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Image from Pexels

Now that you have acquired a long list of awesome colleges to attend, the next important step is to single out the college that would be the best for you. Sure, these colleges and universities will court you for your love (and money) with freebies and acceptance gimmicks, but there are a couple important qualities of a university that you need to consider. This is probably one of the most important qualities to concern: the student body.

But wait, aren’t all state universities or liberal arts colleges the same? So you are telling me that each state university is different from each other? Yes, yes I am. Although it changes each year, most colleges and universities have a distinct characteristic to their campus that might not be as readily apparent. Here are some things you should do to see if these distinct characteristics are for you.

1. Ask students (especially upperclassmen) about their experiences. 

This is probably one of the most important things you can do as a prospective student. Asking different students about their experiences at a college will provide you with a first-hand account of what you or your future peers will experience at the college. A great opportunity to ask students is during your revisit or acceptance day/weekend at the college. In addition, be sure to attempt to ask a wide range of students what they think and feel about the campus. Usually second semester freshmen will still have a very fresh outlook on the college or still be on their “honeymoon phase” of college, while upperclassmen might have a more jaded look at the university or college life in general. Both are equally important and will provide a more holistic view of the college.

2. Visit (or revisit) college campuses. 

From personal experience, I did not visit many colleges until after I got accepted due to financial barriers. Many colleges, however, offer transportation stipends or cover the costs to attend their revisit weekends to accepted students, so take advantage of those opportunities to see where you might be spending the next four years at. If you did not receive any information about that, email or call the college’s admissions office.

3. Check out college publications. 

If you are unable to attend revisit days or get yourself to see the campus once again, try reading through the college newspapers to engage in what the student body seems to care about. Does the newspaper cover topics of social justice/activism? Do they have a popping arts and life section? While comments on college newspapers are almost as terrible as YouTube comments, the number of comments on an article can indicate whether or not this was a hot topic on campus or not. Remember, with all publications, the newspaper may only cover one side of college life, but it will at least help you engage in one facet of what the community is like.

4. Email current students with your questions. 

If all else fails on getting in contact with a student, email the admissions office and ask whether or not there are any students who are in similar activities or majoring in a subject you’re interested in that would be willing to talk to you. This is an option that you might want to start with early on, since even if the admissions office is able to put you in touch with a student, the email correspondence might be a tad slow since the college student might be busy with course work and other commitments (trust me, I have been on both ends of this situation).

To be completely honest, you will probably not be able to really grasp what kind of student community you will be in until you actually attend the college for more than a year. Each year is different since it depends on your class year as well as what attitudes the upperclassmen have. The smaller the undergraduate community, the more prominent and defined the character of the college becomes. However these tips are great ways to start learning more about your future college or university beyond the fancy pamphlets and rankings. It will help you engage with the people of a university, which will make all the difference to your college experience.

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  1. Amanda Huebner on April 8, 2014

    Also, I’d recommend checking out the group Facebook pages for some of these colleges. Things like seen@NYU or even department groups like UC San Diego preMed is a great way to get to know how the student populous behaves. If they seem snotty, ignorant, or annoying in any way, maybe you should consider that. Keep in mind, however, that the internet will always be the internet, and comments found on the internet will always operate below realistic student behavior.

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