Freshman orientation

Grand Valley's Growth in enrollment and prestige means tighter admissions— by Michele Coffill

Incoming students cite housing, like Mark A. Murray Hall (pictured), as one of the top reasons they chose Grand Valley. Twelve new buildings, or additions to existing buildings have been built since 2001. GVSU file photo

Now a high school senior, Jackie Dunten admits that she has matured a lot since she was a freshman. And, she said, so has Grand Valley.

“To be honest, when I was a freshman, it was not a school I thought I would go to,” said Dunten, “But it’s grown a lot during that time.” In August, Dunten and about 15 of her East Grand Rapids High School classmates will join 3,400 other new students at Grand Valley to create the freshman class of 2007-08.

Jodi Chycinski, director of admissions, called Grand Valley — at nearly 50-years-old — a relatively young university and said students and parents needed time to get to know GVSU. “People needed to learn what our place is,” she said. “Now, I think people have a pretty clear idea about our mission and they know we have a great environment with great facilities and faculty members who love to teach.”

Growing enrollment has forced the university to build more housing: 12 new buildings or additions to existing buildings — accommodating more than 1,800 students — have been built in Allendale and Grand Rapids since 2001. Chycinski said the new structures create a comfortable and modern environment that complements existing on-campus housing for more than 5,200 students.

Jackie Dunten, senior at East Grand Rapids High School, sits by the school’s pool. In August, she’ll move into Grand Valley housing as a freshman; she plans to join the water polo club team and study abroad. Photo by Bernadine Carey-Tucker

“Where they live and their surrounding environment is important to students. Housing and Student Life have worked hard to create a residential experience that enhances an academic experience,” she said.

It’s apparent students and potential students have noticed Grand Valley’s efforts. In 2002, the university’s enrollment topped 20,000 for the first time; that same year applications topped 10,000 (see sidebars on page 19). And both numbers have grown since then, a point noted by some West Michigan high school guidance counselors.

Larry Fisher, guidance department chair and associate principal at East Grand Rapids High School, said Grand Valley used to be a blip on the radar of students there but consistently for the past four years, it’s ranked among their top three choices. The other two are University of Michigan and Michigan State University. In 1997, nine EGR students applied to Grand Valley. In 2006, 70 students applied.

“The contributing factors to the increase are what the university has done with the campus — both downtown and in Allendale — and also its reputation for academics has increased,” Fisher, who has been a guidance counselor for 15 years, said. “And the economy — Grand Valley is a good option that’s close to home.”

A student studies in the courtyard of the DeVos Center on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus. GVSU file photo

Dan Sanders, guidance counselor at Unity Christian High School in Hudsonville, jokingly equated Grand Valley’s rise in popularity to a toy that rose to peak prominence in the late ’90s.

“It’s kind of like Beanie Babies,” Sanders, a guidance counselor for 17 years, said. “They became popular simply because everyone else had them. I remember a time when kids put Grand Valley as a fall-back choice. Now it’s a first-choice school.”

Sanders said typically from a graduating class of about 230, nearly 40 Unity students will attend Grand Valley. He said the university’s best-selling points for his students are its campus ministry program and Young Life chapter. The other top choices for Unity students are Calvin and Hope colleges.

For most high school students, the process of selecting a college begins during their junior year and reaches a fever pitch a year later. Dunten said she also considered two Big Ten schools. It was an error in an admissions letter that helped settle her mind.

“They sent me a letter that was meant for my sister,” she said. “It just made me realize how big of a school it is. Once I visited Grand Valley, I felt really good about my decision.”

Dunten’s classmate Abby Desmyter agreed that Grand Valley’s enrollment and the size of its classes (averaging 28 students) helped her decide on Grand Valley.

“I took a tour and really liked it,” Desmyter said of the Allendale Campus. “I liked the atmosphere and the class sizes. The university is not really small, but the numbers have grown, but not to the point where it would be overwhelming.”

West Michigan students are familiar with Grand Valley’s growth in enrollment and increase in standards, and the word has spread. More than 15 percent of all Lakers are from the metro Detroit area; last year, 890 new students came from Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

Small classes, unique learning opportunities and contact with professors are among the reasons applications to Grand Valley continue to soar. GVSU file photo

Detroit native and GVSU freshman Ebony Arnold said during her senior year at Detroit Renaissance High School she narrowed her college choices to UM-Dearborn, CMU and Grand Valley. After spending a year in Allendale and staying in Kistler Living Center, is she happy with her decision? You bet.

“I love my professors,” said Arnold, an advertising/public relations major who has made the Dean’s List in the fall and winter semesters. “My friends who haven’t graduated from high school yet are always asking me what the work load is like and what the campus is like. I tell them it’s great and that I’m very content here.”

Chycinski would like to add to Arnold’s message: get admissions applications in early. She said five or 10 years ago, students could apply to Grand Valley in the spring, but “that’s no longer the case.” She said by January, it appeared that the incoming freshman class of 3,400 was full, so the Admissions Office established a wait pool of applicants. Soon it grew to 800.

“We’re having to turn away students that 10 years ago would have been accepted,” she said. “It’s not a positive experience for the student.” Her advice: take rigorous high school classes, don’t coast during your senior year and apply before the end of December.
Like other soon-to-be freshmen, Dunten is excited and a bit apprehensive about entering college. She talked about studying abroad for a semester and perhaps joining the women’s water polo team, a club sport offered through Student Life. Being in a familiar area is a good thing, she said. “I like that it’s familiar. If I need to get to a street, I know how to get there,” she said. “You can push yourself to meet new people. That’s why I’m interested in water polo, it’s a good way to meet people right away.”

Page last modified July 29, 2011