Anecdote time!

I had the high school resume to get into highly selective universities. For financial reasons, I instead went to my flagship state university. I expected the big fish in small pond effect to play to my advantage, and I did develop a reputation as "(one of) the smartest student(s) in the room" (which I'll at least admit was a boon to my romantic desirability), but the most salient result was extreme loneliness. I wasn't able to find many people I could have stimulating conversation with, and while I did make a few friends, none of them shared my degree of passion for intellectual subjects. This summer I've been at Hacker School, which I think is a correctly-sized pond for me, but the damage to my mood and social expectations from three years of being stuck in too small a pond has definitely impeded my ability to make friends and feel socially engaged. As of right now I'm attempting to find a job as a software developer so I can drop out of college in relative security, because college is that intolerable and I think I have a much better chance of finding more correctly-sized ponds on this path. (Transferring to a more selective university is still not a financial burden I'm willing to accept.)

I guess the takeaway here might be: while a small pond of the right size can have its advantages, larger ponds are much more likely to help you grow more, and ponds that are too small can be absolutely crushing. If finding a smaller pond consists of moving away from your current large pond, be extremely careful that it's not too small.


Catharsis Warning:

I made a similar trade-off, and was surprised by the social and academic downsides. I took a full-ride to a large party-school in a small town. I've tried really hard to fit in, but I've either failed to be socially accepted, or been socially accepted but failed to self-modify enough to enjoy it. It feels like crap to suck at making friends in an environment that's explicitly optimized for making friends.

I do great one-on-one over coffee, (which I think is why I've been fairly successful romantically), but there's little social oxygen le... (read more)

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2CronoDAS7yI also went to a state university (Rutgers). I was in an Honors program (in engineering) with plenty of other smart students, but I was still often one of the best academically in the room. I didn't feel much of a "small pond" effect there; when I drifted away from the friends I made in my first year, it was for other reasons.

More "Stupid" Questions

by NancyLebovitz 1 min read31st Jul 2013498 comments


This is a thread where people can ask questions that they would ordinarily feel embarrassed for not knowing the answer to. The previous "stupid" questions thread went to over 800 comments in two and a half weeks, so I think it's time for a new one.