Starting your College Search? Advice on Location

It’s Emily again – while Dean Flagel is away from the office with limited internet access (leaving me to work, obviously) he wanted me to post some of his advice on the college search process…

So you are starting your college search and you go to a website to check out schools. The first question you are asked is what kind of location you want, but they only give you three choices: urban, suburban, and rural. Not very helpful! How do you know what these categorizations mean when it comes to campus atmosphere? The websites are built on really simple (and boring) databases so it is hard to determine how much fun (or completely lame) a campus will be just because it is “urban” or “rural.” So what do you do?

First, you need to get a better idea of what you really want in a location. Are you someone who prefers a smaller atmosphere? Lets use an example to explain… say, for instance, you have a friend named Bob. Bob is fun. Bob is entertaining. Bob turns gray skies blue. And, when you are ready to put down the books and hang, Bob is the guy you want to find, and you want to find him right away. If you’re at a small school, Bob will be easy to find. Bob rarely hides – he is most likely at one of the two campus hangouts. That’s also where you’ll find everyone else. All the time. Or in their room, since, really, those are the options. This is an incredible atmosphere for many students who want to walk into a room and have everyone say “Hi,” not because of some freakish need to be falsely friendly, but because they actually know you.

On the other hand, Bob may be a bit harder to track down at another school. Take Mason, for example (why? Because I can). We’ve got three awesome student unions, an incredible Center for the Arts, and a 15,000 seat stadium with Division I basketball and music performances. And we’re just outside Washington, DC, so you’ve got the Smithsonian, the Kennedy Center, the monuments, and a ton of night life. To tell you the truth, this may be totally overwhelming for some students. Bob could be anywhere!! Like most schools, there are several on-campus events where you can find pretty much everyone, but on most days, you may need GPS to track Bob down (or at least a cell phone number).

Here’s the bottom line – you need to do more than look up a school online to get a feel for its location. You can find large city schools with that nice, isolated, always-knowing-where-Bob-is feel. And you can also find small rural schools so incredibly connected to their region that students are all over the place all the time. Yes, it’s generally true that major metropolitan areas offer a bit more to do, and those smaller schools have an edge with getting a bit more personal. But don’t just limit yourself to two or three options because they were on a website. Get to know what you really want, what kind of atmosphere will help you succeed, and then look deeper into the schools to find the ones that match best. Visiting the campus will also help you determine if your impressions were correct.

Other, less helpful, advice on campus location issues can be found at:

More on college search tools, how to narrow your search, and campus visits to come!


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