Asian man in yellow shirt, shrugging with four purple question bubbles

6 Questions to Ask About a University's Cultural Fit

Finding a good cultural fit in a university is important to being comfortable and happy on campus. Here's how to review schools through this cultural lens.

College is often the starting point of a person’s professional identity. They spend four years (or more) of their life on campus after painstakingly seeking schools to maximize their potential and help them achieve their goals. For many students, the college research process ends in the academic competency of a university…but some go one step further. They want to make sure the college or university they’re choosing fits their vision of a truly fulfilling life in school and beyond. There’s more to university than just obtaining academic knowledge. When your chosen college is the right cultural fit, you can have a better learning experience, leave with additional skills, and remain connected with some of the like-minded people you meet along the way. Do your potential universities align with what you want for your future? Ask yourself these questions to figure it out.

1. Are there opportunities to develop the skills you want?

A degree is no longer a rare find in a job candidate; it’s actually required for many jobs. That’s why it’s important to gain additional skills, improve your strengths, and work on your weaknesses during your years in university too. Will your prospective schools push you out of your comfort zone? In your search for US colleges and universities, look for schools that go the extra mile to offer different types of activities that will help you develop your self-esteem, polish your interviewing skills, teach you to prioritize projects, or engage you outside of a given curriculum. For example, when St. Thomas University students were interviewed during graduation, a significant portion said one of their most significant college experiences was participating in an extracurricular activity offered at the school called Toastmasters (a speaking engagement that arms students with public speaking skills).

2. Does the school and student community embody passion?

“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion,” said world-renowned motivational TED speaker and best-selling author Simon Sinek. Do you already have a passion that you’d like to pursue? An idea for a project? A dream? Furthermore, would your future university enable you to pursue it? Most universities will have attractive facilities that can dazzle you online and during a campus visit. But beautiful buildings will only take you so far; it is just as important to get faculty, staff, and student insights. Do they share your passion, and are they excited about new ideas? If you already have a vision of the work you want to do or the type of thesis you want to prepare, would your prospective academic department prepare you for your unique goals?

Related: How to Discover and Pursue Your Passions as a Student

3. What would your network of support be like?

It takes resources and effort to bring a campus together, engage different groups, and keep them active. Would your prospective universities provide you with an active network of peers, faculty, and alumni? Are there opportunities to meet people outside of your classrooms or academic department? Are alumni available for mentoring or even professional connections? And does that alumni network have a demonstrated record of reaching out to and supporting qualified students?

4. What kinds of events and extracurriculars are available?

Whether you’re interested in artistic pursuits, community events, studying abroad, philanthropic projects, or simply having fun, does the university have options that satisfy your interests? Browse the school’s online event calendar, search their website for clubs that appeal to you, and ask other students or alumni about their experiences if you can. Do you see yourself attending any of the campus events or participating in the activities advertised by the school? For example, playing a sport, whether recreationally or on a more competitive team, is one of the best ways to engage in university life. You can make friends, learn teamwork, network, and unwind after class, among many other benefits. Have you checked to see if your university offers the sport(s) you’d like to participate in, and are those opportunities available to you as an international student?

Related: Where and How to Find Free Events in College

5. Does the school reflect diversity and inclusiveness?

We learn about cultures and individual differences in many ways: through food, music, fine arts, or just a simple conversation. After all, a university is a place for higher learning, and encountering different viewpoints and backgrounds is an enormous part of personal growth. Being exposed to different cultures can also help us tremendously in our professional lives. We’re living in a globalized society, we’re surrounded by international entities, and we’re all connected through the Internet. You’ll have a great competitive advantage in the job market if you are familiar with the realities of this interconnected world and comfortable navigating within it.

From a personal standpoint, you may also want to attend a college or university that will help you stay connected with your own culture, through on-campus resources or support services. For example, you might want to attend particular religious services, have access to familiar foods, or join international student groups. As much as stretching your comfort zone is an important part of the university experience, connecting to familiar cultural touchstones from time to time can help with homesickness and the simple enjoyment of your time on campus. How welcoming, inclusive, and open-minded are your universities? What kinds of campus cultural support services are available? The international students office is a great place to start this research!

6. What’s currently going on at the school?

You can get a sense of these qualities in your potential colleges and universities by doing research online, in books, and through your network. It can also be helpful to subscribe to the social media feeds of your schools of interest. They are a good indicator of what colleges are up to. Be mindful that these accounts are carefully curated to reflect a university’s strengths and accomplishments. However, they are still representative of the university, its students, and its values. You can ask questions and interact with other community members through these channels as well. Do you want to be a part of what you see?

Related: Using Social Media to Connect at College

Each student, faculty, and staff member contributes to the culture of a university. When there’s a good cultural fit overall, you will feel “at home” at the final college or university you choose—a school that reflects your values and empowers you to reach your full potential. So take the time now to review your colleges and universities through this cultural lens. It’ll all be worth it!

US universities are looking for international students just like you! Start searching for your best-fit schools with our College Search tool.­

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Maya Ingraham

Maya Ingraham

October 2021 Mini Scholarship Winner, Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has given me more confidence in my college process. With easy-to-access resources and guidance such as the CX Weekly Roundup, I have been able to find the best colleges for me. Most importantly, there’s a surplus of scholarship opportunities for every student to support their education.

Josiah Kegg

Josiah Kegg

High School Class of 2021

I want to sincerely thank you all for this amazing website that's legitimately helped me find so many different scholarship opportunities. I've been stressing out for the longest time about paying for college since I would rather stay out of debt and have been working days trying to find any scholarship opportunity. When I found CollegeXpress, I discovered many easy scholarships that have given me hope for the future. Thank you and God bless!

Monica

Monica

High School Class of 2023

Being a sophomore in high school, I never really worried about college. I thought it wasn't important to worry about until senior year. Through this program opportunity I came across, I realized how important it is to start looking at colleges early and start planning ahead. CollegeXpress has opened my eyes to what colleges require, what colleges are near me, and what they offer. The daily emails I get from CollegeXpress really help me look at the different options I have and what colleges I fit into. Without this website, I would not be taking the time out of my day to worry about what my future will be nor what opportunities I have. I could not be more grateful for such an amazing and useful website. It's thanks to CollegeXpress that not only me but my family now know how much potential I have in to getting into these colleges/universities that we thought were out of my reach.

Kamal

Kamal

Student, University of the People

I registered with CollegeXpress and filled all my necessary and relevant information as well as the course I wished to study. A few days later, an email was sent to me with a list of schools offering the course; amongst them was the University of the People, the school I got admitted to.

Lu Diehl

Lu Diehl

High School Class of 2022

I never would have found the college I plan on attending without CollegeXpress! I've always been a person of ambition and have been dreaming of studying and working on my passion for law, legal studies, and political science. Washington College is where I plan on pursuing my career. My journey with my education has been difficult, and oftentimes, I was told I would never amount to much, but now I'm dual enrolled at Caroll Community College and have had experience in the fields I am dedicated to. Without the help of CollegeXpress (even in its early days), I would never have found Washington College and the information I need to apply and become a part of their community.

College Matches
X

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Saint Louis University

St. Louis, MO

Miami University

Oxford, OH

New York University—Abu Dhabi Campus

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

University of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, PA