How You Should Judge Colleges: What Factors Should I Consider in Evaluating Colleges? (page 3)

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on May 5, 2014

Campus Life

Campus life can be defined as organized activities or spontaneous events that exist on or off campus. On most campuses, depending on your personality and interests, you can find an activity that you enjoy. Some campuses offer a Greek life, with sororities and fraternities, and your social life is often built around your adopted “brothers” and “sisters.”

Many colleges offer a variety of activities, including student government, campus media (newspapers, magazines, and radio stations), honor societies, academic clubs (Anthropology Club, Psychology Club), community service/social action clubs (Circle K, Students Against Destructive Decisions), special interest groups (a cappella singing groups, animé, photography), cultural organizations (Asian Student Association, Latino Students United, African Peoples Organization), and religious organizations (Hillel, Muslim Student Association).

A school’s geographic location, academic reputation, and whether or not it is a commuter college (where most students go home on weekends) can all affect student social life. As an incoming freshman, you want to get a feel for a college’s campus life before you enroll. If you were involved in a club in high school, you may want to continue your involvement with that organization or look for new experiences. As a freshman, it’s very important to immediately get involved in campus life as a way to make friends, avoid being homesick, and fully participate in college life.


Athletics is an important issue to consider if you play sports competitively or if you enjoy watching or playing sports for fun. If you play competitively, you may be eligible to participate in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which determines the rules regarding eligibility, recruiting, and financial aid for athletes. Students who intend to play a sport in college may want a Division I or II college, and students must be certified by the NCAA eligibility center. There are minimum grades, standardized test scores, and courses required for athletes. For more information, go to


Cost, of course, is an important consideration in deciding which college to attend. You are not alone if you and your family are already worried about the cost of college, which has been steadily increasing. The cost of attending college includes:

  • Tuition
  • Fees (activity, registration, lab, and gym fees)
  • Room and Board (housing and meal plan)
  • Books and supplies
  • Personal expenses (entertainment, laundry, . . .)
  • Transportation (expenses to and from home, whether commuting or living on campus)
  • Miscellaneous expenses (sports, fraternity/sorority, . . .)

Many students are hesitant to discuss the price tag of college when they are researching colleges. This issue is too important to discuss later on, after you’ve fallen in love with a school out of your price range. Don’t be afraid to discuss the financial reality of your situation during the initial stages of the college application process. Then when you receive your financial aid packages, you can freely discuss which college suits you best and is financially affordable.

Admissions Standards/Selectivity

How selective or competitive a college or university is can help you to decide if it is the right college for you. Later in the chapter, I’ll discuss how it is appropriate for you to choose a mix of schools, based upon your qualifications for admission. Colleges are generally categorized as less competitive, competitive, highly competitive, or most competitive. When selecting a prospective school, you need to examine what your qualifications (grades, difficulty of high school courses, and SAT/ACT scores) are, as compared to a college’s admissions standards. The more selective or competitive the college, the harder it will be for you to gain acceptance.


When evaluating potential colleges, you should explore, through research and visits, the college’s facilities. Facilities may include things like the athletic teams and fields, the library, the dorms, the food, the physical buildings and classrooms, the safety and security of the campus, and the use of state-of-the-art technology. All of these aspects of a campus’s facilities add to or enhance your experience at a particular college.

If you are considering a college for its athletic programs or for special talent (art, drama, dance, etc.), then its athletic fields or performance halls should be of vital interest to you. The dorms you will be living in during your college years can also affect your overall happiness there. Most freshman dorms are small, but as you become an upperclassman, your choice of housing improves. Campus food consists of several dining options, depending on what’s offered by that college. If you have dietary restrictions, such as vegetarian, kosher, or halal, you should make sure the college offers what you need. You need to select a meal plan (usually based on two or three meals a day for five to seven days per week) if you live on campus. You may hear people talking about the “freshman 15,” which refers to some freshmen who gain weight during their first year because of unlimited access to food which is hard to resist.

The physical buildings and classroom facilities can add to a college’s beauty and attraction. When considering a college, you may want to think about how far you have to walk from a parking lot or your dorm to get to the majority of your classes, and whether the physical appearance of the college appeals to you. Some colleges feature beautiful, older architecture, while others feature a sleek, more modern style. Is a college campus undergoing construction or renovations? If so, can you live with the noise and inconvenience during the construction?

Safety and security on campuses have become more essential in recent years. On most college tours, a guide discusses what the college does to maintain a safe and secure environment, including emergency phones, escort services at night, security guards or a police force, locked dorms, and other measures. Colleges do not readily disclose their crime statistics, but this is an important question to ask about as you are screening potential schools. Many colleges have set up instant communication methods with students via cell phones and text messaging to alert you to security situations on campus so you can take swift action if necessary.

Family Issues

Family issues, including divorce and illness, can play a role in which colleges you want to consider attending. You may have dreamed of attending school in another part of the country, but if you have a sick mother or grandmother, this plan may not be possible. Consider your family’s circumstances and wishes when selecting possible schools in order to avoid conflicts later on.

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