As high school seniors make a last round of campus visits before making a final decision about where to enroll for college and juniors begin their first set of visits to investigate college options, they can find a wealth of advice from online blogs, YouTube clips, newspapers, and, yes, their very own guidance counselors. There is, however, one bit of advice that gets overlooked too often, and I write this to urge you to keep it in mind as you conduct your campus visits.
Colleges and universities know that from the moment you first set foot on their campus, you are trying to envision yourself living there for four years. They know it is important for you to feel comfortable on campus; otherwise, you are likely to scratch them off your list. This is a healthy and sensible attitude on students’ part: if they enroll at a residential school, that campus will become their home, in a real way, for several years. It is also sensible for college admissions offices, recognizing this reality, to make every effort to hand-pick the tour guides who will show you around, the buildings they include in your tour, and even the faculty or other professionals you will “run into” on campus.
It is very important to remember, however, that the goal of a college education is not principally to make you feel comfortable. Indeed, among the ideals most colleges and universities reach for is to have their students stretch beyond their comfort zones—academically, intellectually, personally, and socially. The colleges are wise enough to know that you cannot stretch beyond a comfort zone if you are unable to find one on campus, so their efforts to help you envision yourself “comfortable” on campus are actually consistent with their mission.
Campus Visit Advice
Not all of the students investigating colleges, however, make it a point to look into not just whether they will feel comfortable on a given campus but how that school will challenge them to stretch beyond their comfort zone. What programs and resources, for example, are made available to students to achieve such growth? Liberal arts colleges are especially well suited to providing students personal attention and, thereby, to reducing students’ anxieties about fitting in and finding a niche on campus. The best ones, in my mind, also invest in developing exciting and challenging internships, in offering opportunities to study abroad, to conduct advanced research alongside faculty, and to undertake service learning. It is opportunities like these that open up important new possibilities for personal and intellectual growth. You may, of course, have your own ideas about the best way for you to stretch beyond your comfort zone.
One of the very few complaints I have heard repeatedly from graduates of liberal arts colleges (none of whom, I should clarify, have told me they regretted their decision to attend their college) is that as upper class students they sometimes felt they “had outgrown the place.” Typically, though, this sentiment is heard by alumni/ae who graduated years ago. I expect younger alumni/ae have been able to capitalize on the many new study abroad and internship opportunities that most liberal arts colleges have developed to expand students’ horizons.
Liberal arts colleges, however, have no monopoly on the goal of getting students to stretch beyond their comfort zones. Even a very technically focused university hopes to instill in its students the habit of relishing a challenge, especially an academic challenge. And they, too, know that they will have to satisfy the yearning that comes from wanting to explore and experience new ideas, settings, and people.
So, my advice to all of you setting out on campus visits is to include in your checklist of things to look for a “stretch” factor. From what the college says about itself, how might you be able to grow, personally and intellectually? And from asking undergraduates and alumni/ae at random, seek to determine whether students are able to stretch beyond their comfort zones before feeling they had outgrown their campus community.
Good luck in your search!
For more information regarding private college counseling, please contact educational consultant, Roberto Noya, today at (512) 571-3003.