Pros and Cons of Top Schools: College Culture

Michael Gao
December 28, 2023
College List

This blog post is part of a series where our writers discuss their experiences attending top colleges. In this installment, they answer the question below. To schedule an appointment with top Ivy League school students who have experience with tutoring college academics and coaching high school students, click here to contact us about Dewey Smart Ivy League Tutoring & College Admissions Counseling.

What is the general college culture or atmosphere like at a top school? What are one upside and one downside of this culture or atmosphere?

Michael: This is a complicated question, especially because colleges, even top colleges, are way larger than your typical high school, so there are many more different groups. In some ways, there are still fairly traditional breakdowns: for instance, athletes, because they spend so much time training together, are often a group. However, I’ve also noticed class divisions that stratify the social scene. 

Take spring break. It takes a certain kind of student who can go to Europe and party in Ibiza. It’s been really eye opening to be friends with folks who grew up in rural Pennsylvania and Montana (Matt and Colton), and at the same time, attend class with others who went to boarding schools like Andover and Exeter. There are big college cultural differences, and they can be both jarring and really fascinating.

Mahad: The class divisions really are jarring. The reality of the world we live in is that at a top university, you are far more likely to be interacting with students who come from wealthier backgrounds than you would at another university. I’d imagine for most students, this is the point in their lives where they are around the most economically diverse population that they will be a part of in their life. 

Maria: I completely agree, I think at a top university a lot of students come from wealthy backgrounds. This is why I think talking to students and or reading forums is a super important part of researching colleges. I remember when I was doing research, every school talked about how diverse and multicultural they were etc…, but it's all part of their branding. This can be very different from the experiences of students.

Michael: And to quickly plug Dewey Smart, that’s what we do! We pair current college students with high school students, and a lot of these sessions are dedicated to our counselors really talking honestly about what their own college application experience and college experiences have been like. Ok now, plug over.

Mahad: Additionally, top colleges tend to have a college culture of academically motivated students that I found to be very helpful during my four years. Being around people who are accomplishing incredible things is a great driver, and pushed me to better myself. The flip side of this is it often made me feel worse about my shortcomings, so it’s really a double edged sword. This is why you should look into whether your prospective school has a culture of competitiveness. Although this can be found at any top university, some definitely have more of a reputation than others.

Maria: Yes, I would just emphasize again that the competitive college culture is not for everyone. I know some people who have been thriving off of it, but others who don’t. It is ok if you are the kind of person who does not do well in a high-stress environment, there are so many schools out there. Just because it is a name school, doesn’t mean it is for all.

For more guidance on the life of a college student, get into contact with a Dewey Smart tutor today!

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