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Choose a Friendly University Environment
In Canada and the United States

Finding a friendly school where you will feel welcome and can be productive

Choose a friendly university, where it is easy to make friends. These two students--a man and a women--look very happy hugging each other.

Where you attend school or work greatly impacts the quality of your life. After all, you spend much of your waking hours there. A friendly nurturing environment will enrich you in multiple areas of life.

In the United States, more heart attacks occur at or near 9:00 a.m. Monday morning than at any other time. That is the most typical starting time of the U.S. work week. Could there by a more vivid example of many people not being in a place that they love?

This page helps you pick an uplifting university that you will enjoy—that will have a positive impact on your health and well being and even perhaps your depth of knowledge.

You will also receive tips for finding an environment where you will "fit in"—a place where you will be comfortable with the other people.

Some universities are more friendly than others, and you will find it easier to make friends in these environments. Smaller schools are said to be likely friendlier than larger ones, but there are certainly exceptions, such as the University of British Columbia, the University of Southern California and UCLA--all very large. (In the interest of full disclosure I attended the latter two.)

What international students think about their university and the services it provides them tells you a lot

You are on your own at some universities and that can be a stressful and lonely experience especially if you are new to Canada and the United States.

The Concordia University (Montreal) international students in following video radiate the opposite.

Choose a school like Concordia, as long as it provides the curriculum and academic rigour you desire.

Above: Concordia University does a superb job making its international students be as comfortable as possible.

Talk to people

How can you learn if a school environment is warm and friendly prior to applying? How can you determine if the academic atmosphere suits you?

Well, talk to people. Ask questions.

Be friendly, but ask blunt questions.

"I am very concerned about what I eat. Does your food service prepare most meals from fresh ingredients, or does it use mostly canned, frozen, and items brought already prepared?"

You are getting specific information here, but perhaps more importantly you are testing the attitudes of those who reply.

If your questions are unwelcome, watch out.

Talk to a wide variety of people, not only in the admissions and student aid departments, but also in housing, food service, accounting, and certainly in your planned academic department. If telephoning for information, ask to speak to current students. They will tell you what the place is really like.

Focus on your academic department

If the head of your prospective academic department and her professors seem aloof and unfriendly, that is a very bad sign. That alone should make you very uneasy.

While the primary mission of a great university is not to make people feel good, the people who administer and teach in your department will set the tone of your entire time there.

And, if others on staff seem bureaucratic and disinterested, well, you have learned what you need to know about that institution.

Sadly, at times, you need to know the open mindedness of the faculty. Are they there merely to teach currently accepted knowledge or are they open to new ideas and theories?

Visit the campus

The best way to find out about a school is to visit the campus while school is in session.

Picking a university is a momentous decision and certainly worth an exploratory trip once you have done some preliminary investigation. I realize that this might not be possible for some.

Block some time to explore on your own, instead of just taking organized tours. Also, venture into the area around campus.

Test student tolerance

Are the students there open to other opinions such as those you might have? Or, will you be resented or even censured?

Sadly, at some universities students succeed in silencing those opinions that are not theirs. I am not talking about calls to violence or anything like that. No one wants those. Politics has become extraordinarily polarized in the United States and sometimes tolerance is in short supply.

Overt racial and sexual orientation prejudice has happily become much harder to find but if applicable try to find out about that. For example, many universities now host LGBTQ student organizations that you can contact about how generally minorities are treated on campus.

Beware of commuter schools

Beware of commuter schools, such as two-year community colleges or even some provincial and state universities, where most students come from the immediate area, live at home, and keep their secondary school friendships.

It's harder to join a long-established group of friends.

You may be better off at a school such McGill in Montreal where most people come as strangers, if you are also a stranger.

Consider values

Pick a place that shares your values.

For example, if you love to learn and excel in your school work, beware of universities, sometimes well-known ones, where anti-intellectualism reigns.

If most students want nothing more than to have fun and party while waiting for the diploma that will bring a well-paying job, you may not feel at home.

Again, ask. There is nothing wrong with fun, but you may want more balance.

I define "academic atmospheres" as schools where highly-motivated students frequently discuss academic subjects outside of their classrooms and where classroom discussions are lively.

Are you a vegetarian? Pick a school such as University of British Columbia, California State University at Humboldt, the University of California at Santa Cruz, or Maharishi University of Management in Iowa. The first three campuses are in areas with many vegetarians. The last actually serves organic non genetically engineered veggie meals to all of its students.

Love the ballet? New York City and Toronto await you.

Certainly not every student or even a majority of students at these universities will share your values, but you will find more like minded people than at many other places, which should make making friends easier.

A true university experience demands exposure to different ideas and values, but you want a comfortable base from which to gain this exposure.


Are you entering the job market instead of school? Then find a friendly company. After all, you will spend much of your time there.

How do you find a friendly company?

In exactly the same ways you find a friendly school.

Talk to people and ask questions. Especially get to know the people with whom you will work each day. You may spend more waking time with them than with anyone else.

Go To >> Making friends and meeting people

Go To >> Finding a suitable residence hall or apartment

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