9 Non-Academic Things to Look for in a College

It’s almost time to make your big college decision! But after you’ve spent so much time visiting and researching colleges, what are you really looking for in a future school? Is it enough that your dream college offers your intended major and an interesting curriculum, or should there be more to your decision? Believe it or not, there are many other factors that have nothing to do with academics that you should consider when choosing a college!

1. School Spirit

Whether you’re interested in making the team or being a spectator, sporting events at your school will affect your college experience. At Division I schools, you can expect large crowds and lots of noise on game days.

While many schools support their teams to the fullest with tailgates or barbeques, others don’t pay much attention to athletics. Try to gauge the amount and type of school spirit at the schools you’re considering by attending different kinds of events when you visit. Instead of game day spirit, maybe your school takes pride in music festivals, like Mayfest at Cornell University.

Also, if you love to play a sport but don’t have enough time to dedicate to the school team, check if your potential school offers club or recreational teams. “Club sports are a great way to still be able to play the sport you love at a competitive level while also having time for other academic and social obligations,” says Devon Ziminski, a junior at The College of New Jersey. “Plus, teammates make the best of friends!”

2. Housing

If you plan on living in a dorm at all in college, it’s important to think about what kind of dorm you’d prefer to live in. Co-ed versus same-sex, an apartment with a kitchen versus a room with a microwave, five roommates versus one—these are just a few distinctions between the types of dorms schools will offer.

You should also think about if the dorms enforce quiet hours, have available study rooms or are close to computer labs, dining halls, your classes, etc. Some colleges require that first-year students live on campus, while others offer off-campus housing for underclassmen.  Some schools also offer living-learning communities where students of the same major or program are assigned rooms together.

3. Religious Life


Religious life at your school is something you should explore ahead of time. Shira Kipnees, a junior at Franklin & Marshall College, says she looked into religious life at the schools she was interested in. “I am Jewish, so it was important to me that there were places I could keep kosher or ways to celebrate holidays on campus with other Jews,” she says.

Some schools offer countless places to meet, pray or celebrate holidays with people of your religion or culture. At others, the options are much more limited, and it may be difficult to find a large population of people that share your religion. Be sure to check out existing organizations around the community as well as within your school.

On the other hand, a school with a large religious focus may not be the right fit for a non-religious person.

4. Location


Would you be willing to move halfway across the country for your dream school? If not, then location can be a deal-breaker. This is definitely something to keep in mind when choosing a school because for most high school seniors, your freshman year at college will be your first experience living away from home (and doing your own laundry!). You might want your mom’s cooking every weekend, or you might prefer to only go home for major holidays. For those of you who will be commuting, consider transportation costs and travel time. However, going to school out-of-state gives you the chance to have a living experience you’ve never tried.

The area surrounding your school is just as important. “I knew that I wanted to be in a big city where there would be lots to do off campus, whereas other students might prefer a smaller ‘college town,’” says Kelsey Pomeroy, a sophomore at The Ohio State University. “The college you choose is where you're going to spend the next four years, so you don't want to be stuck somewhere that isn't a good match for your personality!”

Research the areas surrounding your potential schools and consider the options for nearby off-campus activities, like going to the movies, the mall or even the grocery store.

5. Campus Size


The size of your campus will have an enormous effect on your college experience. On a large campus, strangers are everywhere (think of them as opportunities to make new friends!). A smaller campus might be more comfortable, however, if you prefer a space where you recognize people constantly. There are benefits and downsides to both, but depending on your background, the size of your high school and your comfort zone, you may prefer one to the other.

6. Clubs and Organizations


The amount and variety of clubs and organizations offered at your school can make a huge difference in what you do outside of class. Joining a club can help you discover a new passion, build your networking skills, gain experience in your field and even tackle leadership positions—all worthwhile to future employers. They can also be how you meet some of your best friends in college! You can join anything from the belly-dancing club to the kayaking club, so it’s important to find out if your potential school has organizations you’re interested in.

7. Places to Get Food

Avoiding the freshman 15 can be a bit tricky, especially if your only options for a late-night dinner after a night of studying are pizza, Chinese takeout or ramen noodles. Make sure the dining hall system works for your preferences. Some dining hall meal plans are buffet-style, while others are based on a point system. Most schools offer everyday foods like pizza or sandwiches and usually offer different stations for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but some dining halls are better than others. Check out College Prowler to see how your potential college’s dining hall stacks up to the rest. You should also find out if there are restaurants nearby that accept your meal plan or are collegiette budget-friendly.

8. Greek Life


Emily Kate Mitchell, a junior at Rutgers University and sister of Sigma Kappa, thinks that joining a fraternity or sorority is a great way to get involved on campus, meet new people and serve your community. “I would say that joining definitely gave me more confidence in all aspects of my life,” she says. “I gained new friends and new opportunities that I don't think I would've done on my own.”

Greek life can help you meet friends as well as help you network and make lasting connections. Joining Greek life also provides leadership opportunities for students. If you’re not interested in becoming a part of Greek life, fraternities and sororities also host lots of fun events (including parties!) that you might want to attend.

However, if you’re not interested in Greek life, there are plenty of schools where sororities and fraternities aren’t as big of a deal (or don’t exist at all).

9. Diversity


Diversity can refer to a lot of different things: people with different majors, religions, ethnicities, backgrounds and hometowns are just a few examples. Interacting with people who are different from you will prepare you for life after graduation and will teach you how to work with others. You can learn about different cultures, try new things and gain new and alternative perspectives. Looking for a school with a diverse student body could be very beneficial to your college experience.

 

College is going to be your new home for the next four years: the place where you study, hang out, go on dates and grow up. So for the ultimate learning experience, be sure to take these extra factors into consideration when choosing the right college for you.