No matter where you choose to go to school, college can (and should!) be an amazing adventure. By now, you’ve probably heard a lot about different academic factors you should consider when choosing your school. Less commonly discussed, though, are the social factors.
This may be at least partly because of the notion that you should go to the academically best school you can, without any real consideration of other aspects of the college experience. Social factors will impact your whole college career, though, so there’s nothing wrong with taking them into consideration!
Before you decide how much of your college decision to base on social or academic reasons, consider the following factors to get a fuller understanding of what your dream school might look like.
The College Where Your Best Friends Are Going
Picture this: you and three or four of your closest friends all apply to, get accepted by, and choose to go to the same college. You show up there together, room together, and get to continue hanging out together in a continuation of the best part of high school, all while making new friends too!
Not so fast.
College is a time of huge changes, and you may find that that growing up means growing apart. Basing your decision of where to go to school on where your friends are going may seem like a worse idea after a couple of years, when you’re no longer close friends but you’re still stuck at that school.
On the other hand, it really does work out for some people. Depending on your friend group’s dynamic, you may well be able to encourage and support each other in growing, instead of holding each other back. Having close friends around when you start college can also make the transition easier.
The Party School or the Serious Study School
Some colleges have “party school” reputations — and it’s often for good reason!
If you have a clear academic or career goal, choosing a more serious school will help you work toward it by providing you with a network of similarly oriented peers. The flip side of this is that if you’re self-aware and honest enough to know that you’re easily distracted, a serious school might be the best choice because it will be harder to find excuses not to study.
That isn’t to say that party schools are all bad! You’ll get a lot of practice at socializing and learning to talk to all sorts of people in different environments. Chances are good that you’ll do a lot of unofficial networking, which may come in handy later in your career. You’ll be pushed to go outside of your comfort zone. And, if you’re academically inclined, it can be easier to stand out to your professors when your peers are more interested in parties than papers.
The Greek Life: Fraternities and Sororities
At some colleges, Greek life is nonexistent or an afterthought at best, with fraternities and sororities on the social fringes rather than an integral part of the school’s atmosphere.
If your vision of a dream college involves the fraternity and sorority scene, and the associated bonding with your honorary brothers or sisters, don’t overlook this factor when deciding which college to attend. If you don’t already know, this is a good time to ask your parents whether they participated in Greek life, and whether they expect you to join the same fraternity or sorority!
Weighing the Importance of Social Factors
Combining these factors might help you figure out, for example, that your ideal school is one with several of your high school friends, without necessarily having a Greek scene because you’ll already have your social circle in place, and an emphasis on studying over partying.
Alternatively, you may realize that you want to go to a college where you know no one and can reinvent yourself, that you want a strong Greek life presence on campus to form new bonds quickly, and that you’re more interested in new life experiences than a top-tier education.
It’s important to remember that there are no universally right or wrong answers; it’s just a matter of what’s right for you. Doing an honest self-assessment of these factors now, and weighing them against what you want in the classroom, will help ensure you end up in a school that’s a good fit academically and socially.