May 31, 2023 | Estimated Read Time: 8 Minutes
By Kate Sitarz
With so many colleges and universities to choose from, finding the college for you—the one that will feel like home and help you reach your career goals—can feel overwhelming. One of the main reasons why campus environment matters so much is because a college campus can completely shape your entire college experience. In fact, the campus environment can matter just as much as what you study.
The best way to find the college that is the best fit for you is to understand all the aspects of a campus environment that can influence your experience, including your college friendships—people you connect with on sports teams, clubs, and in class —the co-curriculars available to you, the network you build with faculty and alumni, and the places you hang out in between classes. Then, prioritize these factors as to how important they are to you.
With this insight into your values, you can ask the right questions and get the right information to make the best college decision for you.
Campus Considerations for Finding the College for You
When asked why campus environment matters, the first thing that comes to Josh Peipock’s mind is “community.” For Peipock, the Associate Dean of Students at Babson College, the ability to easily see your friends, find spaces to work on projects, grab dinner, and more is crucial to feeling like you belong on campus. “It all contributes to the feeling of community and feeling like you belong.”
There are several factors that contribute to being able to find your community. These include both physical aspects like facilities, location, and student-life offerings and more intangible qualities like the energy on campus.
“The key is offering ways to connect outside the classroom that allows students to build that community,” says Angel Long, the Director of Office of Student Engagement at Babson College. She notes that may be a physical space like a campus center or student union where campus residents and commuter students alike can hang out between classes or a group like a club or organization where you can find people with shared interests.
When touring and researching schools, take note of how the school defines community and what is available to students to build that community.
Your Social LIfe as a College Student
Having a social life is crucial to your college success because your friends form a critical part of your support system. And having opportunities to make friends who share similar interests as you—without it feeling forced—is key to this.
You want to consider the available social opportunities for the colleges on your list, from clubs and organizations to free on- and off-campus events. You will also want to consider how you’ve made friends in the past and what you like to do with your friends; you will want a mix of the familiar (theater, sports teams, classwork, etc.) and new, exciting opportunities.
A school like Babson, which is about 600 students per class year, has more than 100 student-run clubs and organizations. These clubs allow you to find your community outside the classroom, whether it’s an academic or professional organization, a fraternity or sorority, or a hobby or passion.
“Maybe you love real estate or you really love equestrianism and you miss having that experience,” Long says. “You can find people who are just as experienced, or maybe aren’t as experienced but want to try something new and are interested in the same things you are.”
Long explains that one of the focuses in student life is soft skill building to help students prepare for careers post college across fields, including business, education, and the creative arts. From ideation to planning to executing events or meetups, students handle the logistics of student organizations. Every step along the way comes with opportunities for problem solving, teamwork, and learning from failure, plus nailing down nitty gritty details that come with timeliness and event preparedness. “You learn that failure is an opportunity to learn. It’s not a bad thing,” Long stresses. “A club or organization is a safe place to fail.”
As an example, Long says imagine if a catering order doesn’t come in. Does that mean the entire event failed? Do you have a quick fix to get water and coffee at the event instead of a full snack spread? “It makes you think quickly when instances like that happen.”
At some schools you will have the opportunity to live in living and learning communities or special interest communities. This allows you to live with people that share an interest and build deeper relationships with them. Each community has physical common spaces that you can use to host events.
Location, Location, Location Matters When Finding the College for You
Where you choose to study can have an impact on your quality of life but also your potential job prospects after college.
While you certainly don't have to study where you plan to live and work after college, it can help to choose a college in a location that gives you access to internships, externships, and other job-preparation opportunities. If you do have an idea of where you want to live and work, attending college near that location can help you start to make connections in the community. You also want to consider if your school specializes in a field you’re interested in and offers events and opportunities near campus in that field.
The surrounding community can also influence not just your employment opportunities but your opportunities to socialize and meet new people. What is there to do nearby?
Other location considerations include weather (does it snow or get extremely warm?), the ability to travel easily (is there public transportation? How will you get back home?), and diversity (are there people of all backgrounds?).
The size of the location you choose can greatly influence these factors. So can the size of the campus itself. Is it a small campus where you bump into people from class? Is it a sprawling campus where you hardly ever run into people you know? How far are dining options from your residence hall? Where are your classes located in relation to one another?
Considering questions like these is a good start for thinking through what you want from your campus size and location.
More Questions to Help Choose the Right College for You
Peipock recommends prospective undergraduate students ask themselves one question in particular: what do you value?
“When you come to campus or interact with admissions teams, it’s crucial you know what’s important to you,” he explains. “Knowing what’s important to you ensures you know what questions to ask. And not necessarily through your parents. You need to engage in that process.”
Long recommends talking to students who aren’t necessarily leading your campus tour. Questions you may want to ask them include:
Variables to Consider for Finding the College for You
- What is a typical day like? A typical semester? How has that varied year over year?
- What is the food like?
- What are the residence halls like?
- What do you do for fun? On weekends?
- How rigorous are the classes?
- What options do you have for clubs and organizations? Free social events?
- Have you gone abroad? Taken leadership positions?
- What resources have you taken advantage of?
You may want to rank these priorities to better compare colleges on your list. Is food most important on your list? Or is it the ability to take on leadership positions?
Having a sense of what’s a must for you and what you're more flexible on will help you better concentrate your search.
Peipock also shares that when he goes on interviews on college campuses, he asks himself, “Can I envision myself in this mix? Can I see myself being part of this?”
You can also ask people who know you well. Your favorite teachers or relatives may have suggestions for schools that fit what they know about you.
Benefits of Small Colleges and Specialized Programs
The size of a school does not always correlate to the number of resources available. You’ll want to do your research and dig into what is available at each of the schools on your list. Small schools tend to be small for a reason, whether it’s because they offer a specific type of program or they attract a specific type of student (or both).
Small colleges can come with major perks. “At a smaller school, you can wear more than one hat,” Long says, noting that a student may be a peer mentor, orientation leader, or a peer career ambassador, among other roles.
At Babson College, which is also a school that specializes in business where students also take liberal arts and sciences courses, students benefit from having some of the same foundational classes that allow you to connect with classmates on a deeper level.
For example, every first-year Babson student takes Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship (FME). This means even if your best friends aren’t in your FME class, you can still relate to each other’s challenges as you work through the course.
“One of the great things for first-year students is they can connect with students in their third and fourth years who have lived that before them,” Long adds.
Smaller class size and campus makes for easy access. As Long says, you may work with someone on a project in class and then spend the entire day with them because you’re in the same club meeting after classes are over. “There’s more participation at Babson because students aren’t competing with events going on all over the city.”
“It allows for more organic opportunities to connect with other Babson students and community,” says Peipock. Compared to larger campuses, for example in metro Boston, you may organically connect with others, but they may not be people from your school or program.
At a small business school, you also have more opportunities to connect with faculty and build relationships with industry professionals who teach your classes. They have fewer students and courses, so they have more time to hear about your goals, connect you with companies and industry professionals, and offer general advice and expertise.
All these elements add up to what makes college so special and are all things to consider when you're on a mission to find the college for you. And a campus environment that allows you to thrive how you like to thrive will also be a place where you can comfortably grow as a person and a professional.
“I always tell students, especially those new to Babson, you’re going to get out of it as much as you put into it. It may be very uncomfortable to leave your space and go to a movie night or go see a comedy show or whatever it may be. Go and see what happens. You can always leave,” Long says. “But you can always make a connection. You have to find out what’s happening, go, and put in the effort to make a connection. If you go out of your comfort zone, you will find your community.”
The Huffington Post
U.S. News & World Report
About the Author
Kate Sitarz is a copywriter and digital marketer with more than 10 years of experience helping startups, Fortune 500 companies, and every size business in between achieve their goals.