Choosing a college based on strong academics is very important; however, there is a lot more to college than its national, academic rankings.
Every college has its own unique culture, consisting of its academics, its geographic location and its student body. It’s the vibe one gets from that college. There is nothing you can read or hear to fully understand a college’s culture. No one can tell you truly what it’s truly like, and how you will feel about it. You need to visit as often as you can.
Some colleges are in isolated towns, and others are in the heart of big cities. Students at certain colleges tailgate for football games and paint their bodies, and other students go to the football games just to watch the band play. Some colleges offer a wide range of studies, and others specialize in certain fields.
Essentially, the college you choose will be your home for four years. Similarly, do you always pick the most intelligent friends? If you could choose your own parents, would you opt to live with the most intelligent couple you could find? Your university’s intelligence is very important to your future success, but students should also select a college based on how happy they will be there.
Visiting a college is the only way to find out its unique culture. It is very easy and affordable to schedule a college visit/walkthrough with a bubbly, overexcited tour guide. These, however, only give students a surface level understanding of the university. Students will receive extensive knowledge on how high every building is, who it was named after, when it was constructed, who the dean is, etc. This is all information that you are likely to immediately forget.
College visits/walkthroughs with tour guides can be helpful. However, the best way to truly understand the culture of a college is by living there. Many colleges allow students to take short summer sessions. These summer sessions vary from college-to-college. However, most are three to five days worth of classes. Students will experience living in the dorms and eating the dining hall food. Also, students are likely to have roommates.
These can be expensive; however, you can earn credits to that university. This is truly a unique way to gain an accurate perspective of what the college campus is like. If interested, students should attend these short summer sessions between their junior and senior years of high school. If you go to one of the more prestigious ones, like the Oxbridge (Oxford / Cambridge) program, it can certainly help you during the college application process.
Another great way to find out the culture of a college is by visiting a friend, or a friend’s older sibling who is currently at the school you are interested in. Stay with them for a weekend. College kids love visitors. They will likely welcome you and show you what their college is all about.
He/she will not be paid by the university to recruit freshmen. Rather, he/she will just be another college kid showing you how to have a great time at that college. He/she will introduce you to his/her friends and take you to the local coffee shops and restaurants.
Essentially, selecting a college that fits your personality well is equally important as academic prestige. If you are miserable at an elite college, then your performance is likely to suffer as well. Also, you won’t have the motivation to get involved in extra-curricular activities, which are important to your success.