Have you ever wondered what student life at a specific college is really like? All too often, orientation groups and college brochures brush over less-than-optimal aspects of student life on campus, only focusing on the positive to draw you in. Maybe the A/C always breaks in the dorms, or specific organizations on campus are super elitist and judgmental. Whether it’s good or bad, you definitely want to know the inside details before you decide to apply—read on to hear advice from collegiettes on how to sneakily uncover what college life is really like.
1. Facebook groups
Most colleges have Facebook groups for each class. You’ll only have to type in the college name into the Facebook search bar and add “Class of 20XX” to find a group. From there, you can look through posts and pictures that might give you a little more insight into what student life is really like. If the group is private, don’t worry. Most of the time, if you send a request to join and explain that you’re an interested student, a group admin will let you in.
Shirley Toy, a senior at the University of Illinois, Chicago, says, “I actually didn’t find out about Facebook groups affiliated with my university until I went to freshman orientation. I dug deep, and I came across the Facebook group for my graduation year at my university. I learned that the A/C is cranked up high, the showers are bearable with flip-flops, and don’t wash your hair because hand dryers are all they have in the dorms. I am so glad to say that to this day, the people I met on the Facebook group became my classmates at one point, and we are still close friends.”
Make sure to check out a Facebook group before you apply, or like Shirley, before you start living on campus. It’ll keep you prepared for what’s ahead. And if it’s really off-putting to you, maybe it’ll encourage you to apply elsewhere. If you go to an older class page, you can even connect with upperclassmen who’ve been living there for a while—or even students who’ve graduated and are still in the Facebook group to give advice.
2. Meme pages
It might seem silly, but a meme page can tell you more about a college than you’d think.
Hannah McConnaughey, a junior at the University of Washington, says she used a meme page to learn about a potential college. “This might sound bizarre, but I feel like you can actually learn a lot about a college from their meme page on Facebook, if they have one,” she says. “Usually it’s run and created by students, so the inside jokes or common complaints can give you a sneak peek into what the everyday, average experience there is like. Definitely a little unconventional, but a good way to get a behind-the-scenes look at a university – and to find out about some of the not-so-great things they won’t mention on the campus tour.”
Inside jokes between students can be about anything—fights with rival schools, the gross dining hall food and super strict professors. If you can learn about the things students usually make fun of or complain about on campus, you’ll have a much better idea of what student life is like. Just don’t take everything at face value—it’s a meme page, after all.
Instagram is a great way to find out about student lifestyle at a university. You can look through public pictures and comments posted by students there, and even reach out to someone if you’re interested. Most likely, they’d be willing to speak with you. Just make sure it’s not the school’s official Instagram—it probably won’t be any more insightful than a brochure.
“One of the things I find fun to browse for college is Instagram,” says Zaynah Javed, a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley. “You can search up a college’s name in the locations tab and look at photos that students and other people post there. It gives you a good idea of what their unique campus life is like, what kinds of kids go to the school, and what people do in that area.” This is an awesome idea if you’re not sure what students do in their free time in the city around your college.
Laura*, a freshman at Lehigh University, notes that she used to check Instagram before she went to college as well. “A weird way I tried to find out about student life before actually going to college was Instagram,” she says. “I would look up tags for my school like #lehigh or look under the location tag. If someone had posted a picture with the location “Lehigh University” and was not on private, I could see it! It was kind of creepy, but it helped me get a better understanding of what type of students go to my school.”
Don’t feel weird about checking posts by students at your college on Instagram! If they’re public, that’s totally okay for you to look at. And don’t limit yourself to Instagram, either. Pinterest boards and Twitter posts by students are fair game, as well. You can even find Snap Stories of the university you’re interested in by searching them on Snapchat.
4. Student newspapers
Especially if you’re interested in journalism or literature, college newspapers can hold a treasure trove of information for you. From opinion pieces to campus news, you’ll find all the details on student ideologies and the latest changes on campus. It’ll take a bit of reading, but you’ll definitely come out with a better idea of what the university you’re interested in is like.
Rachna Shah, a freshman at Dartmouth College, says that reading student newspapers was her first step when looking into a college. “One of the best ways to learn more about student life at a college is by looking at their newspapers and op-ed pieces,” she says. “Most colleges have at least one student newspaper, if not multiple publications. I believe that editorials truly give a glimpse into what’s unique (not always good) about a school.”
Maybe you’ll find out that students have been advocating for social issues on campus and you’re really interested in getting involved. It’s a great way to find out things you like and dislike on campus, before ever actually setting foot there.
5. Rate My Professors
Believe it or not, reading student responses on a site like Rate My Professors can tell you a lot about student life. Whether they’re angry or happy with their professors, you’ll be able to see if students are petty about their grades or have actual, intelligible responses.
Not to mention, if you do end up going to the school, Shirley tells us the site can be insanely helpful for building your schedule. “While I was registering for classes, my orientation roommate suggested that I use the website Rate My Professors to find out more about the professors—their teaching style, feedback from students in the past, and the overall rating,” she says. “Not going to lie, it was really helpful; my first class schedule, I picked all of my professors using Rate My Professors—I still use it to this day to plan my senior year schedule.”
Through the site, you get to know more about both professors and students on campus. Sounds like a win-win.
6. College Confidential
Let’s face it—forums on College Confidential are addicting to look at when you’re applying to college. It’s easy to check there for students’ thoughts on everything from your SAT scores to your dorm packing list. In addition to all of that, it can also give you connections to students at the specific college you’re applying to.
Christian Pierce, a junior at Florida Atlantic University, says, “I was really interested in going to FAU, but I wanted to make sure that I’d enjoy the campus life. When you go to the College Confidential site, you can specifically look for forums related to a certain university. I was eventually able to talk to current students – hearing their positive opinions sealed the deal for me.”
Make sure you check your school’s College Confidential forum for anything you want to find out about student life—from academics to intramural sports. It’s a great resource that you should check out at least once.
Whether you decide to post on College Confidential, lurk through old Instagram posts or look on Rate My Professors, you’re learning about student life at the university you’re interested in. It’s absolutely awesome that you’re proactive about your future, so pat yourself on the back, pre-collegiette! Keep your head on your shoulders and pick a college that’s right for you.
* Names have been changed.