By Jessica Kronzer
August. The breath of impending freedom for rising seniors is near and many are eager to begin the year so that it may end as quickly as possible. Sadly, before this “life is a party” mentality can kick in, there are some tough decisions to be made.
As a fellow student, I’m all too familiar with the pressure to choose where to apply and where to go. The seemingly endless choices can, and did, add stress to my senior year. I spent hours opening letters from different universities, googling them, and throwing the mail into either a “trash” or “treasure” pile.
There are some basic factors I considered about a school to determine its position: food, location, proximity to home, public or private, size, price, diversity and community. Using the internet as your primary resource for research is the best way to get a wide range of information easily. Considering the pros and cons of different categories can greatly narrow down your choices.
Know What Matters Most to You
Are you a picky eater? Do you learn better in smaller classes? Do any specific sports, activities, or clubs enhance your life? A report showed that over 70% of students chose a school based off of its programs, reputation, career outcomes, cost, and feel. Knowing what matters most to you can land you at the right school, for example, wanting to attend a school with outstanding dining services. I’m allergic to gluten, so I knew ahead of time that I would need a school that could accommodate allergies. I googled JMU, along with other schools and paid special attention to their school newspaper’s account of their dining services. I also reached out to the school’s dietician and met with her along with several chefs before committing. Different schools have different resources for allergies/diets and disabilities.
Photo by WilsonI also knew I wanted a school close to home, so I mapped JMU to my house. Distance is a big factor for many students who come home for holidays, jobs, doctors appointments or other matters. For others, going to a more diverse school may be more important to them. These factors can be plugged into a search engine on websites like College Board Access, College Navigator, or Chegg.
Career aspirations matter
I cannot tell you how confused I am when someone tells me they’ve committed to attending a college that does not have the major that they want for their career. Of course, people often end up in jobs that do not relate directly, or sometimes at all, to their college degree. However, I strongly suggest that if you know what you want to do after college, you follow direct steps to meet your goals, like majoring in a related subject. My major, School of Media Arts and Design (SMAD), teaches me broad skills that could be used in different fields. The classes also are meant to best prepare me for a job in the journalism field.
One simple and easy thing I did to get a sense of JMU’s journalism program was to turn to the internet. I simply typed into any search engine “VA schools ranking journalism major”. I usually looked at the first few sites to pop up. Niche.com is one that I find pretty easy to use and it breaks down admissions, cost, academics, and most common majors. You can get into a very prestigious school, but if the program they offer for your major is mediocre, it makes sense to look elsewhere.
I’ll admit, before going to college I didn’t know that you needed to APPLY to get into your major. As unjust as it seems, I wish I had looked into this further before getting to school. In my case, I should have googled “SMAD admissions JMU,” and read off JMU’s website. Knowing the GPA requirements and possible scholarships opportunities could save you from going after a major that may be too ambitious for your needs.
Of course, there is no shame in being undecided or in changing your mind. According to this Penn State article, between 20-50 percent of students enter college undecided.
Reach out to Current Students and Alumni
Messaging people you know who attend the university can be a great way to get a feel for the environment. Most students are happy to talk about their school if they love it or are anxious to warn others against attending if they hate it.
The easiest way to do this is to direct message people over social media that graduated from your high school. Chances are you have some connection to someone who goes to the school, but if you don’t, ask around. Your neighbor, teacher, or friend may have a connection for you.
Students and alumni are great resources to get an idea of what it’s like to attend the school. Ask them about their experiences, their professors, their roommate, anything you can think of that might be of a concern to you. I know I was reassured by kind words from students who promised me that I would love the JMUl just as much as I imagined.
If you don’t have any clue what you want, learning about different schools and their programs can give you guidance. As I looked into schools more, I felt more and more of a sense of calm. Doing the work to make an informed decision can prevent second-guessing your decision down the road and can even make the process of leaving home less terrifying.