Don't be afraid to take risks when choosing a school

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This time four years ago, I was just starting to figure out what I had gotten myself into. Today, I'm in the same spot, just in a different country.

I'm currently somewhere in the northeast of England in the very infancy of my sojourn into the world of working on a master's degree.

Just like my undergraduate degree, my pursuit of my master's degree in journalism was based on generally split-second decisions.

I'm a firm believer that some mistakes are worth repeating, twice, thrice and infinite amounts.

There's something to be said for the romance of academia, the late nights studying in the library, the coffee, the dinners with professors and the schmoozing with professionals.

The romance, in fact, has really nothing to do with that, at least in my experience.

Anything I've done in my academic career, I've probably done for all of the wrong reasons.

My advice to anyone in high school right now: Make some mistakes.

The college selection process does not need to be the all-night, anxiety-inducing, crazy fest most people sometimes make it out to be. Choose one school that is totally unattainable, a safe school, your favorite school, a cheap school and two or three schools that make absolutely no sense.

When I applied to West Virginia University in Morgantown, it made absolutely no sense at the time. I had no connection to Morgantown or West Virginia. I had little knowledge of the region, the people or Appalachia in general.

I thought everything in "Deliverance" was real.

Yet, a friend persuaded me to check it out. He told me it was beautiful, there was a School of Journalism, and it was cheaper than most state schools.

Being a total slacker in high school and lacking anything resembling a respectable grade point average, but having loads of practical experience in my chosen major, I thought WVU might work out pretty well.

I paid a visit with my parents, aunt, sister and grandfather. What I saw, I loved. I was in awe of the aquamarine color of the Monongahela River and couldn't believe how clean it looked.

I was sold on WVU. I'm still not really sure why, but something about it seemed extremely bizarre and adventurous to a kid from the Philadelphia suburbs.

The only problem was that I didn't know a soul in West Virginia.

I unfortunately went to WVU thinking I'd be sharing my college experience with one of my best friends from high school. He then decided sometime very late in the spring to go to Texas A&M.

One of the things I learned about college, before even going, was that you should never listen to your friends when they say they are going somewhere because they aren't.

Once there, it's important to definitely find a foothold in the university community, said Jan Boyles, one of the university's advisers and my own.

Ms. Boyles has heard stories that run the gamut and typically has students lining up to see her because she's the one to talk to -- about anything.

When you get to college, it's important to find a confidante, someone who will always listen, no matter how absurd it is.

Don't be afraid to seek help if you get a little homesick, which you probably will.

Ms. Boyles said a lot of students are sometimes afraid to seek help and are ashamed of feeling homesick.

"You're on your own for the first time, and it's difficult," she said.

When I got to WVU, the first thing I did was latch on to the campus newspaper to try to get a job. By some stroke of luck, it actually hired me, and for the next few years I met some of my best friends at that newspaper.

Now that I've graduated, I look back on my time at WVU with unparalleled fondness. The people and the experiences will never leave me.

I grew up more than I could ever imagine over those four years, and all of that growing up had nothing to do with going to class, schmoozing with important people or staying up all night studying.

It was the weekends spent in the country, the summer days spent in Charleston and the weekdays not in the library studying all night, that made my time worth the extremely reasonable price of a four-year degree.

Now, at the time of writing this column, I find myself faced with the reality of again making what's probably a huge mistake and moving to the United Kingdom for a little more than a year.

If there's one thing I've learned from my time in college, it's that there's no point in learning from some mistakes because that means you're not repeating some of the best decisions you've ever made.

That is a mistake you can learn from.


Jon Offredo, who was a summer intern at the Post-Gazette, graduated this year from West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.Va., where he majored in journalism and minored in history. He is attending Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. He can be reached at localnews@post-gazette.com .


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