7 Red Flags That a College Isn’t Right For You

Your mom says look at the academics. Your dad says look at the football schedule. Your little sister says look at the football team. You? Well, you’re a little overwhelmed. This is a big decision to make ––where will you spend the next four years of your life?

If you're unsure about your future at a potential college, don't fear. We’re hoping to alleviate some of this unavoidable stress with seven telltale signs that a certain school just isn’t the one for you.

1. You’re already lagging behind on the tour

This simple fact is a message from both your glutes and your gut. If you don’t want to physically traverse the terrain of a campus on your initial introductory tour, you probably won't want to for four long years. It’s not just the physical, either, it’s a message from the physical to your mental informing you neither your body nor your mind want to partake.

For Sarah Phillips, a senior at Colgate University, one of the biggest deterrents during her college touring process was when she found herself wandering. She says it’s a major red flag “[when] you don’t understand 90% of the words the tour guide is using.”  So, if you’re getting lost or lagging behind on a tour, ask yourself, is this the right place for you?

2. The campus culture unnerves you

We get it ––small colleges aren’t for everyone. The fear of another four years of Harkness tables, teachers knowing everything about your personal life and walking into ex-boyfriend Tommy might be just too much for you. But, if your tour guide doesn’t seem to pass one acquaintance while covering the lengths of the college’s campus—shouldn’t all of you community-craving applicants raise a red flag?

Even if population size isn’t your worry, don’t be afraid to admit that the culture on campus causes you stress. Meghan Kilkenny, a senior at Rockhurst University, began to notice the limits of her Catholic school education stretching too far at her previous liberal arts college. “I did not like the culture on campus," she says. "The culture was very unstructured and there were no rules on campus. The dorm bathrooms were coed and that was my first red flag. There were condoms available on every dorm front desk.”

After realizing her discomfort, Meghan says, “I ended up transferring to a Catholic school and I felt safer and more comfortable with my surroundings.”

Whether you realize the moment your tour turns sour, or in Meghan’s case, it takes a semester to see, don’t suppress that unnerving feeling. College is just as much about comfort as it is curriculum.

3. You’re a semester in and still don’t love it

Haven’t your parents always told you don’t knock it ‘till you try it? Well, that’s exactly what you were doing. You tried it, now it’s okay to knock it.

Don’t be afraid to make the phone call to dear old dad and admit that you’re not loving your school. Chances are, the sullen attitude and lack of stories at Thanksgiving already tipped off the rents.

Alicia Nagla, a student at Denver University, struggled to love her small town school in the mountains during her freshman year. "No one should be expected to know exactly what they want when they accept a college offer," Alicia says. "Life is fluid and you may find out that you need something totally different than what you thought you did!”

As we think about how much we have grown since freshmen year—like ditching our twin-sized purple bedspread for a full-size navy number—we’re happy we chose the school that would grow with us and not without us. So, if you realize the red flags after enrollment, don’t freak out. Life is about choosing and then re-choosing no matter the timetable!

4. You feel like you're settling

There are over 2,000 public and private four-year institutions in the U.S. This not a choice between the lesser of two evils. So, don’t settle on the next four years of your life.

If you want to play Division I field hockey and major in business, don’t choose a Division II team and economics degree. As a wise man once said, close only counts in horseshoes.

Meghan says she decided to try economics despite her business aspirations. “I decided to major in economics because it was the closest thing to business," she says. "I sat through my first day of class and I realized there was no way I could major in [it]—I hated it. I knew then that I needed to transfer.”

First and foremost, your school is your gateway to a higher education—an education mom and dad are more than happy about, especially if it means you’re out of the house in four years. So, don’t waste those four years gaining experience in a field close to your choosing. It’d be a shame if your engineering aspirations turned into a pre-med degree like mom always hoped. That’s fifteen prime years of rebellion down the proverbial tubes.

5. The dining hall raises more questions than cravings

Being hangry is a serious condition. Without food you can’t act, think or sometimes even see straight, and that is a recipe for social and academic disaster. When you take a tour in December and think, Oh! All the students are on break, make sure to pay close attention on your revisit day.

If the dining hall is equally empty at noon on a Thursday, there is something wrong. They don’t call it the "freshman 15" for nothing—chances are, the students are looking elsewhere for food, which means more money spent outside of the standard room-and-board fee.

You’ll be both unhealthier (because let’s be honest, you’re going to the pizzeria a block from campus) and broke-r. Laura*, a soon-to-be college grad, says, “No one really tells the truth about the bad food on a college’s campus, mainly because they probably don’t eat it.” So, look around. Is the dining hall a red flag for you?

Related: How to Eat Better for the Environment in the Dining Hall

6. You feel too close [or too far] to home

Location. Location. Location. We will always love you mom and dad, but for the next four years, let us decide if we want to love you at a distance. A half hour drive might seem like a world apart to some, or a recipe for unwanted and impromptu lunch dates for others. A four-hour drive might be a puddle jump for some, or an ocean of separation for others. Neither is wrong. Neither is standard.

Sure, college is a time for you to (excuse the cliché) spread your wings. That could mean cutting the umbilical cord and setting your own alarm clock—or it could not. Living within the proverbial earshot of your childhood home might make “adult-ing” complicated for some, or comforting for others.

Whether you want a school that is near or far from pop and gammy, that is your decision. Just make sure it’s your decision. College is your first step towards independence. Ensure your proximity allows you to do just that!

7. Your gut is telling you to run

You can make all the pros and cons lists you want. You can debate the signs in your head over and over again. Here, I saw a lot of kids wearing the university’s colors on campus. There, they had Greek life. This is dad’s alma mater. The factors and details that seem to define your lists—the food, the dorms, the proximity to the city—these details become more vague and your checklists begin to read: the atmosphere, the culture, the feeling I had walking around campus.

For Karlie Buonomo, a freshman at West Chester University, it was the school in its most holistic view.  “I loved the atmosphere and the town that the college had," she says. "I couldn’t see myself going anywhere else.”

Let’s circle back. You followed mom’s advice and found a school that offers your major. You listened to dad and discovered this school has a passionate student section at Friday night’s football games. You even took little sis’ advice (there’s no shame in looking up the sports' rosters). You took all these factors into account but ultimately made the decision yourself—when you know you know.

You will pick your college for all these reasons and the main reason is it’s the right one for you—sans red flags.

*Names have been changed.