While academic ratings, curriculum rigor, and faculty credentials often top the list of college considerations, there’s an underestimated factor that deeply impacts a student’s experience: the campus itself. For one international student unable to tour these campuses, the digital world of Reddit became a window to those maybe secondary yet important insights into the aesthetics and feel of various US colleges.

Woman shrugging
✅ AI Essay Writer ✅ AI Detector ✅ Plagchecker ✅ Paraphraser
✅ Summarizer ✅ Citation Generator

Key takeaways:

  • The environment and visual appeal of a college campus can greatly influence a student’s perception and overall experience. 
  • Personal backgrounds and individual preferences mean that what one student finds appealing about a college, another might find off-putting. 
  • Broader community, local culture, weather conditions, and accessibility to amenities can play a massive role in a student’s decision to choose a particular college.

All students just starting their college life have too many things to worry about. The experience for international students is even more stressful since they don’t just relocate within their home country. Those who dream of embarking on the journey of higher education in a foreign land are met with a unique set of challenges. Beyond the universal considerations of program rankings and course offerings, they grapple with cultural shifts, geographic distances, and sometimes even linguistic barriers. One of the most pressing issues is selecting a college that aligns not just with their academic aspirations but also with their comfort and well-being. For many, this means understanding the very aura and essence of a college campus—something not always evident through glossy brochures and strategically curated website images.

One international student, acutely aware of the importance of the campus vibe, took their query to Reddit, trying to secure their college choice. They sought to strip away the marketing veneer and tap into the raw, firsthand experiences of those who had set foot on these campuses. Their question was simple yet clear: Which colleges did students love on paper but found lacking upon visitation:

“Since I am an international, I can’t really visit colleges in person. That’s why it would be great to learn your insights. Please let me know about the colleges you loved on paper but hated after visiting. Also, include the reasons”

The Importance of Aesthetics and Environment

The environment and aesthetics of a campus play a monumental role in influencing a student’s overall experience. Picture yourself walking across sprawling lawns amidst age-old trees and flowerbeds. Who wouldn’t want to be in an environment that offers a respite from intense academic pressures? Unfortunately, not every college offers this bucolic image. For instance, a comment from the Reddit post regretted the “industrial” feel of some colleges in the example of UT San Antonio. Despite the academic appeal, the campus, according to this user, desperately needed a touch of nature’s green.

“Any campus that is too “industrial” and lacks trees, bushes, and flowers. UT San Antonio is great on paper, yet the campus is in need of some greenery.”

Similarly, NYU was mentioned as “just buildings in the city.” The lack of a traditional campus feel might be off-putting for some, emphasizing the significance of the environment in shaping a student’s perspective. The Fordham Lincoln Center’s stark design, for example, was described as reminiscent of a hospital rather than a place of learning, a testament to the influence aesthetics wield.

“It is ugly af and the undergrad buildings literally look like a hospital but the law building is kinda nice. Overall no one looked happy to be there and it was def not a good campus.”

Yet, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and nowhere is this more evident than in the contrast of MIT and Harvard. While Harvard evokes images of a grand boarding school, reminiscent of Hogwarts with its historic charm, MIT was deemed lacking in direct comparison. Such contrasting opinions highlight that aesthetics, though subjective, can significantly shape opinions.

The Subjectivity of College Impressions

What’s paradise for one might be mundane for another. This adage holds particularly true when considering college campuses. As one insightful Reddit user mentioned, the feelings evoked by a campus visit can be incredibly subjective. Often, visceral reactions upon setting foot on campus are rationalized post-facto.

“I note this is an incredibly subjective issue where two different applicants can respectively love/dislike the same college after visiting.”

Take the example of UC Berkeley. While one individual recounted, “a lot of people who have toured UC Berkeley have told me that it was really offputting… they saw how many homeless there are around the campus and how overall they just thought that the campus was ghetto,” another countered with, “I don’t think it would be something that would bother me personally because where I live, there’s a lot of homeless people and it’s not super bad to me… a lot of other people have told me they really love attending UC Berkeley.” Such starkly contrasting views on the same institution underscore the deeply personal nature of campus impressions.

An image of UC Berkeley campus
UC Berkeley looks very nice. At least, on the pictures. Image source: sasaki.com

The same contrast in opinions is repeated with respect to institutions like Harvard and MIT. One user commented, 

“Harvard – the tour showed me how snobby their undergrads are, and that their campus layout isn’t very practical lol.”

Yet another shared a completely different view, stating, “I was much more impressed by MIT, where I didn’t even have a tour. Their campus is beautiful!” These reflections testify that, beyond objective criteria like academic programs or faculty credentials, personal experiences and emotional responses play a pivotal role in shaping perceptions.

It’s important, then, for prospective students to understand that individual narratives, though valuable, are filtered through personal lenses. While a picturesque campus might sway one, another might be looking for urban immersion. As they sift through shared experiences, students should continually introspect on their preferences and priorities, grounding their decisions in self-awareness and external insights.

Location Matters

The geography of a college campus, its surrounding environs, and proximity to urban or rural landscapes can profoundly influence a student’s experience and satisfaction. The old saying, “location, location, location,” isn’t reserved merely for the real estate domain; it’s just as critical when selecting a college.

Dartmouth and Middlebury, both renowned institutions of learning, nestled amidst nature, offer breathtaking views, serenity, and a unique charm that is loved by many. However, as one user frankly remarked about such settings,

“All the isolated colleges in bumfuck nowhere like Dartmouth and Middlebury… I could imagine myself going stir crazy within a month at those places.” 

The longing for the hustle and bustle, the rich tapestry of experiences offered by urban settings, and the convenience of amenities nearby cannot be overlooked. For some, the allure of campus is closely tethered to its proximity to a buzzing city life, where weekend escapades, internships, cultural events, and dining options are a short drive away.

A bird's eye view at Dartmouth college
Dartmouth college. Image source: home.dartmouth.edu

On the other hand, urban settings come with their challenges. Another college, Texas Tech, located in Lubbock, presents a geographical problem of a different kind. A user’s vivid description paints a compelling picture: 

“Texas Tech. Lubbock is in the middle of nowhere and the one time I went there was so much dirt in the air. The sky looked brown… that shit kept getting in my eyes.” 

While the institution itself may offer excellent programs, environmental factors like dust storms or extreme weather conditions can be substantial deterrents for prospective students.

Moreover, the broader community, local culture, and even elements such as public transport availability contribute to the appeal of a location. It’s not just about the beauty of the campus but its integration (or lack thereof) with its surroundings and how that complements or challenges a student’s lifestyle preferences and needs.

In conclusion, while the academic prowess of a college is undeniably paramount, the significance of its location, both in terms of geography and socio-cultural context, remains a key deciding factor. It’s about envisioning daily life, weekend getaways, cultural exposures, and even those unexpected moments – all elements that come together to define the collegiate experience.

The Role of Tour Guides

Sometimes, it’s not just about the place but the storyteller. The way a college is presented can heavily tilt the scales of impression. One user recounted a visit to Harvard where, instead of delving into the current student experience, the tour guide offered an overwhelming history lesson. While the institution’s past is undoubtedly prestigious, prospective students are often more keen on understanding the present and envisioning their future.

An image of two campus tour guides holding a welcome sign
Taking a campus tour is a perfect way to find out everything about an institution.

Contrastingly, even without a guided tour at MIT, the campus’s ambiance left a lasting positive impact on a visitor. This highlights the integral role tour guides play. They are the bridge between the prospective student and the institution, and their portrayal can be the difference between attraction and aversion.


The quest for the perfect college is a mosaic of numerous considerations, from academics to aesthetics, from location to lore. International students, in particular, have to deal with all these challenges from afar. But as the Reddit post demonstrates, the collective experiences of others can be a powerful guiding light. Each perspective, whether praising or critical, offers a piece of the larger puzzle. The key for prospective students, whether domestic or international, is to analyze these insights, marry them with their preferences, and make informed decisions, ensuring their chosen institution aligns not just with their academic ambitions but also with their vision for a holistic college experience.

Opt out or Contact us anytime. See our Privacy Notice

Follow us on Reddit for more insights and updates.

Comments (0)

Welcome to A*Help comments!

We’re all about debate and discussion at A*Help.

We value the diverse opinions of users, so you may find points of view that you don’t agree with. And that’s cool. However, there are certain things we’re not OK with: attempts to manipulate our data in any way, for example, or the posting of discriminative, offensive, hateful, or disparaging material.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Register | Lost your password?