Office of Admissions
One Dent Drive
April 18, 2022
If you could run personality tests on the colleges of their choice, what would the results say?
Like people, colleges and universities have their own sets of values, distinctive strengths and lenses through which they view the world. All of these characteristics indicate something about a college's culture and the day-to-day experiences students will have on campus.
In this episode, we're sharing some tips on how prospective students can get a sense of a university's campus culture — from the brochure to the college tour and far beyond.
Our guests are Bucknell admissions counselor Ashley Carnuccio and Dana Pardee '22. Ashley works with prospective students from central New Jersey and New York City. Dana is a psychology and economics double-major from Colts Neck, N.J., who is involved in Greek life, the Bucknell Dance Company, drama club and more.
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[00:00:07] BT: I love a good personality test. I'm not talking about those wacky Buzzfeed quizzes that reveal whether you're the right or left piece of the Twix candy bar. I mean, one of those detailed assessments that provides real insight into your unique abilities, attitudes and how you relate to others. And I often wonder if high school students could run personality tests on the colleges of their choice, what would the results say?
[00:00:32] BHA: And like people, colleges and universities have their own sets of values, distinctive strengths and lenses through which they view the world — because these institutions are ultimately made up of people. Some schools are more competitive while others are more collaborative. Some pride themselves on school spirit while others are more focused on research and intellectual stewardship.
[00:00:54] BT: All of these characteristics indicate something about a college's culture and the day-to-day experiences students will have on campus. I'm Brooke Thames from Bucknell University, and in this episode of College Admissions Insider, we're sharing some tips on how prospective students can get a sense of a university's campus culture.
[00:01:11] BHA: I’m Becca Haupt Aldredge, also from Bucknell. Today, we're asking questions like, “Where should students look and what should they look for when getting a feel for school? How can they determine whether a university’s culture is a good fit for them and vice versa? And how can high schoolers go beyond the glossy pamphlets to get a real-life look at life on a college campus?”
[00:01:33] BT: Here to share their expertise and experience are Bucknell admissions counselor Ashley Carnuccio and Dana Pardee, a senior student at Bucknell. Ashley has worked in admissions for the past several years and works with prospective students from central New Jersey and New York City. And Dana is a psychology and economics double-major from Colts Neck, N.J., who is involved in Greek life, the Bucknell Dance Company, drama club and more. Welcome to the podcast.
[00:01:59] AC: Thank you so much, Brooke and Becca. Excited to be here.
[00:02:02] DP: Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited.
[00:02:04] BHA: Well, let's start with a big-picture question. What does the term campus culture mean to you?
[00:02:09] DP: Well, when I think of campus culture, I think of just the overall feel environment and vibe of a campus community, like how you would describe the people as a whole, as well as the location, the area and other important aspects of the school.
[00:02:22] AC: I agree. It's definitely a feeling it's about finding your fit, wherever that may be. Maybe it's trying something new that you didn't know you liked. Either, it could be a time to explore or sticking to what you know.
[00:02:34] BT: Yeah, those are some great definitions. And Dana, you're the student expert here. And I'm sure our high school listeners would love to hear about your specific experience figuring out which colleges would be a good fit for you. So as you were looking at all the different university materials — websites, brochures, maybe even a podcast like this one — what signs of a campus culture really jumped out at you?
[00:02:56] DP: Yeah. From looking at websites alone, I was already able to begin to differentiate colleges and really get a sense of a more general vibe of the school. Is everything in the campus brochure and website highlighting academics and does it seem really competitive? Or does the vibe seem more approachable, where students seem to actually be enjoying themselves and enjoying a very strong work-life balance? These types of things that a university will highlight in their materials is really what they want to showcase and is what is most notable or characterizable about themselves. So it's really important to pay attention to.
[00:03:30] BT: In all of that, I guess what were the specific things that were communicating that to you? Was it maybe the pictures, or the text and how the school describe themselves, or other aspects?
[00:03:39] DP: The pictures are what immediately will jump out to you. But it's important to look further than that and kind of do a deep dive into all the texts, and really get a better sense of what the campus culture is.
[00:03:51] BHA: And websites, viewbooks and brochures are great for getting a lay of the land. They can also include key statistics like student-to-faculty ratios and information about the surrounding area. Are there conclusions about campus culture that can be drawn right off the bat based on those details?
[00:04:07] AC: For sure. At Bucknell, we have something called the class profile. Those stats that you see on the class profile can help you match a culture to that of something you're used to. Maybe smaller class sizes. Maybe a smaller campus feel. Maybe it's a bigger campus feel that you're used to, and that's the route you'll take. It's about finding opportunities that really fit you.
It's really, really important to do your research. For example, are you a flute player? Is there a band on campus? Are there performances that you can showcase your talents at? Are there classes to expand your talents? If not, maybe it's not the right culture for you.
[00:04:46] BHA: Ashley, you bring up a great point about the flute player. Dana, you're a dancer, right? Did you see any marketing material that helped you understand that Bucknell is a place where you could pursue your academics and still dance?
[00:04:58] DP: Yeah, absolutely. Actually, being able to dance and do theatre at Bucknell is something that drew me to the school. And I was able to find that through a lot of the campus materials. It was pretty evident at other schools that you had to be a major or someone who wanted to pursue dance or theatre in the future to even be involved with that on campus. But I was able to tell through Bucknell’s materials that I would be able to be involved in dance and theater and still do what else I'm passionate about.
[00:05:25] BT: Yeah, that's awesome. We definitely pride ourselves on that liberal arts approach and try to communicate as best we can that you have all those options here. So it's great that you were able to pick that up.
But, I mean, on the other hand, if we're being honest, a lot of those marketing materials are designed to put the school's best foot forward, which means that you're getting the image of the university that they want you to see. Official tours and publications can only provide so much of the full picture. So how can students truly get a sense of what it's like to live and study at that school?
[00:05:57] AC: First, I would definitely say visit. See for yourself what it's like to be on the campus and even in the surrounding area. If you can’t visit, the pandemic has absolutely granted us a great ability to reach such a wider population. Take advantage of those many opportunities. If that means virtual, it means virtual. Secondly, talk with the people who are living it. Current students are a wealth of information for you. And if you're looking at schools, there's often summer programs that allow you to immerse yourself in the college experience, like live as a college student for a week — especially the schools that interest you.
[00:06:34] BHA: Let's talk specifically about social media. It's such a powerful tool to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of life at a school. They're real posts from real students, after all. How can high schoolers make the most of location tags on Instagram and other apps? And what should they be looking for?
[00:06:49] AC: Becca, you are right. It is definitely a powerful tool. This is how our students communicate. Schools are out there on every single platform. It gives you insight to what's happening in the now right on campus.
[00:07:02] DP: There's so much that you can find out on social media. It's super easy to get into a rabbit hole when looking at tags and scrolling in search of information. I would recommend looking at all the student run accounts and the accounts outside of the school's main Instagram, although that is a good place to start.
If you're interested in joining a particular club or sport, like Bucknell soccer, for example, odds are they have an Instagram account, and it's probably worth looking at. I wish I knew about our student run account, @iamraybucknell, as a high school student because I think that that's an account that will tell you a lot about campus culture, as all the posts are by students and lots of different types of students — and it's pretty unfiltered. It's also a great place to go to get your questions answered.
I'm not sure students will do this. But when I was looking at schools, I would spend hours on YouTube looking at videos students posted about specific schools, whether it was like a room tour or a day in the life. Now, that was just more fun than anything else, but I was absolutely able to get a better sense of student life just from doing that.
[00:07:55] BT: Yeah, and those apps like Instagram that have those DM (direct messaging) features where you not only can see what life is like at the school, but maybe even reach out to a student and ask questions. I mean, is that a possibility for prospective students? Would you recommend that they kind of reach out to students, especially if they see that they're involved in something that they're interested in, like soccer, or flute, or dance?
[00:08:15] DP: Yes, absolutely. Social media provides us with this ability to be able to reach out to people that you wouldn't be able to meet in person. And as a tour guide and a student, now I have students DMing me on Instagram, and I love it. I always answer them, and it's so nice to be able to talk to them.
[00:08:30] BT: Yeah, that’s awesome. I’m sure it's really fun being able to connect with prospective students online. Dana, I'm also curious what events, experiences or conversations outside of social media helped you get a clearer image of Bucknell?
[00:08:42] DP: Yeah. With all the time I spent on social media, nothing gave me a clearer picture of Bucknell than actually talking to current students and even alumni that were from Bucknell. After coming to campus for the first time and getting that initial tour, it was pretty clear to me that the vibe of this campus aligned with what I was looking for in a school. But after I was admitted, I came back for a second time. And then I was able to talk with professors and other students. And it sealed the deal for me as I felt more connected to the school.
[00:09:08] BHA: So, Dana, you said that the vibe at Bucknell ended up aligning with what you were looking for. Now that you're here, how would you describe that vibe? Is it similar to what you thought you would get before attending?
[00:09:20] DP: When I toured Bucknell, I could immediately tell that the vibe of the school was very sociable, friendly, approachable. And talking with people about Bucknell, they all seem very passionate about the school, about everything they were involved in and all the people that they had met. I would say that passion, that friendliness, that approachableness has all held true within the four years I’ve spent here at school.
The picture that you might have in your head right now as a high school student about what you think college is going to be like is probably not what it's going to be like. But I would say that I was pretty spot-on about the overall vibe of Bucknell.
[00:09:52] BT: Yeah, it's interesting you mentioned that, that image of college that you have might not be what it actually is like. And colleges generally try to do their best in presenting what that experience will be like, but sometimes things get mismatched. And it seems like you're really happy that you chose Bucknell. But I wonder if you can speak on that risk of maybe going to a school that you think is the right fit, but once you get there, it might not be the right culture fit.
[00:10:17] DP: Yeah, college is a really big transition, and it can be a tough adjustment even if you're going to a school that's a perfect fit for you. I guess the risk of going to a school that isn't the right culture fit just means that adjustment is going to be even more challenging. You could fall down the road of feeling pressure to compromise your personality or feeling isolated. I really do believe that there are going to be people for you at whatever school you choose. But choosing a school with a campus culture that fits you just makes everything about your next four years so much easier.
[00:10:44] BHA: Ashley as an admissions counselor, when you talk to students and their families, how do you help pair them with the right school to help minimize the chances of buyer's remorse? A student might think they want to go to a big-name school with a championship football team because it looks good on paper. But how do you help students look inward before they look outward?
[00:11:04] AC: It’s all about a student's day-to-day life — what they are experiencing at home right now. We have to see where their interests are and where they lie. Getting to know a student, asking these really great questions and helping families. This is what helps those families see what there is on a campus and helping them see where their students can be involved.
[00:11:26] BT: Yeah. And so, ideally, we want students to end up at a place where they feel at home and they feel like it really is a good fit for them — their interests, academics, extracurriculars, and beyond. But we also don’t want to make it seem like ending up at a school that might not be the perfect custom fit is the end of the world. And so, I wonder, how do we ensure that students aren't digging too far in that they're kind of getting a little bit anxious about this fit aspect?
[00:11:52] AC: I think it's okay to have compromise. It's definitely okay to have compromise. And it's definitely okay to explore, too. And I think that's an important aspect that our students need to see. There is time to explore. And you can definitely do that in a college setting.
[00:12:06] DP: I would say that there is no like one-size-fits-all for college. So at one specific school, there's going to be so many different types of people, and all those types of people fit in with the campus culture. So don't feel worried or too anxious if you don't think that the school is a perfect fit campus culture-wise, because there's so many different types of people at that school. And you'll find your people and you'll find your place within that specific school.
[00:12:32] BT: Yeah, yeah. That's great. I also want to flip that around. Students, I mean, after all, will at some point apply to the school and will communicate why they are also a good fit for the school. And so how do prospective students as applicants convey to the universities that they want to go to that they'd be a good fit for the school while also staying authentic to who they are and what they want out of college?
[00:12:56] AC: I think passion comes through in an application. As an admissions counselor, when reading applications, we can see when you're into something. We can read it. We can feel it just as you put it on paper. We want to see you, and every different piece of who you are, and what makes up who you are, even if that means showing a unique side that you didn't necessarily think you wanted to put on paper.
[00:13:18] BHA: Between social media and connecting with current students or visiting campus, we can spend all day trying to piece these bits of information together like a puzzle. But the campus culture is really something that sometimes needs to be experienced, not deduced. So what general advice might you leave our listeners with that would help prospective students hone in on that?
[00:13:41] DP: It's really hard to know what you're going to want in a school and to know what campus culture is going to fit you best as a junior and a senior in high school. My advice would be to at least pinpoint one or two things that are really important to you and that can help you narrow down your options. Think about how campus culture differs from a big school and a small school, for example. Look at the friends you have now or the types of people you surround yourself with when you feel at your best and most energized. I would look for campuses that are filled with those types of people. At the end of the day, campus culture is ultimately determined by its students. And a good group of people can turn a good school into a dream school really quickly.
[00:14:16] CA: That's well said. I would also say taking advantage of all the visit options out there. Knowing that there are so many to choose from, whether that be virtual, whether that be in person. Also, reach out to your admissions reps, to your specific territory manager. They’d be a wealth of information for you to fit you and your culture with the culture on campus. Also, get in contact with current students. They are here, they are in-person and they are living it, and will also be a wealth of information for you.
[00:14:45] BT: Yeah, those current students are definitely a great resource. And I love that note about a good group of people can turn a good school into a dream school. That's really great. Well, awesome! That's such a great note at closest episode of College Admissions Insider.
Thanks again to Dana Pardee and Ashley Carnuccio for lending their insight into this really important aspect of the college admissions process.
[00:15:07] AC: Thank you so much for having the two of us. We're excited to be a part of it.
[00:15:10] DP: Thank you again. This was really fun.
[00:15:13] BHA: And thanks to everyone out there listening. If you're a fan of the podcast, please take a moment to rate, subscribe or share this episode with the students and families in your life.
[00:15:22] BT: In the meantime, send your questions, comments and episode ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org. We read every note that arrives in our inbox.
[00:15:31] BHA: And finally, you're invited to follow Bucknell on your favorite social media apps. Just look for @BucknellU on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and now TikTok. You can also follow our student run Instagram account, the one that Dana mentioned, which is @iamraybucknell.
[00:15:52] BT: Until next time, keep on reaching for your dreams and your dream school.
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