The people and resources on and around your future campus can affect your college experience nearly as much as what you study and hope to do with your degree. Therefore, it is important to ask yourself: What kind of college environment do I want?
There are several aspects to this question: Is the campus itself large or small? Are the students socioeconomically diverse or relatively homogeneous? Are people in the surrounding neighborhood diverse or somewhat similar? Is there a big difference between the socioeconomic situation of the students and of the people living around it? What resources are available on and off campus that might add to, or subtract from, the value of your college experience? Will travel or weather be problematic?
Covering all of these issues in one essay is not possible but here are a few things to think about: US Colleges are increasingly determined to find students who are as diverse in experience and interests as possible. Many work very hard to find students from every possible socioeconomic background with unique experience of leadership, service, engagement with others, and personal or family culture. If this is attractive to you, then many schools will be both comfortable and highly accommodating to you.
If you are not used to interacting with people with diverse backgrounds and beliefs, you may wish to prepare yourself for college life by traveling or doing a significant amount of service work with people whose cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds or life philosophies are different than yours. This experience may ease your transition to college life. In all likelihoods, it will help you succeed on leading campuses where engagement with others is highly valued.
The essential process of building personal networks on campus can take many forms. Some campuses have very strong social cultures, with campus-supported gatherings and activities that are well run and can help you meet, talk with, learn from and have fun with people who will be invaluable connections for you after you graduate. Others are known for cultures that include a great deal of alcohol and drugs. Spending social time effectively is essential to making connections with your fellow students. Carefully study how students meet and socialize on your potential campuses.
Along with the on-campus environment, the spaces, places, and people off-campus can also significantly impact how and what you will learn while in college. The communities in which small town campuses are located have less crime and may potentially feel safer for students to spend time in than larger cities. If you worry about crime, value having a lot of open space nearby, or have specific interest in things that schools in smaller communities focus on like agriculture or environmental management, a small town campus may be best for you.
However, as our world is becoming increasingly urban and diverse, going to a campus in a small or isolated community may make it hard for you to gain experience in how most people live and work today. Students at urban schools often live in off-campus housing that requires them to transport themselves to and from campus regularly—particularly at night when crime is more common. This, of course, does not mean that large city campuses are always surrounded by dangers that keep people from learning, living and being deeply engaged. In fact, many students become determined to work in public service because of the things they experience on and around their large-city campuses.
Large city campuses frequently have direct access to greater resources for study, learning, travel and professional development than schools that are further away from the concentrations of wealth and opportunity urban centers often provide. The greater opportunities that cities offer for off-campus engagement, culture, study, easy travel and connection building frequently overwhelm concerns about crime, personal safety, and air and noise pollution that can make campuses located in urban centers seem less attractive.
The community in which you live can affect your experience during college. Other important considerations include how easy it is to get there—and get around in the campus neighborhood—and what the weather is like.
Travel, particularly on the East Coast of the United States, is relatively easy and convenient for many students due to the abundance of mass transportation such as trains, busses and air travel. It is very possible to get from college campuses to international airports, the US Capitol, New York City, and other schools without needing a car.
Depending on the campus you are considering, a car may be needed to do these things off of the East Coast. Because of the geographical scale of the United States, the number of campuses or airports you can reach quickly and inexpensively may be relatively small depending on where you go to college or university.
Travel logistics can be challenging and unpredictable wherever you go to college. Having more than one way to get around can be important for you to be able to have an internship or attend interviews and conferences.
Going to a new part of the country can also expose you to allergens and other irritants that you may not be used to. This can even be something as simple as a totally new climate. Many students admitted to schools in the Northern and Central United States—including Ivy League universities—have never seen snow or dealt with temperatures that regularly drop below freezing. Visits to campus before you decide which college you will attend are incredibly helpful in determining whether you can succeed in that physical environment.
Whether the atmosphere, weather, campus social environment, or off-campus community, there are many factors that can impact your comfort, happiness and success in college. It is very important to pay attention to all of them so you can have the best possible chance to make the most out of the four years you will spend getting your bachelor’s degree.