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What does the word “home” mean to you?

Choosing the right university has much more to do with finding the right environment than most people think. You might focus only on rankings or offerings and forget the importance of the college experience. Whether you’re studying with friends or sharing a meal after class, campus life is one of the most important determinants of student satisfaction. So, how do you know which campus is right for you?

First, remember that a campus is not one entity but is comprised of two main components: internal campus and external campus.

Your preferences on each of these two components create a multitude of options, some of which will work for you better than others. To begin, let’s take a look at questions to ask yourself about the internal campus, or elements within the campus limits.

  1. Do I want a campus that allows me to walk everywhere without requiring alternate forms of transportation?
  2. Do I want a campus that fosters a strong sense of community by offering on-campus activities and clubs, or do I prefer a campus where students focus mostly on academics?
  3. Do I want lots of green space, or do I prefer a more urban setting?
  4. Do I want a campus that includes certain facilities like a gym or pool?
  5. Do I want a campus with state-of-the-art dormitories, or do I prefer the charm of older, historic buildings?

Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s time to expand your queries to the external campus. What lies directly outside campus grounds matters too. Ask yourself these questions about the external campus.

  1. Do I want to be in a remote area that requires a car to get around, or at the doorsteps of a metropolitan city?
  2. Do I want to find a location that emphasizes safety over accessibility?
  3. Do I want to be close to nature, such as water or the mountains?
  4. Do I want an environment that experiences all seasons?
  5. Do I want to be close to an airport or other means of transportation?

Hopefully after answering some of these questions, you’re beginning to build out a full picture of your ideal campus. Next, think about how these two components work together. How do you mix and match your interests when it comes to what you want internally and externally? Moreover, how do you want those two spaces to interact? Do you want to attend a university with high walls, differentiating these two environments, or an “open gate policy” that facilitates interaction?

You’re well on your way to defining your new home away from home, but you aren’t done yet. Now that you have your perfect campus in mind, it’s time to pressure-test it. You have answered the campus questions above and feel like you can close your eyes and see it. However, visiting campus, whether it be in person or on a virtual tour, is the only way to truly test yourself.

Visiting campus is without a doubt the best way to pressure-test what you think you want in a collegiate home. There are many ways to visit campus, including anything from a walking tour to an overnight visit. As much information as you might glean from a school-organized event, it is equally important that you invest time in a self-guided tour. Take some time to walk around the student dorms, academic buildings, and most important, surrounding area. While it might sound cliché, you will feel it when it’s right. Make sure to observe current students and what they’re doing. Do students seem to be enjoying themselves? Do they appear to hang out in a central quad or multiple smaller outlets? Try to picture where on campus you would want to spend your free time.

While visiting campus in person is optimal, it’s not always practical or possible, especially for international students. Luckily, modern technology allows the campus tour to come to you. Whether it be an interactive conversation or a virtual walking tour, seeing your new potential home is incredibly important. Remember, you’re going to be living here for years, so it’s really important you like it.

And remember, U.S. News Global Education has a list of international-friendly universities that may be just the right school for you.

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Students who want to learn more about choosing their perfect campus can contact Brianna Alonso at