“I have often dreamed of a far off place/Where a great warm welcome will be waiting for me…” – Go the Distance, from Hercules
When I started looking at colleges, I didn’t know if I preferred big or small schools, if I wanted to live in an urban or rural area, if I wanted to go public or private, Greek life, double major, Jamba Juice on campus–anything. I had exactly one requirement for my future college, and it was this: it had to be located anywhere but home.
And why was that? I thought it was my destiny to leave home, like countless movie protagonists before me, to find myself and be an adult, which I could obviously only do anywhere but home. After a year, I can certainly say that going to school across the country has helped me grow up a little–but I can also say that there were some downsides. Whether you’re still not sure about where you should go to college, or you’re set on “going the distance,” keep these realities of living far from home in mind:
The Struggle is Real
Depending on how far you’re traveling, you may not be able to load up a car with all your belongings. I flew–with my mom, luckily–so I had two large bags, three carry-on bags, and a viola. While they were stuffed, I still couldn’t take all my books or clothes. A fridge was out of the question. I spent my first night without a pillow, sleeping on top of a pile of sheets. Not to mention the cost of traveling more than 2,000 miles away from home.
Fun AP Human Geography term for you: “placelessness,” the idea that a location has lost everything that makes it unique, that everything has begun to look the same. Walmart is everywhere. McDonald’s is everywhere. It’s bleak and sad and…not entirely true.
I didn’t know what Wegman’s was when I decided to go to school in, basically, its headquarters. (Answer: Wegman’s is love. Wegman’s is life.) And on the flipside, there is no Bookman’s or Pacific Seafood Buffet in New York (both places you should visit if you’re ever around Phoenix). My bank of choice is nowhere near campus, which was mega-inconvenient until I learned how to do direct deposits. Because of the aforementioned placelessness, it really wasn’t too terrible–I could go to Target or Walmart to buy a pillow, Chipotle for food, Barnes & Noble for books–but not being able to go to my local bookstore or local Chinese buffet or local grocery store was a definite adjustment I had to make.
There’s No Going Home
I mean, yes, there is going home for the summer and winter and maybe for spring, but three-day weekends? Or I-don’t-want-to-pay-for-laundry weekends? Thanksgiving? You’re on your own. If you go to a school where the majority of students live close enough to go home for holidays or weekends, it gets lonely. You won’t see your friends or family as often as you’d like. You’ll get homesick, and there really is no cure except time (and Joanna Flores’s advice for keeping in touch with long-distance friends).
But The Struggle is Worth It
Yes, it’s college–and you can have new experiences fifty feet from your house. I’m not talking about the on-your-own-for-the-first-time type of experiences (though you’ll probably have more of those when you can’t run home every week and graciously help your parents clean leftovers out of the fridge). I’m talking about sledding for the first time because “winter” in your hometown isn’t a thing. Seeing lakes and rivers and tall trees and water everywhere because your state has been in a drought as long as you can remember. And going to Wegman’s. (Wegman’s is a big deal here, and rightfully so.)
A New Start
If you’re going to school far away, it’s a chance to make yourself a new person–not that you aren’t fabulous already, of course. It’s just that all the people who have known you since kindergarten are (probably) more or less concentrated around your hometown, and if few are following you to college, you can remake your image. In high school, I was shy and reserved and could only make eye contact with shoes. Now, I’m…still all of those things, but I’ve been reaching out for leadership roles, which I don’t think I could have done surrounded by people who knew me as a little girl. Going away let me grow up a little bit.
You can go to school close to home and not be dependent on your parents, but you can’t really go to school far away without some sense of self-sufficiency. You have to do laundry for yourself. You have to feed yourself. You have to manage your own money, more or less. Nobody can hold your hand–and it’s fantastic. You’re not only allowed to grow up–you have to grow up.
So…Should You Go the Distance?
Should you look at schools that are far away from home? Let me answer that question with another: How strongly do you feel about any of the above attributes? If you’re really attached to your local stores and want to go home every so often, then you may be better off looking at schools within driving distance of your home. But if not, sticking some long-distance schools on your college list can’t hurt.