Perspectives on college admissions – school fit (continued)
In our last blog post, we introduced the concept of “college fit” and why it’s an important thing to reflect on in college admissions. Further, we discussed initial strategies to identify a college’s ethos/mission and ways to analyze how these core values of the college may (or may not!) match with your high school experiences and academic goals.
This time around, I’d like to approach the question of “college fit” from a different angle – namely, how do we get a feel for the social aspect of college? We’ll discuss methods to evaluate the social life on a college campus in order to determine whether this would be the type of environment where you might thrive.
These extra-academic concerns should be viewed seriously. The break from high school to college represents a chance for reinvention, and the social milieu in which a student is situated plays a key role in this process. In college, students have the chance to define a new identity from a relatively blank slate.
When reflecting on the question of “college fit,” imagine: what social experiences would you be exploring on the campus in question? How might this new social setting begin to shape your identity in a certain direction? This social comfortability can help you make personal and professional connections with other great minds amongst students and faculty, allowing you to succeed later in graduate school pursuits and/or the workplace!
The social life on a college campus is broader, more varied and all-encompassing than that of high school. While high school offers a relatively standardized set of clubs (HOSA, DECA, robotics etc.), college campus life is far more intensely immersive – defined by a range of informal and formal student groups; spaces set aside for free-form socialization; and events and traditions that students look forward to every year. In college, students won’t be continuing their current slate of high school clubs and activities; rather, new possibilities on campus will allow the student to pick and choose the features of a new social identity from a long menu of distinct campus features.
Not all campuses are the same in terms of their social dynamics, so it’s important to get a sense of what defines a particular campus culture. This can be done from the micro-perspective, trying to create a listing for yourself of all the particular social opportunities available to the students, comparing and contrasting different institutions from there. This could be quite labor-intensive, so I’ll suggest another way: look at the macro-picture of a school’s social life, across a few key categories.
Residential life – Student housing in college can be quite varied. Some colleges place a great emphasis on on-campus dormitories, which lead to a particular type of social life setting. At one extreme end of this tendency is the idea of the residential college, where students are assigned a particular residence for all four years of college; or the idea of the first-year dormitory where the entire freshman class lives in a particular site on campus together. These experiences can create an extremely immersive environment, where students (no matter how introverted and extroverted they might be) are placed in constant contact with others. Students are on meal-plans, local activities are planned around the residence hall; competitions and traditions exist to create cohesion among student-residences at a particular house.
At the other extreme is a more open campus-living situation where a larger portion of the student body lives in housing off-campus. This creates certain new opportunities, but students will have to be more proactive and assertive in determining their social living setting: students locate roommates and decide what type of living space they prefer. Perhaps they choose to live in a co-op off-campus where students cook their food for each other; or they live extremely independently, shopping and cooking food for themselves and dining out more with friends. The social basis of school is more open to diverse possibilities not governed by a particular traditional living space.
Geography – The geographic features of the campus and its surroundings also can be important determinative aspects of the college’s social life. Rural, suburban and urban locations can have different atmospheres which can penetrate the confines of the university walls and inflect the qualities of student life. Perhaps the natural features of a secluded environment become a core focus for students, and students take advantage of the wilderness. Or maybe city life becomes something that students explore, taking trips to see music and cultural events together. Aspects such as warm and cold climates make a difference as well, determining the types of outdoor activities featured on- and off-campus. On some campuses, this external geographic environment is more important than others but this is something to pay attention to.
School pride – Lastly, I think it is always important to reflect on a university’s school pride and where it derives from. Often, social life on campus will be centered around particular activities, traditions and sources of school pride. While universities offer a diverse range of activities catering to many students' interests and passions, often certain things hold more social weight and become touchstones for the university’s pride (the things that get broadcast to the community and alumni and outside community as emblems of their prestige). It’s not to say that you have to actually participate in these activities. For example, the Longhorn football team at UT Austin is a dominant feature, but not everyone on campus is a player on the team or even is required to attend. However, you will not be able to ignore completely this aspect of UT’s campus life; or, maybe you can, but that would put you in a relation markedly against that dominant aspect of campus life (and you might find yourself as a part of an non-football counter-culture and find friends in this opposition space!)
In short, it is important to consider the dominant aspects of school pride on campus – whether it’s based around a creative or artistic pursuit, an athletic achievement, a core value, or other cultural markers of success – and to think about how these might structure your life on campus.
Mapping social life
These three aspects – residential life, geography and school pride – can serve as a sort of coordinate system for mapping the social life of a campus. Analyze all three, and try to picture how these might interact with each other – and how you would fit into such a space. From there, the next step would be learning more: talking to people on campus, discovering the specific activities and social events that would make up the day-to-day life on campus for you.
Berkeley2Academy can help with the question of “college fit” – this work can begin no matter where you are in high school, from freshmen to seniors. With one-on-one consultations, we can meet with you to discuss college preferences in relation to your high school experiences; determine a set of college criteria for you to use in exploring college choices; craft a good college list as you begin your college admissions season; and finally help craft admissions materials that are tailored to a particular college’s culture and ethos.