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As many people know, our decisions for our Early Action process just went online yesterday.

While some people are very happy at the news, as admissions counselors our heart does break at the applicants that don’t receive good news.  We realize this is a difficult process to understand and for many students, this may be the first time they have not gotten what they think they deserve.

I thought I would explain a little more in-depth on how we make our decisions and demystify what “being deferred” means at JMU.

“Defer” doesn’t mean “Deny” at JMU.

At JMU, we have two different admissions processes that people can apply for freshman admission.  We have an Early Action process, which is non-binding, and a Regular Decision process.

We always get questions from students on whether or not they should apply for Early Action.  My answer is typically to encourage people to apply early since it is a possible benefit to hear early about their decision in January rather than waiting until the end of March.  However, there are some students that are concerned that if they don’t get in early, they will feel rejected and hurt.

At JMU, the Early Action process is much more competitive.  The pool for our Early Action process usually contains our highest-achieving students.  Each year, we have typically received more and more applications during this Early Action process.  This year, we received 1200 more Early Action applications than the previous year.  Since we don’t know how many people are going to apply for Regular Decision, we are very cautious (and probably more so this year) with our decisions.

I have heard other colleges that use a different approach to their Early Action or Early Decision processes.  At some schools, they use the same criteria for Early Action/Early Decision and their Regular Decision processes.  For these schools, if they aren’t admitted early, I can understand the anxiety that would create.  Some schools one of the two processes is harder and one of the two is easier.  Again, at JMU we will use higher criteria for who we will offer admission to in this Early Action stage.  That also means that we typically will lower the bar slightly for our Regular Decision process.

Of course, we can’t predict the qualifications of all of the students that may apply later, but this has held true for the last several years.

We do deny admission to some students that apply Early Action.  Those students are ones that we feel would not be competitive during our Regular Decision process.  Rather than keeping them hanging on until the end of March, we do cut those students loose from our pool.  There is still a chance of admission as long as you weren’t denied admission.

Receiving notice that you are deferred isn’t like Dante’s Inferno where the sign to Hell read “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”.  There can still be hope for our Regular Decision process.

How and why was this decision made?

We will typically offer admission to the “cream of the crop” students during the Early Action process.  Most of our decisions are based on two primary components – the strength of students’ curriculum and their grades in their core courses of English, math, foreign language, lab science, and social sciences.  We realize that every school offers different courses and some have more opportunities than others.  However, I would say that from most schools we typically do expect some college-level coursework (AP, IB, or Dual Enrollment coursework) and several Honors-level  courses throughout their high school years.  For our Early Action process, we will also want to see almost all As & Bs on their transcript.  We don’t look at a GPA number, because high schools calculate GPA very differently based on grading scales, the weight of Honors courses, etc.  The next thing we will consider are SAT/ACT scores.

Typically, if any of these areas are slightly below what we would like to see, those students would probably be deferred to our Regular Decision pool.  So, if students had many Cs or a D on their transcript, if their coursework seemed to be not challenging enough, or if their SAT/ACT scores fell a little lower than we would like, we will likely defer those students to Regular Decision.

You’ll note that I didn’t mention anything about extracurricular activities, letters of recommendations, and personal statements.  We do take a holistic approach in our review, but those things will likely not play as heavily into our Early Action process.  These are things that we will review that will make us want to fight for the applicant.  This could play out for a student that is “on the bubble” for admission, but their curriculum and grades will need to be at a certain level before these things can enter into the equation.

Apples and Oranges

We realize it is only natural for students that are admitted to boast about their acceptance.  They may wear their JMU sweatshirt to school the next day.  Students will then compare themselves with others that are accepted.  “That person had a lower SAT score than I did” or “They have a lower GPA than I do?”.  Due to the weighting of courses, you never can say that all 4.0 GPAs are created equal.  A 4.0 GPA could mean that a person hasn’t taken any weighted courses and received straight As or it could mean that they have taken almost Honors/AP courses and received all Bs and maybe some Cs.  Or it could be something in between.  As admissions counselors, we closely analyze the transcript and really look at the courses and the grades.  We also look only at a student within the context of their high school.  We can’t compare students from different schools.  Unless you can compare all the factors by analyzing transcripts, SAT reports, etc., leave the comparisons to us.  We do check and double-check all of our decisions within a committee to make sure we are making decisions that make the most sense based on the criteria we are using.

What are my chances for Regular Decision?

This is a question that we just can’t answer.  Again, we don’t  know what the applicant pool will look like for the Regular Decision process.  I feel that some people would love to hear a percentage number of 32% or 65% of those deferred are offered admission for Regular Decision.  However, what they really want to know is what is my chance.   As I mentioned above, we do usually get a higher quality of applications during the Early Action process.  For many, they will rise above the applicant pool that we receive for Regular Decision and be offered admission.  For others, they may not and could be looking at being offered a space on our waitlist or being denied admission.

What else can I do?

We realize that JMU is a popular school and for many students, we are your first choice of where you would want to attend.  I have sat on admissions panels and have heard colleges state that you should send an update to that school and add more things to your application so they can see your interest.

At JMU, this is not needed.  The only other thing that we want to be added to your application are mid-year grades.  We require schools to send these once they are available.  This is another piece of information that we can use during our Regular Decision process.  They do make a difference in many cases.  A student that is “on the bubble” for admissions based on their transcript but has pulled off straight As his/her senior year can be helped with great performance.  Adversely, a student afflicted with “senioritis” and lots of Cs in his/her senior year can be affected in a negative way. For anyone that is deferred, we will look at your application again with anyone that applied during the Regular Decision pool.

So, I encourage students to continue to work hard to help their chances in the Regular Decision pool.  Just take a deep breath.

If there are any general questions about this for discussion, please leave a comment below.  Any student-specific questions should complete the “Decision Inquiry Form” found on our website.

Apply Now

I wanted to put a quick word out there to everyone to know that our freshman application for Fall 2012 is live now.

Read through the admissions requirements and start working on your application by clicking here.

So, as you are getting geared up for your senior year, go ahead and start working on your application.  To complete your application, we will also need to have official transcripts sent from your high school as well as SAT/ACT scores.  The application deadline for Early Action is November 1st and for Regular Decision is January 15th.

We look forward to reading the applications and meeting you during our travels this fall!

Interview with Ford Prior

I had the pleasure of having lunch with Ford Prior over lunch one day.  I got to know Ford as an applicant to JMU four years ago.  Ford recently hiked the entire 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail last Spring.  The trail runs continuously between Georgia and Maine, passing through 14 states along the way.  Only about 29% of those that attempt to thru-hike (continuously hike the trail in one season) the trail actually finish it.  It takes about six months on average to complete the hike.  I thought it would be of interest to share some of his experiences on the trail and his life at JMU.

Me at the VA-TN line, three miles shy of Damascus, where my dad was waiting for me

So, how long did the hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT) take and when did you start?

I started on February 7th and finished on June 20th.

Most AT hikers usually finish in August-September and start in April.  So, you were really early in completing?

I was the fifth finisher this year.

So, how was the Smoky Mountains at that time?  From what I hear, even in April-May, it can be covered in snow and ice.

Sunset just north of the Smokies. Note the shallow snow drifts thanks to a lower altitude.

Sunset just north of the Smokies. Note the shallow snow drifts thanks to a lower altitude.

To answer your question, it was a nightmare.  Luckily, I had snow shoes and so I could walk on top of a lot of the drifts.  But the snow was literally, 3.5-4 feet deep and the drifts were often up to my waist.  Going into the Smokies, that was a big concern. After I passed through, some guys were stopped by rangers who said they can’t go through because it was too dangerous out there.  And sometimes I’d be hiking and thinking to myself, “if something would happen to me here, it would be bad news.”  I actually got frostbite before the Smokies from just walking in the snow.  Your feet are always buried, and if you’re hiking downhill there’s not enough circulation to keep them warm.

Did you have to get any help?

No, it just looked like a brown second-degree burn.  My blisters that I always had on my feet were just brown instead of pink.  Once I got into Damascus, VA over Mount Rogers – that was the last day I was walking in snow.

What was your favorite part of the whole trail?

Mt. Franklin at Sunset, about a mile south of the Lakes of the Clouds Hut in the White Mountains

The Whites [the White Mountains in New Hampshire].   I’ll never forget that.  I would just be laughing hysterically walking over these mountains because I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.  I’m getting chills just talking about it.   Having walked the trail behind me and being there at that moment was just pretty amazing.  Some of those ascents were like 7-8 miles long, but once you were at the top it was so worth it.

What type of gear did you use?

Backpack with gear

I had Nike tennis shoes most of the way and during the winter I had boots. In the cold, I wore a merino wool top, merino wool bottom, a rain jacket, and some rain pants.  And that was it – no gloves.  I had a poncho that was also a shelter.  I had a little, alcohol stove.  I had a zero-degree GoLite Adrenaline sleeping bag.  I went ultralight – that was kinda my thing.

Many AT thru-hikers come up with a trail name that everyone calls them on the trail.  Many times these are earned names that someone gives you based on your behavior/experience on the trail.  You typically leave your old name behind and travel under this identity.  What was yours?

Uncle Frank.  My friends in high school called me Uncle Frank because I always quote Home Alone.  Home Alone is my favorite movie.  I needed a trail name and there was no one to give me one since I was the only one on the trail, so I said “I’m Uncle Frank”.

I’ll tell you a wild story. My friend graduated last year and got married to a friend of mine from back home.  They had their wedding here in Harrisonburg.  At the after-party at Clementine’s in the basement I was sitting there and there was a guy that was looking up at me smiling.  The guy had heard my name was Ford.  He had heard of a guy named Ford that had hiked the trail that was named Uncle Frank.  He had started at Mt. Katahdin (the northern terminus of the trail) heading southbound the day I finished.  We had missed seeing each other by about two hours.  He’s from Harrisonburg and his brother did it with him.  So, he had read all the Uncle Frank entries in the journals in all of the huts along the entire trail.  It’s like when you get excited to read an email from a person you’ve been waiting to hear from.  It was like that with the trail journals.  You always try to think of something funny and dumb to say.

At the finish line

I caught up with this guy named Trek, who’s hiked the trail every year for nine years, in Maine at the beginning of the 100 mile wilderness.  I’ll never forget.  I said, “Dude, you’re trek.  Come here and give me a hug.”  But, he was a military guy and didn’t want a hug.

It’s fun to talk about this because I’m normally an internal processor.  I was 60 miles from the finish line and I remember I was seeing this shelter and I thought I couldn’t take another step.  I thought initially with 100 miles to go I would just bang them out in three to four days and then I got there and I just didn’t have it in me.

I guess you just have to find it in yourself on some days to keep going.

I guess that’s life, you know?

I’m sure you learn a lot about yourself along the way.  What’s the biggest thing that surprised you about yourself or that you weren’t expecting?

I learned how a set of circumstances can make me completely, emotionally fragile.  I thought I was a pretty tough guy and I would not fold easily, but it’s amazing how a set of circumstances could turn me into this emotionally fragile, vulnerable person.   I find that I’d be laughing one moment and then screaming the next moment and then angry and then happy.   I was dealing with all this struggle and you had to let it out.  There’s nobody there to try and keep you in check.  It’s an interesting dynamic.

Has it been hard adjusting back to real life for you?

Not really.  In a way, it’s great.  I can eat all I want.  There are cars I can drive to get somewhere.  There’s a bed – it’s great.  Some people I’ve talked to have a lot of difficulty adjusting.  It wasn’t tough at all for me.  I got back and I was thinking what’s the next thing I’m going to plan.  I’m doing an Iron Man – that’s what I’ve decided.  I did a half Iron Man and then I burned out.  I wasn’t really prepared for it.  I’m putting that on the back burner for right now.  I was talking to someone about doing the John Muir Trail this summer.  Coming back I’ve realized that I’m more claustrophobic with people, so for every hour hanging out with friends I need about two hours of solitude.  I’m trying to learn how to process this with people better now, but if I did another 3000 mile trail right now, I think I would be a weird person (laughs).

So, when are you graduating now?

I’m still graduating in May 2011. I was able to fit in everything just barely. I’m taking 21 credits this semester.  I’m majoring in English and Spanish.  I picked up Spanish later.  I went abroad to Salamanca [through JMU's semester abroad program] which was excellent.  I’m working on my thesis now for the Honors Program.

What is your thesis about?

It’s with English and it’s on American migration with roads.  It’s basically, about how Americans have moved from east to west and what that means culturally.  The ambitions have changed over the years.  I’m taking John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Jack Karouac’s On the Road and showing how they are totally different and took the same route. I’m working with [JMU English faculty member] Mark Facknitz, who is excellent.

What do you want to do next after you graduate?

I have two applications in right now.  One for the Peace Corps.  I’m hoping to get a job with the environmental or agriculture department in the Peace Corps.  I have an application in Spain for teaching English in Spain.

If you want to read more about Ford Prior, I encourage you to visit his blog.

The month of January is the busiest time for high school seniors and it definitely impacts us in admissions.

Last year, we received about 22,000 applications for the incoming freshman class and it is looking to be around the same or slightly more for this year.

It's great to be popular! Tubs of mail arrive today from applicant hopefulls and highschools.

With the advent of the online application that appeared ten years ago at many schools, it has changed how people apply and how the application is put together.  In many years past, we used to receive a paper application in the mail that was typed or handwritten (hopefully legible).  In many cases in the same envelope were sealed official high school transcripts and SAT/ACT scores.

In today’s world, we receive almost all of our applications electronically.  We download this information into our system and extract the information that we need to help us with our review.  Transcripts are still mostly coming through mail (or encrypted emails) directly from the schools.  The SATs/ACTs are now coming in mostly through a direct feed from CollegeBoard or ACT.  All of this information has to get matched up.

Since many students wait until the very last second to apply or wait until the last week to request their transcripts to be sent in, this creates a large backlog of mail.  We have to sort and match all of these extra pieces of mail to the application.  If the transcript comes in first, it is filed until we have the application to match it.

We started a few years ago giving students the ability to check their application status online to see if we have all of their materials.  Students are emailed an application reference number so that they can check daily to see if we have everything for their application.

Of course now, we have probably raised the panic level for all of these students.  They check daily to see if we have everything matched up and then they call, email, and threaten their school/mailman to make sure we have everything.

Our processing staff spending time matching up all the transcripts to applications recently submitted.

I thought I would just provide a little perspective to let you see all that we have going on this time of year.  Today, on the application due-date,we received nine tubs of mail!  These are filled with envelopes of transcripts and other materials that need to be matched individually with each application.  Some envelopes contain one transcript, some contain twenty.  We will continue to receive probably 5-7 tubs of mail over the next week that needs to be sorted and matched for thousands of applicants.

It is a long process to be sure that every item is matched up perfectly with every application.  Once we get caught up with all of our mail received over the next few weeks, we will let students know if we are still missing anything and give them a date to have that sent.

So, be patient with the process, if we need anything we will let you know. :)

People often have crazy images of what happens in admissions committees.  Some of this is further perpetuated in movies like Legally Blonde and How I Got Into College.

What Happens Before Committee

During the fall, most of our admissions recruitment staff are spending weeks on the road attending college fairs and visiting high schools to promote our institutions and help answer questions from interested prospective juniors and seniors.  This process typically starts around the second week of September and takes us through early November.

Once we get back from a life on the road filled with many nights in hotels, fast-food eating, and lots of driving, we come back to our offices to start reviewing applications.  Since most students do wait until close to the deadline to apply (shame on you that fear clicking the “submit” button), the applications tend to pile in all at once.

We begin reviewing all of the applications.  At JMU, we review applications based on our particular region.  We divide applications up under a geographic region.  Typically, the person that is doing recruitment travel in Pennsylvania  will also review those applications from Pennsylvania.  By doing so, we are able to become very familiar with each school so we can understand the academic offerings, grading scales, etc.

In each application, we first closely review the high school profile that is normally sent with each applicant’s transcript.  This gives us information such as how many AP courses are offered, the school’s grading scale, any specialty centers the school offers, high school graduation rates, etc.  We take notes on each application to make note of what courses a student chooses to take in the areas of English, math, lab science, foreign language, and social sciences.  We make notes on how students have challenged themselves with AP, IB, Dual Enrollment, and Honors courses.    We keep track of grades that they have in these core courses and their grade trend.  The bulk of our review time for applications involves analyzing and breaking down the transcript in a way that is consistent for us to discuss.

After we have made this review, we then begin to look at some of the subjective materials such as a student’s college essay, extracurricular activities, and recommendation.  This gives us a brief glimpse into the type of person that student is and what they are passionate about.  However, most of our decisions don’t involve these pieces – most decisions are made based on the strength of a student’s curriculum and their grades.

Jamie, Kristen, and Shaun discuss an application

What Happens During Committee

Typically a make-up of our admissions committees will consist of 3-4 people.  The regional counselor will be present along with 2-3 other people.   We are not all dressed in 3-piece suits sitting in leather chairs at an executive mahogany conference table.  We dress casually and do sit in a modest conference room or someone’s office to discuss the applications.  The person that is the regional counselor takes copious notes on each applicant.  One person presents the application and reads the information about a student’s classes, strength of schedule, SAT/ACT scores, and grades.  Another person is usually also taking copious notes to serve as “quality control”.  As a committee, we make a decision on each applicant.  There is no voting – we must all agree on the decision.  We spend a lot of time comparing students and making sure that our decisions are consistent.  The regional counselor and “quality control” person have reports and notes of everyone from each high school to use for comparison.

Here are some of the common things asked if you sat in our room as a fly on the wall:

  • How many AP courses does this school offer?
  • What did we do last year with similar students from this school?
  • When were the Cs on the transcript?  Were they all last year or were they spread throughout high school?
  • When did they stop taking math?
  • What science courses do most of the strong students take from this school?
  • When do you want to break for lunch?  Did anyone bring snacks?

We typically start our committee day around 9AM and end around 4:00-4:30PM.  Doing this for weeks on end can be taxing and we do get quite punchy after 2-3 weeks of discussing the thousands of students that apply, but we do take our decision-making process seriously to ensure we have made the correct decision.

What Happens After Committee

After all of our decisions are made, the applications are turned in and the decisions are entered in our system.   We then get a report to double-check that the decision our committee made was the correct decision and entered properly. 

After we are sure that our decisions are correct and final, we will start working on printing letters, proofreading names/addresses, and getting them ready to mail.  Once letters are finalized, we have them stuffed in envelopes.  Once we are ready to drop them in the mail, we will email students to let them know they can check their decisions online (using their application reference number and a PIN that our office generates for them). 

Why choose JMU?

I recently surveyed several students at JMU and asked them why they chose JMU.  Here are their responses.

Connor BirknerConnorIreland

Hometown: Virginia Beach, VA

Major: Media Arts & Design

Year: Senior

I chose JMU to be my home for the next 4 years because I was able to see it at all times of the year. My brother came here before me so I was able to see JMU from Parent’s Weekend to any ordinary weekend, and it never changed. The same spirit, the same community, and the same love for this institution remained.

Isha Arora

Hometown: Centreville, VA

Major: Computer Information Systems

Year: Senior

The answer is definitely the people. I strongly believe that the people
at JMU–the students as well as faculty, are what make this institution what it is today. From the second I stepped onto the JMU campus I was
taken by the energy, enthusiasm, and the warmth of the people at JMU.
Everyone was so nice, so helpful, and so willing to share their
experiences. No one had anything negative to say about JMU or any other
university, or the college experience in general. They got me so excited
to attend college! And now that I’m part of the JMU culture, I couldn’t
agree more with my statement. My experience at JMU has proven to me that
this university really believes in its students and is willing to go
above and beyond to bring out the best in them.


MaryAlyse Klement MaryAlyse Klement

Hometown: Richmond, Virginia

Major: History; Minor: Secondary Education and Interdisciplinary Social Science

Year: Senior

JMU was not my first choice for college. When I arrived for Freshman Move-In, I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic or planning on staying in Harrisonburg for very long. I had every intention to transfer, but here I am four years later wondering how I could have ever thought about leaving this incredible place. What kept me at JMU were the people. Everyone here on campus is so welcoming and accepting! The campus has such a positive atmosphere that you can’t help but be in a good mood! You can be yourself at JMU, and don’t have to worry about not being accepted. While the student body may have varying interests and beliefs, we are all united by our love and pride for James Madison, we are all Dukes and we all bleed purple!

Rachel Navarrete

Hometown: Springfield, VA

Major: Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies; Minor: Elementary Education, Spanish

Year: Junior

When I began my college search almost four years ago, I never imagined I’d pick JMU.  I thought I wanted to go out of state and get as far away from home as I could. My parents insisted that I at least look at some in-state schools, and suggested we take a tour at James Madison.  I reluctantly came, thinking my heart was set on some school far away.  As soon as I drove on to campus I instantly had a change of heart.  The campus was beautiful and so inviting.  As I took my tour and heard more about what a great place JMU was I began to like it more and more.  By the end of the day I was hooked, I knew I wanted to spend the next four years of my life here and be a JMU Duke.  In just a few short hours on the campus and I could already tell what an incredible place JMU truly is. The people are friendly, the atmosphere is beautiful and the food is great!  I have found my second home here at Madison, and I have never once regretted my decision to attend JMU.
Tiara McKeever

Hometown: Petersburg, VA

Major: Psychology; Minor: Family Studies

Year: Senior

I chose to attend James Madison University because it had a lot to offer
me such as a positive environment; excellent academic classes that could help me develop new skills; and  resources such as the Center for
Multicultural Student Services
, The Writing Center, and the Alternative
Spring Break Programs
just to name a few. JMU also offered a diverse
group of organizations and clubs that I could become a part of. Being a
first generation college student isn’t easy, however JMU made me realize
that I could Be the Change.

IMG_36677 Tara Vaezi

Hometown: Hackettstown, NJ

Major: Communication Studies/Public Relations

Year: Senior

Throughout high school I had never heard of JMU. No one from my area had attended the school so it was not on my radar. It wasn’t until a family friend wrote a letter to me describing her experience here as a Freshman, that JMU was added to my list of schools to visit. I didn’t come to JMU until CHOICES in April. I had no idea what to expect but the moment I walked into the convocation center, I was speechless. No other school had this much true passion and energy. It was one of those perfect sunny days where all I could see was a sea of purple and gold. JMU had the perfect balance of academics and student organization opportunities, I knew it was a perfect fit.

untitled Nick Zurlo 

Hometown: Washington, NJ

Major: Biology, concentration in Pre-Medicine

Year: Senior

Although there were many reasons why I chose JMU, I was most drawn to the tight-knit community aspect of JMU. With a student body of around 18,000 people, most would think that one would just get lost in the crowd. However, my visit to JMU proved to be the exact opposite of what I expected. The student body was extremely nice and outgoing and everyone seemed to know each other or be extremely friendly to those that they didn’t know.  I was drawn to how tightly-knit the JMU community presented itself to be, which only made me feel more comfortable at this university. This is one aspect of JMU that will never be forgotten or overseen as I continue to see going on today.

102_7091 - CopyKristin Alexander

Hometown: Richmond, VA

Major: Communication Studies

Year: Junior

The first time I ever visited JMU was in April for CHOICES, an open house day for admitted students. On the way in to the welcome ceremony, we were greeted by a long line of JMU students wearing purple as they sung the fight song and did various JMU cheers. My dad pointed to one of the girls and said, “That will be you.” The spirit only increased as the day went on and everywhere we went there were friendly students providing encouraging words and advice. As someone who considers myself to be pretty school spirited, this had a big impact on me. I remember calling my mom as we left to tell her that I found my new home and that I couldn’t imagine feeling so comfortable anywhere else.

Ivaco Clarke

Hometown: Richmond, Virginia

Major: Social Work

Year: Senior

I was introduced to JMU my senior year of high school by attending an open house event sponsored by Students for Minority Outreach called,
Take-A-Look. Being provided opportunities that promote cultural
awareness, representation, and expression were all factors that I took
into consideration when deciding the next step within my academic
career. Though the minority population may be perceived as small, this
event gave me a glimpse of college life from specifically a minority
student’s perspective. It was then that I also acknowledged the greater
possibility of contributing something significant and unique to the
campus and local community.

Allie WeissbergAllie Weissberg

Hometown: Murrieta, CA

Major: Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies; Minor: Elementary Education

Year: Senior

Upon submitting my application to JMU, I honestly had no intent on attending the University.  I had applied   because I have family in the area, but had my heart set on another institution.  I was visiting family in Charlottesville during Thanksgiving Break of my senior year and decided since we were in the area, that I might as well visit Harrisonburg and check out the campus.  By the conclusion of my tour, I had been bitten by the JMU bug and had gotten “that feeling” that you get when you figure out where your new home is going to be.  I fell in love with the spirit and atmosphere of Madison; the way that students held doors upon for others, smiled at fellow students they didn’t know, and cared, inwardly and outwardly, about their university.  Attending CHOICES sealed the deal for me, and I can honestly say that my decision to attend JMU has been the single best decision I’ve ever made.  The balance of academics and extracurriculars is perfect, and I could not be happier to say that JMU is my home.

10318_722050353219_7822672_42473362_2515585_nAmy Moore

Hometown: Brick, NJ

Major: Graphic Design

Year: Senior

My college search started very late in the game in high school, mainly because I had absolutely no idea where I wanted to go to school. An east coast school with a graphic design program was all I knew I wanted, until I came to James Madison University.  My guidance counselor had given me a huge stack of university statistics to look through and decide where my college visits would be.  After narrowing down my choices, JMU still on my list, I headed out visiting (what I thought) was my top choice first.  I fell in love at this other university when I was there and was sure I’d end up at that school, and then I came to JMU for a tour. Immediately upon entering campus I felt a vibe of excitement, school spirit, and just plain old happiness! What a great first impression I had!  I proceeded to take a campus tour with an amazing tour guide who without even trying to show it, portrayed his love and passion for this university.  The remainder of the day as my Dad and I explored campus on our own, people seemed so genuinely happy to be here and as well as friendly, lending us helping hands when we looked lost.  The atmosphere, the community, the spirit, the drive, the way people hold the doors open for you ALWAYS, the beautiful buildings, the professors, the organizations, the on-campus food, the Duke Dog, the friends, the JMU family, the passion, the LOVE; these are the reasons I came to James Madison University, the reasons I love JMU now, and the reasons that I consider JMU my first home.  I couldn’t imagine my life without this amazing university and I’m SO proud to call myself a JMU Duke.

College Essays

Writing college essays is one of the necessary evils in the application process.  They create a lot of stress for students since it is generally not the type of writing you have had to do for school.  You generally have to boast about yourself and put your best foot forward so that colleges will think you have what it takes to get into the school.  As a person that has read close to 20,000 essays in the last nine years, I thought I would provide some advice and insight into these 250-word monsters.

Don’t Believe the Hype

The stress students generate thinking about college essays only plays second fiddle to the stress caused by SAT scores. If you do think about it, it is one of the few things you can actually do to help influence your application.  Your high school courses, grades, SAT scores, and extracurricular activities are already set at the time you are submitting your application.  However, keep in mind this is a small portion of the overall application and typically does not hold a lot of weight in the admissions process.  Things like activities, letters of recommendations, and essays paint a better picture of what a student is passionate about, but your high school curriculum and grades will hold the largest weight in the application review process.

This is a great opportunity to let the college know about you as a person and how you think.  At some highly selective schools in which most of the students applying have amazing academic credentials, your essay can help you stand out amongst a high-achieving group.

The Types

  1. The Beauty Pageant Questions – You’ve seen these on many college applications and if you are wondering what types of questions you may see, just watch Miss America candidates answer questions during this segment of the pageant.  What literary character is most similar to you?  What is a problem in the world that you would most like fixed today?  Why are you a good fit for this school?   Keep in mind that there are not “correct” answers that we want to see.  We are just trying to understand how you think and how you approach the essay.
  2. The Dreaded Personal Statement – This one usually stresses students out the most since they do not understand how to begin this process.   Let us know who you are, what you are passionate about, and why you want to apply.

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The Most Common Topics

During the admissions counselors busiest times, we may often review up to 100 applications per day.  I sometimes joke that you will rarely see an admissions counselor that does not wear corrective lenses.  We typically review the essay portion of an application last.  So, you want to make sure that you stand out.  We do occasionally jump from our offices to share an interesting or amusing essay with other staff members.  If you think about it, your ultimate goal in your application is to make the person reviewing it want to fight for you in the admissions committee.  So, make sure that you stand out and try to be unique.

As we are reading through all of these essays, I would think that about half of the essays that I have read can be lumped into a few different topics.

  1. The “I Love My Grandmother” Essay – This can also apply to any family member – mother, uncle, or even younger sibling.  If you think about it, it is not unusual to love your family.  Do not just tell us about their whole life story and why you respect them.  This would make us want to admit your grandmother, but not necessarily you.  Bring the focus back to yourself.
  2. The “I Met This Unfortunate Person” Essay – This usually is told from a student that has done volunteer work or a mission trip.  Similar to the “I Love My Grandmother” essay, the student typically gives us a lot of information about this person’s life and how that person helped them realize how fortunate they are.
  3. The “I Broke My Arm, So I Want to Be a Doctor” Essay – This can be applied to anyone that goes through an experience which has made them want to pursue a particular major.  While it may be a good idea to let a school know why you are interested in a particular field, this type of essay does get used a lot.  I have heard from schools with medical programs that this is the most popular topic for an essay.
  4. The “Travel Channel” Essay – This typically tells us about a student’s trip to Europe with their family or school group.  Students will tell us all of the sites that they saw and how amazing the experience it is.  Often times it tells us more about your parents’ ideas for a good vacation rather than what you learned from it.
  5. The “Torn ACL” Essay – We’ve read this essay many times and I think there is an epidemic of high schoolers with weak knees.  The essay starts off telling us how they were playing a sport, they got injured, and then had to root for their team from the sidelines.  They continue to tell us how it taught them the importance of teamwork and how to be humble.
  6. The “Band Camp” Essay – This can apply to anyone that writes heavily about extracurricular activities.  Students tell us a lot of what they were involved in, but keep in mind this was typically already reviewed in your application.  We’ve seen that you were in Key Club for four years or that you made the National Honor Society.  Don’t duplicate efforts here, but let us know what you have gained from the experience and why that defines you  as a person.

Final Tips

  1. Proofread! – Spell check does not catch everything.  Have someone else read your essay and provide you feedback.
  2. Be specific and concise – Instead of trying to tell us your entire life story, try to break it down to one moment in time.  Using descriptive words to describe the smell of the air, the coldness of the snow, or the sounds in the air can really bring a reader into your moment in time.
  3. Follow directions – We are not looking for the greatest American novel.  If we ask for you to send one page, do not send us four.  Don’t give an admissions counselor an opportunity to be annoyed with having to read more than necessary.
  4. Answer the correct question for the application – If it is a generic personal statement, don’t let us know that your favorite word is “commitment”.  This will let us know that you are sending in an essay for another school and didn’t put forth the effort for what we were asking.
  5. Use your own voice – Do not try to impress us with your vocabulary or your ability to hit Shift-F7 and pull up the thesaurus.  We expect real language from real students.  If you are funny, feel free to be funny; but if you’re not, don’t try.
  6. Send the right essay to the right school – We don’t want to hear why you want to go to another school.  Make sure if you are using the same essay for multiple schools, that you change the name of the school before you hit submit.  This happens more often than you would think.
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