Majorly Conflicted: How I Chose To Be A Triple Major

jessica_jordan_majorI didn’t know what I wanted to major in when I started college, but I had a lot of wild ideas. I knew I wanted to make time for all the subjects I was interested in that I hadn’t had the opportunity to take in high school. I’d finished all my high school’s Latin courses by the second semester of my sophomore year, and was eager to resume my studies, so that was one of the first courses I selected for my first semester at college. Similarly, I had been unable to participate in any kind of theater since middle school, and eagerly signed up for pretty much the only theater class freshman can get into – the one where we have to do the department’s grunt work. I rounded out my choices with a course on Roman Law and an Introduction to Archaeology course that focused on South Africa. Since Wesleyan has no required classes, I was free to choose classes that I was genuinely interested in, and I pretty much figured that I would just major in all the departments that I was currently taking classes in – Theater, Classical Civilization, and Archaeology.

I blame this over-enthusiasm on the fact that at my high school there had been very little room for electives. For five years – since the eighth grade when we began taking some courses that counted towards our high school GPA – I had been solely focused on excelling in every course that I was required to take, no matter what the subject. I knew that making good grades was my ticket to a good college, but, believe it or not, I never put much thought into what I would do once I got there – there wasn’t time for that. I was pretty unprepared to start picking and choosing the courses that would (at least in my freshman mind) begin to determine my entire future.

And silly though it may seem that in my first weeks of college I decided to be a triple major…I did indeed end up graduating with three majors, though that doesn’t mean my plans didn’t change a lot during the next four years. By the beginning of sophomore year, I had decided to drop the Archaeology major, my research leading me to believe that it was rather unusual for a school to offer undergraduate degrees in archaeology at all – it was more typical to major in Classics or History, then later complete a graduate degree in archaeology. So I was feeling pretty good about my life choices when, on the very last day of a writing class I took on a whim (and I mean a whim…I don’t even remember making the decision to enroll), my professor told me that I should be an English major.

It was as if someone had shaken me awake. OF COURSE I should be an English major. I was good at writing, I loved books and close reading – but I had never even considered it before that moment. Unlike the subjects I eagerly signed up for at the beginning of my freshman year, English wasn’t something that I felt like I was missing out on after high school – I’d had enough of essays and dead poets! I thought that everyone expected me to be an English major since I was such an avid reader, and so it was the one thing I steered clear of at college for a really long time. But that wasn’t a good reason not to give something I was so obviously interested in a chance, and I’m very grateful now that fortune gave me a push in the direction that I needed (especially since I’ve just finished applying to a number of English Ph.D. programs!).

Being the stubborn person that I am, I refused to drop either of the majors to which I had already poured so much work, but instead simply added on English as, yes, a third major. In no way, shape, or form was completing three majors simple, especially since I was a bit late in starting the English requirements, but it ended up being the right choice for me. Each of my majors was vital in shaping my college experiences and relationships, from my freshman year Latin professor becoming my advisor and helping me gain admittance to my study abroad program on a full scholarship to my work in the costume shop which became such a big part of my college life – though it’s certainly not something I would recommend for everyone.

If I had any advice to give on choosing a major, it would be to learn from my greatest strength and my greatest weakness in choosing a major: Don’t be afraid to try the things you’ve always wanted to – and don’t worry if they don’t turn out exactly as you’d expect. At the same time, don’t disregard an area of interest just because it’s something you were good at in high school. If you want to leave old passions behind and create a new identity for yourself, that’s fine – but make sure you’re leaving them behind because you are no longer interested in them, and not just because they’re old. You’ll probably change your mind a few times – almost everyone does – but I bet you’ll probably end up right where you’re supposed to.

Jessica Jordan, Quest Scholar Alum, Wesleyan ’13

There’s No Place Like 800 Miles From Home

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After my college acceptances came in, I had the option of two extremes: I could go to schools nearby—The University of Tennessee Knoxville, twenty minutes away, or Maryville College, a liberal arts school inexplicably in my tiny conservative town—or I could go to Wesleyan, 800 miles from home. Looking back, it seems almost insane that I chose to go to Wesleyan, knowing that the distance would be insurmountable from both ends. I would rarely be able to visit home, and my family would essentially never be able to visit me. The obstacle, of course, was not really distance, but money.

Many high school seniors are nervous about going to college far from home. After all, our parents are the center of our world from the time we are born until the time we graduate from high school—sometimes annoying, but always there with a plan and a hug and those soccer cleats you left at home. It’s a big adjustment for any teenager, but in reality, for a well-off or middle-class student, attending college two hours away or twelve hours away is relatively the same experience: you’re more likely to be able to go home for all school breaks and have your parents will be there for during Parent’s Weekend. For a student from a low-income background, the story is much different. During my time at Wesleyan, my mother was able to visit campus exactly twice—once to pick me up after freshman year ended, and once for graduation. My father only made it up to Connecticut once, to see me graduate. I never had a visitor to show around on Family Weekend, or to introduce to my hallmates and friends. This was not my parents’ choice. They simply could not afford to visit me.

For me, this immobility was the key defining factor of attending college far from home. Thanksgiving, Fall, and Spring Breaks were times of year I watched my friends, even ones from as far away as California, pack up and head back home, while I generally remained stranded on campus. This is simply another sacrifice low-income students often have to make if they want to attend prestigious universities. Because I participated in a Thanksgiving Parade with the marching band during my senior year of high school, the November after college graduation was the first Thanksgiving I had spent with my family in five years.  If someone had told me that was going to happen before I accepted Wesleyan’s offer of acceptance, I would have been terrified.

If you go to school far from home, you, too, are likely going to have to get used to being alone at times when you might otherwise have been with family. It is not as easy to share your triumphs and fears with the ones you love through technology, and sometimes when you need your family the most, they won’t be able to be there. That’s the bad news. The good news is that attending college far away from your hometown also opens a lot of opportunities for you to enjoy new kinds of experiences. I found that I was sometimes grateful not to be headed anywhere for Fall Break—it was so short that I was perfectly content to re-charge by watching Netflix in my room for four days and watch my jet-lagged hallmates wander in Sunday evening before classes began. Those Thanksgivings I missed with my family? I spent one with a friend’s family in Boston, where they rented out a dance hall filled with both music and tables of food to celebrate the holiday. I spent another watching a James Bond marathon with a different friend’s family in a nearby Connecticut town before making my way back to campus for an exciting adventure of trying to figure out how to get back inside my dorm without my key when everyone was gone and Public Safety was closed (Spoiler Alert: I knocked on a lot of windows). I spent another Thanksgiving in New York City, standing in the cold for hours and hours to watch the Macy’s Parade go by, and another in New Jersey, eating traditional Chinese cooking instead of green bean casserole and mashed potatoes.

There will probably be times that you feel lonely to be so far from home. But I promise that no matter how lonely you feel, you won’t ever actually be alone. The campus may seem quiet, and it may seem like every person you know has gone home except for you, but there are other students experiencing the same feelings all across campus—students who may not be able to afford to go home, like you, or international students, for whom a two or three-day break from classes isn’t even close to enough time to get home, or even students who don’t really have a home to go back to. There are other people in your same situation, and even if you don’t meet up with them while you’re stuck at school, it can be nice to know that they’re there. You will find people who refuse to let you be alone on holidays, who will bring you into their families and traditions. You will go on adventures you never expected, and learn to be independent just a little bit faster than everyone else you know. And, in this age of technology, home is only a phone call, a Skype date, or a Snapchat away.

Maybe you’re the first member of your family to go college, or the first to finish, but regardless of your circumstances, going to college will change your life—it’s meant to change your life, to make it better. Eight hundred miles may seem like a long way to be from home, but for me, and for some of you, it was only the first step.

Jessica Jordan, Quest Scholar Alum, Wesleyan ’13

Not Matching is Not the End of Your Story—It’s the Beginning

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Jessica at the QuestBridge National College Admissions Conference at Yale University — where it all began!

When I first heard of QuestBridge, I thought it was too good to be true. I was largely alone in figuring out the college application process, not because I didn’t have teachers or guidance counselors who would have been willing to answer my questions, but because I didn’t even know what kind of questions to ask. The QuestBridge flier seemed like it was written specifically for me, to help me escape from the life I was living into a better one. My mother spent more money than she could spare to drive me thirteen hours to a QuestBridge National Admissions Conference at Yale the summer after my junior year, where we heard for the first time about need-blind admission and began to believe that I could go to a top-tier school.

All that following fall I worked tirelessly on my applications, filled with both hope and desperation. When filling out the financial information, however, I ran into a serious complication—they asked for my father’s financial information. My father was an engineer who had been badly injured in a car accident when I was thirteen, causing a stroke that left him paralyzed on the left side of his body. He had been unable to work for several years, but had recently returned to work and was making money again—a lot more than my mother, even with his setbacks. The problem was that none of that money was coming to me. He was in a lot of debt from the time when he had been out of work, and I had recently turned eighteen—he didn’t feel that he had to pay for anything for me anymore. It had long been a spot of contention between him and my mother, one that I didn’t even begin to know how to navigate. But because I still had contact with him, I was required to list his income.

I’m sure I don’t have to linger on the effect this had on me. It seemed like everything I had only recently begun to believe was possible was slipping out of my hands. But I was able to navigate my way through it, and so will you. In the end, even though I didn’t match, I was still given a fairly generous financial aid package to Wesleyan, although I had to work and take out some loans to cover what my father wasn’t going to pay. Still, I made it, and so will you—don’t for a second doubt it. At this point in your life, you’ve been through an impossible amount already, and not Matching isn’t going to stop you from changing your future.

Now that you haven’t matched, you are going to have to think extremely carefully about your options. The first thing to remember is that you can still be offered a totally do-able financial aid package from schools you didn’t match with. Don’t panic! Not matching just means that you’re going to have to wait a little longer to know what you’re doing next year, and I know you’re tough enough for that. When your acceptance letters start coming in, that’s when you’ll have to make some choices. Besides hearing back from your QuestBridge schools, you may be offered strong financial aid to other schools. If you truly believe that you will thrive there, and will be able to use that education to reach whatever goals you have set forward for yourself in life, then don’t discount that offer just because other schools you’ve been accepted to have bigger names. Don’t let anyone tell you what the right path to higher education is for you.

Being a part of QuestBridge means that you already have something a lot of people don’t: belief that your mind, your hard work, and your perseverance, will better your life. That doesn’t change just because you don’t match. As I often remind myself while I’m filling out graduate school applications, you’ve already done the hard work. Keeping up your grades and excelling at academics while poor? That was the hard part. Applying, waiting, deciding—that’s the easy part, so try and enjoy the ride, even if there are a few bumps along the way.

Jessica Jordan, Quest Scholar Alum, Wesleyan ’13

Making Your On-Campus Job Work for You

Jessica_Jordan_post2Finding an on-campus job can be tricky, especially if you are a freshman. I remember that one of my first thoughts after unpacking my dorm room was, “I have got to get a job.” For most Quest students, it’s a fiscal reality that they will have to work during their time at college in order to pay their scholarship’s student contribution or afford basic necessities. It can be easy to panic and accept the first job that comes along, but if you take a deep breath and commit yourself to finding a job that’s a great fit for you, your work can be so much more than just a way to make money—it can help you make friends, teach you invaluable skills, and be a truly meaningful part of your college experience.

What you can do:

1. Check out your school’s work study job board.

Most schools have an online job board where students can browse available work-study positions. At Wesleyan, many of the positions were listed the summer before my freshman year started, so even though I had no real idea of what campus looked like (having visited only briefly once before), I could start trying to picture what part of my routine might look like. This is a really great jumping off point—for some of you it might be both the beginning and the end of your search—but remember that many jobs will not be posted until the school year has officially started, so check the board often for the most up-to-date listings.

2. Don’t get discouraged, and keep your eyes open.

After perusing Wesleyan’s job board for weeks before I moved into my dorm room, I had found a job that sounded perfect for me: assistant in the rare books room at the library. I was so desperate to get that job. I counted down the days until I would be able to turn in my application to the archives office. I could see myself in that job. I was perfect for that job! I dreamed about that job. And then I didn’t get it. I didn’t even come close to getting it. And then panic set in—I hadn’t applied to any other jobs, and many of the on-campus positions were filling up fast. I applied to several other jobs that were less exciting, but didn’t get any of them either. One rejection was even after what seemed to be a very successful interview, which was particularly crushing. By my second week on campus, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to survive there. What would I do if I couldn’t find a job?

I finally found my first job when I was walking through the library. A flyer was on the door of an office labeled “Interlibrary Loan” advertising for student workers willing to work mornings. I dropped off my application, the office manager asked me a couple of questions, and then she hired me on the spot. Not all of the jobs available on campus will be listed on the job board, so be sure to keep a look out for postings on notice boards or word-of-mouth opportunities. I worked at Interlibrary Loan for four years, and it was a great job, even if it wasn’t the one I dreamed about in the beginning.

3. If you’re not happy, don’t stop looking.

My job at Interlibrary Loan was okay—I pulled books from the shelves to send to other schools, processed book requests on the computer, prepared packages for mailing, etc.—but it wasn’t as exciting as I knew some other on-campus jobs could be. In my first semester at Wesleyan I took a theater class called Basic Production Techniques, where the coursework was comprised of assisting the department in different aspects of theater tech. We helped hang lights, we made props out of Papier-mâché, and did all other kinds of menial tasks. My favorite part of the class was when I got to help out in the Costume Shop, even though I knew next to nothing about sewing.

The Costume Shop, besides being a place where work I was interested in was happening, was also a happy place to be. The manager was friendly and the atmosphere was fun. We listened to the Harry Potter audio books while we worked and joked with each other. When I came back to Wesleyan after Christmas Break, I learned that a friend who was employed in the Costume Shop would not be returning to Wesleyan. In what is perhaps one of the boldest things I’ve ever done, I emailed the manager of the Shop and asked if I could have her job. He said yes, and that is one of the best things that happened to me during my time at Wesleyan.

I kept my job at Interlibrary Loan, but I greatly reduced my hours and started working more and more in the Costume Shop. Not only did I learn how to sew, by my senior year I had been promoted to student manager of the costume collection, which taught me countless useful skills that have served me well in my search for jobs after college. Most importantly, the Costume Shop is where I made one of my best friends from college—the manager who hired me! I can’t express how much my life at Wesleyan was enriched by working at the Costume Shop and by the friendship I found there. Working during college was a necessity for me, but luckily it turned into a wonderful experience rather than a burden.

It’s easy to feel bad about having to work while in school. After all, you are expected to perform on an equal level with your non-working peers even though you may have as much as 20+ extra hours of responsibilities a week. But if you don’t give up and are willing to work to find the right job for you, working doesn’t have to be a bad thing. While it’s true that most of you won’t become best friends with your boss from your work study job, you may very well meet others there who will either become good friends (vital to making it through college sane) or be good resources for when you want to get an internship or a post-graduation job. Don’t give up if you don’t find the perfect job the first week of school, and don’t be afraid to switch jobs if you find that your position is detracting from your experience rather than adding to it. There are lots of great on-campus jobs just waiting for you!

Jessica Jordan, Quest Scholar Alum, Wesleyan ’13

Between Two Worlds: Learning How to Deal with Having Enough

jessica_jordan_post_1I wasn’t expecting to encounter the issue of “socioeconomics” when I left home for college. I had been poor for so long that, in a weird way, I didn’t even think about it anymore. I mean, of course, I thought about it—whenever I couldn’t eat out with my friends, when we didn’t have enough money for groceries, when I wept after getting a notification that my bank account had been overdrawn, after hearing snickers from the rest of my class when I had to turn in the form applying for free school lunches in homeroom…I didn’t have to think about it because it consumed my whole life. I didn’t think about my place on a spectrum of socioeconomic privilege. Every day was just hard, and I had long learned that some things others had, I didn’t—I couldn’t. I didn’t think about if I was disappointed if I couldn’t see a movie with my friends, or buy a new book by my favorite author, or any other trivialities—it was such an impossibility that I never even considered it. After years of hard days, I stopped feeling the hard anymore, and they just became days, and it’s only when I look back that I recognize the gravity of what I was going through, and I see that each day I lived in fear.

Before going to college, I didn’t feel poor – I knew I was poor. When I started my freshman year, my peers were celebrating their freedom from their parents, while I was celebrating a bit of freedom from the economic worries that shadowed me everywhere I went. They didn’t disappear—I took food from the dining hall to stash in my room in case I wasn’t able to buy more, I made panicked phone calls to the financial aid office when my books were more expensive than I had anticipated, I interviewed for job after job after job—but in so many ways money didn’t factor into my day-to-day existence at college. Though I was nervous about having enough food, my scholarship-funded dining plan included both plenty of meals and points that were used at on-campus restaurants and grocery stores. No cash necessary. There were lots of events on campus I couldn’t attend because I didn’t have enough money to buy a ticket, but there were lots of free things I could go to as well. Concerts, movies, comedy shows, it didn’t matter—I didn’t need to be able to afford an admission price to hang out with people anymore. Wesleyan, to me, was like a luxury camp: heat, power, laundry, my own little room. For the first time since I could remember, all of my basic living needs were met. Although I was conscious to live frugally, after a couple of years at Wesleyan, I could almost forget that I was poor, sometimes. Instead of knowing I was poor, I felt I was poor, but only on the rare occasions that my friends wanted to leave campus or go out to dinner. I was extremely lucky that Wesleyan afforded me a financial aid package that afforded me this opportunity, as I know that many of my fellow Quest Scholars still had to constantly fret about making their student contribution each year. Mine was a different kind of education, one that many of my peers didn’t need—how to live each day free of fear.

During my time at college, this freedom had its own difficulties. I was, for most of the year, living out of poverty, but the circumstances of my family’s finances hadn’t changed. Inevitable financial emergencies occurred, and I had no one to turn to. Neither of my parents could afford to send me money if an unexpected charge came up on my student account. In fact, when I could, I sent money I earned from my work study job home. This disconnect, this isolation, is an uncomfortable place to be. As much as life had improved for me, I couldn’t relate to my fellow students on a lot of levels—our experiences growing up had just been too different, shaping our minds in completely different ways. At the same time, I was sometimes unable to talk to my mother or sister about experiences or problems I was having at school. My mother didn’t go to college and had lived in the same small-town her entire life—she had never had the privilege of encountering some of the problems I was having. There’s a lot of talk about how to help gifted students from underprivileged backgrounds go to college; there’s almost no concern for the radical way in which it displaces them from their community without integrating them into a new one. I was a top student with great grades, but I couldn’t compete with my more advantaged peers when it came to summer internships. I wanted to work in publishing, but there is no way I could afford to live in New York for a summer, or even Nashville or Atlanta, two cities three hours away from my hometown. I had been given a great gift of a liberal arts education, but perhaps now, more than ever, it was obvious that no matter how great the powers of my mind, I would never be able to compete with richer students. After believing for so long that there’s a way out, this is devastating.

I wish I could say that post-graduation all of this works itself out, but that’s far from true. I have been extremely lucky (and have worked many long hours) and I’m not poor anymore. Not rich, by any means, but like in college, the majority of day-to-day economic worries are no longer present in my life. I recognize what a blessing this is, and I am thankful for it, but it has left a hole that I don’t know how to fill. As I mentioned early on, growing up, poor wasn’t just what I was, but who I was. My mind, my energy, my hope was all tied up in being able to afford the necessities of life. A tremendous amount of my whole being was given every day to fighting fear and worry, to making it to the next hard day. I’m unbelievably proud of that person, my high-school self, who didn’t give up the fight, who believed against all proof that there was a better life. Getting out always seemed like the hardest part, but I’ve come to know that figuring out where you’re going is almost as challenging, raising a hundred new moral quandaries every day. Does it compromise my essential moral beliefs to buy a new book when it comes out, even if I can afford to? Where do I want to live, since I’m no longer tied down to the city where my family has lived for generations? What can I do with all of that energy I used to put into the fight? For so long I have resented people who can spend money without thinking, even as that was the place I fought desperately to reach. Now that I’m there, can I still respect myself? Who am I when I’m not poor anymore? I wish I could give you a better answer, but the important thing to remember is that someone, a lot of people probably, believe that you deserve a chance to figure it out.

Jessica Jordan, Quest Scholar Alum, Wesleyan ’13