College Guide 2017: Deciding on Location and Environment

Aside from academic offerings, atmosphere is a key factor in choosing a college.

When pondering where they’ll spend the next four (or more) years, prospective college students must decide between the city, the suburbs or something downright rural. Doug Zander, the University of Delaware’s director of admissions, offers his take on what’s worth considering. 

CG: How can a student know which environment is right for them?

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DZ: People who love cities love them for the excitement and the hustle and bustle, versus people who really like to be in quiet spaces. There are students for whom those extremes are important. It’s important to visit schools that would fit into [urban and rural] types. It’s important to go beyond that, too. Within the campus, it’s important that there is some green space, no matter where you are. Being successful in college is [shown to have a correlation to] feeling connected to your campus. 

CG: What are the advantages and disadvantages of the different environments?

DZ: It’s helpful if there’s an intersection of the local community with the university. That happens quite naturally in urban settings, where all around the college or university there’s a vibrant sense of the rest of the city. In a more suburban or rural setting, that may be less so. It’s important for students to continue to have a sense that they’re part of important issues happening in a local environment, not segregated from it. 

CG: What are some common characteristics of traditional campuses like the University of Delaware? 

DZ: Green spaces, places where students can congregate, residential areas—not just residence halls and classrooms. Having a real sense of place. When you’re on campus, you definitely feel like you’re part of the university. It creates a safe space, a comfort zone. We talk a lot about wanting students to step outside their comfort zones, but it’s also important to create a [place where] students can feel safe to take a risk. 

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CG: What’s the best way to get a sense of a school?

DZ: Talk with the students who go there. Ask what they do for recreation, what activities they’re involved in, their experiences in class. Get a sense academically—the richness of the experience—as well as the social side. Those two pieces are really important for a student’s sense of being able to connect. 

CG: What about safety concerns?  

DZ: It may be less that students are thinking about it than their parents. You really want to have a strong sense that, when you’re sending your son or daughter off, they are safe. There are federal regulations that require [colleges and universities] to report statistics on crimes committed on campus, so it’s pretty easy to get that sense. 

CG: Is there any other crucial information that students should seek out?

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DZ: One of the most important things is to be open to learning new things and having new experiences. The purpose of attending college is to be a scholar, to really think about critical problems and issues. We want them to be on fire about that piece of it. At the same time, you want creature comforts—but, in the end, that shouldn’t be the decision-maker. 

Where Do I Want to Be?

Six Questions to Ask.

1.How far would I be from home?  

2. Would I need transportation where I attend school?  

3. Are there activities and events to engage off campus? 

4. Would I be able to get an internship nearby while I’m in school?  

5. Are there areas for outdoor sports and activities?  

6. What is the cost of living? 

Doug Zander

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