10 Non-Academic Features to Keep in Mind When Choosing a College
So you’re making college decisions and it has come down to two finalists (or maybe four if you’re a bit more uncertain). You’ve already compared the costs, locations, ranks, and academic programs to the point of madness, and you’re still not any closer to a real decision than you were when you filled out applications. What do you do now?
These may be factors that you’ve already thought about thoroughly, or perhaps they are factors you’ve just realized you need to think about. If they are, hopefully these tips will help you move along with your decision process.
1 - Professor Accessibility
Getting to communicate with professors outside of the classroom can be a very enriching experience, whether it is about your academics, or just your general life goals. Though this mostly differs among individuals, this can also be a characteristic which differs between departments or even universities in general. This especially can be an issue at major research universities. Get in touch with students who are pursuing majors you’re possibly interested in, and ask them what office hours are like (office hours are regular time slots professors set aside during the week to meet with students).
2 - Dorm Life/Campus Life Activities
Making friends is a struggle many students face. Most people find their friend groups (or find pathways to friend groups) in the first month of school, so for those who take a longer time to warm up to people, it can be a tough crowd to work with. Look into what kinds of bonding activities the dorms have, or what kinds of campus social activities you can join. When we say campus activities, we don’t mean the ones you want to join just to pad your resume (though that can be a bonus); we mean the ones where you think you would have a viable chance of truly getting to know people.
3 - Living On/Off Campus
Yes, you THINK you have thought about this, but have you really? Dorm life can get pretty exhausting after a couple of years of college (all right, after the first month of college), and for those who would prefer living independently in apartments, it would be good to know beforehand how many students move off campus, when they do it, and how expensive that is. It’s never too soon to get an idea of how much rent you will be paying to escape the tortures of dorm food.
4 - Career Services
Try to find reviews of university career services somewhere online. If the career services on campus are really unhelpful, you will probably find plenty of students complaining about it. Career services, even if you think you’re just looking for a summer job for spending money, are an extremely useful resource.
5 - Health Clinics
Being sick in college is more or less the worst, and if you’re someone who is prone to injury, making sure there are on-campus resources (either the school has its own center, or they can easily direct you to where you need to go to) can be helpful.
6 - Counseling Services
The transition from being at home to being away combined with the stress of balancing your social and academics lives can also take a mental toll. Look into what kinds of counseling/psychological services the university has to offer, and how helpful students say those services actually are.
7 - Absence/Presence of Greek Life
The dynamics of Greek life differ from campus to campus, some with a greater monopoly on campus social life than others. It’s hard to get a true gauge of what the Greek life is like when you’re not a real student, but do what research you can; ask around on your college visits, and decide if that kind of social atmosphere is the kind of atmosphere you can thrive in.
8 - Emphasis on Sports
Are you constantly watching the big game on TV, or would you rather watch paint dry? Either way, you should check out the major sports teams at the colleges you’re interested in and understand the size of the sports culture. If you’re someone who happily dons the school colors and wants to go to every football game, great! If not, maybe you’d rather go to a school that spends your tuition money elsewhere.
9 - Weather
Check the weather. Yes, weather changes, and it’s not really something you should put between you and your future. But if you already know that you are a person who can’t deal with cold weather, it’s probably not a good thing for you to go to a place where below zero winters last longer than usual. Winter depression is a real thing.
10 - Transportation (Public and/or University provided)
Theater and concert tickets will never again be as cheap as they are now, so decent public/university provided transportation (especially if you live close to a large city) can be a great asset for those of you who get stir crazy. Also, if you decided to disregard the weather, at least check if the school provides shuttles from one side of campus to the other (again, not really something to hinge your decision on, but if you’re desperate to tip the scales one way or the other…).