is a lot to be intimidated about when you’re considering your acceptance to IMSA. Expect a lot, but don’t approach your sophomore year thinking IMSA will check off everything you’re looking for in a STEM school. Like with anywhere, your career here will have its problems: rules, grades, social life. Ultimately, it’s the choices you make that dictate your experience here. Did poorly on a test? See your teachers outside of class and go to study sessions. Don’t like your roommate? Pick a new one for next year. With all that being said – Welcome to IMSA!