College Learning Communities (My Experience and Advice)

Learning communities have become more prevalent around college campuses around the nation within the past decade. Every college campus has different communities based on certain ideas or values. NC State, Kent State University, and UCLA, for example, all describe them as a community of students living together who share academic, social, and/or personal interests.

A student can join a learning community at any point of their college career, but they are generally promoted to first years and transfer students. These two populations are usually targeted by universities as a way to make sure these students are connected to a strong support system made of faculty and peers during their initial year on campus.

Colleges have seen successes with students who live in learning communities, showing correlation to students having higher retention rates and higher academic success per term and  per year. In their most recent study, University of Utah discovered average GPAs were higher in learning communities by 0.3 grade points per semester and that almost 60% of students in communities had GPAs over 3.5 as compared to non-housed and housed, non-learning community students.

Most college tours will mention learning communities in some form and give the reasons above (and more) as to why you should be in one. A place where I could not only thrive academically but also establish relationships with people based on shared values helped spark my initial interest in learning communities when I was in high school, but I wasn’t sold on the idea. 

Deciding If I Should Join a Learning Community

Although I didn’t fully understand what a learning community was or how they operated before I stepped foot on NC State’s campus, I did get a glimpse into what they could be like from my older sister’s experiences. She attended the university two years prior to me and participated in two different learning communities: WISE (Women In Science and Engineering) her freshman year and Wellness Village her sophomore year.

At WISE, my sister met people she had classes with (which was one of the main goals for the learning community), but she didn’t necessarily meet people with similar interests. In her case, the only thing she shared in common with the people in the WISE learning community was the fact that they were all women majoring in science. Unfortunately, this lack of connection hindered her from establishing those close, lasting relationships with other students during her freshman year.

She had a better experience her sophomore year when she transferred to the Wellness Village, because she was around other students who actually shared similar interests. This community was also more creative in the kind of bonding experiences the students would go on, from local hiking trips to an alternative Spring Break ski trip to the Appalachian Mountains. As a result, her personal experiences and academics flourished in this community.

My sister’s one year in the Wellness Village still wasn’t enough to convince me that learning communities were essential to my personal growth as a college student. Her prior year in WISE left me with a negative impression of learning communities, especially when I saw secondhand that personal connections and academic support and high GPAs weren’t always the case for students in learning communities. Additionally, none of the incoming freshman I knew going to NC State were choosing to live in learning communities.

So, instead of doing more research, I initially decided to take my chances on a completely random assignment. However, that all changed when it came time to submit my housing application for my freshman year.

I knew I wanted to be close to central campus at NC State because that’s where all my classes would be. The issue was that all the resident halls on central campus were occupied by learning communities, and you couldn’t live there without being a part of one. After doing research on the communities in the area from the NC State Housing website, I chose to live in Turlington Hall, home of the Arts Village, as it was the only one I had the slightest interest in because of my high school art background.

The only problem was that you had to apply and be accepted into the Arts Village living community, which only had a select number of spots available. Thankfully, my last two years of high school were spent as an International Baccalaureate student with an Art concentration so I had experiences to pull from. At that point in my life, I never considered myself to be heavily into the arts, just an art lover and appreciator. But that was enough to get me accepted into the Arts Village—I’m glad I decided to take a chance on that community as it ended up having a huge impact on my college experience.

My Experience in a Learning Community

As much as I hate to admit it, the universities were right about learning communities. If you find the right fit, they do allow you to have that space where you’re surrounded by like-minded people with similar interests, so it gives you the opportunity to establish those close, essential relationships in your first year. All my closest college friends except for one came from the Arts Village. The beginning of our bonds started from all the experiences we shared as a result of this community. We got to go on many different kinds of excursions, including local plays, dance performances, and art exhibitions all around the Raleigh/Durham area.

Not only did those experiences shape us, but the programs and events our Resident Advisors would throw for us also played an important role in our college experience and social interactions. It really helped everyone in the community come together as one family by participating in group activities like karaoke or an American Horror Story watch party.

The Arts Village brought us all together because of our shared passion for the Arts, but Turlington Residence Hall gave my friends and me the space to have and bond over our college experiences. I know now that had I not lived in the Arts Village, I would’ve had an entirely different college experience.

I probably wouldn’t have met any of the friends I’ve known for almost four years now because of how different our majors are. I also know I would’ve felt displaced on a campus of over 30,000 students had I not found my group of friends the first year. I’m from a small city that’s only twice the size of NC State’s student population, and I’m also a first-generation college student. Even with an older sister at the university, I still had no clue how college worked; but, with the support of my friend group, we figured it out together.

Luckily I found my group within the first week of college thanks to the learning community, while most first years and transfers take much longer to make friends and develop their social circle. My personal experiences would’ve also significantly changed since I wouldn’t have had inside access to all the local art events. This was pivotal for me because those experiences from the Arts Village eventually helped me decide on a better career path for myself.

Advice for Choosing a Learning Community in College

Doing your research about the learning communities at your college of choice is crucial, and it is the most important part of choosing a community that is right for you. Every college is different and has a variety of communities for you to be a part of, but it’s also up to you to take the time to determine which one is the best for you. Your prospective college should have a page on their housing website just for learning communities.

This is the best thing to do first, so this way you’ll know about all the options for communities that your college has to offer. Additional information can always be requested from your campus Housing Office. You can either call/email with questions or ask if they offer any additional resources about their learning communities.

Social media can either help or harm you when it comes to choosing a community, so my advice is to tread lightly. Personal testimonies can be very helpful by offering insights on a community. But just remember to remain objective especially when reading negative experiences.

Narrow down your choices for your top learning communities and submit those applications (if you’re able to choose more than one). Worry about which one to accept after you hear back about which ones you’ve been accepted into. The best thing you can do for yourself is to take as much time as you can to make sure you choose the right community. Once you make that decision, be sure to embrace the community for all it has to offer, and I’m sure you’ll have an amazing experience.

And what if the community life isn’t for you?

If you try the community life and realize you don’t enjoy it, there are always options. Thankfully, most colleges have procedures in place if you realize you don’t like your learning community. Your Resident Advisor, Community Mentors, and Community Directors will be able to help solve any internal conflicts you may have within the community and can offer improvements as well.

If you simply think you chose a bad community (for whatever reason), your campus’ Housing Office and the Community Director can usually remove you from it and place you in a different housing assignment, community based or non-community based. If you can, wait an entire semester before deciding to move. It took me a whole semester to become fully acclimated to the idea of community-based living and being a part of the Arts Village. Learning communities have adjustments periods so give it time and try to engage in the community as you can.

I am a senior at North Carolina State University, majoring in Science, Technology, and Society with double minors in Psychology + Biological Sciences. I plan on going back to grad school after a gap year, BUT in the meantime I want to write and become a better writer. My goal by 2019 is to complete my memoir about my college experience.

Want to start sharing your mind and have your voice heard?

Join our community of awesome contributing writers and start publishing now.

LEARN MORE


ENGAGE IN THE CONVERSATION

College Learning Communities (My Experience and Advice)

Learning communities have become more prevalent around college campuses around the nation within the past decade. Every college campus has different communities based on certain ideas or values. NC State, Kent State University, and UCLA, for example, all describe them as a community of students living together who share academic, social, and/or personal interests.

A student can join a learning community at any point of their college career, but they are generally promoted to first years and transfer students. These two populations are usually targeted by universities as a way to make sure these students are connected to a strong support system made of faculty and peers during their initial year on campus.

Colleges have seen successes with students who live in learning communities, showing correlation to students having higher retention rates and higher academic success per term and  per year. In their most recent study, University of Utah discovered average GPAs were higher in learning communities by 0.3 grade points per semester and that almost 60% of students in communities had GPAs over 3.5 as compared to non-housed and housed, non-learning community students.

Most college tours will mention learning communities in some form and give the reasons above (and more) as to why you should be in one. A place where I could not only thrive academically but also establish relationships with people based on shared values helped spark my initial interest in learning communities when I was in high school, but I wasn’t sold on the idea. 

Deciding If I Should Join a Learning Community

Although I didn’t fully understand what a learning community was or how they operated before I stepped foot on NC State’s campus, I did get a glimpse into what they could be like from my older sister’s experiences. She attended the university two years prior to me and participated in two different learning communities: WISE (Women In Science and Engineering) her freshman year and Wellness Village her sophomore year.

At WISE, my sister met people she had classes with (which was one of the main goals for the learning community), but she didn’t necessarily meet people with similar interests. In her case, the only thing she shared in common with the people in the WISE learning community was the fact that they were all women majoring in science. Unfortunately, this lack of connection hindered her from establishing those close, lasting relationships with other students during her freshman year.

She had a better experience her sophomore year when she transferred to the Wellness Village, because she was around other students who actually shared similar interests. This community was also more creative in the kind of bonding experiences the students would go on, from local hiking trips to an alternative Spring Break ski trip to the Appalachian Mountains. As a result, her personal experiences and academics flourished in this community.

My sister’s one year in the Wellness Village still wasn’t enough to convince me that learning communities were essential to my personal growth as a college student. Her prior year in WISE left me with a negative impression of learning communities, especially when I saw secondhand that personal connections and academic support and high GPAs weren’t always the case for students in learning communities. Additionally, none of the incoming freshman I knew going to NC State were choosing to live in learning communities.

So, instead of doing more research, I initially decided to take my chances on a completely random assignment. However, that all changed when it came time to submit my housing application for my freshman year.

I knew I wanted to be close to central campus at NC State because that’s where all my classes would be. The issue was that all the resident halls on central campus were occupied by learning communities, and you couldn’t live there without being a part of one. After doing research on the communities in the area from the NC State Housing website, I chose to live in Turlington Hall, home of the Arts Village, as it was the only one I had the slightest interest in because of my high school art background.

The only problem was that you had to apply and be accepted into the Arts Village living community, which only had a select number of spots available. Thankfully, my last two years of high school were spent as an International Baccalaureate student with an Art concentration so I had experiences to pull from. At that point in my life, I never considered myself to be heavily into the arts, just an art lover and appreciator. But that was enough to get me accepted into the Arts Village—I’m glad I decided to take a chance on that community as it ended up having a huge impact on my college experience.

My Experience in a Learning Community

As much as I hate to admit it, the universities were right about learning communities. If you find the right fit, they do allow you to have that space where you’re surrounded by like-minded people with similar interests, so it gives you the opportunity to establish those close, essential relationships in your first year. All my closest college friends except for one came from the Arts Village. The beginning of our bonds started from all the experiences we shared as a result of this community. We got to go on many different kinds of excursions, including local plays, dance performances, and art exhibitions all around the Raleigh/Durham area.

Not only did those experiences shape us, but the programs and events our Resident Advisors would throw for us also played an important role in our college experience and social interactions. It really helped everyone in the community come together as one family by participating in group activities like karaoke or an American Horror Story watch party.

The Arts Village brought us all together because of our shared passion for the Arts, but Turlington Residence Hall gave my friends and me the space to have and bond over our college experiences. I know now that had I not lived in the Arts Village, I would’ve had an entirely different college experience.

I probably wouldn’t have met any of the friends I’ve known for almost four years now because of how different our majors are. I also know I would’ve felt displaced on a campus of over 30,000 students had I not found my group of friends the first year. I’m from a small city that’s only twice the size of NC State’s student population, and I’m also a first-generation college student. Even with an older sister at the university, I still had no clue how college worked; but, with the support of my friend group, we figured it out together.

Luckily I found my group within the first week of college thanks to the learning community, while most first years and transfers take much longer to make friends and develop their social circle. My personal experiences would’ve also significantly changed since I wouldn’t have had inside access to all the local art events. This was pivotal for me because those experiences from the Arts Village eventually helped me decide on a better career path for myself.

Advice for Choosing a Learning Community in College

Doing your research about the learning communities at your college of choice is crucial, and it is the most important part of choosing a community that is right for you. Every college is different and has a variety of communities for you to be a part of, but it’s also up to you to take the time to determine which one is the best for you. Your prospective college should have a page on their housing website just for learning communities.

This is the best thing to do first, so this way you’ll know about all the options for communities that your college has to offer. Additional information can always be requested from your campus Housing Office. You can either call/email with questions or ask if they offer any additional resources about their learning communities.

Social media can either help or harm you when it comes to choosing a community, so my advice is to tread lightly. Personal testimonies can be very helpful by offering insights on a community. But just remember to remain objective especially when reading negative experiences.

Narrow down your choices for your top learning communities and submit those applications (if you’re able to choose more than one). Worry about which one to accept after you hear back about which ones you’ve been accepted into. The best thing you can do for yourself is to take as much time as you can to make sure you choose the right community. Once you make that decision, be sure to embrace the community for all it has to offer, and I’m sure you’ll have an amazing experience.

And what if the community life isn’t for you?

If you try the community life and realize you don’t enjoy it, there are always options. Thankfully, most colleges have procedures in place if you realize you don’t like your learning community. Your Resident Advisor, Community Mentors, and Community Directors will be able to help solve any internal conflicts you may have within the community and can offer improvements as well.

If you simply think you chose a bad community (for whatever reason), your campus’ Housing Office and the Community Director can usually remove you from it and place you in a different housing assignment, community based or non-community based. If you can, wait an entire semester before deciding to move. It took me a whole semester to become fully acclimated to the idea of community-based living and being a part of the Arts Village. Learning communities have adjustments periods so give it time and try to engage in the community as you can.

Scroll to top

Follow Us on Facebook - Stay Engaged!

Send this to a friend