Juniata College: Pennsylvania’s best kept secret

Making the right college decision comes down to one thing above all — fit.

Which college enables you to fit in and feel comfortable expressing yourself, while providing an environment that you can compete in and excel? Which school will allow you to set yourself apart, form connections and become the best student and person you can be?

Juniata will not wow you with its stunning architecture, sports facilities or luxurious student recreation areas. In order to understand what makes Juniata so special, you must dig deeper, underneath the superficial criteria that are the basis of Forbes’ or U.S. News’ annual college rankings.

Some things just cannot be quantified. How do you rank the willingness of professors to spend time with students outside of office hours to answer questions, even staying past midnight the night before exams or coming to campus on the weekends? What algorithm can calculate advisors’ wisdom and care for each and every one of their students?

I often take prospective students to Baker for lunch, and it is almost a given that every student will ask “What made you choose Juniata? Was it the rankings? When did you realize this was the place for you?”

The truth is I did not know I wanted to be a Juniatian until May 4 of my senior year. The incoming student deposit was due May 5. A mere three days prior, I was at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) for an incoming freshmen student day. I left Pitt thinking that I would be a Panther that fall, but I decided that I needed to take one last trip to where my college decision process started: Juniata.

I, like the prospective students I now talk to at lunch, was naive when choosing between Juniata and Pitt. I was most concerned with which institution would look best on paper. I wanted to graduate from the best-ranked pre-medicine program (I soon found out from then director of health professions Dr. Debra Kirchhof-Glazier that no such ranking existed).

According to Forbes.com, Juniata is ranked 133 out of 3,500 colleges and universities in the nation. At first glance, that seems to be fairly high, but do you think there are 132 colleges or universities that offer a better education? I do not.

Furthermore, according to the U.S. News & World Report 2015 rankings, Juniata College was named an “A+ school for B students” and was ranked 105th in the magazine’s Top Liberal Arts Colleges poll. Again, at first glance, this seems like quite an honor. However, I do not consider my fellow classmates “B students,” nor do I consider myself one.

The organic chemistry lab manual used by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Juniata and many other schools was written by Hudson Valley Community College professor Dr. James Zubrick. I doubt Zubrick considers himself a “B” professor.

Often times academia is not driven by pure intelligence, resource availability or superficial rankings; it is driven by determination and passion for a subject or to an unanswered question.

Few other liberal arts colleges can boast about having a Nobel Prize winner (physics scientist Dr. William Phillips, a 1970 Juniata graduate). Think about that the next time you think you are limited here at Juniata.

Current United States Olympic Men’s Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski provided me with the greatest advice I have ever received — advice that I based my college decision upon, as well as advice that I live my life by.

“You are the driver of your own bus in life. Allow only good people on your bus, and get on buses filled with only good people. If you do that, you will be successful,” said Krzyzewski.

The point that I am trying to make is this — college is not about going to the “best” school. It is about going to the college or university that is best for you. It is about filling your bus with teachers and peers that will guide you down the path to success.

Names and rankings will only take you so far. It is up to you to drive your future towards success and to seize the opportunities that lay in front of you.

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