High school students are generally in school seven hours a day, five days a week. College students, on the other hand, may only be in class for seven hours a week. Thats a lot of free time. So when youre not in a classroom, how will you spend that time?
Finding a social fit is less tangible than identifying an academic fit (see last weeks column, charlotteobserver.com/college). What does it really mean to feel comfortable on a campus? Here are some suggestions to help determine an appropriate social fit.
1. Greek life. Most high school students I talk to have strong feelings about the role Greek life will play in their college experience. To the good, fraternities and sororities provide an easy social outlet. Once accepted, fraternities and sororities provide a family of friends due to shared meals and social activities. To the bad, Greek life at most colleges has a pecking order, ranging from the desirable house that has the most popular kids from every high school to the loser houses that struggle to attract members. Greek life is also criticized for creating an insular environment where students tend to socialize only with each other.
Many students see college as a way to get beyond the cliquishness of high school and have a fresh start. The thought of rushing a sorority or fraternity and possibly being rejected in their freshman year is intimidating.
Figure out where you sit on the continuum of Greek life. Is the instant-family camaraderie and social opportunities something youre looking for? The percentage of students involved in Greek life is available on most college websites and in guidebooks. Participation in Greek life varies greatly; from a whopping 85 percent at Washington & Lee University to zero at Boston College.
2. Housing. Most colleges require students to live in on-campus housing for their freshman year. Smaller, private colleges frequently offer on-campus housing for all four years and tout that fact in their information sessions. Living with other students for as much of their college experience as possible creates a long-lasting sense of community that cant be duplicated when 50-plus percent live off-campus. If this sense of community is what youre seeking, then research housing statistics.
3. Meal plans. The dining hall is a social institution. Its where friends meet between classes and its an opportunity to expand your network with new friends. Meal plans are expensive, but eating every meal out is even more expensive. Figure out your class schedule, then determine how realistic it will be to stop at the dining hall before your 8 a.m. class thats on the other side of campus. If you choose not to buy a meal plan or select a limited one, you might find yourself missing out, not only on social opportunities, but a balanced diet as well.
4. Sports. I refer to this as the rah-rah quotient. If rooting for your home team must be a part of your college experience, then make sure you pay attention to that as you research and visit colleges. Some colleges are not as spirited as others, but some have a sense of humor about their ho-hum sports scene; American University in Washington, D.C., sells a T-shirt that says American University Football on the front and Still Undefeated on the back you got it, they dont have a football team!