I love college visits, and almost always leave campus thinking: “WOW, I want my kids to go here someday” or “No, this one is even better!” It’s rare that I leave a visit without a smile on my face - there are so many great colleges out there and it’s really hard to pick a favorite. I love playing the “If I were going to college today, where would I go?” game with myself!
With that said, it’s pretty rare for me to finish a visit feeling less-than-impressed. For a while, every time I had a visit that didn’t knock me out of the park, I questioned myself a little bit - especially if it was a school that had rave reviews from others.
Prime example: JMU. Every time I visited the campus, I’ve blamed one reason or another for the fact that I didn’t like it. After all, disliking JMU feels sort of disloyal as a college counselor based in Virginia! It’s a really good school, they have some wonderful programs and opportunities, and they are a perfect distance from our area - and my former students there are so happy. And I can’t forget the amazing food!
So, the first time I visited on a blazing July day, I decided that I didn’t like it because it was just too hot. Not a great way to see a school. Then it was raining - definitely a bummer. Nobody likes a school in the rain. Well, the third visit - on a gorgeous day - solidified the fact that it’s not the weather, it’s JMU. I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I just don’t like the place. I really want to like it, but I don’t. There- I’ve said it!
First, I think it’s a very unattractive campus. A pretty campus means a lot to me, and I wouldn’t personally feel the need to settle if I was comparing options for myself - there are so many other amazing schools that also have gorgeous campuses. I was trying to describe JMU’s aesthetic to someone the other day and explained that it kind of reminds me of mid-90s construction (so many palladian windows- which of course I did not capture in a photo!!) meets corporate campus meets industrial park meets traditional bluestone. The quad is very pretty but the rest of the campus just falls flat to me. Not to mention, the buildings surrounding campus vaguely remind me of post-Civil War dilapidation! I just really don’t like the atmosphere.. and I’m not even going to mention the dorms!
Next, I think that the public streets (and even a highway!) running through campus make it feel very choppy and disjointed. This bothers me a lot.
Finally, I absolutely hate Harrisonburg. While I’m a fan of the drive-through Starbucks, I think Harrisonburg would be a pretty unappealing place to live, especially coming from our area. I feel like it’s just seen better days… about 150 years ago! I wish I had taken some photos of the surrounding area but anyone can find them online.
Why am I writing all of this out? Well, I learned from the experience, and I hope you can learn from it too.
First of all, I realized that I just had to follow my gut. If you don’t like a school, don’t force it. Yes, factors like rain can make a huge difference, but at some point you have to trust yourself. I’m obviously not visiting for the purpose of making my own college decision, but most students and parents visiting colleges WILL be. So, trust yourself. This is a big decision and if you don’t like the school, even for superficial reasons, that’s ok. There are so many options.
Secondly, and this is sort of along the same lines, everyone’s individual opinion is based on their own background and preferences. Don’t think too much about what friends or classmates like or dislike about a school. This is YOUR decision.
Lastly, campus visits are a must. Today we have virtual tours, ratings, reviews, you name it - but there’s not really a substitute for a good old-fashioned visit to campus. Maybe you will absolutely fall in love with JMU, like thousands and thousands of other students- but you won’t know until you go see it for yourself!