Research finds that social fit is the most important factor in whether or not students will graduate from the college they enroll in. Even if the academics are a good match, students who don’t have friends and don’t feel socially happy tend not to do very well in college. Students need to explore the social life of every college they visit. Here are some tips for evaluating social fit.
Students who want a residential college experience should make sure they are not choosing a commuter college where many students live off campus or go home most weekends. A real residential college experience depends on students staying on campus and participating in campus life on the weekends. A rich campus life includes lectures, dorm activities, concerts, movies, and sporting events. It can be a lonely feeling to be on a campus where most students don’t hang out on the weekend. Here are some questions that will help you gauge residential college life:
- What percentage of students live on campus?
- What percentage stay on campus over a typical weekend?
- How often do students typically go home?
- What percentage of students own cars?
- Are there special interest dorms?
- What are typical weekend activities?
Fraternities and sororities have a significant shaping influence on the student experience at many college campuses. Not all colleges have Greek life or it may play a minor role. Some questions to ask about Greek life:
- Does the campus have national sororities and fraternities?
- What percentage of students are involved?
- Do parties revolve around Greek life?
Every college tour will emphasize that the school offers a wide variety of activities and if you don’t find the club you like you can always start your own. Most colleges and universities offer sports, arts, religious, political, and service club activities. But some campuses have many more involved students than others. It is important that your student look beyond just the name of the club and spend some time really looking at the sorts of activities students really participate in. Is it just a listing on a website or does the activities calendar look up to date? See how frequently they meet and how popular they are on campus. Ask these questions:
- What sorts of activities have been held in the last week?
- How many students are involved in this organization?
- Is the campus ethnically diverse?
- What support does the college provide for student organizations?
- Is there are a lot of school spirit? Is it popular to go to games?
- Are there fun campus traditions?
- How many activities is the typical student involved in?
- Are students very political? Are they more liberal or conservative?
Hang Out Spots
The physical layout of the campus and the buildings can make a big difference in how students socialize. When you visit campus try to visualize yourself there on a typical weekday and weekend. Where will you hang out? Are you an introvert who likes quiet spaces like the library or nature preserve? Are you an extrovert who likes to hang out at in the lounge in your dorm or enjoys a busy campus food court where you are likely to run into friends?
The reality is that drugs and alcohol are available on every single college campus in America. Partying is something available to any student and no amount of supervision stops some students from making the choice to use or abuse substances. It is important that your student consider their preferences and make sure they are a good fit for the college they select. A big party school is most likely a poor fit for a serious student who isn’t interested in substance use. Some questions to consider:
- Are there substance-free dorms?
- Are there quiet dorms?
- Where do students usually party? (Is it in the dorm, bar, fraternity house, etc.) How often do students party?
- How common is it for students to abstain from substance use? (Will people think I’m a weirdo if I don’t drink?)
Minority or Majority
Every college has many different types of students. There are students who study a lot and students who are slackers. Liberal students and conservative students. Jocks, artists, and computer geeks. Religious students and atheists. Students who like to cheer at big sporting events and students who want to attend poetry slams. Your student needs to get a sense for the general feel of the student body.
Some students only need to have a small circle of friends to be happy. They may find even that if the college is full of partying football fans, they are happy with their network of poets or theater friends. Other students really want to have that “majority” experience in college. They want to know they won’t need to hunt to find like-minded students who share their interests. It is important that students take the time to think about what they’d like out of college and social life is an important part of that. College visits are a great time to ask questions and make observations.