One of the biggest decisions you’ll make in the process of choosing a college is where in the country you’d like to be. There are some ways that location can impact your college experience and other ways that it can be irrelevant. I’ll give you an overview of why or why not location might matter to you and how you can make an informed choice about where to go!
Why Might It Matter Where in the Country You Go to College?
There are a few reasons why where your college is located might impact your experiences. Here are some things to consider.
Your Location Will Affect How Frequently You Can Visit Home
If you choose to go to college in a part of the country that’s far from your hometown, you won’t be able to visit your parents and high school friends as often. You might have to spend some holidays apart from your family because of the costs and logistics of travel.
If you go to college near where you live, you will probably be able to visit home and see your family very frequently. This can have its drawbacks if your parents are especially overbearing or you end up neglecting your social life at college and going home every weekend instead.
Different Areas Are Better for Different Types of Career Opportunities
If, for example, you want to go into the performing arts, it might be advantageous for you to be in a place like New York City for college. If you’re interested in computer science and the startup scene, you might fit better in the Bay Area in California. If you're interested in healthcare, you could consider going to school in a state like Massachusetts where there are many excellent hospitals.
Certain areas of the country are known for their specialization in specific industries, so they might be better or worse places for you in terms of jobs and internships.
If you're already thinking about this in high school, it's officially time to mourn for your childhood.
Cost of Living May Be Lower or Higher in Different Areas of the Country
In general, it’s more expensive to live in coastal states, particularly in large cities. If you want to rent an apartment at some point in college, you’ll have a much easier time affording it in a Midwestern state than you will in New York City.
Cities overall can end up costing you more money because of the price of going out to events and the temptation to eat off-campus all the time. New York City, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. lead the pack in term of the most expensive major US cities based on average rent and other costs of living.
The Weather in Different Areas of the Country Varies Significantly
This is a no-brainer, but it’s something to consider. In New England, you’ll experience the four seasons, but it might get extremely cold and unpleasant in the winter. In the South, you won’t have any problems keeping warm, but the heat can be brutal and seasonal changes are minimal. Some people might find that they’re happier in areas where it’s sunny and warm most of the time, and others might be eager to experience their first snowfall in college while sipping a mug of hot chocolate.
Stop trying to make winter happen. It's not going to happen.
Why Might It Not Matter Where in the Country You Go to College?
Although there are some reasons to think about regional location as a factor in your college decision, you should also keep in mind that if the factors listed above aren’t important to you, your experiences won’t suffer based on where you are. You don’t need to be in a specific place to get a solid education.
There may be more selective schools in certain areas, but there are at least a couple of schools in every region where the quality of your educational experience will be high. Some of the best schools are in remote areas that you wouldn’t think about, like Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, which is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country.
Of course, this all depends on how strict your criteria is for a good school. If you're only interested in the top 20 colleges, most of them are in the northeast or on the west coast. If you expand your definition to include the top 200 colleges, it will be relatively easy to find a school that's up to your standards in any area of the country.
Even if you think you’re an “East Coast” person or a “Southern” person, you’ll almost certainly meet students you can relate to in any geographical location. Although there may be different cultural norms in different parts of the country, you shouldn’t worry that you won’t find friends if you go somewhere new. At most colleges, there is a niche for every type of student. You might end up finding your best friends in a place you never expected!
Much like this cleverly camouflaged owl, you will find your niche.
Where Should You Go to College? How Can You Decide?
There are many factors that might play into this decision. Again, keep in mind that there is no “bad” area of the country for you to attend college. Where you are can make a difference in your experience, but it really comes down to personal preference. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself to guide your choices.
How Comfortable Are You With Going Far From Home for College?
This is probably the most significant question that goes into choosing the location of your college. If you want to visit home frequently, going to college on the other side of the country might be tough for you no matter how great the school is. If you're looking to get as far from home as possible, a school 3,000 miles away might be a better choice for you than a school that’s an hour away from your parents’ house.
Going to school farther away from home can mean some tricky logistics in terms of transporting your belongings and organizing trips to see your family. Make sure you’re willing to navigate these issues and won’t be too bummed out if you can’t make it to Thanksgiving. Read this article for more advice on whether you should go to college close to home.
Do You Have Any Specific Job Interests That Will Be Better Served in a Certain Area of the Country?
As I mentioned, some parts of the country are known to provide the best opportunities in certain industries. If you already have some idea of what you want to study, you should investigate where you might go to be in the best place for internships and jobs in the industry. It’s possible to find opportunities for most job fields almost anywhere, but if you have strong convictions about your career path, it’s a good idea to position yourself strategically.
If you’re still undecided in what you want to study, you shouldn’t worry too much about this!
If you don't know what you love yet, that's okay. Your brain is still working on transitioning to adulthood.
Are You Especially Concerned About the Costs of College?
You don’t necessarily have to spend more money on college just because you’re in an expensive coastal city, but it’s likely enough that you should take it under consideration in your college decisions. If you’re hoping to live off campus at some point, you might want to avoid cities with really high rents.
Costs tend to also be higher if you choose to go to college far from home but still plan on visiting semi-regularly. Plane tickets and shipping costs for your belongings can add up quickly.
Do You Have Any Climate Preferences?
Which is worse in your opinion? Being too cold or being too hot? This shouldn’t play a huge role in your decision, but you might use it to guide your college search towards areas that fit better with your preferences. You probably shouldn’t go to school in Maine if you hate snow, and you probably shouldn’t go to school in Florida if you hate it when the air temperature makes you feel like you’re always in a sauna.
Seasonal changes are also factors that might come into play. For example, since I grew up in Massachusetts, I have a lot of nostalgia surrounding fall in particular. Many traditions that come with the seasons are tied to changes in the weather that don’t happen in every area of the country.
Apple picking and excessive apple consumption are both staples of my autumn experience.
"Where should I go to college?" is an important question. It may matter where in the country you go to college depending on how strong your preferences are for a certain type of experience. Some factors to consider include distance from home, potential job opportunities, costs of living, and weather patterns.
One thing that the location of your college will not determine is the quality of your education. If you don’t feel very strongly about any of the factors listed, you shouldn’t worry too much about regional variation. As long as you love the school itself, you will have a great time in college no matter where you are!
Are you worried about the college application process? Take a look at my infographic showing the steps you'll need to take junior and senior year in order to successfully apply to college.
How can you find a college that's the right fit for you? Read this guide to researching colleges to find out.
College ranking lists have a strong hold on our perceptions of the quality of different schools. Learn more about whether you should trust these lists when conducting your college research.
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Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.