Should you go urban or rural? Far from home or nearby? There are lots of factors to consider—and only you can tell what's truly right for you. But the advice and quiz below might help you figure things out.
Imagine you are in a shoe store. A hundred pairs are neatly laid out before you, but you can only choose one. You’re not going to pick the first pair that fits your feet and your budget, right? Of course not! You’re going to pick the pair that fits your feet, your budget, your style, your personality, and, perhaps most importantly, the pair that feels most comfortable. A pair you could see yourself wearing for, say, four to six years . . .
Okay, that time frame may be stretching it for a pair of shoes, but the same basic shopping principles also apply to choosing your college. Yes, it is important to know whether you can get in and whether you can afford a university, but there is another important factor to consider: the city or town in which it is located. Picking a school with just the right fit can have a tremendous influence over the quality of the college experience—for better or for worse.
It’s important for you to be totally honest with yourself when weighing the pros and cons of individual cities and towns. You may be eager to move to an environment that is far different from your high school situation, but if you have never visited a big city, are you ready to attend a college in the middle of the bustling Big Apple? Conversely, if you have lived your whole life riding city buses to school, can you comfortably live in a town where the trees are taller than the buildings?
Make the right choice, and you’ll be living the dream: college will be some of the best years of your life. Make the wrong choice, and you run the risk of struggling socially and academically as you lack the support you never realized you needed.
Thankfully, the solution is straightforward: visit the campuses of your favorite schools, and spend the night if you can. If one of your favorite schools is too far away to visit, do your research online and consider visiting a similar university closer to home that could offer some insights into what life would be like at your far-flung school of interest.
Then really get to know (through online research or in person) the surrounding areas. Check out the towns these universities inhabit. Are there ample opportunities for employment, both as a student intern or part-time worker and after you graduate? (Would you want to stick around the area after you graduate anyway?) Does the city have a decent arts and culture scene with stuff to do in your free time? What outdoor adventuring opportunities are there? How do students get around? What’s the relationship like between the town’s full-time residents and your potential college? Is there decent late-night pizza?
These are challenging questions to ask of yourself, but they could make all the difference in your college experience. And when you do make your choice, don’t forget to pack some comfortable shoes.
Take the college town quiz
Where should you go to school? In making a decision, you should take more into account than the college itself. Think outside the campus. This quiz isn’t exactly scientific, but it should help you determine whether the cities and towns in which your favorite schools are located fit you. Let’s find out!
1. When I picture my classmates in college, I see . . .
A. Random people sitting at desks around me. There is too much to do outside of class to spend even more time with these people.
B. My go-to study mates and friends for life. These people are totally going to be invited to my wedding!
C. A couple of people I know, but most of my friends from the residence halls are in other classes.
2. I’m serious about school and earning my degree, but if I’m honest with myself, when it comes to distractions, I . . .
A. Can control my impulses. Beyoncé was sighted down the street? No biggie. I’ve got to study for a final in the morning.
B. May be easily led astray. Hey, did anyone else just hear an ice cream truck?!
C. Know when I can have fun and when I need to buckle down and be serious about my studies.
3. When I take a walk off campus, I want to . . .
A. Get lost in the crowd.
B. I don’t understand the question. Why would I ever leave campus?
C. See my university’s logo on flags hanging off every house on the block.
4. When I want to blow off some steam, I like to . . .
A. Hop on the subway to attend every street festival and art gallery opening that I can find.
B. Get out in the wilderness. Anyone got a bike I can borrow?
C. Watch football. In a stadium. With 100,000 of my closest friends. Go team!
5. When I’m trying to go to sleep, I want to hear . . .
A. Buses honking, nightclubs thumping, and streetlights buzzing. I want to know I’m surrounded by humanity and that it’s just on the other side of my door.
B. Absolutely nothing. Fine, maybe some crickets, but those crickets better keep it down after 11:00 p.m.
C. No buses and no sirens, but I’d like a bustling dorm. What’s life in college without hearing intellectuals argue at midnight about which of Franz Kafka’s books is his masterpiece?
If you chose mostly A’s: Hello, big city! You yearn for a college experience where there are four major museums within a 20-minute bus ride and you can study at diners that stay open—and are packed with customers from all over the world—until 4:00 a.m.
If you chose mostly B’s: It looks like you are interested in a rural college experience, far from the distractions of the big city and the traditional college town. By the time you graduate, you will know the middle names and birthdays of everyone in your graduating class.
If you chose mostly C’s: You appear to be cut out for the classic "college town" experience, where there is more to the city than your university—but just about everything revolves around your school. Are you going to Saturday’s big game? See you there!