college admissions

Most students begin thinking about where to attend college by assessing academic programs, and rightly so. Your education is the reason you are going to college, after all, and you’ll want your school’s academic offerings to provide you with the skills you need to achieve your goals. But college is about more than just textbooks and papers. Over the next four years, you’ll spend much more time outside of the classroom than inside the classroom. What will you do? How will you get involved? What are your priorities? With whom will you connect? Asking the right questions—and finding the best answers to them—can help you identify the perfect social complement to the academic institution of your dreams.

Who Else Goes Here?

Faculty members are charged with teaching you the material on their syllabi, but you’ll learn just as much from your peers. What are they like? What attitudes do they have about education or life in general? If you’re passionate about social justice, you might want to find a campus energized by community service opportunities and engaged, informed students. If you are particularly ambitious, with hard-to-attain professional goals, you might benefit from like-minded peers who can motivate you with their own work ethic. Think about how you will collaborate with others, how you might develop personal connections that can become your professional network, and the degree to which other students can share your interests while increasing your perspective on the world.

What Do People Do For Fun?

I am a huge sports fan but attended a college with no varsity sports. Because of this, I had to be sure that there were opportunities for me to have an athletic outlet that would allow me to exercise my body in the same way I exercised my mind. By keeping my head up and meeting other athletically-minded upperclassmen, I discovered ultimate Frisbee. This became a huge part of my college experience over my four years of school. If there’s something that you need to have to keep yourself sane, whether that’s skiing, comic books, horseback riding, hiking, or just hanging out at the beach, make sure that there are people at your campus who do those things.

When you do find opportunities to engage with the activities you love, be sure that they fit into the overall experience at your college. An entire campus can be affected by the interests of the majority. Want to go to USC but don’t want any part of college football? Saturdays on campus will be a struggle for you, as will most weeks in the fall. Be sure that the dominant social culture is something that you’re comfortable with and excited by, even if it’s not your ideal personal outlet.

Brass Tacks

All of the fluffy conversation around social culture and student personality is important, but you also need to take an analytic look at the facts surrounding campus life. Where will you live and for how many years is housing guaranteed? Will you need a bicycle or a car to get around campus and the surrounding area? How much access will you have to off-campus life, and how much are you insulated by your school’s bubble? How good is the food? How comfortable do you feel in the library, the student union, and other popular hangout spots on campus? When you visit colleges during the spring, perhaps during an admitted students weekend, make sure that your list of questions is answered. Plop yourself down in high-traffic areas on campus and get a sense of how the place feels to you. Ultimately, you’re choosing a work/life/play space just as much as you’re choosing a college. If you ensure that the setting is just right for you to be at your best, you’ll be perfectly well equipped to satisfy all your academic goals.

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Written by Ian Fisher
Ian Fisher is an experienced educational consultant, part of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Ian received his master’s in policy, organization, and leadership studies from the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Prior to joining College Coach, Ian worked as a senior admissions officer at Reed College. Visit our website to learn more about Ian Fisher.