As a high school senior, I thought I was on top of my college admissions process. I did SAT prep classes, made a schedule for completing my essays and supplements and reached out to my college counselor to ensure everything was done on time. Despite all my preparation, there was always one task that seemed daunting to me: college visits.
To me, college visits seemed overwhelming. It seemed like I was an outsider, observing other people in their “natural habitats” – the dining halls, dorms, classrooms and fitness centers. I wanted to be the “coolest” I could during these visits. I wanted to blend in and not draw attention. Naturally, in my mind, that meant I shouldn’t participate. That’s what cool college kids did, or so I thought.
On tours, my parents were always so engaged and I was always so embarrassed. They would be at the front of the group, asking about class size and on-campus food options, while I tried to maintain my position in the middle of the pack. I felt intimidated by the notion of asking questions that would help inform my ultimate decision of where to go to school, so I never did. After my parents would ask a question, I would always feel a slight moment of embarrassment, thinking “Ugh, my parents are asking another one?” This was then followed with my immediate attention to whatever the answer was.
On tours, I didn’t know what to look for. I wish I’d asked more. This is what I wish I knew:
What are ways to get involved on campus? This is a big one for me because the first week of school everyone asked me, “Are you applying to Blue Key?” or, “Are you applying to be an LPH?” My answer to both of these was no, because I didn’t know what they were. I soon learned that Blue Key Society is the on-campus group that gives admissions information before tours and gives tours to prospective students. LPH is in fact an abbreviation for “Local Program Host,” a position available to first-year students who would like to get involved in the Special Olympics Fall Festival held at Villanova.
How easy is it to change majors or declare your major? I entered Villanova as an undeclared major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. This qualified me to take a one-credit class entitled “Advising: Explore and Experience” (known as ASPD) the first semester of my first year. This class met once a week to go over professional development opportunities and ways to figure out what you’d like your major to be. After a year at Villanova, I realized what really interested me was communications. I emailed my advisor to set up a time to officially declare, which I built up in my head to be a momentous occasion. And although it is a big deal to officially declare your major, getting a form signed seemed anticlimactic. I still prefer an anticlimactic experience to a stressful one, however. The ease with which I was able to officially declare made me feel more secure and supported in my decision.
Is it easy to study abroad? Although it may seem like a long way off as a high school student, the decision to study abroad will creep up on you sooner than you’d think. I didn’t know if I wanted to study abroad, but it was always a good option to have. I ultimately decided to study abroad last semester in Copenhagen, Denmark, which was one of the best decisions I could have ever made for myself.
The process of applying and getting courses approved seemed daunting, but all of the wonderful people in the Office of Education Abroad (OEA) were extremely helpful. I was able to meet with both my academic advisor and abroad advisor to finalize what classes would be counted towards my major and minor, and what classes would have to be taken at Villanova. OEA also gave me better tools to anticipate the financial costs of study abroad and ways to engage more fully in the culture in which I was studying.
Are most students from the area or all over? I did not anticipate this being an issue for myself until I got to Villanova’s campus. I didn’t fully prepare myself for the culture shock I would feel being a Californian coming to Pennsylvania. Although I knew Villanova was an extremely welcoming community, I initially felt that so many people were from the East Coast. And while there are many people from the region, my best friends are from Minneapolis/St. Paul, Chicago, Los Angeles and Portland. Villanova draws students from all regions of the U.S. and around the world, and I now see that my intimidation about people from the East Coast was misguided.
Do TA’s teach classes? It’s important to think about what experience you’d like in the classroom. Although topics of extracurricular involvement and room and board will help shape your college experience, you are ultimately going to college to learn. After taking five semesters worth of classes, I have never had a teaching assistant (TA) teach a class. My notion of an intimidating, standoffish college professor was quickly disproven my first day of classes, as my statistics professor asked each student to say his or her name and where we were from. Verbatim, he said, “For any of you first-year students in this class, don’t be intimidated. I promise you all of your professors will be nice.” He did not mislead me.
What’s Greek Life like on campus? Villanova offers a whole host of opportunities for students to get involved on campus, one of which is Greek life. There are nine Panhellenic organizations, eight Interfraternity organizations, and eleven Multicultural Greek organizations on campus. I currently participate in a Panhellenic organization on campus and am incredibly thankful for all of the opportunities it has afforded me. I appreciate, however, that Greek life is not for everyone. Villanova enables students to involve themselves in a wide variety of on-campus organizations. Formal recruitment for Greek life organizations takes place second semester, which allows new students to build off of their involvement of first semester. There is no Greek housing, which allows Villanova students to meet more students in other groups as well. Out of my three current roommates, two of them are in different sororities and one is not involved in Greek life
Outside of these questions, it’s important to take in your whole experience on campus. Statistics and facts about a school are very important. It’s essential to get a feeling for the ways you can get involved, shape your expectations for your classroom experience and understand where you’ll most likely be living throughout your four years of college.
Beyond that, however, it’s important to look around. Look at the current students. See if they seem genuinely happy, or if they were just getting through their days. Do they all look stressed? Are they friendly? Are they helpful?
People are what make a community great, and that’s never been truer than here at Villanova. Knowing about class size and service opportunities helped shape my decision, but more than that, it was the personal experiences I had on campus that ultimately made me feel that Villanova was home.