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Educational Consultant on Picking a School: Consider the Surroundings

Expert educational consultant and college admissions adviser Mark Montgomery speaks from the campus of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles about choosing a college that’s in an environment that suits you.


Here on the campus of the University of Southern California, the actual campus footprint is pretty small. So this is a relatively dense university, where the buildings are relatively large and they’re relatively close together. There are some green spaces on campus that are quite attractive. But I just want to point out this big, tall building in the back. That’s a classroom building, primarily, many stories high. And then if you come around here, this is one of the libraries, and you can see one of the dormitories here; we were joking that it looks a little bit like a Holiday Inn or a Days Inn. Multistory buildings to house a large student population.

I think that the important thing to think about when you’re deciding about whether to attend a large or a small school is you do want to think about what that means in terms of facilities and the kinds of places where you’ll be taking your classes. At a small school like Occidental College which is not far from here, you’re going to have much smaller buildings and much smaller classrooms, of course. And the dormitories are not going to be as large, they’re going to be a little bit more intimate.

But I think the other thing to think about in terms of going to school in a city is that Los Angeles, especially, is really not a city as many might think of in other parts of the country, or certainly abroad. It doesn’t really have a center — there is a downtown which is very nearby — but Los Angeles is really an amalgamation of very different communities. So you have Pasadena where you have Caltech, which has its own town life; you have the Claremont Colleges that are in Claremont, California, much more suburban, still part of the urban are here; and then you have really nice places to go and hang out like Santa Monica, which has, again, its own neighborhood feel.

You do end up staying on campus most of the time, no matter which campus you choose to attend. Whether it’s a big campus of 18,000 undergraduates and 23,000 or so graduate students, or if you’re going to a small liberal arts college like Occidental. Either way, you’re going to be spending a lot of time on that campus. So as you’re making a decision about where to attend, you’re going to think about what kind of facilities, what kind of community, what kind of intimacy, what kind of neighborhood you really want to spend your time in for those four years.

I will make one caveat, however: remind yourself that really, you’re in school only about 30 weeks out of 52 weeks a year. So 22 weeks they’re basically going to kick you out and make you go home or get an internship or live somewhere else. So you really are only thinking of just a little bit more than half of the year will you be on a campus. So clearly Southern California, awesome, this is January, beautiful weather. If that’s what you want in a January, that’s really cool. But remind yourself that it’s really only 30 weeks out of 52 that you’ll be on the campus. Choose the kind of environment that’s right for you.

Mark Montgomery
Expert Educational Consultant

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