A peek inside freshman year: Jamie Ballard at SDSU

Jamie Ballard kept an incredibly busy schedule as a senior at Sonoma Valley High School last year, editing the Dragon’s Tale newspaper and interning at The Sonoma Index-Tribune, not to mention managing a full course load of honors and AP classes. Landing at college this fall has given her a chance to catch her breath, but likely not for long.

For as long as she can remember, Ballard has wanted to pursue a career in journalism and she chose San Diego State University primarily for its strong journalism program, plentiful internships and active network of alumni in the field. What else drew her to SDSU? It didn’t hurt that the school is in a gorgeous location and has a helpful and generous financial aid office.

Ballard has a full course load with six classes, but is thrilled to have no classes on Fridays. She has, of course, also joined the student newspaper, The Aztec. When she’s not in class, or at the paper, she’s usually in the gym, in the library, or pursuing a new passion – waterskiing. She joined the wakeboard/waterski club a week after arriving. She said, “It’s already one of my favorite things about school. It’s really fun spending an afternoon on Mission Bay skiing with the team.”

While Ballard has been thrown into the deep end navigating a huge campus with 28,000 students, she was surprised by how patient upperclassmen are with the freshmen. “Everyone is welcoming and friendly, and when I got lost on campus those first few days, the older students were extremely kind and helped me find my classes. They had helpful ‘Ask Me!’ tents on campus for the first week, where you could go up and ask the volunteers anything – how to find your classes, how to form study groups, etc.,” she said.

So how does college feel different from Sonoma so far? “Well, four of my six classes are large lecture classes with 500 or more people in them. It’s much harder to get to know the professor and your peers. At SVHS, everyone is at least tangentially aware of one another. It’s a lot bigger overall, but I like that,” she said.

What does she miss about Sonoma? “San Diego is positively bursting with strip malls, and I miss little cafes like the Basque or Scandia Bakery. On the plus side, there are all the chain restaurants I could ever want – Starbucks, Panda Express, Chipotle – just steps from my dorm room. So it’s a fair trade-off.”

Ballard has spent some time thinking back to senior year and said, “College is a big change from Sonoma and the high school, but I was ready and eager for that.”

She advised seniors, “Relax. College is a big decision, but whatever you decide now doesn’t necessarily determine the rest of your life. Talk it over with family and friends, but make the decision because it’s right for you, not because someone else is pressuring you to go to a certain school. (That said, I advise you stay within your/your family’s financial means. Student debt can be crippling.)”

She added, “Keep an open mind when considering college. I originally thought I would end up going to school on the East Coast, and I applied to SDSU on a whim – but I’m really happy that I ended up here.”