“What schools are you looking at? What do you plan on majoring in? What do you want to do with your life?” Inevitably, every high schooler will be asked some form of the aforementioned questions. Some do indeed have a plan for the upcoming years and therefore have no trouble coming up with an answer. I, however, was in denial of my forthcoming entry into adulthood, and would often be unable to respond to these questions. I knew that I would be going to college, I just hadn’t figured out what I wanted/needed. In fact, my college research didn’t truly start until the summer before senior year. Narrowing down what type of school I wanted was a difficult task for indecisive me.
So I entered my senior year without having visited any schools and with only a slight semblance of the schools I might want to apply to. But that fall, I was given a really great opportunity to visit Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA. The school offered a “fly-in” program to bring students from underrepresented social and economic backgrounds to visit (more info on fly-in programs here). This became my very first college visit and set a high standard for all of my other college visits. The campus was absolutely gorgeous, it had a very focused academic environment, and I loved the tight-knit community the students had formed. I absolutely adored Whitman, and I knew that I would be very happy if I went there the next year.
Keeping that in mind, I eventually ended up applying to six schools, all of which were liberal arts colleges in the Northwest–Seattle University, Willamette University, Lewis & Clark College, Whitworth University, Gonzaga University, and Whitman College. Out of these six schools, five offered an early action plan; Whitman College did not. So I got going with my college applications and started cranking out essay after essay. It felt really nice to get my applications out of the way early; I felt as if I was at least doing something to make up for my college planning procrastination. Plus, when I received my first acceptance letter in November, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief thanks to the security of my future.
But the hard part still wasn’t over yet. The spring of my senior year was spent narrowing down the rest of my schools. A combination of college visits and extensive research allowed me to cross off Whitworth University, Lewis & Clark College, Seattle University, and Willamette University. Now I was down to two. So for my spring break, I decided to visit Gonzaga University, and Whitman College (so that my parents could see the school I adored), both of which were located in eastern Washington.
When I arrived on campus at Gonzaga, I was unable to find the admissions visit office, mostly because I’m a terrible navigator. Eventually having to admit defeat, I talked to a couple of students who were happy to show me the way. These people were open, friendly, and didn’t seem the slightest bit bothered by me. At some of the schools I visited, I had noticed that some students would see groups of potential students and sneer the term “prospies” the same way an eighth grader would mutter the word “sevvies.” But at Gonzaga, people actually wanted to get to know me, they wanted to share what they loved about the school without prompting from me. It also helped that my overnight host was training to be an RA and was extremely knowledgeable about the school. I found that as I walked around campus, people made eye contact, people smiled at me. It was refreshing. The community vibe was great and I was surprised by how much I liked the school.
After my trip to Gonzaga, my parents and I drove down south so that I could show them Whitman College. My parents absolutely loved the school and the small town feel that came with it. But I found that after having had such a wonderful experience at Gonzaga, Whitman wasn’t as special to me anymore. They were both really great schools with things that I enjoyed about them and things I didn’t.
So of course, I resorted to creating a pro/con list in order to make an educated decision. I found myself leaning towards Gonzaga University for a couple of reasons–I liked Spokane better than Walla Walla, there were more majors offered, people seemed to be friendlier, and the school was bigger than Whitman College (which only has about 1,500 undergraduates). In April, I received my financial aid awards, and that was the tipping point. Whitman was a really great school, but ultimately Gonzaga University was going to be more affordable and would be a better fit for me. I’m happy with my decision and I’m proud to be a Zag.