Birds of a feather: which students flock to what kinds of schools?

When it comes to picking a school, a huge concern for prospective students is making friends. Like it or not, admit to doing it yourself or not, being able to make friends on campus is major factor. Just like a sun-loving surfer probably won't have the best time going to a beach-free area in Alaska, not every school is right for everyone.


To get the skinny on today's students, we've talked with Adam Duffenbach, formerly an RA and student body president at University of Wisconsin-Stout, and Sean Karp, who's nearly completed his entire degree online after starting it on a campus he ended up being severely allergic to (another reason to look closely at which school you're headed to).

Let's look at a few types of schools with a few of the people they attract.

The state college

Students at state colleges are a perfect example of putting friends first because many came directly from fairly local high schools and know a few people around campus. The degree they're earning isn't itself hugely important; these folks are practical: they want a degree because they want a good job, and they want to earn it while having a good time.

  • The local. These students are indigenous to the area, which means they've got friends who aren't freshmen and they know the best spots around the area for pretty much whatever you want to do. The local may still be dealing with drama from high school due to proximity issues, so be on the look out.
  • The athlete. Often missing classes for training, games and the like, this student's college goals tend to be sports-oriented. "Their commitment to their sport leaves them with little time to allocate to academics," says Duffenbach, "and many exceptions are made for their academic performance due to their athlete status."

The liberal arts school

Liberal arts schools attract the freethinkers…and the Frisbee players. Students at these schools are either really excited to be there, or they harbor some sort of resentment towards society and parents. You'll find driven students being encouraged to break free of traditional majors and programs; you'll find dorms and coffee shops gushing with ideas; you'll find hacky sacks and a lack of bicycle parking.

  • The go-getter. "This type lives for college. They excel in academic work and are thrilled by the opportunity to participate in social activities, clubs and other organizations," says Duffenbach. "They are often very positive individuals who spread themselves thin -- but still manage multiple commitments. I don't know how they do it." Once you meet this person, you'll see her/him everywhere, from picket lines to parties -- and then right on time and participating like mad in class.
  • The uncommitted. "These folks often come from well-to-do families," says Duffenbach, "and they're pushed to enter college and pursue the education their parents want for them." A degree from a liberal arts school looks good to the parents, and the programs are flexible enough for the student to work the system. These people "aren't fully engaged in any academic field, nor are they concerned with social groups or clubs. They spend their time and money on partying."

The Ivy League school

If the student wants to be there, nothing can stop her/him. These schools foster a go-go-go attitude that's clear in all students -- just applied differently in each case.

  • The super-focused. Duffenbach calls these students "future Warren Buffetts" and says they have "an unstoppable drive to complete their schooling get into the real world. They excel in their studies, but they aren't engaged in other extra-curricular or social groups. They are so driven that the world is merely a background noise to them and a distraction from their ultimate goal: to graduate with highest honors."
  • The Greek. Often perceived as elitists and chauvinists of Greek culture, these students "are usually heavily involved with their organization and sometimes struggle with academic focus. They are obsessed with partying, and they are tapped into a range of social networks."

The online school

Because of the nature of online colleges, social stereotypes are based solely on interactions, not looks. This is great because there are no hang-ups about who's hot or who can't dress themselves, but there's one big thing to keep in mind at online schools: everyone can see your grammar.

  • The surprise. Sean Karp also calls this student the "strangely quiet yet ultimately awesome" student. This student won't say much in general discussions and only participates the minimum amount until, at some undefined point in the semester, s/he becomes the best study partner you've ever had. "I've known teachers who had to go back to school who were like this -- it made English 101 a breeze for me."
  • The opinionator. With a confidence boost thanks to the relatively anonymity of the online classroom, this student "twists every class debate into something crazy." According to Karp, this student possesses "more than your average arrogance" and loves getting off topic for gun-control debates, arguments about the economy and anything else that falls into their "holier-than-thou bubble."

The community college

Usually footing their own bill and serious about their studies, community college students are there for a reason. Much like online schools, nontraditional students abound.

  • The pragmatist.This student is going to graduate. That's the goal from day one, and there's not that will distract them. They will occasionally be seen at parties, but they won't be there late. Often, these students got their partying out in high school, so college isn't primarily a social event.
  • The lifelong learner. These folks make great study buddies and probably have grandkids your age. They are founts of worldly knowledge and won't get flustered -- by anything. Sometimes working on a degree they never quite finished, sometimes just learning for the love of it, they're great for everything that doesn't involve a computer.

Most campuses are big enough to house all of these stereotypes -- and people who might look the part but not act it. Make sure the only books you judge by their covers come from the bookstore.

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