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Once most teenagers hit high school, they quickly grow used to hearing advice about college. "Find out what majors you're interested in"; "Think about where you want to live" and "Research different schools" are among the most common phrases thrown at us. As teens get older, it becomes increasingly important to visit the colleges that are of top interest to them. Fortunately for me, I had the privilege of spending much of this past July attending a precollege program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

The school is located in the middle of Manhattan. As its name suggests, it is an art school, supporting majors such as fine arts, graphic design, animation, photography and the like. A friend who heard I was interested in New York City informed me of this school, and after doing some research on it, I discovered it offered a three-week summer program to high school students.

My parents agreed it would be a good opportunity to experience college, decide if I definitely wanted to go into art, and find out if I truly liked living in New York City (not to mention it was also worth three college credits).

One of the first things I was introduced to upon arriving at the School of Visual Arts was dorm life. The building that I stayed in consisted of apartment-style suites, made up of three bedrooms (two people to a room), two bathrooms and a kitchen. I learned quickly that it is hard to keep a dorm with five other people clean and organized.

In the dorm, I had to be responsible for myself. I had to wake up on my own each morning rather than have my mother drag me out of bed, and I was the only person who could wash my dishes and clothes. I had to buy my groceries. No one was there to remind me that I needed to clean or shop before I ran out of stuff to wear or food to eat.

I arrived at SVA on a Sunday, and classes started the following Monday morning. I was participating in the 3-D Graphic Design program, which consisted of three different art classes -- Drawing on Location, Sculpture, and a computer class where we worked with Photoshop and InDesign -- one per week. Each day, class started at 9 and ended at 4.

Three weeks at SVA also exposed me to a variety of different people. In that time, I came in contact with teens from all over the world. I discovered it was easy to talk to people. Since no one knew each other, everyone was eager to make new friends. It was refreshing to be around so many people who had an interest in art, and exciting to talk to people from different places.

One of the highlights of this program was living in New York City. SVA is not far from the Empire State Building, but the area is surprisingly calm and very safe. It's not full of tourists, so the streets are much less crowded than in areas such as Times Square and Central Park.

One thing I quickly became used to was walking. Subways are always an option, but they cost money, so I did a lot of walking to the different school buildings, restaurants and stores. Luckily, in New York City just about everything you need is within three blocks.

The precollege program also offered many events to allow the students to experience what New York City is known for. Without having to pay for anything but a subway ride, I had the privilege of seeing four shows -- "West Side Story," "Stomp," "Rock of Ages" and the Blue Man Group -- the Guggenheim Museum and two movies. I also took trips to Times Square, Central Park and SoHo.

The benefits of the three-week stay are numerous, and I learned something from each element of the experience:

Of dorm life, I realized it definitely has its ups and downs. It was refreshing to be responsible for myself and gave me a taste of what I would have to do if I live away from home. I also decided I do not want to live in a dorm with five other people.

The classes gave me a pretty good idea of what I'll be signing up for if I decide to go into graphic design. I was also able to become familiar with the campus and experience what it would be like attending school there.

Although tiring, I decided I really enjoy city life. While some of my new friends concluded it was too much for them, I liked having everything I needed within walking distance, and there were so many things to do and see.

My visit to the School of Visual Arts answered pretty much every question I had concerning college. Participating in this program provided an experience that can't be found in a quick visit to a college open house or through online research.

Programs similar to SVA's are offered by many schools for many different areas of study. If a teenager ever comes across an opportunity like this, I strongly advise him or her to take it -- in fact, look for a college that offers it. It will provide an experience that is perhaps the best way to research college, and an experience you will never forget.

Alyssa Phillips is a senior at Immaculata Academy.