3 Important Things to Look for When It Comes to College Fit
1. The Campus Culture
If you're looking for a seriously hard-working campus experience, you'll want to prioritize going to a school where you'll find other students studying the night away in the library rather than spending all day and night at parties and social events. Each campus has a particular culture and attracts students who feel that they can find a place there.
To figure out a school's culture, the first thing you should do is look at the type of student the school recruits. Most schools will have a section on their website in which they explain what their ideal student looks like. Harvard University is looking for students that "will inspire those around them during their College years and beyond," and who have made a genuine commitment to, or taken a leadership role in, their extracurricular activities. In contrast, Oberlin College, a prestigious liberal arts school, looks for, "an incoming class that represents a variety of talents, viewpoints, and achievements." If you like being in environments with a lot of diversity over a place where there are a lot of potential leaders, you might choose Oberlin over Harvard.
Another tip off when it comes to campus culture is whether the types of clubs you're interested in — be they social justice organizations or table tennis groups — are popular. Knowing how important varsity sports are on campus will also give you a sense of the culture. You can often get this information by asking admissions officers as well as current students who can clue you into what students at the school value and like to do. If you visit the school, make sure to ask students how they spend their free time, and what some of the big annual campus events or traditions are.
If joining a sorority or a fraternity is important to you, you might want to research or contact the Greek chapters at a school or talk to admissions officers to better understand what the Greek community is like. If you want to avoid Greek life altogether, be sure to prioritize schools that have minimal or no fraternities or sororities.
You should also consider the culture of the academic department you'll be majoring in. For example, the business school at Stanford University has a strong focus on social innovation and environmental concerns. In contrast, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania is among the top choices if you love finance and want to someday work on Wall Street.
2. The Student Body
The student body composition could have an impact on how well you feel you fit in and is important to consider to ensure you choose the right college. If you're a first generation college student, and there aren't many other students like you on campus, you might feel like you can't relate to many of your peers. Attending a school where you feel you stand out, or are different, might not affect some students. For others, it could be a huge red flag.
If you want to be part of a community of fellow campus social activists or artists or spend your four years at a school participating in an active intramural sports program, then it's important to choose a school with enough students who share your interests or values. You can ask admissions officers to tell you about this.
Another factor to consider when it comes to the student body is its size. Some people prefer to go to small schools where everyone knows each other. Others prefer a big campus where there are always lots of new students to meet. The size of the student population has an impact on your academic life as well. Colleges with smaller student bodies may have smaller class sizes but also fewer course options, majors, departments or specialty schools or centers. Larger universities also usually have larger class sizes but more academic variety.
3. The Campus Facilities
Facilities are an important factor you should consider when you're trying to figure out how to pick a college. After all, if the library operates on a shoestring budget, you might have a hard time accessing the journals you need to write your papers. If you want to study science but your school has outdated science labs, you might not get an opportunity to use state-of-the-art equipment, putting you at a disadvantage when you graduate and are job hunting. Make sure that the school has the academic facilities you need to get a great education.
Non-academic school facilities are worth checking out as well, especially the dorms. If you don't think you can share a room with a roommate in your first year, are there options for single bedrooms? Do the residence facilities encourage community by having common spaces? Do you think you would like living there?
Explore other facilities on campus as well like the pool, gym, cafeterias, student life building and sports stadiums. If those spaces are not well equipped or outdated, or don't have a lot of areas for club meetings or student events to create a vibrant community, then you might be disappointed in your campus experience.
How to Weigh the Options
There's no perfect school and no magical formula to show you how to pick a college, but there is a school out there that's a great fit for you. To help you choose the right college, make a ranked list of things that are important to you like academics, an active Greek life or an artistic campus culture, and rate each school based on how well it fits your criteria. That said, be willing to reconsider the list. Some things, like gut reactions, can't be fit to any list. After all, you may well just walk onto a campus and know immediately that's where you're meant to spend the next four years.