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Choosing A College That Values Diversity

It's easy for college-bound students to get caught up in the process of choosing a college: reading the guidebooks; visiting campuses; and listening to the opinions of your counselors, your friends, and your parents.

There are so many things to consider, decisions to make, and forms to fill out. You may feel a bit overwhelmed by it all.

You’re not alone. You’re one of millions of high school students who are facing the same uncertainties and decisions. A good way to start is to ask yourself what kind of college experience you really want.

What colleges look for

Virtually all colleges are searching for good students. However different colleges may be, they share one overarching goal: educating students to become thoughtful, articulate citizens. But some colleges are also looking for strong students who want a challenging college experience, not just a diploma after four years.

How do they find such students?

They absolutely don’t do it by attracting people who all look and think alike, who come from similar backgrounds or parts of the country, and whose skin color or native language are the same. In fact, they want just the opposite: students with a wide range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, religions, points of view, skills, and experiences.

Why do they emphasize diversity rather than sameness?

Because in college, as in life, it’s most often from the people who are least like ourselves that we learn the most.

A campus community alive with students from different backgrounds is practically guaranteed to challenge you by constantly asking you to examine your assumptions, beliefs, and attitudes. Whether your views and beliefs actually change or are strengthened and confirmed, the process of examining differences will engage your mind and heart. That process is education.

Diversity and conflict

Americans are becoming less homogeneous and more diverse as a people. We need citizens and citizen leaders who understand the increasing diversity of America and who can harness that diversity—in the workplace, in schools and colleges, and at home—to improve life for everyone.

By the way, diversity means more than racial difference. It also means:

  • Creating a climate where individuals with different points of view are respected;
  • Encouraging unconventional and unfashionable approaches to difficult questions;
  • Opening up students’ minds to different personalities, cultures, traditions, languages, values, and motivations; and
  • Seeing difference or otherness as a positive rather than a negative thing.

College can be a safe place to foster engagement, discussion, tolerance, civility, respect, and a willingness to listen to others and to challenge our own assumptions—a place for us to practice these attitudes until they become part of our own belief systems.

How to assess a campus's multicultural climate

  • Talk with admission staff who focus on multicultural recruitment.
  • Talk with current multicultural students, staff, and faculty—and don’t base your judgment on what just one person says.
  • Talk to a variety of students of all ethnic backgrounds.
  • Sit in on some classes.
  • Stay overnight with a multicultural student.
  • Talk to members of multicultural organizations on campus.
  • Check out the cultural events and entertainment available.

Your college choice matters

When you’re reading the articles on this website or visiting college campuses, put the highest value on colleges where you’ll learn not just how to deal with differences but how to appreciate them. Doing that will help you change and grow to become the very best person you can be.

The late James O. Freedman was President of Dartmouth College from 1987–1998.

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