Along with thinking about what type of school will be best for you, there are several other important campus characteristics to consider when finding your best fit. An obvious consideration is the cost of a school, but you also need to be thinking about things such as location, size, residential status and more.
Keep clicking to learn more about these important campus characteristics.
One of the most important considerations is whether or not you can afford to attend a particular school. If not well thought-out and planned for, finances can be a major stressor – which can affect your wellbeing and, in turn, your academic performance and social life.
To start, make a budget for each school in which you’re interested:
- What is the tuition?
- If you will be living on-campus, what are the room and board costs?
- If you’ll be living off-campus, how much does it cost to rent an apartment?
- How much are meal plans (if you plan on getting one)?
- How much, on average, will it cost to pay for school supplies (including textbooks) each semester?
- What are the costs of joining clubs of interest or doing other recreational activities?
- Make sure you also include some money in your budget for incidentals such as food (outside of your meal plan if you are getting one), transportation, etc. and for emergencies.
- How available and what are the options for financial aid and/or student loans?
Once you have your budgets created, sit down and walk through everything with your family to decide what schools are the most realistic and affordable options. You should also talk with them about each school’s financial aid options and how much this will impact whether or not you can afford particular schools.
Side note: A school’s financial aid office can be a great resource in helping you create your budget and learn about the financial aid options available to you. Check out their website or even call the office and talk to someone.
One consideration regarding location is how close to home you’d like to be. Do you like the idea of being far away from home (but consider that distance from home may add travel expenses to your budget), being at a distance but still accessible to home, or, for financial or personal reasons, do you want to live at home while going to college?
The other consideration is whether you’d like to attend a school in an urban, suburban, or rural setting. Would you be happiest with a lot of activity and variety that might be provided by an urban campus, or would you prefer a more contained and quiet setting (in which case a rural campus might be best for you)?
Schools can vary greatly in size, from a few hundred to tens of thousands, so it’s important to give this some thought and decide what you’re most comfortable with. Smaller schools tend to be more intimate settings in which professors can actually learn your name and get to know you, while larger schools usually have a more bustling environment and you’ll most likely be just another face in the crowd. On the flip side, larger schools tend to have way more activities in which to participate and also a bigger sports presence than smaller schools. There’s no right or wrong choice here, so think about your preferences and decide what size is best for you.
If this is something that interests you, it’s possible to get the best of both worlds by going to a large university but being enrolled in a particular college or program within the larger university. Many universities have smaller colleges within them, such as a college of business, education, engineering, management and more. In this way, you’ll be part of a smaller learning community but also able to enjoy all of the activities and the environment that a large school has to offer.
Residential Status & Dorm Characteristics
If you know you want to live on a college campus in order to get the “true college experience,” make sure you choose a school that can provide this. Look into the residential status of the student body – do the majority live on-campus or off? Is it a largely commuter school (meaning the campus empties out on the weekends)? A good way to find out about the residential status of a campus is to contact the admissions office, or better yet, get in touch with current students or alumni.
You’ll also want to look into the dorm characteristics of each school if you expect to be living on-campus. Are there specific dormitories for first-year students? Are there resident assistants (RAs) in each dorm or on each floor of each dorm? Are the majority of rooms singles, doubles, triples or quads? Are the dorms co-ed or same-sex? How about the bathrooms? Are they private, communal or gender neutral? Is on-campus housing guaranteed or mandatory for one or two (or more) years? Are all dorms substance-free or are there substance-free dorms available? Are there specific themed housing options or residence halls where you can find students with similar interests as you? (These might be called Living Learning Communities, Theme Communities, or Residential Colleges.) Think about what you want for your on-campus experience and find a school that matches your must-have list.
How difficult is it to be admitted to a particular school? If it is very hard to get in, chances are the campus climate will be very competitive. You may have the grades and scores to be admitted, but you might not want to deal with competition; on the other hand, you might want and thrive in this type of environment. What level of competition suits you best and what school can provide this for you?
If you consider yourself very conservative or very liberal and feel like you will be more comfortable with mostly like-minded people, you’ll want to find a school that matches your political and social beliefs. Do a quick Google search to find lists of conservative and liberal schools. Conversely, if you don’t consider yourself political at all, make sure you don’t end up at a school with a strong political or social atmosphere.
Retention & Graduation Rates
You may be asking why retention (how many students stay or leave before graduation) and graduation rates are important to know for a school, but they’re actually very important. These numbers can give you a sense of how supportive and invested in student success a school is. If these numbers are high, that means a school does a lot to support their students and make sure that they stay in school and graduate. If these numbers are low or not easily found, this can be a red flag that once you’re enrolled, you’re on your own in terms of making sure you stay on track and graduate. This useful College Navigator tool can help you find the retention and graduation rates for your schools of interest. Simply type in the name of the school in the field provided, click the “Show Results” button, click on the name of the school (to the right), and scroll down to the “Retention and Graduation Rates” field.
Lastly, you’ll want to look into the career services that each school in which you’re interested provides. Is there a dedicated career services office at a school? Do they just provide general guidance around finding a job after college or do they go a step further and help you actually secure a position? Are the people in this office friendly and welcoming? It can be very difficult to find a job after college, so you’ll want to make sure you’re supported and will have the direction you may need and want.
Planning a Campus Visit
The best way to get a really good feel for a school (and learn more about all of the campus characteristics discussed previously) is by visiting it. Contact the admissions offices of the schools in which you’re interested to schedule a campus visit. While on campus, make sure to take the guided campus tour but also come prepared to take a tour of your own. Guided tours are helpful but may not show you everything you want to see. Before you arrive, make a list of the sites you want to visit and the experiences you want to have. The better prepared you are, the more you’ll get out of the visit.