Katie KOEPPL ’22 graduated from Ellis last spring ready to branch out and experience college life. Feeling excited and a bit nervous, she headed into her freshman year at The College of Wooster, a liberal arts college in Ohio. With her first year of college under her belt and studies in French and anthropology underway, she’s looking back at what she misses about Ellis, looking forward to all this summer has in store for her, and offering some advice for Ellis’ Class of 2023 as they prepare for their own first year at college.
When you graduated from Ellis last year, what were you most looking forward to about college?
I would say the thing I was most looking forward to was branching out a little bit and getting a lot more freedom. Ellis is obviously really small and that was okay for a time, but then as I got older I realized people are maturing and finding their own paths. I was most looking forward to the friendships I would make in college. The College of Wooster is also really small. It’s only undergraduates and it’s only about 2,000 students. I was excited to go from this small high school to a small college because I didn’t want to go to a huge research university. I thought I would benefit from a small place, but obviously there’s a lot more freedom to branch out and make different varieties of friends when you go to college.
What were you most nervous about?
I guess the transition between the high school and college workloads. I knew that college would be a lot of work but I wondered how that would compare to Ellis because Ellis is super rigorous. People always say, “oh, you get so much work in college but you have a lot of free time to do it,” but that is how it was for me in high school. I thought, “if I had so much work in high school, I’m going to be swamped during college.” So I was nervous, but I was still confident that I could adapt in some way. And I knew that people were coming from a variety of different places because Wooster is pretty diverse. We have a really high percentage of international students, and for some people, English is not their first language. People were coming from all these different educational backgrounds, so it was going to be the same workload for each of us no matter where our starting level was.
What turned out to be the most challenging thing about your freshman year? Was it the workload or was it something else entirely?
I think part of it was workload. I had a class, a required course for all freshmen called First Year Seminar, and it’s a writing intensive course. I thought, “This is going to be fun because Ellis taught me how to be a good writer and how to write good essays, so this is going to be okay.” But I got there and there were all these different essay writing terms that I had never heard before. It took me a little bit to adapt to that. I ended up doing well in the class but at first there was a lot of red pen on my papers. I thought, “Oh my gosh. Maybe I’m not as good at this as I thought.” But sometimes the red pen was actually a compliment! So when I got my first papers back it was a ton of red pen but a third of it was telling me I did something really well. So, the workload was a little intimidating at first, but I knew that I was well prepared for it and I could adapt eventually.
What turned out to be your favorite experiences from the past year?
Definitely friendships. I’m a humanities student, so with a lot of people in my classes, there’s a lot of diversity and differing opinions. I was also excited to just meet people from other places. I ended up also meeting a lot of kids from Pittsburgh because a lot of people at Wooster are from Pennsylvania, but I met people who had similar experiences to mine. There’s not a lot of high school drama or a lot of stuff to unpack with these people. I was excited for a fresh start. Not that I had any terrible experiences in high school, but a fresh start is always good for a person, and a lot of that came from the friends I made.
What are some clubs or activities you joined?
Wooster has a student-run radio station, Woo91. You have to sign up for a slot and you can go in there and do a podcast or just play music. They have a record player in there. I signed up for that because I thought that would be cool. I’m also technically part of the Sociology and Anthropology Club. I was not able to go to a lot of meetings this year, but I told myself I want to prioritize the meetings for next year since it’s my major. And then I’ve been to a lot of events hosted by the SGI, which is Sexuality and Gender Inclusion on campus, which is a resource for queer students. Those are the three main ones.
How did your Ellis experience help you prepare for college?
Mostly from a writing standpoint. I’ve always liked writing. I’ve always written stories and things. For my senior thesis I wrote a 30-page short fiction story and in that same class I was able to learn how to write essays and how to better get my ideas across. When I got to college the writing was a little different from how I learned it in high school. In high school you need an intro paragraph and a conclusion paragraph and then three body paragraphs, but I got to college and the directions were super broad. I was a little confused because the directions were so vague and I was like, “I have so much freedom. Who knew?” But I was able to adapt because Ellis, especially in late middle school and throughout high school, taught me how to be a better writer and I’m really grateful for that because I was able to bring those skills to a lot of classes I took this past year.
Also, how to get in touch with people for different opportunities. It helped having Mr. Bryner as a college counselor, teaching you that it’s ok to get help from teachers and professors. That’s one of the things that swayed me away from big research universities. I figured I wanted to go to a smaller college because I would have more time to connect with the professors like I did at Ellis, which I was really grateful for. I was able to spend a lot of time with each teacher and really get to know them and have them get to know me. I could talk to them about anything that’s happening in my life and I wanted to have the same relationship with professors in college. It taught me that it’s okay to reach out to people and ask for help.
What do you miss about Ellis?
I miss basketball! I miss sports. I’m not playing a sport right now in college. I played soccer and basketball for most of my life and I really liked it and was pretty good at it, but I figured if that’s not really my future, then I want to focus on things I didn’t get to do as much in high school, like theater. I was in the musical this semester as an ensemble member and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I was in a sport. It was a really great experience. Everyone was super welcoming and kind of let everyone join. That was a good experience because it wasn’t something I got to do a lot of in high school.
How was dorm life? That’s sometimes one of the biggest pieces that we don’t talk about.
I really lucked out this year. There was an orientation event last June and I met the girl who would eventually be my roommate. When we met at orientation we became friends and I was like, “I hope I see you again.” Then when I looked on the website, she turned out to be my roommate. It turned out to be a really lucky situation because it was a good way to ease myself into college. The other reason I lucked out was because she was really good with communication. We made an agreement at the beginning of the year that was just like, “if something happens to you or you’re sick, no matter how embarrassing it is, just tell me because I’ve got you.” I know a lot of kids might not be as lucky, and one friend of mine even had to move out because her roommate was just nuts. If that situation does occur, communication early on is so important. If you are living with someone, you have to not be afraid to tell them what’s on your mind. There’s going to be a lot less judgment than you initially think. If you communicate really clearly early on, it saves a lot of frustration and embarrassment.
Did anything stick out to you about coming from an all-girls school?
When you go to an all-girls school there’s not a ton of opportunities to have platonic male friendships, unless you go to a dance or you have a sibling or friend who goes to another school. When I was first looking at colleges my parents asked me if I wanted to go to a coed college or if I wanted to stick to a women’s college. I thought this was another way of branching out. When I got to college I thought, “Okay, I’m going to be in classes with men and it might be intimidating because I’ve gone to an all-girls school my whole life.” I hadn’t been in a coed educational environment since I was six years old. I thought it would be an interesting transition, but it wasn’t even a big deal. Two weeks in, it was something I didn’t even think about. When you get to college, people mature a lot, and there’s a lot less drama around gender stereotypes. There’s a lot of open discussion. I was in a sociology class this semester and we were talking about gender roles, and some men raised their hands saying, “We need to have gender equality and here’s how we can do that.” There’s a lot of respect.
What are your summer plans?
I’m leaving for Buenos Aires on Monday. It’s a study abroad documentary filmmaking program that’s run by the college. I’m going to Buenos Aires for about two weeks with five other students and a few professors and we’re going to do a documentary short film about tango. Last year they did a 15-minute short film about three disabled tango dancers and how some of them wanted to be in a national tango competition but there were some challenges around that. One of the dancers is a young woman who is in a wheelchair, and I think this year we are going to focus on a story that’s specific to her. I’m really excited. I’m getting all my paperwork and stuff together.
What will you do when you come back from Buenos Aires?
Last year I worked at WQED in Pittsburgh helping edit some videos and do some marketing for them. This year I'm going to be a paid intern. Now that I’ve graduated from the WQED Filmmaking Academy that highschoolers are in, I get a little more freedom and privileges to be a teaching assistant. It’s a little bit unclear what exactly I’m going to be doing at the moment, but I'm going to help run the program and help the students edit videos like I did last year. I really like filmmaking. I’d really gotten into it in high school and I have connections [at WQED] so I thought I would go back.
At this point, what do you think are your plans for your future career?
I want to study abroad, probably my junior year. My plan is to maybe go to France my junior year. If it goes well at WQED I’m hoping to do it next year and keep the connections there. Nothing terrible has happened yet, so I might plan on making a career there for myself! I’m probably going to declare my major next semester and I’m taking two anthropology classes next semester and one French class, and then I’m taking a philosophy course. I’m not a philosophy major but I’m going to try it. Also, I got a campus job this past semester and I’m not sure if it’s carrying over yet or if I have to reapply. There’s a movie theater in Wooster that they're renovating. One of my professors is the head of the board for this theater, and they’re trying to renovate the space into a theater/event center. My job was to help run the Instagram account for that place and to do a little bit of marketing and get ideas of what we can do to expand the project. I don’t know if it’s carrying over to next semester but my plan, if that works out, is to keep helping my professor with that theater renovation project. They’re hoping to have the theater fully renovated by early 2024.
Is there advice or experience you want to share with Ellis seniors?
Yes. At Wooster, there’s a dorm that’s called Luce Hall, which is the language dorm, and that’s where I’m living next year because I’m a French major. In order to live there you have to go through an application process and be serious about the language you’re studying. I know at Ellis, you have to take a language up to a certain point and then you can drop it, and in my class, a lot of people dropped it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you’re a person who’s interested in languages or even a certain subject in general, do research on the houses and the dorms at your college. Especially if you go to a liberal arts college, there will be houses on campus that have specific interests. There’s a house at Wooster called Women of Images. It’s not a sorority, but it’s a group that lives together that’s mostly women of color and they’ve formed a really tight-knit community. They live in a house together and plan activities around the theme. It’s more of a community thing, but if you look into what kind of organizations have different dorms and different houses, then you can apply to live there, and it can enhance your experience.