Campus Culture: Non-Academic Factors to Consider When Choosing a College
Last updated November 1, 2023
An important aspect of your college experience is feeling like you are part of a welcoming and thriving community. While the main purpose of going to college is to receive your degree and find a career path that fits your goals, you are still a person with social and emotional needs, and your environment has a direct impact on them. Therefore, the campus culture, size, activities available to students, ideologies, and more can impact your overall experience. College is a great way to be exposed to new ideas and perspectives, but it’s important to note what you're looking for in a potential school to make the best decision for you. Here’s what to consider when researching colleges to make sure you feel safe, supported, and able to thrive during your educational journey.
Take a moment to reflect on what is important to you
It’s important to acknowledge that colleges and universities in this country have a historical legacy of racism. While lots of work has been done by lawmakers, administrators, and educators to create a more accessible and welcoming environment in higher education, remnants of historical racism still exist and continue to impact minority students. To address these issues, institutions have implemented diversity initiatives, campus affinity centers, and programs that support historically underrepresented students.
The way we navigate through the world is influenced by our identities; our race, sexual orientation, gender/gender expression, socioeconomic status, and more have a direct impact on how we show up in the world. These identities can become more prevalent in different spaces and times. Many students use college as a way to expose themselves to new environments, perspectives, and ideologies while others prefer something similar to the environment in which they grew up. Both are totally okay, but it’s up to you to determine what that looks like for you. As you decide what school to attend, take a moment to reflect on these questions:
- What parts of my identities need to be reflected and celebrated in the environment I am in?
- Who do I need to be surrounded by to feel safe and supported?
- What would be really hard for me to leave behind?
- Who can be my support system during a challenging time in college?
Do your research
There are several ways to learn more about the climate and environment of the college you are looking to attend. The best way to do so is to visit the school in person to get a feel of the student population, campus life, the resources available to you, and more. Because that is not always possible (especially the further a college is away from you), you can always research the school virtually to get more perspective on if it’s a good fit for you. During your research, look at the school’s demographic profile and pay close attention to:
- Racial/ethnic demographics - This can help you gain a better understanding of the cultural and social dynamics of the campus community. It can also signal whether or not the college welcomes the experiences and perspectives that students from different backgrounds bring.
- Gender breakdown - It’s important to not only consider the percentage of male and female students, but also any available data on trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students. Reviewing the college’s policies and resources related to gender identity can also provide insight into its commitment to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for students of all gender identities.
- Socioeconomic diversity - This can help you understand how well the college serves students from different economic backgrounds and can provide insight into the resources and support that are available (i.e. financial aid, scholarships, work-study jobs, and access to internships or other career development opportunities).
- Student services offered - This includes cultural centers, mentorship programs, resources for students with disabilities, and more. The availability of resources (and the types of resources offered) can be critical to helping students feel supported and included on campus.
Some schools might even have results from a climate survey posted directly on their website. These reports show direct student feedback to the college on their experience as a student. If a school you’re interested in publishes this data online, be sure to look at the results from people who share similar identities to you to gauge what the school is doing to make them feel safe, seen, and supported. It’s important to note that these results are from a specific time period, so the college may have done work since sharing its findings to enhance the student experience.
Make sure the school has the resources you need
You can get to know a lot about a school by paying attention to the resources available to the students. Does the school have a robust list of clubs? Do they have affinity centers for minority students (multicultural centers, LGBT centers, etc.)? What mental health services are available to students? You might not need any of these services, but it’s good to have an idea of what the school provides in case you ever come to a point where you might need some support.
Consider a minority serving institution
In response to the historical exclusion of certain communities from higher education, many affinity based colleges/universities and programs were created for students to pursue education while being around a community that shares an identity or lived experience. Also called minority serving institutions, these include Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), women’s colleges, and more. These institutions have provided a safe and supportive environment for students all while receiving a stellar education. For example, studies report that students who attended a HBCU or predominantly Black institution were generally more satisfied with their college experience than those who did not attend either. Many of these schools have specific programs, training, resources, and funding to help ensure your success.
As you do your college research and come closer to choosing a school that’s right for you, remember that no place will be absolutely perfect. However, you do have a high chance of finding a school that can align with your needs to ensure your success! Need someone to talk to about your college decision? Text us to get 1:1 help from one of our advisors!