Choosing the Right College Campus for You


how do you know if a college or university campus fits you?

Sometimes we do not even know the right questions to ask ourselves when considering our post-secondary options. Director of College Counseling, Ms. Megan Hoover will offer her advice through a series of blog posts here starting with this one: What to ask yourself when considering a college or university campus.

What a fun journey doing a college search can be for a high school student. When again in their lives will they get to make a wish list of aspects of their next home that they feel would make it a place to develop a productive and healthy future. There are many aspects involved in determining the “best fit” college for each individual student. Today we will focus on just one aspect, the campus of the college or university.

So what is entailed in the evaluation of each college campus? A student must review each college or university on their list for size of campus, size of student population, and location of the campus. Why is this so important? Because there are over 5,000 colleges and universities in the United States, and this is a simple way to narrow the large field without overwhelming the student. Each college or university may have the student’s intended major but if a student chooses best their fit solely based on major, they can often times find that the campus setting, population, or student community vibe are not a positive environment for their individual emotional growth and personal success.

It is important for the student to feel confident expressing their individual comfort zones in order to set them up for future success in college. Are they a small fish ready to move to the ocean, a large fish tank, or to stay in a small fish bowl? To many high school students it can be exciting to have a college campus where they ride their bike from their dorm to their 8 am lecture series course. To other students this idea is overwhelming and they would rather be able to roll right out of their dorm room into their 8 am class across the grassy lawn. A student’s living space is often the most important point to consider because their dorm room can be their safe place to go when the transition to college becomes overwhelming. The size of a campus can potentially affect a student’s ability to cultivate friendships and social involvement, make stable connections in their community, and develop of organizational and time management habits as they transition to college life.

Even a student who feels they are in a large fish bowl of a high school of 3,000 students is potentially going to feel like a small fish in college, whether it has 2,000 students or 40,000 students. Some students attend a small high school of 500 or less students and are ready to tackle to a college campus population of 20,000 students or more. Some students are looking for a place where they feel the comfort of a small college community of 2000 or less students in order to make the transition to college seem less overwhelming. Is the student’s comfort zone to be in a small campus setting with a small student to professor ratio where professors take their student to their house for dinner? Or would they be okay with a large freshman orientation lecture class with 150 student? Do they want to have close connections with their professors so an 11 to 1 student to faculty ratio sounds reasonable? Or are they okay with working with a TA graduate student and only seeing the professor for office hours because there are 300 students in their freshman biology lab.

On some large university campuses the high number of undergraduates can mean that the freshman do not get the classes they need for their core requirements. It can also affect whether or not the student who wants to join a specific sport, club, or organization is able to join depending on available space. Conversely, the small college campus setting may seem quaint and supportive; however, the smaller student population can mean that there are not enough students interested in one course, event, or activity for it to be offered that year.

Campus location can often make or break the success of a freshman’s college experience. Some want to stay close to their current home, and others want to get as far away from home as possible. It needs to be ok for a student to say they want to stay close to home and attend a four year college or community college that is a walk to a short drive away. This could be a student’s way of saying they are not really socio-emotionally ready for the transition to college, and this choice will make them feel safer with the impending change in their comfort zone. Other students want to go far away from home as a way to spread their wings and take the great risk of independence using physical location first. This doesn’t always mean they are running away from the comfort and support of their home environment. It can just mean that the college or university that is far way is in a location they are excited to explore as they continue to develop their adult sense of themselves. Maybe the student is from a small town and ready to experience the college life of living on a college campus intertwined into a big city. Or maybe the student wants the comfort of rolling green hills and tree lined campus quads where the community meets for events, study groups, and sport activities. Is the campus close to an airport for easy travel home for vacations or is it a short drive of 30 minutes or less from home for Sunday dinners and free laundry?

Hopefully the student is able to explore all of their options and accurately form a college list they feel sets them up for success personally and academically. Making this journey a positive and exciting process more often results in a student’s choice the place they call home for the next 4 years.  College counselors are there to help the student and family use a well-thought-out set of questions and evaluative programs to parse out what aspects of college life are most important to have in a successful future home. As long as you go into this process well informed and open to the possibilities then the student and family can make the process of finding their best fit an enjoyable experience.

Sometimes students may choose a college based on someone else’s parameters, where their parent went to college or where their friends are going. Is this really what makes a best fit for that individual student? Honestly, more often than not, no. A student’s ability to develop a fine-tuned sense of themselves will help to create a college list that is reasonable and focused on what is the best fit for the whole student.

Megan-HooverMs. Megan Hoover is the Director of College Counseling at Alverno Heights Academy. While this is her first year here, she has worked in post-secondary planning as a school counselor and college counselor for 10 years. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Human Services from Elon University and her Master’s degree in School Counseling from Catholic University. Ms. Hoover is the co-moderator for the Senior State. 

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