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CSSSA: An Introduction to College Life at Sixteen

August 21, 2011
CSSSA at CalArts 2011

For a month this summer, I had the unique opportunity to experience college life while still in high school: living in a dorm away from home, eating cafeteria food and taking intense courses taught by university professors who would leave me with lessons I would never forget. At only sixteen, the California State Summer School of the Arts (or CSSSA) gave me a taste of college life that I’ll never forget.

From July 9 to August 5, I joined artists from around the California (and the world) at CalArts in Valencia for the most eye-opening experience of my life. Everyone who attended was as passionate and excited to learn as I was. It wasn’t the usual high school setting where most kids are unenthusiastic and could care less about academics. At CSSSA, everyone came together to create a supportive environment. Although the teachers provided us with growth, it was our peers that we learned from the most.

As a creative writer, I spent each day with future authors, playwrights, screenwriters and poets. My teachers had already succeeded in all of these. One of my teachers has a play opening in New York while another has a book of short stories sitting on a shelf in Barnes and Noble. My teachers made it their goal to bring us to their level. On the first day, they informed us that each day at CSSSA represented three college classes. Needless to say, my writing improved significantly and I got a feel of how tough college will be in two years.

Outside of the classroom, CSSSA reflected everyday college social life. I lived in a dorm room with three different girls who became my best friends throughout the course. We looked forward to seeing each other each night and sharing how our days went in our selected major. Being in a dorm with such amazing girls created a safe environment for me on the campus. The only difficulties I faced were adjusting to the fact that I was rarely alone and that I had to share a bathroom with eight other girls. However, when I go to college, I will be fully prepared for this.

When I wasn’t in my dorm or class, I was with the other artists I had met. Every night was a new adventure. We rejoiced in our freedom, loving the fact that we didn’t have to ask our parents’ permission to go hang out. Whether it was going out to dinner or gathering in a theatre practice room, we always found a way to have a great time.

Although I enjoyed going out, I had to learn to balance my time. As a writer, I was given an immense amount of assignments to complete each evening. I had to learn how much time was necessary to complete each assignment. Usually this meant sacrificing some of my free time, but it was a choice worth making. Many kids falter at first in college because they are blinded by how much freedom they have and forget about their responsibilities. CSSSA taught me how to get my work done even with the temptation of pushing it

Not only did I become a better writer, but I’m more prepared for the years to come. College won’t be a huge culture shock. Instead of worrying about how I’ll adjust, I’ll be able to focus on what I should be concerned about when the time comes. CSSSA was the best experience of my life so far and I would have never grown in such a positive way without it.

CSSSA published photos from the Creative Writing Class of 2011 are available here.

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The California State Summer School of the Arts hosts hundreds of students each summer for a month-long college experience. Admission is competitive and students are accepted on the basis of applications.

  1. September 21, 2012 12:38 pm

    Emily, I’m a Creative Writing alumnus, and I’ve just launched “Spark: A Creative Anthology,” which seeks creative non-fiction, flash fiction, short stories, and poetry from CSSSA alumni (and considers great writing from non-alumni, too).

    Would you consider submitting your best work and spreading the word to other alumni? You can learn more and read submission guidelines at

    — Brian, CSSSA 1992

    • permalink
      September 21, 2012 11:38 pm

      Brian – thank you for bringing Spark to the attention of our readers. I’ve passed your comment to the author of this article.


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