It’s all going to be OK: Tips from a graduating senior to the class of 2021

Welcome future Dukes

Congratulations on your decision to join the JMU family as the class of 2021! You could not have chosen a friendlier place to get an incredible education over the next four to five years. Now you’ve made your decision (and your deposit), it’s time for the nerves to set in. Moving away to college presents all sorts of wonderful new experiences as well as fears, but, no matter how difficult it ends up being or how much you have to endure, it will all be worth it in the end. To help you make it through, here’s some tips from someone who has just completed it.

There’s an academic adjustment

There’s a shift in expectations and the work load from high school or community college to a university like JMU. This isn’t to intimidate you or scare you, it’s not that drastic of a change, but you will have to take better notes than before and study more than before. If you don’t, your GPA will suffer and that’s hard to build back up. You’d have no one to blame but yourself.

You’re probably going to change your major

I transferred to JMU as an English Education major, but dropped Education after my first semester when I realized it wasn’t for me. Before that, I was a Religious Studies major. The whole point of college is to try out new paths and figure out what it is you want to do with your life and part of figuring that out is realizing what you don’t want to do. It’s totally okay to change your mind and add/drop majors and minors as you see fit; you only have yourself to please.

Taking care of yourself is important

When you’ve been used to having your mom around and you get busy with college coursework, you might have a tendency to neglect yourself. As we get busy, we tend to eat less healthy food, ignore warning signs of sickness, or not make time for the doctor. All these things can prove to be very detrimental to you in the long run. Your mental and physical health are more important than anything. Take advantage of free/mostly-free university services like Campus Health, the campus therapy center in SSC, and the oasis (a relaxation zone in SSC) when you need them.

It’s OK if you have to drop a class

Everyone works at different paces. If your course load seems to be too heavy, it’s okay to drop a class. Each semester there are two deadlines: add/drop deadline, where you can drop without penalty and withdraw with a W deadline, which will not entitle you to a refund for the class, but you won’t fail either. Do not be ashamed if you have to withdraw from a class; you can always take it again the next semester when your workload may be lighter and you have more time to devote to it. There is no shame in being self-aware and knowing how much you can handle.

Remember to have fun, too

Studying is important, but don’t underestimate the value of a good break. College is an important time for growing intellectually as well as socially. Go out to eat with your friends; go to that concert; talk to that stranger in the hallway; meet new people; above all, have fun while your in college.

Find something you love and participate in it

Whether it’s imrov, stand-up, writing, video creating, acting, singing, or even knitting, JMU has a club or group for you. Find one that fits what you love and get involved, it will help you to find your family at JMU and it will become a great source of stress-relief during the semester. From Maddy Night Live to Madisonians, the Opera Guild to the many publications/creative writing opportunities on campus, the many clubs to the UPB events, there’s bound to be something for you. Meet new people and try new things.

Don’t be afraid to take classes outside of your discipline or comfort zone

The number one best piece of advice I can give you is don’t be afraid to take chances. Try new things, learn new things, meet new people, discover things about yourself that you didn’t previously know. For example, The Tab JMU is made up of, of course, SMAD and English majors, but also International Relations majors, Nursing majors, Econ majors, etc. I used to never think journalism was where my life was headed until I got an email about The Tab launching and decided to take a stab at it. Now, I’m the editor and have been for over a year and have 96 (this makes 97) articles to my name; when people meet me they say “oh, I love your writing,” which is an incredible experience. We all come to school with some idea of our future in mind, but please branch out a little bit. You might find something your beyond passionate for, about which you never knew. Explore your potential.

Buses occasionally come early

From a former Duke to a future Duke, if you’re relying on HDPT for transportation, make sure you’re at the bus stop about ten minutes early. This may sound awful and like overkill, but bring your phone, a book, whatever to pass the time; it is far better to sit there bored for ten minutes than to fail a class because you’re over absences due to missing the bus. Sometimes the buses run early, sometimes they run late, and sometimes they’re exactly on time; unless you have a friend getting on the stop prior that will inform you in advance, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Take it from someone who has had to skip class before because I missed the bus, just sit there for ten minutes extra.

Attend all the on-campus performances/art shows/concerts that you can

Izzy Valdes in the JMU Opera’s performance of Mikado

You really never know who’s going to be the next Meryl Streep and wouldn’t you hate missing the chance to see them in their debut performance? JMU’s theater and music departments are incredible and they’re performances are never disappointing. Most come with student discounts, as well, making it a cheap night out. There’s a list of theater, dance, and musical performances outside the Forbes Center. There are also several concerts and comedians UPB brings in for cheaper shows. We’ve even had comedians like Natasha Leggero before. Don’t squelch these rare opportunities.

Always, ALWAYS check the weather before you leave

Weather in Harrisonburg changes very quickly. It can be 75 degrees and sunny all day and then storm like you wouldn’t believe in the evening. Always check the weather before you leave in the morning so you know whether to pack an umbrella, dress in layers, etc. Trust me, you do not want to have to walk from the Music Building to Chandler in a storm without an umbrella.

Prepare yourself for dog food stench

Harrisonburg, though super lovely, sometimes smells like dog food. It’s a thing; you never get used to it; there won’t be a time that you don’t notice it as much, just be prepared. When it’s present, you’ll smell it and it will forever make you associate Harrisonburg with dog food.

Trains will, at some point, make you late for class and give you a headache to boot

Train tracks running through campus is, indeed, something cool and unique about JMU, but they’re also very loud and irritating when you’re in a hurry. Let me paint the scene for you: You leave a little late for class, you realize, five minutes into your walk, that you forgot something important and have to go back. Now that your fate of being tardy is sealed, you hear that all too familiar sound of the railroad crossing sign dropping. If you’ve never stood close to the track as a train passed by, I don’t recommend it. It’s very loud and, if you’re already irritated, the most annoying thing in the world. There’s no tip to avoid this, but be aware it’s an inevitability.

Always hold doors open for people

JMU is known for a few of it’s traditions, but none more than holding the door open for people. Potential students are always told this and it’s a tradition that has remained for many, many years. Please, if nothing else, keep this tradition alive. We’re known for being a kind school and friendly community, all of which start with holding the door open for each other. It’s a gesture of caring and friendliness that needs to carry on.

If something’s sitting on a table, leave it alone and don’t sit there

It is another, lesser-known, tradition at JMU to leave your phone and wallet on a table to reserve it. This is a sign of trust in your fellow students to not take your belongings. Keep this tradition alive by not taking things that do not belong to you and not sitting at a table where someone else’s possessions are already sitting. Please do your part to keep JMU the nice place it is.


College is a change, but nothing of which to be afraid. JMU is a welcoming community that is always willing to help. If you get lost, just ask someone walking around for directions. JMU really is the friendliest community. I have to say, you’ve made an excellent choice for your university. Welcome class of 2021!

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