Finding the Goldilocks School

There are so many factors to consider when searching for the right university. What is their student to faculty ratio? What is the university’s demographic breakdown? How many students attend the school? Many of these questions can be answered by a simple Google search, but beyond the upfront statistics about the school, the overall fit of the university is potentially more important.

College campus visits have the ability to provide students with a deeper and more personal understanding of how the school actually feels. Prospective applicants can see the different aspects of a school’s culture and traditions and these visits may play an important role in narrowing down one’s college list.

Jacob Trick

When determining what to look for in a school, even the smallest things can make a big difference. Joey Padmanabhan (Adv. 003) provided his thoughts on what makes campuses stand out. “Vanderbilt has a smoothie king” he exclaimed with a smile on his face, “and UIC has a Chick-Fil-A express.” While these may seem like small factors, over a large period of time, those little things add up to a school’s overall culture which makes a big difference in the college experience.

As a junior, I went on college visits at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Northwestern University, Washington University in St. Louis, and Brown University. My sister went to Bowdoin College in Maine, a school that houses around 1800 students. She always knew she wanted to go to a small liberal arts school, so I was dragged along to each visit that she went on. I immediately realized right then and there that I wanted a bigger school. Liliana Root (Adv. 002) echoed these sentiments, “I want medium-sized classes. Academics play a large role in my life, and I definitely don’t want large lecture-style classes, but also am drawn to bigger classrooms.”

I ended up settling on a school with a population anywhere from 6,000-10,000. Once I had that specification, I began visiting colleges. Northwestern was my first formal campus visit and I loved it. Northwestern is home to “aesthetically pleasing architecture” said Jestin Biju (Adv. 005). Many different factors, including architecture, are of varying degrees of importance to different students.

You may realize that a school you previously liked may not be the one for you.

Northside students tend to get caught up in the academics and the ranking of a school. “When deciding on colleges, I really search to find a good balance of academic rigor and non-academic endeavors,” said Molly Wehrenberg (Adv. 006). These non-academic endeavors rely heavily on the people at the campus. “I felt that there is a lot of activity at the University of Pennsylvania,” said Root. “Penn had a bustling city life with a diverse set of individuals.”

Outside of the classroom, many universities offer very appealing opportunities. “Boston University had a rock climbing wall!” said Padmanabhan. This response was soon followed by Wehrenberg saying “good gyms are definitely a plus.” Many students tend to overlook things like gyms which may or may not play an important role in a student’s daily activities.

Julia Carlson, along with many other seniors, looks for a “campus near an urban location, but also not within a big city.” This was the only point of disagreement that I encountered with Biju exclaiming “That’s exactly what I liked about NYU and Columbia.” Both NYU and Columbia are nestled deep in Manhattan and have very little of a “college campus feel.”

Overall, college campus visits are very useful in getting an idea of how a college campus truly feels. You may realize that a school you previously liked may not be the one for you. There are over 5,000 colleges in the United States, each with different school traditions and academic opportunities. Don’t just look at the ‘rankings.’ Look for the college that is just right for you.