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The Excitement of Uncertainty in the College Search

By Beth Anne Spacht

January 21, 2015

If I had to choose two emotions to describe students at the start of their college search, I would pick “excitement” and “uncertainty.” The appeal of the first is apparent. With thousands of colleges and universities vying for your attention, the journey to discover your ideal college home is one of endless possibility. Yes, excitement is the easy part. But it is the latter word – uncertainty – which I find most compelling. In recent years, uncertainty in the college search process has gained a negative connotation of “directionless” and “lost.” In the famous words of J.R.R. Tolkien, “Not all those who wander are lost.” Often, the best outcomes come from those who keep an open mind.  

That’s why we celebrate uncertainty at the University of Richmond. We foster the process of discovery and support the changes that occur along the way. We understand that over 50% of all college students will change their major at least once; sometimes even beyond the point of graduation. Amongst our recent alumni, you’ll find business students going to medical school, science majors on Fulbright scholarships teaching English in Indonesia, and even a Spanish major who, at age 23, became the first female to run (not ride) the Tour de France for charity.

If you don’t know where your life path is headed at this moment, take a deep breath and relax. With a flexible interdisciplinary curriculum and a rule that you can’t declare your major until your sophomore year, the pressure is off to decide right away. For those of you who want a little more guidance, here are some informed ways to direct your search as you look for the best college fit.

•    Keep an eye to size: Big school versus small school is one of the first things you want to feel out in your college search. On most college websites, you’ll find basic profile information detailing average class size, alongside geographic and diversity demographics. Think about the type of atmosphere you want in the classroom and the surrounding school. Remember, large doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t find small communities, and small doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t find big school spirit. Richmond prides itself on being a small school with large school resources. We often hear it described as the “best of both worlds.”  

•    Look up faculty bios: Are you intrigued by game theory, actuarial science, cybersecurity, or another niche field of expertise? Utilizing faculty bios, located on most college websites and departmental homepages, allows you to see which faculty are experts in your field of interest – as well as their areas of research. At Richmond, these same individuals will likely become your professors, research mentors, internship recommenders, and future co-authors on scholarly publications. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who piques your interest!

•    Keep an open mind on major: A list of majors and minors is a good place to start a college search, but don’t write-off a college just because they don’t have exactly what you think you want to do. At liberal arts universities, multidisciplinary majors may not be initially obvious, but could actually be the perfect fit for what you’re hoping to study. That’s why you’ll find unique majors like PPEL (Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and Law). Or, consider that a large percentage of our graduates attribute majors as diverse as English and Business Administration to their success in fields such as Public Relations (despite the fact that we don’t have a traditional communications major or school in PR). We also think it’s fairly telling that within the past three years, our “self-designed” interdisciplinary studies major made it to our top 10 list of most popular programs of study. Forging your own path just might be the right way to go.

•    Look for passion, not potential earnings: College students and young professionals are often happier when they pursue an area of genuine interest, not just with a paycheck in mind. But if you want to quantify a return on your investment, three good things to look for are statistics on retention rate (how many students chose to return after their first year), 6-month or 1-year job placement rate, and 4-year graduation rate. For Richmond, those numbers are 94% retention, 97% one-year placement, and 82% graduation in four years. The average starting salary range for Richmond graduates is $40,000-$45,000.

•    Investigate ways to connect with current students: Is there an option to observe classes, have lunch with a student, stay overnight on campus, attend an open house, or simply email a student from your home state or intended area of study? Talking to someone who has been there can be immensely helpful in getting to know a school. Check out Richmond’s plentiful visit options, recently updated for the spring semester!

In life, nothing is certain. That’s precisely why it’s exciting. So embrace the ambiguity of the process, ask plenty of questions, and don’t be afraid to keep an open mind. For more ways to direct your college search, be sure to check out our list of Seven Questions to Ask Colleges during your campus visit!

Tags: College Search

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Tom NicholasTom Nicholas
Senior Assistant Director of Admission 

A Richmond alumnus (Class of 2007), Tom has been working and blogging for the Office of Admission since he graduated. He loves his alma mater and the city that shares its name.

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Beth Anne SpachtBeth Anne Spacht
Assistant Director of Admission

Beth Anne was a double major at Richmond (English and Latin American & Iberian Studies) and now enjoys helping prospective students discover the best of her alma mater.

Learn more about Beth Anne

The University of Richmond is a highly ranked liberal arts university offering an extraordinary combination of the liberal arts with law, business, leadership studies, and continuing education. The university is consistently named a best value in higher education by leading publications.

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