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It's easy to become overwhelmed if you have several acceptances from quality schools and aren’t sure how to choose.

One factor that can help guide your enrollment decision is location. Are you eager for a big-city experience, or would you prefer a more intimate, college-focused town? If you’re not quite sure, read on to explore the pros and cons of big city schools vs. college town campuses. 

Connected Community

For Asia Terry, who attended Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio, the decision to go to a school in a college town came as a surprise. She planned to go to an HBCU (Historically Black College or University) in a larger city. However, after a chance visit to Walsh’s campus to stay with a friend, Terry says the university “felt like home.” 

A school in a bigger city, Terry notes, would probably have bigger distractions. “I feel like I wouldn’t have been as focused,” Terry explains. She also credits the small town for the “stronger personal relationships and a deeper sense of community” she’s developed while at school. 

Exploring New Environments 

Darnetta White, who selected Cleveland State University in downtown Cleveland, says “attending school in a big city gives me the chance to explore and try new things,” like a wide range of ethnic foods, theater, museums, sporting events and concerts. She considers this to be a luxury students in smaller towns don’t have and says she’s broadening her college experience by taking full advantage of her time in a big city.

The Money Factor

The cost of college can change depending on your location. Tara Smith attended Indiana University Southeast (IUS) in New Albany, Indiana, partly for financial reasons. “I chose IUS because it was close to home and my family,” she explains. She also lived at home during college, which “saved a heck of a lot of money.”. 

Even if you can’t live at home, a smaller town can mean spending less. Compared to big cities, there’s often a smaller price tag for everything from housing to restaurants to groceries. For example, the cost of living in the township of New Albany compared with its closest big city, Chicago, is 23% cheaper. If you’re feeling anxious about the expense of college, think about the ways attending school in a smaller town can help keep costs down. 

Broaden Your Perspective

One of the most valuable aspects of attending school in a large city that students cite is a diverse student body. Andrew Goodman, a University of Louisville grad, says diversity was one of the best benefits of attending school in the heart of Louisville, Kentucky. “In my anthropology and English courses, we had great conversations because there were varied perspectives on our subjects,” Goodman explains. “We had many refugee and immigrant students who contributed their experiences to our history and humanities courses as well.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that college towns can’t offer diversity, but diversity and big-city living do tend to go hand in hand. 

Convenience and Accessibility

The logistics of getting around campus, parking and heading home are something to think about too. Goodman says that fast-paced city living can actually make it harder to get around because it’s “troublesome to rely on public transit to get to class on time — especially if there are delays, slowdowns from construction or buildings that aren’t as accessible to bus stops.” That being said, if you’re going to college away from home, a big-city campus may make it easier to visit your family, as big cities are generally more accessible to major airports and train stations. 

Both city and smaller-town colleges offer their share of benefits and drawbacks. What feels perfect for one student may be less than ideal for another. Think carefully and visit a few options to figure out what you really want — and don’t want — out of your school’s location.

Interviews for this article were conducted in 2018 and 2019.

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