In high school, I was a straight-A slacker. These two things sound like an oxymoron (how can you be both a slacker and get straight As?), but hear me out. I took numerous AP classes, had perfect attendance, and had above a 4.0 GPA, but I didn’t really understand the true purpose of my education. I was writing papers the night before they were due, or just memorizing facts I knew would be on the test but merely to maintain good grades and get that golden ticket—college acceptance. If you just looked at the numbers, I was a great student, but I lacked a higher purpose.
Then Grove City College completely transformed my view of education. I was challenged to learn for more than just an A or the promise of great job opportunities but for a greater understanding of the world around me and how I could make an impact. It wasn’t just the one-on-one professor mentoring that inspired me to really learn, not just memorize, it was also the inspiring students around me.
It was the peer effect.
Peer effect is the idea that the people you surround yourself with will have a profound influence on your thoughts and actions. Like osmosis, we absorb aspects of our environment and reflect them ourselves. You’ve probably experienced it in your own life without realizing it. Maybe you feel more positive and optimistic when you spend time with friends from church, or when you’re around friends who can get gossipy, you find yourself being more critical of others.
Choose to surround yourself with people who will inspire you to be a better you.
I was amazed by the students in my class who were really interested and invested in the material we were learning. They weren’t just studying to do well; they were genuinely curious and felt empowered by the mentoring of faculty to do more. They were taking that passion outside of the classroom by starting their own blogs, portfolios, even dreaming (and later starting) their own companies and campus organizations (we don’t call them Groverachievers for nothing!).
Outside of the classroom, I was always blown away by the depth of the conversations and relationships I witnessed in the dining halls, late at night on the dorm hall, and in programs led by my amazing Resident Assistants (RAs). It’s not unusual for your friends to ask how they can pray for you, to talk about anxieties and life changes, and to dive into deeper topics, not just superficial small-talk.
Grove City students are passionate, motivated, and conscientious. I was pushed to be a more thoughtful, purposeful student, and honestly, a better friend to those around me. I look back at how much I grew over my four years at Grove City College and I know that I would not have been as challenged, inspired, and impacted without that campus community and the peer effect.
Here are five ways to help you discern a college’s peer effect before and after your campus visit:
- Be an active visitor—don’t just passively consume the facts and figures. Ask your tour guide or the admissions counselor you meet with about the campus culture. How would they describe the student body?
- Take some time to sit in the school’s student union and observe student life. What fliers are hanging up and what are the types of events being advertised? You’d be amazed at how much this can tell you about what is important to students on campus! Listen to what students are talking about and the depth of conversations. These interactions offer a peek into life on campus more than any brochure can!
- Do you know any alumni from the colleges you’re looking at? Talk to them openly and honestly about their experience, but know that campus culture can change over the decades. (This is one of the many reasons a college visit is so important!)
- Think about current students at the college that you know from high school or youth group. What qualities do you admire in them? Ask them for their college search narrative and what ultimately led them to that school.
- Trust your gut. It’s tempting to want to wait for some sort of sign from God that a school is the perfect fit for you, but sometimes God reveals himself in the details, not in bold print. It could be a class visit, meeting with a professor, or attending an open house event. But when you get that feeling that these are your people, trust it. If you feel like the people you’ve met and interacted with are the ones you want to learn and grow with, it’s a huge sign that you should continue to pursue that college.