Every college has its own "feel" or "personality." But where does that come from? Mostly, it comes from the students on campus. What are your preferences when it comes to the people you will be hanging out with over the next four years?
You know that your high school classmates can affect your mood, your study plans, and your social life. The same goes for college, if not more so—especially if you plan to live on campus. Knowing more about the people and atmosphere you want around you will help you more clearly visualize a college where you will feel stimulated, yet comfortable.
How students spend their time and the types of activities that are popular on campus will affect your life at college. For example, large numbers of students involved in particular activities, such as sporting events or sororities and fraternities, can strongly impact campus life for everyone. While one of the pleasures of college is getting to know people with interests different from yours, think twice about a college where the predominant student culture is not a good match for you.
How you want to spend your time should guide you in choosing a student culture. Students at one college might have a reputation for partying, while students at another might spend more time studying and participating in intellectually focused activities. Some colleges may be known for student activism in areas such as community service or the environment. At others, many students may participate in the creative arts, such as music and drama. The possibilities are nearly endless.
Diversity on Campus
Going to college with a diverse set of students is important to many students, and may be to you. Living and studying with people from different backgrounds can be interesting and stimulating. It's not without challenge, but many students find that this is one of the most rewarding aspects of their undergraduate experience.
If you strongly identify with a certain group, such as a religious community or even people from your part of the state, you may want to investigate colleges with a large percentage of such students. Associating with like-minded people may help you launch your college years with much needed support and friendship.
Who Is Sitting Next to You?
Your fellow students may be experiencing college differently from you. For instance, you may have classes with students who live off-campus, so they may be hard to get to know. Or you may be a commuter yourself and may not easily relate to the "family" of dorm dwellers.
On the academic side, you may find your classes heavily populated with what seem like geniuses. This may intimidate you or stimulate you, depending on how you react to a competitive academic environment. If the academic level of other students is below yours, this can be equally frustrating.
Road Test Your People Preferences
It is important to know as much as possible about the students who attend any college you're interested in. Get to know those students by visiting the campus while school is in session. Spend time in areas where students congregate—the student union, a dining hall, dorms, and any area where students gather. As you talk with students, notice how you feel. Do you feel relaxed and stimulated by your experience? That's good. If you feel uncomfortable or bored, that's not so good and maybe you should look for a different college. If you can't visit, ask your counselor, family, and friends for the names of current students you can contact. You can also try communicating with students via social media sites or ask the college admissions office if they will put you in touch with a few of their students.
Your goals in college may be all about learning and achievement. But thriving in college greatly depends on your participation in a community of interesting and friendly people—
people who can easily become new friends.