The waiting game is over. All of the owls have delivered their notices to your homes. Accepted. Rejected. Waitlisted. The truth is finally out. You now have a clearer list of universities you could attend, but which one is best suited for you? You have daydreamed and imagined yourself at each and every campus on this list, but what is the best way to go about deciding which you resonate more with? Many prospective students take campus tours, look at program rankings, and take the colleges’ stereotypes to heart. While this gives some insight to the campus’ overall atmospheres, I can say that one of the largest influences is actual students’ experiences, a commonly overlooked factor when choosing where to go. These students all live and breathe their respective campuses. They are the most informed about the current academic and social atmospheres. They are the closest you can get to the truth of what it is like to attend the institution.
The Facebook Group
Once you have been accepted to a university, it will not be long until either the institution itself or a groups of students create a Facebook group for your cohort. A large proportion of the members are current students, faculty members, and alumni that are open to answering any questions you may have. The greatest part about this is that even just one question will receive a multitude of answers, in the most candid ways possible. From the dining hall experience to the availability of research opportunities and mental health resources, the questions are endless and the responses come within minutes. Many will respond to your post and even offer to talk to you privately one on one should you want to delve deeper.
It gives you the chance to talk to a variety of members of the college community, gaining multiple perspectives in a small timeframe. If you are not a senior in high school yet and are reading this article, this is still a great resource and I have seen high school underclassmen join the group and ask about test scores and such. These groups continue to be active well into your freshman year, up until the next cohort’s group is created.
Contacting Older Peers
If you have friends from your high school that either currently attend your prospective college or can connect you to their friends who do, take advantage of this! These conversations would definitely be more relatable because these peers could provide their perspective in the context of your high school. Shared high school experiences can help you better picture how the transition would be and what to expect with the academic and social aspects.
Better yet, if you are able to travel to their campus, your friends can give you a more candid tour than those run by the university itself. While these campus ambassadors are students themselves, they have been trained to market the school to you. They may not tell you all the downsides that come with attending. Heck, most students take these campus tours and are too shy to ask questions, leading to a very vanilla and less insightful experience than if you were with a friend.
Campus Organizations’ Events
Many campuses offer overnight stay programs that are pretty self-explanatory. You are hosted on campus for a weekend by a college student who essentially shows you what campus life is like, all pros and cons in tow. The more formal side of the program usually includes a Financial Aid workshop, as well as a Q&A panel where students speak about their backgrounds and how the schools have come to shape their experiences and development as an individual. It is no question that tuition plays a significant role in the ultimate college selection and in my personal experience, I found those financial workshops helpful.
The staff from the school’s Financial Aid office are actually there on hand and their presentations are tailored towards that specific university. You are given a more realistic sense as to what your undergraduate career and life onward would look like financially. Just these alone drastically cut my list. The Q&A panels had similar interactions as those on the Facebook group aforementioned, but the face to face communication made the difference. The diverse individuals you meet while attending the program gives you a better sense of how you fit into and interact with the community. If given the chance to participate, I would highly recommend it!