finding the right college

by Sara Calvert-Kubrom, former admissions officer at Lewis & Clark College

When researching colleges and deciding where to apply, there are so many factors to consider that vary for each student – cost, location, academic quality and programming, athletics, student life, professional development, and so much more. We often talk to families about the importance of a college being a strong “fit” for a student, but what does this really mean? Although some aspects of fit can be quantified and measured, sometimes it is a feeling that a student gets when they step foot on a campus, or a profound resonance with the campus values and culture.

For many students I’ve worked with, elements of diversity and identity have been critical in researching colleges and ultimately determining where to attend. This is part of the college search process that is deeply personal, often vulnerable, important to authentically reflect on, and wildly different for each family. Here are some elements of diversity that I’ve discussed and explored with students when researching colleges: race, ethnicity, country of origin, gender and/or sexual identity, religion, geographic diversity of students’ home states, social and political beliefs, socioeconomic status, and family background/exposure to higher education.

But how can a student research the diversity of a college, campus culture, and an institution’s commitment to be truly welcoming of students like them? As a student begins their preliminary college research, it can be helpful to first start with numbers and statistics. Here are a few helpful resources:

Although the aforementioned examples are helpful resources, they are merely examples, as each student may be looking for different elements of personal identity and diversity in their college experience. And, although numbers and statistics are a helpful starting point, they only tell part of the story in this very human process.

To explore the topic of campus diversity beyond the numbers, I spoke with my friend and colleague Jamiere Abney, Associate Dean of Admission and Coordinator of Outreach for Opportunity and Inclusion at Colgate University to get his recommendations on how students can engage with colleges to research diversity. Here are some of Jamiere’s suggestions:

  • Look for information about diversity on college websites. How easy (or hard) is it to find information about diversity and inclusion and evidence of anti-racism initiatives? The prominence of important information about diversity and inclusion can sometimes signal institutional priority and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion plans.
  • If you are a first generation college student, look for resources the college has specifically for first-gen students.
  • Look for clubs, organizations, and academic and student life offices linked to your identity and explore their offerings.
  • Reach out to the office of admission and/or campus offices and inquire about following:
    • Opportunities to speak with faculty to learn about if/how diversity and inclusion initiatives fit into the curriculum and courses.
    • If students are empowered and included in diversity and inclusion initiatives.
    • What campus climate and culture are like and how issues of diversity and identity are celebrated and discussed on campus.
  • Find ways to speak with current students to hear their perspectives from different identities and lived experiences:
    • Many offices of admission have student ambassadors who can speak with you.
    • Reach out to graduates from your high school, community, church, etc.
    • Reach out to campus offices working in the diversity and equity space (if you aren’t sure what those offices are, ask the office of admission).
    • Email student clubs and organizations involved with diversity-based work.
    • Attend on-campus events when able, and virtual online opportunities when COVID or other circumstances prevent traveling.

Once you’ve done this research, Jamiere and I encourage you to ask yourself: Do I feel comfortable? Can I see myself here? Can I see myself growing and developing in this community? As Jamiere said, this growth “…mindset might help a student push outside their comfort zone a bit to choose a place that may be a little scary at first, but could really help them hit their peak.” These reflections help students determine if an institution is a fit for them.

There is not a magical tool to asses “fit” with a college or to know what it will be like to join that community, but thoughtful research and asking important (and sometimes difficult) questions can make a huge difference. When emerging adults embark on their college journey, they are taking a leap of faith and hoping to commit to an institution for several years, which is a substantial percentage of their adolescent lived experiences. In our ever-evolving society, I hope that students find colleges where they will feel safe, welcomed, empowered, and valued. Leaving home and joining a new community can be scary and challenging, so doing the research that Jamiere suggested above can be key in easing the transition and finding your new home away from home.

College Application Prep 101

Written by Sara Calvert-Kubrom
Sara Calvert-Kubrom is a member of College Coach's team of college admissions consultants and a former admissions officer at Lewis & Clark College and leader of the Program at Northeastern University. Visit our website to learn more about Sara Calvert-Kubrom.