There is a lot to think about when looking for the perfect college. This is the place where you will be spending four formative years of your life. Where is it located? How are the academics? Does the school offer much financial aid? How big is it? Are the alumni successful? These are just some of the questions that your college advisor or college guides will prompt you to ask.
However, there are some aspects of college life which you may not think to investigate, but which can greatly affect your experience. Here are just a few of them:
· Professor credentials. I majored in philosophy. When I was looking for schools, I assumed that every philosophy program was the same; Plato is Plato no matter where you study him, right? In fact, most professors have very narrow specialties. It turned out that very few professors at my college studied the people I really wanted to study.
In order to avoid my mistake, find the names of the professors in your desired departments. Look for what is called their curriculum vitae (or CV); this is the list of their major publications and accomplishments. Make sure someone there is interested in the same things you are interested in.
If you do not know what you want to study, make sure the school employs people with a variety of specialties, so you are not forced into a concentration for lack of options.
Even more important than what a professor studies is whether the professor is good at teaching. You won’t learn anything from a brilliant writer who can’t express herself. The website www.ratemyprofessor.com is an excellent resource for learning about a professor’s skills in front of the chalkboard.
· Visiting Speakers. In four years of college, I probably learned as much from visiting lecturers and performers as I did from classes. I heard from poets, reporters, architects, musicians, humanitarians, politicians, and one international chess champion. You can usually find the names of some of next year’s speakers on the school’s website, or the website of a particular department. Looking at last year’s speakers can give you good idea of the caliber and variety of people the school attracts.
In addition, student groups often bring in speakers or performers related to their cause. If you find a student group whose mission intrigues you, do a little research to see whether they have sponsored lectures or performances in the past, and whether they are planning to do so in the future.
· Student Government. Student groups are another indispensible part of the college experience. I was a member of a performance poetry group, and some of my most fulfilling and educational moments in college took place in the service of that group. We were fortunate in that the school’s Student Union was supportive and helpful. Without the help of student government, student groups get very little done.
If you have any interest in creating or participating in a student group, check the website of your student government. How much money does it have set aside for student groups? What kind of paperwork do you have to fill out? What kinds of activities do they usually fund, and what do they usually not fund? Learning about your student government can also tell you something about the social atmosphere on campus.
· Food. There are more important things in college than food. At the same time, how you eat greatly affects how you feel and how you learn. How many places are there to eat on campus, and how diverse are their options? How close are they to the dorms? Are they open late? Are they healthy? How much do they cost? What are the off-campus dining options?
Some college manuals grade a campus’s food. Remember, variety is more important than quality (although ideally you want both). I don’t care how much you like pizza, you will get tired of it if you eat nothing else for four years.
· Major Conflicts. College students and authority figures don’t always mix. There is bound to be some sort of conflict between the students and the administration, or the college and the surrounding city. If you google your college and the word “news,” what stories come up? What were the headlines of the last few student newspapers? If you plan on joining a fraternity, how do the fraternities relate to the school’s administration? What degree of racial, religious, and socio-economic understanding is there? At some schools everybody gets along, but at some schools they do not. It is worthwhile to know which kind of environment you are entering.
· Ask around. Every school has its own quirks. You will learn more about a school by asking current students than you will from the internet. While you are talking to a current student, ask them what questions they wish they had asked before they entered school. Even if their school doesn’t interest you, they may have some insight into college in general which you won’t hear anywhere else.
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