When trying to figure out if colleges are “right” for them, students often start with—and sometimes even limit their research to—such factors as size, location and majors offered.
However, higher education institutions also have personalities. Like people, they give off a kind of “vibe” that’s likely to appeal to some students but not to others. For example, while your best friend may enthusiastically embrace a particular school’s quirks and traditions, you might not find them appealing at all. Accordingly, if you plan to live on campus as well take classes, it’s essential to get an up-close and personal sense of what’s often termed “campus culture.”
Here are a few things you can do to discover what makes a college tick:
If you’re able to take an in-person campus tour and/or sit in on an information session, don’t be afraid to ask questions of your guide and/or presenter. Check out bulletin boards and student publications to get a sense of what’s “hot” on campus. If allowed, you might also try to set up a brief chat with the admission rep for your geographical area. To do that, locate contact information in the admissions section of college websites prior to your visit.
Of course, it’s not a good idea to take up a rep’s time to learn about the “basic” aspects of campus life which can be gleaned from other sources, like college websites and guides. Rather, it’s best to use such an opportunity to ask specific questions—whether in person or via email—about what’s important to you and for which you can’t find answers elsewhere. For instance, you might want to know how a school handles safety issues and/or whether campus politics lean left or right. And remember that regional reps may serve as first readers of applications from their areas and, in turn, advocate for their recruits.
If colleges in which you’re interested don’t allow prospective students to make in-person appointments with regional reps, getting in touch with them after you’ve completed some initial research online or as a follow-up to a visit can help you establish a relationship with them. Most are eager to help prospective students find answers to pressing questions. To that end, colleges often employ current undergrads to help high schoolers get a sense of what it might be like to attend their colleges. Although it’s not wise to pester your reps by constantly contacting them, don’t hesitate to ask them if it’s possible to connect you with such an admission ambassador. A school’s social media postings, including student videos describing their experiences on YouTube, may also be useful.
Discovering good-fit colleges and universities takes time and effort. But your hard work will have paid off when you’re able to confidently choose a place that feels “right” and where you’re likely to thrive.