Have you thought about what it’s like to live on the campuses you are applying to? You should…. Part 2 of 4.

Photo by Michael Marsh on Unsplash

As I noted in part I, College Search Consultants like me, your high-school college counselor and others can help you think hard on why you’re going to college, what you want out of it, and whether your life plan might be better served by *not* going to college at all. I also said there, and repeat here, that you should look at many sources of information as you make these decisions.

Once you’ve figured these things out you can turn to thinking about the environment on the campuses you are thinking about applying to and how they may shape your time there and beyond.

1. Once you’ve answered the three questions, I asked in the first blog; decided that yes, you’re getting good advice on where to apply to college; and become sure that going on to advance your education is the right thing for you, start drawing up a list of schools that you want to apply to.

One of the first things you should ask in drawing up this list is: How have the colleges you’re considering done with respect to handling the Covid-19 pandemic? A hint: Most large universities, whether public or private, have done relatively poorly. As of April of 2022, smaller schools, if they’ve let students on campus, often did relatively well. This is not comprehensively true but, so long as “relative” is understood to be the key word here, this is a reasonably safe rule of thumb to follow all the same.

This rule of thumb is important because the future is inherently unclear. Unfortunately, policy makers cannot be certain the vaccines (and boosters) we have today will protect against future variants of Covid-19. Even with today’s vaccines, the uptake across colleges will vary enormously due either to campus policies being different, or, in some cases, because leadership in some states has determined that businesses, colleges, etc., there may not require vaccines. There are a number of good resources out there on this including a large collection of media pieces I’ve found that, if you skim the headlines, will show you just how different policy is among America’s colleges on Covid 19. This resource does not cover the disease still generally called ‘Monkey Pox’ in October 2022, but your prospective campuses’ responses to it may also shape your educational experience to some degree.

Your views on vaccines may, therefore, impact your thinking about where to go to school if you are choosing among several options with different policies, and the unfortunate reality is that with the Delta and Omicron variants (and others not yet known which are potential problems for the future,) policies on vaccination, masking and even distance learning at schools may shape the choices of potential applicants for years to come.

2. Once your potential campuses’ experiences of Covid-19 and other diseases, and possible responses to them are known, you should then ask: are the campuses you plan to apply to in cities/towns/communities in which you will feel comfortable? Knowing this is essential because even if you live on campus all four years, you will probably interact with the community around you. If you’re in a place that isn’t comfortable for you for whatever reason, it will be much harder to make full use of not only the resources your college has available to you but also those in the community in which your campus is located.

Failing to take advantage of as many resources as possible can close doors leading to achievement and personal fulfillment you might otherwise walk through, and yes, Covid-19, abortion access, and the local response to these and other issues, may continue to impact your ability to access opportunities and services of all kinds for the entire time you are getting your degree.

3. Do you know enough about the weather, and do you think you can handle it? This is relevant because many students who apply to colleges and universities in New England or the upper Mid-West of the US are utterly unprepared for winters there. If you’ve never seen snow before, or if you get it once or twice a year, you need to be ready for a radically different climate. Some people find the winters in Boston or New York hard to deal with. Those who attend college in upstate New York, in upper New England, or in America’s upper Mid-West can become depressed due to the long, very cold, gray winter seasons. Alcoholism, drug abuse and suicides are not uncommon at many schools.

In my experience, there are many on-campus factors that can add to these problems whatever the weather outside may be. Fortunately, there are many services at all colleges to help you with your transition and the stress of being there. Parts three and four of this series consider some of the services colleges have to help students succeed.

D your best to do careful research through friends or peers who have made moves like that which you would make if you do apply and are accepted to, a school where you’ll be dealing with weather you’ve never encountered before. If people like this aren’t available, there are plenty of online tools like the totally free forecast.weather.gov to help you research the weather in the communities where the campuses you’re thinking about are located.

4. How hard is it to get to and from campus? You want to know this for two major reasons:

First, if you live far from campus, going home for long weekends or full vacations (complicated as this can prove to be) may be difficult if the campus you’re looking at is far from a major airport. It is also the case as of August 2022, that travel arrangements can sometimes fall through due to rescheduling on the part of airlines as they struggle to deal with staffing and equipment issues. Flare-ups in Covid-19 may also impact travel at certain times of the year for as long as you’re getting your degree — maybe even longer.

Secondly, factors like the complexity and cost of travel can be particularly important if the school does not let students stay in the dorms over Winter Break or at other times during the academic year. Asking these questions can reduce your stress later if you’re prepared or if you simply choose not to apply to schools whose locations, schedules, and dorm policies make vacation times relatively stressful.

5. Are the students like you to at least some degree? This question is important because if you’re studying where people have radically different values, views and priorities than you, it can be difficult to make friends and connections that can help you succeed at college — and later, too. In some cases, the sense of isolation (homesickness) many first year students feel as a normal reaction to leaving home can be exacerbated if you’re in a place where few people share your interests, values or life experience.

6. Are there extracurricular activities available for people like you? Students have an incredible range of interests and needs. You may be most comfortable with others who share life experiences and perspectives based, for example, in culture or religion with you. You may also want to be around people whose interest in science, service, the arts, foreign language etc., matches yours.

Any campus you are considering should have lists of student organizations like service clubs or theater groups and community organizations (like centers of worship or local service opportunities) where you’ll have an easy start in connecting with people, you’ll be happy spending time around. This information should be available online.

Databases of student organizations on the campuses you’re interested in can also help you find opportunities to learn, grow and interact with people you would never have met before. This is a huge, and highly valued, part of the college experience for many people, particularly as they get older and join a workforce where being able to interact with diverse people is increasingly important to employers and graduate programs alike.

IN SUMMARY, as you consider colleges, there are a lot of environmental factors that can and should shape your choices. Your personal educational goals need to match the campuses you’re applying to. If they do, your chance to be admitted to colleges you apply to should go up sharply. Your odds of having a great college experience (if college is indeed right for you) should also improve.

Given the amount you’ll invest in your education, getting answers to these questions and those in parts three and four, is very important. Schools are different. The answers you get to these questions will vary widely and affect how you think on each and every campus you’re investigating. Parts three and four of this set of questions to ask yourself as you decide on colleges to apply to — and ultimately which school you will attend — will go up soon. Watch this space for pieces on things like writing attractive personal statements and getting good recommendations.

See the Educational Search Consulting page on my website to learn about my work in this area and schedule personalized support in your application process. I also have rapidly growing sets of hundreds of pointers to material by a wide variety of authors in my Resources for Students Applying to College and collection of links to information on Covid-19 And The College Scene which there is no cost to access.

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Matthew Weed

Yale, Harvard, Princeton grad. Blind and diabetic kayaker, skier, and speaker. Advocating for everyone to care of themselves and others.