Choosing the right college is about finding the right fit, a place where you can feel at home and thrive.

If you care deeply about inclusivity, diversity and representation, you’ll want to pick a college that takes those values seriously. But since most every college claims to promote diversity, you’ll have to dig deeper than the school’s website to determine if what’s actually happening on campus aligns with your values and expectations. 

The obvious place to start is to look at each school’s diversity statistics among their students and faculty, but what’s far more telling is a college that integrates diversity and inclusion policies at every level and in every area of campus. How can you find out which schools do just that? Start by asking — and answering — the following key questions. 

Most schools will celebrate diversity on their website and in promotional materials, so it’s important to look beyond the admissions office.

1. How Does School Leadership Handle Conflicts?

When a high-profile conflict around race or inequality arises on campus, what steps does school leadership take to address it? You want a college that responds in a way that shows it appreciates the significance of the situation and does not ignore or dismiss students’ concerns.

Deena Maerowitz, a college adviser at The Bertram Group, suggests starting with these two questions to gauge a school’s methodology for conflict resolution: “Does the college include student or peer decision-making in conflict resolution?” and “Does it consider racism and sexual assault public health issues?” Schools that prioritize diverse voices will likely answer yes to both. 

Jeb Edmondson, student representative for the department of multicultural affairs at the University of North Georgia, says the best people to talk to are members of student government and students involved in the college’s department of diversity and inclusion. “The names of student government members should be available on the school’s website,” says Edmondson. You are also likely to find these students at orientation and recruitment events and on campus tours. 

When talking to these individuals, ask about their experience with conflict resolution and broaden the conversation to include more than just what happens on campus. “College life is holistic,” says Edmondson. He suggests learning more about the surrounding town or city and its history with racism or bigotry. Gather specifics on how the college supports students who experience discrimination off campus and what type of community outreach the college engages in to improve the environment beyond the campus.

2. What Resources and Support Systems Are Available?

A school that values diversity and inclusion is going to have programs in place that support students from all backgrounds. When talking to school officials or visiting campus, find out if there is an active Black student union, an LGBTQ center or other clubs, organizations and associations that are positively contributing to a diverse and inclusive culture.

Once you identify these groups, Maerowitz says, the next step is to find out how they’re interconnected. She cites the University of Virginia’s Project Rise as an example. “It was established in 2006 by a group of Black students to support the mental health of students of color on their campus, and it’s connected to both the Office of African American Affairs and the department of counseling and psychological services on campus,” she says.

It’s also important to look at the funding that supports these programs and clubs. The amount of resources can illuminate how much a school really values diversity on campus, although schools may not be inclined to disclose this information. “Reaching out to club presidents or student government officials can be an easy inroad [to this information],” says Edmondson, and these names and emails are typically posted on the college’s website. “The easiest way to get this information is to be cordial and conversational,” he adds, “but be prepared to get to the point.” Ask how they feel about the flow of funds to their group and how they request and receive additional resources for new initiatives that matter to their mission. 

3. What Is the Actual Lived Student Experience?

Most schools will celebrate diversity on their website and in promotional materials, so it’s important to look beyond the admissions office. Visiting a campus in person can give you valuable insight into the student experience. “An easy way to tell if a university cares about diversity is to see if there are people on campus that represent your background and identity,” says Kevin Fang, CEO of Ivy Guru. Observe the diversity of the interactions around you: If students appear segregated in the library, dorms or dining hall, consider it a red flag. 

If possible, look to engage with students on campus. If introducing yourself while on campus or contacting current students and alumni over social media feels too forward, talk to your high school counselor. They may be able to connect you to a high school alum who’s now a student at the college you’re considering.

Finally, talk to faculty and staff outside the college’s admissions office. Maerowitz suggests asking questions such as: “Are there people of color working in mental health services support? In career services? Are there orientation programs and ongoing support for first-generation students and students of color, or are they just one-time events?” 

Ultimately, assessing a school’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is very similar to evaluating the other criteria on your college must-have list. Some information will be readily available, but you’ll want to go further, conducting targeted research and asking revealing questions so you have what you need to assess how each school on your list measures up. 

Interviews for this article were conducted in 2020.

Applying to college? We can help.
Start Here