Faber College is not on the shortlist
October 12, 2012 7:19 AM   Subscribe

Help a high school senior pick a public Virginia university!

Followup of sorts to this question about what he should be when he grows up. He still hasn't decided that (which is totally fine) but the time has come to decide where to study whatever it is he's going to study.

The choices: Virginia Tech, James Madison University, Virginia Commonwealth University

The field(s): business, music (not performance, but everything else including the business and engineering of), environmental science, math, political science

The student: looks like an MBA but thinks like a hippie, supersmart but not the most hard-working, extra-curriculars = theater/indie cover band/skateboarding

The goal: a complete education including interesting culture where he is (not interested in Radford or Longwood, too remote & small-town) so he can deepen and broaden his interests

The dilemma:

On the theater/music side it seems like JMU is the right pick but ... huge party school & Harrisonburg=meh.

If he goes in the math/science direction VT seems like a no-brainer and they're currently building a performance/arts center so there will be some growth on that side of things but ... Blacksburg=smallish town (but with indie theater and ethnic food etc.). Tech seems like the best option to have on his resume too.

If he picks overall culture and "broadening horizons" then VCU is a great fit but the academics aren't as great.

Since he is all over the map with regard to majors, it's hard to know which will be the right school when he's ready to declare. I am fine w/any of them ... but I went to college 25 years ago and only applied to one anyway.

What else to consider? How to choose? (He has been to all three and we know the rankings on paper.)
posted by headnsouth to Education (19 answers total)
As someone who went to school in VA a couple things:

I knew a LOT of people that went to JMU and Virginia Tech.

If he's looking for 'the college experience', those two are unparalleled, really. JMU have the most pride about their school (not just sports) than anyone I've met. My sister went there and cannot stop talking about her experience. Virginia Tech students also had great experiences, but not to the degree of JMU.

I don't know anyone who went to VCU, but Richmond is a GREAT city, and living and studying in a city provides a completely different experience.

Use that info to your liking.
posted by sandmanwv at 7:26 AM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Its really hard to answer this question because the answers are considerably different depending on which aspect of the question you focus on. Tech is clearly in a different league academically, I definately give more weight to a Tech or UVa grad when hiring over the next tier of Virginia schools. I would actually have thought VCU is strongest in the theater and music field -- but perhaps that is just because the music person in my life went there. However, VCU has a huge base of commuter students so that the on-campus lifestyle is much like a very small school. This could be a plus for some kids or a huge minus for others. In terms of some sort of measure of "fun" it seems to me that JMU might be the bext mix of college life and respectable educational experience. However, your inclusion of "interesting culture where he is" really points more to VCU, since I wouldn't really consider either Blacksburg or Harrisonburg to have much cultural appeal outside the college.
posted by Lame_username at 7:32 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth William and Mary is the most like a small, liberal arts college in the VA public system. If he's all over the map with regards to majors and career track, this could be a better fit.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:33 AM on October 12, 2012

I go to W&M but I visit Tech about once a semester. I think it has a better atmosphere than JMU and better quality academics. People I know who go to VCU have had problems with basic stuff like registering for classes, which is just ridiculous. But culture is hugely important, and in that respect they are all very different. Where can he see himself being most comfortable, or fit in the best?
posted by tooloudinhere at 7:35 AM on October 12, 2012

I went to JMU, graduated in '06 and I genuinely have nothing but praise for the place. I remember being amazed at the level to which people held doors for everyone. It was such a friendly place. In terms of a traditional campus, in a rural setting, with a good party atmosphere as well it is unparalleled in VA. I know as a parent partying is far from your mind, but the college experience is important and helps when it comes to networking, school projects, and general social skills. It's also not a huge bar school, which makes having fun cheap. Also, you have the blue ridge mountains where students love to go camping/hiking, and skiiing/snowboarding during the winter.

I graduated with a double major, studied abroad twice, had a lot of fun, and I can tell you one thing... Employers in the region LOVE JMU grads. We are highly regarded in the DC area as being those kids who got a good education, but are also fun and friendly people to work with. I don't think Tech necessarily is more highly regarded on your resume unless you are a specific engineering degree. I would recommend both JMU and Tech over VCU.

If you have any questions feel free to message me, JMU was amazing, and it really does have a small school charm which helps you not feel "lost in the shuffle". There is definitely something there for everyone.
posted by OuttaHere at 7:36 AM on October 12, 2012

My daughter, from Connecticut, in her second year at George Mason Univ, Fairfax, Va, and loves it....it has outstanding facilities, very close to DC, and a lot of diversity.
posted by Postroad at 7:50 AM on October 12, 2012

Employers in the region LOVE JMU grads. We are highly regarded in the DC area as being those kids who got a good education, but are also fun and friendly people to work with.

I think that's a pretty broad generalization. In fact, I know quite a few employers around here that view JMU grads as "frat boys that couldn't get into Tech or UVA."
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:05 AM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

I graduated from VT 2 years ago and loved it. Your description of your son actually sounds quite a bit like me. Smart but slackerish throughout highschool, and definitely all over the map initially when it came to a major.

Definitely agree with the resume thoughts - I have a science degree and have applied/interviewed for jobs all over the East Coast. In every single interview VT was a recognized name and came across as a positive.

Great college atmosphere, and on the indie cover band side of things, I was actually in an indie band with a few friends and we played shows in Blacksburg, Christiansburg and Radford - not a huge local music scene but it exists. And if he doesn't really know what he wants to do, Tech offers a lot of strong options. Good environmental science program, great math/engineering/business, and if he is interested in the aspects of music aside from performance, my old roommate majored in music technology and has toured with multiple broadway productions running the sound.

And final thought - with a large campus, 20,000 like-minded peers around on a regular basis and 60-80,000 people pouring in on game days, Blacksburg will not feel like a small town. He would definitely not regret VT.
posted by cccp47 at 8:08 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anecdotally, I know a handful of people who did not like JMU. They were all from the Northeast and felt alienated by the Greek life party atmosphere.
posted by murfed13 at 8:09 AM on October 12, 2012

Also, why choose now? Has he already applied to all three and been accepted (seems early, no?) Will costs be the same? When he visited did one stand out? He must have friends that go to these schools, can he spend the night with them?
posted by murfed13 at 8:17 AM on October 12, 2012

I'll give the VCU aspect - I know several people who went there for various majors (music, sports management, pre-med).

It's in downtown Richmond and is definitely a commuter school. I think that of the three you've listed, their music program is the best. If he's interested in environmental science, it's closer to the beach/coast/EasternShore than the other two.

Issues with JMU: I've heard that if you're not Greek, social life is harder. Also, it is HUGE. I've also heard of problems registering for classes in your major, which can make it harder to graduate in 4 years. This may be more problematic if he doesn't declare a major early.

Although, based on your questions, I think VT would be the best fit for him.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:21 AM on October 12, 2012

Though I agree the academics are not as competitive, I feel like the music program at VCU is someplace where he could build a great experience. I have friends who went there (about a decade ago, granted) and they still talk about the tight-knit Jazz performance program. (More than one are professional, full-time musicians in some capacity or another now. VCU Music is serious business.) So I think the school can cover his business-side interest as well. I don't know as much about the other academic programs, but I spent many a weekend at VCU when I was in undergrad, and found Richmond to be an absolutely great town. I refer to it as "my first city" because I had only really lived in suburbia before. It was a healthy experience for me to leave my very insulated, safe liberal arts school about an hour south and have to deal with the real world a little more (more on that below).

That said, I agree that if JMU is on the table academically, then he should consider W&M. I am biased because I went there, but I think someone with interests as broad as his, and with a personality as dynamic as his sounds might find it very rewarding. It might also whip him into shape a little, if he's a slacker. Greek life there is totally optional (I wasn't Greek and still managed to have more fun than I should have most weekends.) The community on campus is tight-knit and supportive. They are great to their freshmen. I could go on, if he's interested in hearing more :) But I have to say, it is not for everyone.

I don't know anything about VT except that people I know who went there love it still. I never considered it because I didn't want to move to Blacksburg. Ditto JMU/Harrisonburg. Williamsburg ain't much, but Richmond is an hour north, Va Beach/Norfolk an hour or so the other way... you can get out, you know what I mean?
posted by juliplease at 8:33 AM on October 12, 2012

I was this guy about fifteen years ago. I visited all these schools. To me, JMU seemed pretty much just like high school academically and socially. VCU was too far away from my hometown and didn't have a media program to my liking back then. VT was too close to my hometown (or people from my hometown, which is basically the same thing). UVA was really really uptight and oddly pushy and clingy (when was the last time YOU were pressured by sociology grad students to major in sociology?).

William and Mary seemed like the best fit for me in Virginia. In the end I went to UNC Chapel Hill, because I fell in love with it at first sight.

My advice? Get him to as many schools as possible and see which one he falls in love with.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:49 AM on October 12, 2012

From your previous question, it sounds like your son has interests that are pretty similar to mine, but with slightly different focus. I love biology, farming, programming, UI design, hand crafts, building stuff, theatre design, urban planning, horticulture ... a huge range of topics, on both sides of the STEM/liberal arts divide.

I went to Virginia Tech for my undergrad, starting about 10 years ago. I was very undecided, and wanted to go to a school that would have a lot of options. I was thinking I'd be choosing between a computer science degree, and a degree in technical theatre. I ended up getting a degree in agricultural education, and now I'm a computer programmer. So ... I definitely didn't know what I wanted to do.

I'm very glad a went to Tech, and I think I got a good education, even if a lot of it was in things I never use. I was able to to take a really huge range of classes, which was fun. I took a construction class (framing walls, running electricity, etc.), a genetics class, and "Highlights of Modern Physics" (relativity, chaos theory, and other advanced physics without the math). I took "Poetry of Light in the Theatre", a introductory landscape architecture class, and some studio art classes.

Being at a huge school where I could take high-level classes in a wide variety of topics was a huge plus for me, and I never would have ended up in the major I did if I'd gone to a smaller school

More specifically, and less anecdotally, if he's considering music or theatre, it's important to note that VCU is a conservatory program, while Tech is not (no idea about JMU). I don't know about the quality of the music program, but the theatre programs at both schools were of similar quality, both with excellent faculty, but a very differently structured programs.
posted by duien at 9:13 AM on October 12, 2012

I can't speak to the experience he would have at any of these schools as I didn't attend any of them (though I've worked with VT alumni), but when looking at resumes (I'm a software developer), the only one that my colleagues and I (we're in the Northeast, NYC to be specific) would immediately recognize is VT.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 9:44 AM on October 12, 2012

I am a JMU alum ('00), current employee, and current grad student. All three experiences have been great and very different from each other. I chose JMU over VCU, but nearly 15 years later, I cannot remember why.

JMU has a pretty strong reputation as a party school, but I think that overshadows all of the great things that are going on academically and culturally on campus. Students that I have had the chance to interact with across a broad spectrum of majors have generally been very impressive with their level of professionalism, intellect and overall engagement in learning.

Harrisonburg is a very small town, but there really are a lot of things to be involved with both on and off campus. As someone up thread mentioned, we're right in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley which offers the opportunity for outdoor adventures, or just hanging out with good friends and enjoying the beautiful scenery. If he is into music, Harrisonburg has an annual indie rock festival called MACRoCk, and that brings a lot of cool bands to town each spring. Many of the local bars and restaurants have a variety of music styles most nights of the week.

My husband and many good friends are VT alums and it sounds like they had really great experiences there too. VT is a bigger school, but still in a relatively small town.
posted by JennyJupiter at 11:02 AM on October 12, 2012

I go to W&M and my sister goes to VCU...

I think W&M is pretty good for business and environmental science. They're really big on undergrad science research if he's into that kind of thing. Also, I hear the music dept. is pretty close knit. But like someone said above, Williamsburg isn't exactly a bastion of culture and diversity...(and that's putting it lightly). The academics are really good though, and the professors are great, and hey if he comes here maybe I'll have someone to skate with.

Oh, and the administration is nice. It's easy to change your major or come up with a new one (interdisciplinary majors have to have courses that come from three departments though; I don't like that). And the core requirements are pretty easy...A really cool/bad feature of W&M (depending on how you look at it) is that most of the upper-level classes are open to all students; almost no classes have prereq's.

VCU is in Richmond of course, and my sister's in the art school so I don't know much about the non-art part of the school...but from what I gather, it's more "social/college experience" oriented than W&M and isn't as academic-heavy. (Is there a nice way to say this?) VCU is known as the artsy school of VA so I'm assuming it'd be good for music.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 11:27 AM on October 12, 2012

As a Tribe-person myself, blergh to W&M; there are some nice things about it, but overall, the most boring place and people on the planet. Of your three stated options: Tech is absolutely the highest regarded academically (and even more so once you get out of the Virginia/DC area), and increasingly so in recent years. VCU is probably the artsiest of the three, but JMU is specifically known for having a good theater department, and VT has plenty going on in that area too. I personally would have been intimidated of a school as large as any of the three - JMU is a little smaller than the others, but not all that much - but it doesn't sound like that's much of an issue for your son. On a personal level, I have a number of dear friends, coworkers, and exes from VT who pretty universally loved it (and they are a diverse bunch of people); the one VCU grad acquaintance who I can think of is doing some really unusual and interesting art-related work right now; and I really dislike pretty much everyone I know who went to JMU (apologies to JMU grad above, I'm sure you're great).
posted by naoko at 11:12 PM on October 12, 2012

Ok, I will take that back, I do know a JMU grad who I really like, and he majored in biotechnology and does environmental-related things now, so that is cool.
posted by naoko at 11:18 PM on October 12, 2012

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