Episode 168: Why the College’s Community Location Matters

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Today we are going to talk about Step 5 of your kid’s summer homework.  If you have forgotten, this summer homework is based on our workbook How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students.  Get one from Amazon for your son or daughter before they are all gone!

In the last episode, we asked your kid to do some research about the history and mission of each college on his or her Long List of College Options (or LLCO, for short) and to answer the first four questions on our College Profile Worksheet.  Well, there are only 48 questions to go, so let’s knock a few off in this week’s episode.

1. College Location and Type of Community

All three of today’s questions on the College Profile Worksheet can be answered easily by looking at a college’s website.  The first one, Question 5, is really simple:  It’s the location (that is, the city/town and state) where the college is located.  I am just going to say that your son or daughter should have already known this, but maybe didn’t.  We have actually worked with kids who were convinced they wanted to go to a certain college and yet had no idea where it was located.  I mean, they knew might have known the state, but had no idea what the town was.  That’s really not okay.

And, that brings us directly to the next question, which we wrote about this way:

The type of community a college is located in might be very important to you and your parents, but for very different reasons.  Some students can’t wait to get away from the type of community they grew up in, while others can’t imagine being comfortable in a new physical and cultural environment.

You need to know the community setting for each college on your LLCO so that you can decide whether the setting makes a difference to you.  How will you think about that decision? . . .

Are cities great?  They are.  Urban centers offer a general sense of excitement, along with many cultural opportunities (museums and theaters and concert halls and so on).  They have ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity, which is a plus for many families.  Many cities also have good public transportation, which is a plus for college students who don’t have their own cars.  Finally, many cities have more than one college (and some have a lot more than one college), which gives students an opportunity to meet all kinds of students and make all kinds of friends.

But are the suburbs great?  They are, in a different way.  Suburbs are relatively safe, for one thing, making them a good choice in the minds of lots of students (and lots of parents).  They are also likely to be cheaper in terms of everyday living expenses, including movies, drug store items, groceries, and off-campus meals.  They also might offer convenient commuter transportation options for getting into a nearby city, so that you can have the best of both worlds.

But are rural communities great?  They are, again in a different way.  Similar to suburbs, they are likely to be safe and low cost, when it comes to everyday spending.  But, maybe more important for the students who are attracted to rural colleges, many rural communities offer a scenic and unspoiled environment, which lends itself to loads of outdoor sports and recreation, like hiking and biking.

But are small towns great?  They are, too, in a still different way.  Small towns are not really rural themselves, though they might be set in a rural area.  They are not really suburban themselves, because they are not right outside a bigger city.  And they are certainly not urban in terms of size, though they might have a substantial downtown, with cultural and social activities readily available.  But, whatever they are, small towns are the locations of many of our nation’s colleges.  Many of these small towns are “great college towns,” according to the students who go there and, interestingly enough, according to the people who live there.

Question 6 asks students to check off the type of community the college is located in.

2. What About the Community?

The final question in this step looks at what we call “cool stuff about the community.”  Here is what we mean:

We can’t tell you exactly what to look for here, but you will know it when you see it.  In fact, as you do your research, you will see that some college websites have whole sections devoted to talking about the community that surrounds the college.  For example, colleges in beautiful rural settings often talk about the nature walks, biking paths, hiking trails, waterfalls, lakes, forests, and so on that the college’s students have easy access to.

Some colleges boast about their ranking on one list or another, like “the best college towns in America” or “the most affordable college towns,” published by various magazines and college-oriented publications.

Are there great college towns?  There are, but do you care?  While none of this matters to some students and their families, others find the attributes of the community to be decisive.  And what appeals to one family does not appeal to another family at all.  Just talk to kids who are dying to be in the excitement of New York City and others who can’t wait to be in the splendor of Boulder, Colorado.

While we don’t recommend choosing a college based on its surrounding community, some communities will likely be more attractive to your son or daughter and to you than others So, it doesn’t hurt to have the information available when deciding where to apply.

Question 7 asks your kid to jot down information and advertising claims about the college’s community and surrounding area, including natural beauty, historic sites, entertainment venues, restaurants, recreation opportunities, and so on.  Really, whatever interests your kid–just in case it turns out to make a difference.

Well, that’s seven questions down on the College Profile Worksheet–and just 45 to go.  This was an easy week.  Call it an early Fourth of July celebration!  Next week might be a bit more difficult.  Stay tuned!

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Episode 86: Assignment #6–Looking at College Location, Not Distance

Listen to the episode in the player, download it here, or subscribe on Google Play MusiciTunesStitcher, or TuneIn.

Your teenager and you should be learning a lot about colleges if you have been keeping up with your assignments. Yes, we know it’s summer, but you will thank us in September. Let’s review what you have done so far (we hope):

Looking at College Location Not Distance on USACollegeChat podcast Episode 86

This episode’s assignment will be, I think, one of the more enjoyable onesnot so many facts and figures.

1. Your Assignment #6

Download the Assignment #6 Worksheet

For Assignment #6, your teenager and you are going to look at the location of each collegethat is, the type of community the college is located in and the cool things about that community. So, in this assignment, we are not talking about the college itself at all, but rather the surroundings your teenager will be living in for four years.

2. Urban, Suburban, or Rural

As we said in our book (How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students, on sale just for the summer from Amazon), the type of community a college is located in is a lot more important than you might think to some students and some families. Furthermore, some students can’t wait to get away from the type of community they grew up in, while others can’t imagine being comfortable in a new physical and cultural environment. For example, both Marie and my oldest child, Jimmy, wanted to stay in the kind of urban environment that they both grew up in. In fact, going to school in a city was Jimmy’s number one college requirement when he was looking.

Are cities great? They are. Cities offer a general excitement and many cultural opportunities (museums and theatersand the ballet, of course); they have ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity among their residents, which is a plus for many families. Most cities also have good to great public transportation, which is a help to college students who don’t have their own cars. Finally, most cities have more than one college, which gives students an opportunity to meet all kinds of students and make all kinds of friends.

But are the suburbs great? They are, in a different way. Suburbs are relatively safe, for one thing, making them a good choice for lots of students. They are also likely cheaper in terms of everyday living expenses, including movies, and drug store items, and the occasional off-campus meal. They also might offer convenient commuter transportation options for getting into a nearby exciting citythe best of both worlds.

But are rural communities great? They are, again in a different way. Like the suburbs, they are likely to be safe and low-cost, when it comes to everyday spending. But, most important for the students that are attracted to rural colleges, many rural communities offer great expanses of unspoiled environment, which lends itself to loads of outdoor sports, like hiking and biking.

So, whether Broadway or the Pacific Ocean or Pikes Peak is your teenager’s thing, you can find a college there.

The first task on the Assignment #6 worksheet, is simply to classify the location of each college on your teenager’s long summer list of college options as urban, suburban, or rural. I am also thinking that adding a category called “small town” makes sense, given the locations, especially, of many small private colleges in the small towns of the U.S.; these small towns are not really rural themselves (though they might be set in a rural area), are not really suburban themselves (because they are not outside a big city), and are not really urban themselves, for sure.

3. Cool Stuff About the Community

The second part of Assignment #6 is something we like to call “cool stuff about the community.” Now, we can’t tell you exactly what to look for here, but you will know it when you see it. We will tell you that some college websites have whole sections devoted to talking about the community that surrounds the college. I have noticed that this is especially true for colleges in lovely rural settings; those colleges like to talk about the nature trails and bike trails and waterfalls and lakes and forests and so on that the college’s students have ready access to.

Some colleges boast about their place on one commercial list or another, like “the best college towns in America” or “the most affordable college towns” or whatever, published by various magazines and college-oriented publications. I know that we quoted these from time to time in our nationwide virtual college tour (Episodes 27 through 53). Some colleges will even reference the spots they earned on these lists in the “At a Glance” pages or lists of awards that the college has won. I recall that one of my favorites among these lists was from Travel + Leisure magazine, which is actually called “America’s Best College Towns.” Deb Hopewell opened her article in Travel + Leisure with the following paragraphs:

‘Depending on how you look at it, Santa Cruz is either the best or the worst place to spend your college years,’ says Keijiro Ikebe, a Silicon Valley visual designer who graduated from the University of California Santa Cruz in 2002.

‘With the town surrounded by shimmering water and lush forests under sunny blue skies, the last thing you want to do is spend a beautiful day taking notes in a lecture hall.’

After all, ivy-covered walls, stately libraries, and cafeteria meals don’t make a great college town. It’s more about the distractionsand Santa Cruz is overflowing with them. There are miles of beaches with some of the best surfing in the country; mountain-bike trails at Wilder Ranch State Park; artisanal coffee bars almost as numerous as craft-beer taps; and your nightly choice of any genre of live music.

This kind of lively atmosphere earned Santa Cruz a place among the top 20 college towns in America, as chosen by Travel + Leisure readers in our latest America’s Favorite Places survey. They evaluated hundreds of towns for live music, pizza, dive bars, hamburgers, and other qualities that add up to a great college town.” (quoted from the article)

And, by the way, historic sites also figure into the equation. If you are curious, here are the top 20 college towns, according to Travel + Leisure readers:

  • Syracuse, NY
  • Lafayette, LA
  • Charlottesville, VA
  • Fort Collins, CO
  • Duluth, MN
  • Saratoga Springs, NY
  • Asheville, NC
  • Flagstaff, AZ
  • San Luis Obispo, CA
  • Boulder, CO
  • Santa Cruz, CA
  • St. Augustine, FL
  • Burlington, VT
  • Annapolis, MD
  • Ann Arbor, MI
  • Williamsburg, VA
  • Bozeman, MT
  • Boone, NC
  • Athens, GA
  • Oxford, MS

In case you want a different view, you can look at Forbes magazine, which has its own method of calculating its list of best and worst college towns by using 23 academic, social, and financial measures. At the top of the Forbes list, as reported last December by Kathryn Dill, is Ann Arbor (MI), followed by College Station (TX), Iowa City (IA), Provo (UT), and Gainesville (FL). At the bottom of the list is Paterson (NJ), preceded by Yonkers (NY), Germantown (MD), Bridgeport (CT), and Arlington (VA).

There are plenty more lists you can look at, including the most bike-friendly campuses (either the University of Texas at Austin or Stanford University, depending which list you useyes, there are two such lists!). But you can also just read up on the community surrounding the colleges on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. If those colleges are in communities worth being proud of, the college will undoubtedly write about it on the website.

So, the second task on the Assignment #6 worksheet is to jot down all the cool stuff you can find about the community, community attractions, and the natural beauty (if any) surrounding each college on your teenager’s long summer list of college options. While your teenager shouldn’t choose a college to attend based on its surrounding community, it is clear that some communities are far more attractive to some students than othersand it never hurts to have the information available when choosing.

Download the Assignment #6 Worksheet

The Kindle ebook version of our book, How To Find the Right College, is on sale for $1.99 all summer long! Read it on your Kindle device or download the free Kindle app for any tablet or smartphone. The book is also available as a paperback workbook.

Ask your questions or share your feedback by…

  • Leaving a comment on the show notes for this episode at http://usacollegechat.org/episode86
  • Calling us at (516) 900-6922 to record a question on our USACollegeChat voicemail if you want us to answer your question live on our podcast

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