Some people are more politically interested and engaged than others. Similarly, some campus communities are more politically and socially active than others. On the one extreme are the campuses where apathy tends to reign supreme: most students are primarily concerned with their various activities, academics, and personal lives. On the other extreme are the colleges where virtually everyone on campus seems to have a cause they support, and where community service is central to college life. Whatever the merits of political and social engagement, students must ask themselves where they fit on this continuum. How engaged are you now, and how engaged do you want to be over the next four years?
Keep in mind that most college campuses lean to the left, politically speaking. There are many reasons for this, and an exploration of these reasons would take us on a tangent. However, there are many campuses where more conservative students will feel quite comfortable and plenty of kindred spirits.
So the first order of business is to take your own political and social temperature. Are there issues that you care deeply about? Examples might include animal rights, the environment, abortion, or homelessness. Have you ever been or wanted to be more politically active? Philosophically speaking, do you think one of the reasons to pursue an education is to learn how to be a more effective, more active citizen? Or is education primarily a means to get a successful job and contribute to society in that way?
What are the questions you might ask to get a bead on the level of political and social engagement on campus? One way is to look at the college’s mission statement, and then ask students, faculty, and staff the degree to which they feel that mission is put into practice. Examples might include themed “living and learning communities,” principles of course design, numerous and active student organizations, or particular campus-wide programs that help to channel student engagement in specific directions. In each case, make sure to compare campus priorities and initiatives with your own: is this the sort of place where you envision making your own contributions to society?
If so, it may be a perfect match.