When deciding between colleges, people remind you to consider the number one rule of real estate: location, location, location. I underestimated this factor for most of my applications process, until the decision came down to two opposites: beach front in Southern California, or in the bustle of New York City?
It wasn’t just a matter of how far I’d be from family, in-state versus out-of-state, but that your location plays into your daily life, and that is – of course – going to shape your entire college experience. For the last four months, my experience has been of a mid-size, private school in New York, which has taught me three major things about the importance of location.
1. Your Campus
City schools or “diet colleges”, as TP college writer Cassie Scaman calls them, really do use the entire city as their campus. The Fordham slogan, “New York is my campus. Fordham is my school,” is so true; while bugged for not being a party school (as in, virtually none on campus), much of that is attributed to so many things happen off campus, socially and culturally.
Urban colleges can be on smaller side comparatively in terms of their physical location and space; for example, the original (and much older) Fordham campus in the Bronx is relatively large, at 85 acres; its sister campus in Lincoln Square consists of two high-rises. On one hand, having a sprawling campus fosters different sets of interactions around school, from more athletic presence and spirit, to the spread of microcultures to different areas on campus. On the other hand, schools that are more enclosed can allow for an entirely different experience. A sophomore at Pace University in lower Manhattan told me, he could “go a whole week without leaving [the building] because the dorms, classes, and dining halls are all in one building.”
2. Regional Culture
At most universities, a majority of the student population tends to come from a close radius: in-state and within the region. That culture and range of microcultures within it presents itself through the people you meet–professors, doormmates, classmates–in the opinions, shared experiences, and ideas they have. While the majority of my campus is Caucasian and conservative from the tri-state area, the neighborhood we are located in is mostly African American and Hispanic with a high poverty rate, and yet the next borough, Manhattan, ranges from Harlem to Wall Street.
In a program I volunteered with, Generation Citizen, my class met and heard presentation from other classes and coaches across New York–representing various microcultures, discussing their community issues and projects. Seeing this amount of diversity as a unity is something I believe is unique to urban areas, where so many people are constantly in contact in one space. I worked with someone in a group debate presentation about racism who told me he has rarely seen racism in his personal life, saying that there was one non-white student in his entire high school, and while most might find this counterintuitive, that experience adds so much to experiencing diversity, a true range of different values.
3. Urban (versus Suburban, Rural, or College Town) Culture
Sometimes I feel like I spend days of my life, and half of my soul, on the MTA. Don’t get me wrong, I love the accessibility to the whole city that the train system gets me, without the hassle of cars, traffic, and parking. It means being able to take a quick break down in SoHo, or get away from our overcrowded library and study at the grandiose NYPL.
It means being able to hop on a train and go to conferences, like the StopSlut Conference that TP co-founder Lily Herman and I attended, and meet a whole new world of people and their stories, because cities are hubs for congregation. It means being around a large amount of other colleges, and networking with members of other schools – having a breadth of resources across various institutions, even though an individual school is smaller in size and population than non-urban locations. It means having classes with assignments to go, experience and research something in this city (and you have no excuses to be at a loss for ideas), and write a paper on it.
The Bottom Line
In a nutshell, the unique placement and features of my college and experience has taught me this: the culture around me is not set, it’s not something you can quite pin down, because of it’s fast moving, ever changing nature. But that constant change, is the culture: it’s having a breadth – and having the potential to go in depth in something you choose – of experiences because it’s a place so packed with people and their experiences. Too frequently, students in cities can get caught up in the variety and abundance of possibilities, so knowing how you handle yourself and having set ideas and goals, can help in considering location for your college experience.