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University of Mary Washington

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What should every freshman at your school know before they start?

There are so many things about college that are difficult to predict or even fathom before getting there. In today's heavily competitive college application process, it's easy to lose sight of one of the most important things in choosing a school: it needs to be right. So many will do anything to get into their "reach" school, will over-commit in extracurriculars, will live and die by who and what institution accepts them. Always keep in mind the end result. Barely making it into a competitive school means you may feel overwhelmed your entire time in college. When looking at a school, most people take a tour and walk around. While this is important, there are places people don't think to look at that will matter much more to you, should you attend that institution. Check out the campus career center. After all, college is your gateway to employment. On a similar note, try to find statistics on attendace of students at graduate schools and programs. Dig deep to find out about campus clubs. Some of the most active and biggest campus clubs are often neither recognized nor advertised by the school. Most importantly, talk to professors!

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I would advise students to narrow down their college choices alone or with the help of a guidance counselor before discussing sticker-shock with their parents. If the student is pretty much set on what he or she wants to do, choose a school with a well-developed program for that career (i.e. pre-med or pre-law). Consider the size of the school, the teacher-student ratio, the type of campus (urban, suburban, or rural?), financial aid opportunities, scholarships, campus diversity, research opportunities, the social scene, and location (think weather and distance from home!) when researching schools. Once you've narrowed down your search to 8-10 schools, VISIT THEM! This is SO important! You learn more in a day or overnight visit than you can from all the college search books and college websites combined. Once you've chosen your final schools, be sure to tailor your applications to each school. Pick up a college newspaper during your visit, and understand the ongoings of that campus. If you search for what you want, and choose a school that is good for YOU, you will have no trouble with that first semester away from home!

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During these past 2 years of college, I have done a lot of evaluations on life. In my first year, I dreaded living in the prison-like freshmen dorms where I had no exposure to diversity. I spent most of my time in solitude, reading and asking myself questions pertaining to life. This year, I understood the purpose of the loneliness I had experienced: a spiritual revolution. Many conflicts suddenly emerged in my social and family lives and surprisingly, I responded to them with a wisdom I never knew I possessed. In that solitude of freshmen year, I tapped into a new found strength and source of intelligence that had been dormant for so long. In many ways, a seemingly depressive year turned out to be a series of blessings. It also allowed me to greatly appreciate the friendships I made in the international living themed dorm I now live in. The many things I lacked of during my first year have an enormous amount of significance now. This isolation, that I had never experienced before, inspired a deep philosophical transformation in me that shapes the way I view life and the events that unfold in it today.

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I recommend students seeking the right college should first visit their in-state public universities to get a feel for what they desire in a school. Public universities can provide an excellent education, with a variety of campus types, while still being affordable to most people. After visiting several campuses and talking to students at each, you can develop a sense of whether you want a larger or smaller school, an urban environment or smaller town, and what type of general atmospere is best suited for you. With colleges narrowed down, it is simple to research which school has the best academics within your potential range and apply for it, making sure you apply to others as back-ups. The best advice I can give to future students is to never skip a class without a very good reason (after all, you are paying to be there) and to get a professor to know you really well every semester. Professors can find you internships, write recommendation letters, and help you get that first job after graduating, so make sure you impress at least a few of them. Work hard, but don't forget to have some fun too.

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If I could give advice to myself as I high school senior, I would remind myself to be open to new experiences. As a college freshman, I retained many loyalties to my friends at home and my family. Meeting new people made me feel insecure, and so I focused on my old friendships instead of making new ones. I used academics to further shield myself from social life, as I tried to complete all homework before going on social outings. Due to my actions, I isolated myself from many people who could have become good friends, and delayed other friendships which later became amazing relationships. Thus, I would go back in time to tell myself that academics are not everything. I would say that homework can be done any time, but that friends are only available at certain times. I would remind myself that I am an interesting person with whom other people will want to build a relationship and that I should balance my priorities. The balance between social life and academics which I achieved in my later years in college led to a wonderfully satisfying lifestyle and memories I would never want to lose.

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Follow your passion. To lead an ultimately happy life, you must put yourself into the field of study which you love. When searching for universities and colleges, be sure to eliminate those which don't include an undergrad major in your area of interest. While taking in information from all the different schools to which you wish to apply, stay organized. Parents can be a great asset in this, helping prospective students with filing and recyling all those brochures you receive in the mail! Once you have selected the schools that interest you, it is of utmost importance to conduct a campus visit. This is often the make-or-break point in deciding which college to attend. If you don't feel at home on the campus, then you will not be happy spending four years of your life on it. Once at your school, a new world will be opened up to you in the form of parties and other such temptations. While having fun with friends is a great way to let off steam, don't forget the ultimate purpose of attending a school of higher learning: to learn the tools you will need to follow your passion.

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If I had the chance to go back in time and give my high school self advice about college life I would definitly tell myself to stop panicking and procrastinating and just send in your college applications already. Maybe if you would have sent in your applications sooner you wouldn't have gotten waitlisted from that one college you actually wanted to go to. Also, why are you spending all your money on clothes and Chic Fil A? Don't you realize you need to be saving for the next four years? At least try to act like you are applying to some scholarships. How about instead of sitting on your couch watching old reruns of Scrubs you actually work on that college essay you've been putting off for a month? And let me not even mention those two months you wasted on that good-for-nothing boy from work when you should have been more focused on getting your GPA up. Although, once you finished all of the stressing duties that come with applying to college, feel free to kick back, hang out with friends, devour those waffle fries with confidence, and smile, you made it out alive.

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When choosing a school, the size of the school is the most important aspect that shapes all college experiences. I am so glad to have chosen a smaller school with great relationships between professors and students. When students feel appreciated and their hard work is noticed, they are more motivated to work even harder, verses being just a number. It is crucial to know the school size and the students preference, as it is the factor that can make a student like or dislike a school and their entire college experience. Another important point is to know about the college town; as grocery stores, boutiques and malls make the college experience much more enjoyable. Also, the town surrounding the college hints as to what the college experience may be like at that school. It is crucial that the students visit the campus before making a final choice. The online pictures and brochures can make the school look like a dream come true, but actually getting a physical feel for the college's environment will allow for the student to make the important decision.

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When looking for a college, choose a school with a strong program in the major you want if you have an idea of a major interest. If a future major is unknown, look for a college that has a number of majors available and a good general education program. This will allow you to dabble in a number of majors without committing right away. Also, think about the relationship you would like to have with your teachers and what is important during a college experience. Do not pick a big name school simply because it is known; pick a school that will make you comfortable and that you will enjoy, even if it is smaller. Know the different activities that you would be interested in partaking in and find a school that offers those activities. When you get to school, sign up for as many clubs that interest you as possible. Starting cutting down when you figure out which activities you really enjoy and are willing to spend the time putting effort into since those will be the ones you enjoy most. Do not be afraid to try new activities and introduce yourself to everyone around.

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The biggest mistake that I made in my college search was not looking at or applying to enough schools. I only toured five schools and only ended up alpplying to two schools, my first choice and an alternate. I ended up being waitlisted by my first choice and had to settle for my safety school. While I have found a place for myself at this school and love my major and department, I had a really rough freshman year as I dealt with being at a school I didn't really want to attend. I would also say not to limit your college search to just public or in state schools. Private schools or out of state public schools, while usually more expensive often give competitive scholarships based on merit. There is also something to be said for moving far away from home and living in an exciting new place. Getting involved in clubs and other student run organizations is really important in order to make the most of the college experience. These organizations help create a sense of community and an attachment to place that can be lacking if you never get involved.

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