Are you drawn to beautiful trees and a sunny quad? Or a sweeping postmodern concert hall and bustling city streets? Campus looks and location can seriously impact your college experience. Here are factors to consider.
The setting of a college is a big deal. It can make you feel more or less comfortable and more or less likely to stick around and work hard. It can make you feel more or less at home with other students. Leaping into a new environment without much thought can lead to disappointment. Before you choose a college, understand what settings and locations fit your needs.
Just as in the story of the three bears, the size of a college's campus can seem too small, too big, or just right. You might enjoy a college campus as large as a city, with the possibility of discovering something new on campus every day. Or you might thrive in a small campus, knowing every nook and cranny of your school. Or you may be happy in a mid-sized college with the best of both worlds.
The Surrounding Community
The more people living and working in the community surrounding a college, the more outlets there usually are for your leisure time. Large cities generally offer a seemingly limitless choice of live performances as well as museums, parks, nightclubs, restaurants, and first-run plays. Large, densely populated cities can be exciting and motivating, but they also come with their share of crime, noise, pollution, crowds, and traffic.
Suburban colleges offer some of the park-like beauty of rural colleges, but also offer nearby amenities, such as shopping malls and movie theaters. Access to a car or bus line may be needed to reach these spots—and any nearby rural and big city attractions.
A rural setting, with the nearest town a sleepy village, offers the attractions of a peaceful retreat, no rush hour, and lots of countryside to explore. With fewer entertainment options outside the college, you'll have more reasons to stay on campus to read, study, hang out with fellow students, and enjoy home-grown performances.
Some colleges blend almost seamlessly into the surrounding community. It may be difficult to tell where the campus ends and the city or town begins. This could be a positive or a negative, depending upon how comfortable you are with the community. Other colleges are more separated from the adjacent community, either by actual distance or by physical features such as walls and hedges. Some students might see such a campus as isolating, but others might see it as an ideal academic oasis.
Transportation and Getting Around
If you opt for a big school, the distance between your classes or between your dorm and other destinations may be vast. You may want to bring a bicycle to college or make sure the school offers ample shuttle service.
Nearby airports, rail and bus stations, and interstate highways help make the outside world more accessible from campus. For example, if you're planning to fly home several times a year, having an airport within 45 minutes of your school would be a big help. Likewise, if you're at a college in a rural or suburban setting, you might appreciate being able to drive to a bustling city within an hour. If you are planning to bring a car to college, however, be sure to check out parking availability and any fees involved.
Distance from Home
The distance of a college from your home is one of the most important aspects of your college experience—for some, the most important. Going to school far from home may represent a psychological "rite of passage," a step toward personal freedom and independence. Alternatively, staying at or close to your home while going to college may be just the security you need—or be the most practical and economical option. And here's another factor to think about: Attending a distant college may expose you to drastically different weather patterns that you may or may not get used to.
Get a Feel for Location and Setting by Visiting Colleges
The best way to understand how you feel about a campus is to visit it. No matter how idyllic a school may look in photos, you may discover that the skyline is a beehive of apartment buildings, that the trees in the photo are the only ones on campus, and that the hilltop in the distance is the only piece of undeveloped property in the surrounding city. Or it may very well be beautiful, but you may realize that "idyllic" is not for you. Conversely, a college whose photos you found unappealing may give you positive vibes after all. To get tips on how to have a productive college visit, see our article See For Yourself: Visits and Interviews.
Researching and becoming familiar with your preferences for setting and location will help you make a great college choice.