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The Politics of the College Search

At Premium Prep, students and families come to us with a wide range of non-negotiables and wish-list items for their college search. Some students want urban campuses, others want small colleges in rural areas. They may want to stick close to home, or they might be itching to expand their horizons and move to a new state. Greek Life, school spirit, internship and research opportunities, and even the weather are all common factors when students consider what they’d like their college experience to look like. Of growing importance to many in the last decade is the campus political climate. 

As counselors, we are getting more frequent questions about how students can ensure that they find a campus home where they are comfortable being themselves. Whether you’re passionate about activism, seeking a diverse range of perspectives, or hoping for a place that’s more apolitical, finding a college that aligns with your values is essential. Here are some strategies to help you navigate this important aspect of your college search:

Research: Start by doing some online research on the political climate of colleges you’re interested in. Read the campus newspapers, browse available student organizations, and follow their social media accounts to get a sense of the prevailing attitudes and activities related to politics. Pay attention to any recent controversies or events that might indicate the campus’s political leanings, as well as the university administration’s response to any events that have occurred. Additionally, consider how a college’s academic programs, and/or faculty contribute to its political climate. Some colleges may have a reputation for promoting certain political ideologies through their curriculum or faculty research.

Visit the Campus: Whenever possible, visit the campuses you’re considering to get a firsthand feel for the community. Talk to current students about their experiences. At Premium Prep, we have a list of student ambassadors on a variety of campuses who volunteer to share their experiences with prospective applicants. You can also ask your student tour guide about their perspective on the campus political climate. Check out the bulletin boards in high-traffic areas like the student union building – what sort of events, guest speakers, and activities are happening on campus? The student newspaper is also a great place to see what students care about and what conversations are occurring in the community. 

Consider Geographic Location: The political climate of a college is often influenced by its geographic location. Urban campuses tend to be more liberal and politically active, while rural campuses may lean more conservative. Educate yourself on the political leanings of the town, city, or state in which the college is located. Think about whether you’d prefer to be in an environment that reflects your political views or one that exposes you to a variety of perspectives. 

Look for Student Diversity: If you’re eager to participate in activism or political conversation, you may want to explore campuses with diverse student bodies, as this can often lead to richer political discourse on campus. Seek out colleges that value diversity and inclusion, welcoming students from all backgrounds and ideological viewpoints. Colleges with a wide range of student backgrounds tend to foster environments conducive to meaningful dialogue and debate.

Pro Tip: A good hint that a college is prioritizing diversity and inclusion can be found in the application’s supplemental essays. For example, in the 2023-2024 application cycle, Bowdoin, Duke, and Syracuse all asked questions related to diversity and inclusion: 

  • Bowdoin College: “Bowdoin believes that only through building a more diverse and inclusive campus community will the College best prepare graduates to be contributing and useful citizens of the world. Every graduate of this institution should be confident in their preparation to be able to navigate through differences and in all sorts of situations. A Bowdoin education does not guarantee these skills, but it does impart a set of tools necessary to bravely enter unfamiliar conditions with the confidence to deal effectively with ambiguity. If you wish, you may share anything about the unique experiences and perspectives that you would bring with you to the Bowdoin campus and community or an experience you have had that required you to navigate across or through difference.”
  • Duke University: “We believe a wide range of personal perspectives, beliefs, and lived experiences are essential to making Duke a vibrant and meaningful living and learning community. Feel free to share with us anything in this context that might help us better understand you and what you might bring to our community.”
  • Syracuse University: “Please be sure to respond to both parts of the following question: Syracuse University is a place that seeks to be welcoming to all – and has been since our founding. Explain why you are interested in Syracuse University and describe a personal experience in which you persevered through adversity, rejected discrimination, learned a lesson, or were inspired by the courageous actions of others and how you will apply what you learned to our community in a positive way.”

Evaluate Campus Policies:
Take a close look at the campus policies and administrative decisions that may impact the political climate. Does the college have a history of supporting free speech and open dialogue, or has it faced backlash for censoring certain viewpoints? Is it governed by a legislative body (North Carolina’s Board of Governors or Michigan’s Board of Regents are two examples) that holds certain political agendas or attitudes? Understanding how university leadership handles political controversies can give you insight into what to expect as a student.

Finding the right college is about more than just academics; it’s about finding a community where you feel supported, challenged, and empowered to grow. By considering the political climate of colleges as part of your decision-making process, you can ensure that you’re choosing a college that supports your values and will provide a positive environment for your personal and intellectual development.

We’re here to help you navigate the complexities of finding your best fit when it comes to the college search. Ready to get started? Schedule your free consultation now.