By this point, all college-bound high school seniors are chomping at the bit, ready to start the newest chapter of their lives. They’re excited to take advantage of everything on-campus living has to offer, from the easy access to meals to the activities and events that are free for students.
A few months in, however, they may find that college fever has been replaced by cabin fever and they’re ready to have adventures outside the protective shadow of campus.
When choosing a college, this is a factor that many students forget to consider: the city where their prospective school is located.
While at first it may seem like they’ll never want to leave campus, at some point they will find themselves itching to see a movie or get groceries to cook something other than dining hall food.
This is part of the reason it’s so important to visit the schools you’re considering. Not only will you get a feel for the college itself, but also for the atmosphere or the area as a whole.
My tiny college town has a population of 17,000. There is no mall and only two Starbucks—one in the hospital and one in a grocery store. The size doesn't bother me most of the time, but occasionally I wish I could explore town for more than twenty minutes.
Ask yourself whether the streets are well-lit, whether you’d feel safe walking alone and how easily you can see yourself in that environment.
Take note of the number of streetlamps line the campus paths and of how many emergency call stations there are—they will look like big cones with lights on top that will call a campus security officer whenever an alert button is pressed.
You can get a crime report from campus security if you ask for one. This will give you clear statistics on how many crimes occur each year and what kinds they are.
When you get to college, be certain to sign up for your school’s emergency text messaging alert. Someone from the public safety department will send out a mass text if there’s ever a potential threat to campus security, like a report of someone walking around with a gun.
You won’t want to be on campus all the time—it’s very easy to go stir-crazy on the weekends if you’re not the partying type.
My school does a good job of bringing entertaining speakers, comedians and musicians to campus, but I still feel like walking down to the square and poking around the antique shops and cafes.
No matter the size of the town, there are bound to be a few shops within walking distance and local restaurants are great about delivering to campus so it’ll be easy for you to get a cheap meal if you ever get a craving for something other than dining hall food.
Transportation & Costs
Another factor to consider is transportation. In bigger cities with buses and subways, it’ll be easier to make it to events and make shopping trips, whereas in small towns like mine you either need to bring a car to campus or make friends with someone with a set of wheels.
Many colleges have bike co-ops where students can both rent bikes and take their own to get repaired. One big trend on my campus right now is skateboarding to and from class.
If you think you might want to live off-campus at some point in the future, make note of the cost of living in the area. Your rent will be higher in more metropolitan areas and, of course, lower in places that are more rural.
When you’ve narrowed down your list of colleges to a few top choices, make plans to visit and stay there overnight. Eat dinner downtown, walk around and simply take in the overall atmosphere of the place.
If you feel comfortable in the city you’ve chosen as your home away from home, you’ll have an easier time finding your place in college.