How to Choose a College: Go Where You Don’t Fit In

In the article, “How to Choose a College: Go Where You Don't Fit In,” Michael S. Roth, the president of Wesleyan University, argues against the common belief that students should choose a college where they feel comfortable and fit in. He suggests that the most rewarding forms of education come from encountering ideas and cultural forms that challenge one's current opinions and expand their worldview. Roth believes that choosing a college where you don't fit in exposes you to new perspectives and helps you capabilities you didn't know you had, ultimately enabling you to shape change and find meaning and direction in your life.

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Why Choosing a College Where You Don’t Fit In is Beneficial

The of discomfort in education

When choosing a college, many students prioritize finding a place where they feel comfortable. However, this approach overlooks the overarching goal of education: to expand our horizons and challenge our preconceived notions. The most rewarding forms of education often make you feel uncomfortable because they force you to confront your own ignorance. By choosing a college where you don't fit in, you open yourself up to new ideas and experiences that can push you beyond your current opinions and tastes.

The value of encountering different ideas and cultures

In an increasingly interconnected world, it is crucial to be exposed to diverse ideas and cultures. By immersing yourself in an environment where you don't fit in, you have the opportunity to broaden your worldview and gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of the world. These encounters with different perspectives can help you develop empathy, critical thinking skills, and a more nuanced understanding of the myriad of challenges facing our society.

Discovering hidden capabilities

Choosing a college where you don't fit in can also lead to the discovery of hidden capabilities and talents. Stepping out of your comfort zone and exposing yourself to new experiences can unlock skills and interests you never knew you had. By embracing discomfort and embracing nonconformity, you may find yourself excelling in areas you never expected. This process of self-discovery is an essential aspect of personal growth and development.

Shaping change rather than conforming to it

Education should not be about simply conforming to the world as it is, but rather about finding ways to shape change. By choosing a college where you don't fit in, you are embracing the role of a change-maker and a nonconformist. Tomorrow's world will be different, and your education should equip you with the skills and mindset to navigate and shape that change. By venturing into an environment where you don't fit in, you are positioning yourself to be an agent of change rather than a passive observer.

Challenges and Benefits of Nonconformity

Rebellion vs. going against the grain

Nonconformity can take different forms. It can be seen as an act of rebellion, where individuals consciously challenge societal norms and expectations. However, nonconformity can also be as simple as going against the grain and embracing your own unique perspective in a sea of conformity. Both forms of nonconformity can be challenging, but they also offer opportunities for personal growth and the development of critical thinking skills.

Being the minority voice

In an environment where you don't fit in, you may find yourself being the minority voice. This can be daunting, as it requires the courage to speak up and defend your perspectives in the face of opposition. However, being the minority voice also offers a unique opportunity to contribute to discussions, challenge assumptions, and bring fresh ideas to the table. By embodying the role of a nonconformist, you can enrich the learning environment and foster intellectual diversity.

The value of nonconformists in classes and organizations

Nonconformists have a unique and valuable role to play in classes and organizations. They bring fresh perspectives, challenge assumptions, and disrupt groupthink. By encouraging nonconformity, colleges and universities create spaces where innovative ideas can flourish and where students are exposed to a range of viewpoints. Nonconformists often add the greatest value to organizations and create meaningful change by questioning the status quo and offering alternative solutions.

How To Choose A College: Go Where You Don't Fit In

Examples of Nonconformity in College Settings

Religious students in secular institutions

One example of nonconformity in college settings is religious students attending secular institutions. These students often find themselves navigating an environment that may not align with their spiritual beliefs. However, their presence introduces diverse perspectives and fosters meaningful discussions about faith, spirituality, and the role of religion in society. These students contribute to the overall intellectual diversity of the campus and challenge their peers to critically examine their own beliefs.

Conservatives or libertarians in progressive classrooms

Another example of nonconformity is conservatives or libertarians in progressive classrooms. These students may find themselves in an environment where their political beliefs are in the minority. However, their presence offers a fresh perspective and encourages robust discussions that challenge the prevailing ideologies. By engaging in respectful debates and conversations, these students broaden their own understanding and contribute to a more inclusive and intellectually diverse campus community.

Military veterans disrupting prejudices

Military veterans attending colleges and universities also embody nonconformity. These individuals bring unique life experiences, perspectives, and skills to the classroom. By challenging stereotypes and disrupting prejudices, they create opportunities for dialogue and understanding. Their presence adds depth and richness to the educational experience and helps bridge the gap between military and civilian communities.

The Value of Nonconformists in Education and Work

Nonconformists as interesting individuals

Nonconformists are often the most interesting individuals to have in classes and organizations. Their unique perspectives and willingness to challenge the status quo make them engaging and thought-provoking. By embracing nonconformity, these individuals bring a fresh energy and intellectual curiosity that stimulates intellectual growth and fosters innovation.

Nonconformists adding value to organizations

In addition to being interesting individuals, nonconformists also add significant value to organizations. Their ability to think critically, challenge assumptions, and offer alternative perspectives can lead to breakthrough ideas and solutions. By embracing nonconformity, organizations can tap into the diverse talents and skills of their members, inspiring creativity and driving meaningful change.

Breaking stereotypes

Nonconformists have the power to break stereotypes and challenge societal expectations. By defying conventional norms and embracing their uniqueness, nonconformists offer alternative narratives and pave the way for greater inclusivity. Their presence encourages others to question their own biases and fosters a culture that celebrates diversity and individuality.

How To Choose A College: Go Where You Don't Fit In

Creating a Safe Environment for Nonconformity

Promoting safety from harassment and intimidation

Creating a safe environment for nonconformity is essential in fostering intellectual diversity and meaningful dialogue. Colleges and universities must prioritize promoting safety from harassment and intimidation. Policies should be in place to address and prevent discrimination, bullying, and violence. By ensuring that all students feel safe to express their unique perspectives, colleges can create an inclusive and supportive environment that encourages nonconformity.

Avoiding reinforcement of identities and beliefs

While it is important to create a safe environment for nonconformity, it is equally important to avoid reinforcing identities and beliefs. The goal should be to encourage an open exchange of ideas and promote respectful dialogue rather than reinforcing existing narratives or silencing opposing viewpoints. By challenging students to critically examine their own beliefs and engage with diverse perspectives, colleges can foster a culture of intellectual curiosity and growth.

Encouraging respectful debates and discussions

Respectful debates and discussions are essential in creating an environment that embraces nonconformity. Colleges and universities should encourage and facilitate opportunities for students to engage in dialogue with those who hold differing views. These conversations should be guided by mutual respect, empathy, and a shared commitment to intellectual growth. By fostering respectful debates and discussions, colleges can create a culture that values diverse perspectives and encourages the free exchange of ideas.

Recognizing Bias in College Education

Perceived faculty bias

One challenge in creating an environment that embraces nonconformity is the perception of faculty bias. Students may feel that their professors hold certain biases that prevent them from feeling comfortable expressing their own perspectives. Colleges and universities must be proactive in addressing these concerns and ensuring that faculty members foster an environment of inclusivity and respect. Professional development programs can also help faculty members recognize and mitigate their own biases.

The of diverse perspectives

Recognizing the importance of diverse perspectives is crucial in providing a well-rounded education. By featuring a diverse range of voices and perspectives in academic programs, colleges can expose students to a wide range of ideas and foster critical thinking skills. This can help students develop a more nuanced understanding of complex issues and prepare them to navigate an increasingly diverse and interconnected world.

Balancing out biases in classroom settings

Creating a balanced classroom setting is essential in fostering nonconformity and intellectual diversity. Colleges and universities should strive to create a curriculum that presents a variety of perspectives on key issues. This may involve inviting guest speakers with differing viewpoints, incorporating diverse readings and materials into coursework, and encouraging students to critically examine multiple perspectives. By balancing out biases and presenting a range of perspectives, colleges can foster a culture that values nonconformity and intellectual growth.

How To Choose A College: Go Where You Don't Fit In

Choosing the Right College for Nonconformists

Researching college cultures and values

When choosing a college as a nonconformist, it is important to research and understand the culture and values of the institution. Look for colleges that prioritize intellectual diversity, inclusivity, and the free exchange of ideas. Pay attention to the college's mission statement, its commitment to fostering a safe and inclusive environment, and the diversity of its faculty and student body. By choosing a college that aligns with your own values and encourages nonconformity, you can set yourself up for a transformative educational experience.

Exploring academic programs and extracurricular activities

In addition to researching the college's culture and values, it is important to explore the academic programs and extracurricular activities offered. Look for colleges that offer a wide range of courses and disciplines, as well as opportunities for interdisciplinary learning and research. Consider whether the college offers clubs, organizations, and activities that align with your own interests and passions. By choosing a college that offers a diverse range of academic and extracurricular opportunities, you can further enhance your nonconformist journey.

Considering campus diversity and inclusivity

A crucial factor to consider when choosing a college as a nonconformist is campus diversity and inclusivity. Look for colleges that value and prioritize diversity in all its forms, including racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and ideological diversity. Consider whether the college has a history of supporting and celebrating diverse perspectives and whether it has resources and support systems in place for underrepresented groups. By choosing a college that is committed to creating an inclusive and diverse campus community, you can ensure that your nonconformist journey is supported and celebrated.

Personal Growth and Development in Nonconformist Environments

Stepping out of comfort zones

Stepping out of your comfort zone is a fundamental aspect of personal growth and development in nonconformist environments. It requires courage, resilience, and a willingness to embrace discomfort. By exposing yourself to new ideas, perspectives, and experiences, you expand your horizons and challenge your own biases and assumptions. Stepping out of your comfort zone allows you to new passions, interests, and capabilities that can shape the trajectory of your personal and intellectual growth.

Expanding one’s worldview

In nonconformist environments, you have the opportunity to expand your worldview and gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of the world. By engaging with diverse perspectives, cultures, and ideas, you develop empathy, cultural competency, and a broader perspective on global issues. This expanded worldview not only enriches your personal growth but also equips you with the skills and knowledge to navigate an increasingly interconnected and diverse world.

Developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills

Nonconformist environments foster the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. By challenging prevailing opinions and embracing alternative perspectives, you sharpen your ability to analyze and evaluate information critically. Nonconformity encourages you to question assumptions, seek out evidence, and make informed judgments. These critical thinking and problem-solving skills are invaluable in all aspects of life and prepare you to navigate complex issues with confidence and clarity.

How To Choose A College: Go Where You Don't Fit In

Supporting Nonconformity Through Mentorship and Guidance

The role of supportive faculty and staff

Mentorship and guidance from supportive faculty and staff members are crucial in supporting nonconformity. Seek out mentors who are open-minded, receptive to diverse perspectives, and committed to your personal and intellectual growth. These mentors can provide guidance, support, and encouragement as you navigate nonconformist environments. They can help you leverage your unique perspectives and talents and offer advice on how to navigate challenges and seize opportunities.

Finding like-minded peers and mentors

Finding like-minded peers and mentors is also important in supporting nonconformity. Seek out individuals who share your passion for intellectual growth, diversity, and nonconformity. These peers and mentors can serve as a source of inspiration, collaboration, and support. By building strong networks and communities of like-minded individuals, you create an ecosystem that nurtures and celebrates nonconformity.

Building networks and communities

Building networks and communities is essential in supporting nonconformity. Seek out organizations, clubs, and extracurricular activities that align with your interests and passions. These communities can provide a sense of belonging, collaboration, and shared purpose. By actively participating in these networks and communities, you become part of a larger movement that celebrates nonconformity and fosters personal and intellectual growth.


Embracing nonconformity and choosing a college where you don't fit in can be a transformative experience. By stepping out of your comfort zone, encountering diverse perspectives, and challenging societal norms, you open yourself up to personal and intellectual growth. Nonconformity is not about rebelling for the sake of rebellion but about embracing your unique perspective and contributing to a more inclusive and intellectually diverse society. As you embark on your college journey, consider the value of nonconformity and choose a college that encourages and supports your path to personal and intellectual growth.

How To Choose A College: Go Where You Don't Fit In

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