We just returned from a week-long family vacation to New York City. It got me thinking about the importance of the right campus setting selection in the college choice process. Every student is going to have their own feel for what type of setting will work best for them. If you ask something like, “What kind of setting do you want – urban, suburban or rural?” they probably will not know how to answer. You will probably have to dig deeper to figure out where your student will be most comfortable.
We live in an area of a few thousand people, about half an hour outside of a medium-sized urban area. We take frequent trips to Chicago, so my kids are used to the feel of a major city for a few days. Spending a week in an apartment, riding the subway, visiting over-crowded tourist attractions and walking the streets of NYC and Brooklyn was a little different though. It reaffirmed something I have suspected before – none of my kids like crowds! When I initially approached the idea of campus setting with my oldest daughter, her only requirement was that it wasn’t rural. Our town is classified as rural and she wanted something different. I suspect that’s true for a lot of kids – they want a change from what they are used to. Kids from a big city may want to get away from the noise and congestion for a while. Kids from tiny towns may want to see what it’s like to live in a large urban area. Campus setting is an important consideration and can have a great influence on your student’s list of potential schools. It is a key search item on most college search websites (see my College Search Engines listing).
Suggestions to Determine the Right Campus Setting
- Visit schools in very different settings early in the process – pick different sized schools in each of the main setting categories: urban, suburban and rural. Also try to vary the city sizes within the categories. For example, there are suburbs of major cities that are over 100,000 people and others that are only 20,000 people. Get feedback from your child on what he/she liked and didn’t like about the campus setting.
- Observe your child’s reactions to places you visit – To me, observing an overall irritation with “too many people” around means something like, “I’m fine with a couple days of this, but it would get old in a hurry.”
- Take clues from things your child has indicated in the past – My daughter has always said things like, “I’m never going to live in such a small town when I grow up.”
- Come up with a tolerance range – After going through #1 – #3, you should have enough of a clue on what might work that you can determine an acceptable range. For my daughter it was small urban area or suburban.
- Knock out any schools that don’t fit, even if they are great – One of the top schools on my list from when I was 18 is still rated very highly and kept coming up as a good fit for my daughter in everything except campus setting. It is located in a very rural area. I had to resist the temptation to schedule a visit. I reminded myself that this was about what works for her, not what would work for me. Plus, I’m not sure it would have worked for me. The setting was the one thing I really had reservations about.
Trust that your child will find at least a few schools where both the campus size and setting feel comfortable to him or her. In fact, the schools that end up on the final list may be very different. Just make sure that your child still considers setting when weighing the final options. A great school in a town your child doesn’t want to live in for four years is probably not a great choice for your child!