“School spirit”: it’s a term that’s thrown around a lot nowadays when it comes to higher education. People talk about it when discussing college athletics, academics, and culture. But how the heck can it help you decipher between all these different colleges you now have to choose between?

School Spirit: What Is It and How Can It Help Me Pick a College?

School spirit isn’t just how far your football team kicker can punt (though we do have an article coming up about that) or how much beer everyone can chug in thirty seconds (oh look, a post about that). It’s about the culture of the campus and how students come together to define that culture. A lot of students take pride in their school’s history or standing in a specific area, like athletics, academics, philanthropy, Greek life, or something more specific.

For example, Sam Buchwalter, a freshman at the University of Chicago, explains that students use academic rigor (plus some humor and rivalry) as a source of unity. “There’s not much school spirit [in respect to athletics], just sort of self-depreciation. But we do take pride in the difficulty of institution we are at and [how we are] kicking the Ivy League’s butts at things.” Ah, sounds like a true UChicagoan.

Wherein Lies the School Pride?

Sam’s thoughts on his own school’s pride also bring up a good point: there are a billion different things that can be considered “school spirit”. It’s a stellar question to ask yourself as you start narrowing down your schools: what does X College take pride in? Ask a couple of current students on the college’s admitted students Facebook group, or email the orientation interns or admissions staff about school spirit.

Another important question: is there school spirit in other areas besides the obvious athletics or academics? Colleges will surprise you. David Levine from Bowdoin College points out that students at his school “are especially proud of the food. It’s [ranked] number one in the country. You know you’re jealous.” On this note, not going to lie: I do have a strange sense of pride that Wesleyan’s vegan dining is number one in the nation (HOLLA AT DEM VEGANS).

Huh…School Spirit Is a Thing…So What? 

For all you seniors, the letters are starting to roll in. You’re finding out which colleges you’ll have to choose between. For some people, this is easy (“I’ve wanted to go to X College since I was ten!”). For others, it’s more difficult. Got into a couple schools you’re not thrilled about or just don’t know much about in general? Check out what these colleges takes pride in. Do they place an emphasis on theatre, art, food, music, academics, athletics, or something totally random? Every school has something to be excited about; find out what makes students at all these colleges so stoked to be there.

It’s also just as important to figure out what a school isn’t as excited about to see if you’ll be a snazzy fit. If you’re very into sports and a certain college only has two students at any giving athletic event, will you feel like the cool sports rebel or out of place? These are decisions to make.

Moral of the story: What a school takes pride in (and what it doesn’t take pride in) tells you more about a university than just trying to look at individual parts of student life would. Search on!


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the author

Lily Herman is a junior at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Besides bopping around on The Prospect, Lily is a columnist for USA TODAY College (read the Quad Report, yo); an editorial intern for The Daily Muse; a contributing editor for the campus blog Wesleying; a national contributing editor for Her Campus; and an editorial/marketing intern at HelloFlo. When she is not studying or awkwardly waving at people around campus, Lily enjoys eating Sour Patch Kids and re-watching the Friday Night Lights series finale (she's Team Saracen, by the way). Also (shameless plug alert), feel free to follow her on Twitter, or email her at lherman(at)theprospect(dot)net.

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