Despite what your parents and teachers might think, there is a lot more a school than its nationwide academic ranking, especially if you plan to live on campus. Of course you want to obtain a degree from a reputable school to show that you’re academically competitive, but in order to graduate, you need to spend four years of your life at this place. After you’ve narrowed down your list of potential schools to a reasonable number, here are some things you should learn about each one – these are the ones that make or break a school for most students.
The Size of the Campus
So many students transfer schools after just one or two semesters because they find that the size of the school doesn’t meet their needs. Remember that larger schools mean larger class sizes, which is great for students who enjoy meeting new people but are still able to focus in a crowded environment. Smaller schools are better for students who prefer to have more personal relationships with their professors and classmates.
Your best bet is to visit the schools that you’re seriously considering attending and spend the night there if possible. While the dorms themselves might appear to be sufficient when you take a tour, spending the night will help you to decide whether you prefer co-ed or same-sex living. It also helps you to get an idea of how far the dorms are from other things on campus, whether the buildings are divided by major, and how social the floors tend to be.
If you like attending big football games or want to play for a competitive volleyball team, you should attend some games before making any hard decisions. You don’t want to be surprised to learn that not very many students come out to watch the games, or that not many students participate in the sport you want to play. On the other hand, some students are perfectly happy attending a school without big teams, and might even prefer it. Just make sure that you’re compatible with the level of school spirit before you attend a college.
Perhaps you’re one of those students who is completely turned off by Greek life and can’t see yourself going to a school with too many Greek events. Or, maybe you’re looking to join a specific sorority or fraternity. For a lot of students, Greek life is a huge make-it or break-it factor, so this is something you definitely want to ask current students about.
No one wants to be stuck paying for a meal plan for a dining hall with terrible hours and questionable entrees! See if your tour guide will let you have a meal at the main cafeteria and be sure to ask what else is available on campus. If you’re a library-dweller, you might want to find out if there are any restaurants that are 24-hours on campus. If you have dietary restrictions, find out how accommodating the school is.
A lot of students go away to school hoping to meet students from other cultures or to join a club that celebrates their own. Bear in mind that, statistically, smaller schools are going to have less diversity – especially because there will be fewer students studying abroad at these colleges. If you’re looking for a lot of on-campus diversity, your best bet is probably to look into universities near big cities.