Why I Stayed at Hillsdale

Why I Stayed at Hillsdale

Written by Nolan Ryan

Hillsdale is the perfect fit for me. I know that sounds clichéd, but it’s true. I’m loving life here at the Dale, and I love the school that I’m calling home for four years. But I didn’t start out that way.

I visited Hillsdale for the second time during my senior year of high school. I had embraced the school’s pursuit of truth in all areas of life on my first visit. During my second visit, though, I stayed overnight in a dorm, and I was able to experience what dorm life looked like. I wandered the halls talking to students, observing late-night antics and going on a Taco Bell run with some guys. The people I met were welcoming, helpful, and lots of fun to talk with. But something felt like it was missing.

While I had an awesome time hanging with the people in the dorm, I had a sense that I didn’t quite fit into the community there. Rather than having a balance between academic studies and free time, several students talked only of classwork, while many others poured lots of time into after-class activities, parties, and the like. Was I quick to judge in the brief time I spent on campus? Maybe. But for the first time, I had doubts about whether I wanted to attend Hillsdale.

I struggled with deciding where to attend school. I loved the learning environment at Hillsdale, but I doubted whether I would fit in with the community. On the other hand, I didn’t think I would get as much out of the other colleges I was considering, yet their communities appealed to me. I realized that I valued a college’s community as much as its academics.

After much prayer, I decided to go with Hillsdale and give it a trial year. If I felt the choice was right after a year, I would stay. If it wasn’t right for me, I would try another place.

As a freshman, I was placed in a different dorm than the one I had visited. It only took a couple of days for me to realize that I had found my home. The guys in my dorm were just as awesome as the ones in the dorm I visited, but I realized I fit right in with the community now.

Everything fell into place for me on my second night. A guy on my hall mentioned that he had chosen Hillsdale because he was looking for serious academics and a fun atmosphere without too many crazy shenanigans. I had been thinking exactly what he was saying. Gradually, I realized lots of people felt the same way I did.

My dorm’s RAs and house director also maintained a good balance between work and play. We certainly had our share of crazy antics that year, and the RAs supported the craziness (provided it didn’t get too out of hand). But they exemplified Hillsdale’s dedication to helping one another learn self-government as we balance our intellectual and social demands.

This idea of being able to live virtuously while enjoying life and learning is the goal of our education here. Everything I wanted from college but couldn’t quite put my finger on was embodied in the culture I’d found. My doubts were relieved.

I can’t imagine so thoroughly enjoying and loving any school more than Hillsdale. Even through my doubts — and my craving for clarity and the ability to plan ahead — I learned to trust that God had a plan for where I would attend college. Now over two years in, and I’m still working on learning this lesson of dependence on God. I don’t have everything figured out. I don’t know everything that the next year at Hillsdale holds for me. But now I am able to stay calm and rest. Many of my fellow students are now my dearest friends, and they are wrestling with the same lesson.

I chose Hillsdale tentatively and with doubts. I’m staying at Hillsdale because I realize it’s not a bad thing that I don’t know everything. Here, we are able to use that to our advantage by driving ourselves to learn inside and outside the classroom every day in work and in play.


Nolan RyanNolan Ryan, ‘20, is an English major and journalism minor from northern Michigan. Mention theology, C.S. Lewis, or Broadway musicals to him if you want to have a long conversation on those topics. In the midst of his studies, he occasionally finds time to pursue his love of poetry, ’50s music, and good coffee.


Published in February 2019