If it’s up to Meghan van Joosten, she’ll never be far from college life.
“I grew up in a university town, and the culture that surrounds colleges is unlike any other community out there,” van Joosten said. “Everyone rallies behind a school and there’s a push to take advantage of what the university offers.”
Born and raised in Gainesville, Fla., van Joosten balanced her time between local nature preserves and music venues with university comforts like sporting events and job opportunities while attending the University of Florida (UF) to study public relations. Once she graduated in 2010, van Joosten went on a two-year venture testing different jobs — and different college towns.
Recession-resilient and a catalyst for job creation, college towns provide young professionals and Baby Boomers alike a chance to hone their professional skills in a stable environment and take advantage of resources that are hard to find anywhere else.
No longer just a haven for backpack-toting undergraduates, these towns provide a hub of innovation, research and culture for a fraction of the cost new graduates may pay to live somewhere else.
University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wis.
Van Joosten spent a year in Tallahassee gaining experience as an account coordinator with the Zimmerman Agency while enjoying nightlife that combined college students, young professionals and politicians. Once the grind of agency life took its toll, she moved to Pittsburgh and started developing freelance contacts before finally settling in Charleston, S.C., near the College of Charleston.
“When you first start out your career, you have to be prepared to move around a lot until you find what you are looking for,” van Joosten said. “Sticking close to college campuses means lower rent, lower food costs and more flexibility than you would find in other communities.”
In the transition to professional stability, the value found in college environments comes from competitive prices on everything from rent to home insurance, allowing for greater savings and stretching out bi-weekly paychecks. Entertainment is never far away either, with college sports, hobby groups and thriving nightlife to keep even the most social of people happy.
Larger college towns can also serve as regional hubs, producing jobs for a diverse workforce of educators, managers, tech developers, healthcare professionals and more as a result of university amenities and community initiatives. The division between industries is more equally spread, with emerging industries causing a spike in creative occupations like design, programming and engineering, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Lower unemployment rates are also a draw of towns filled with human capital, or professionals with a bachelor’s degree or higher. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, towns such as Ann Arbor, Mich., Madison, Wis., and Fayetteville, Ark., all have unemployment rates that hover around 4.5%, much lower than the national 7.4% average.
Nicole Greiner, a UF graduate now living in Fayetteville, Ark., said the move from one college town to another makes for a comfortable transition into a professional career. As a media relations employee with the University of Arkansas, she saw an opportunity to develop her sports relations career dreams.
“It’s exactly what I’ve always been looking for,” she said.
Universities also help to spur a high level of community energy through a push to be the first to develop the next big mobile app or research breakthrough. Conferences like South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, help bring in national companies and industry professionals, providing a front-porch look into possible career connections.
Places like Austin or Boston are a great place to develop research skills, where according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, there is a higher amount of patent grants thanks to the thriving environment of research and development.
Even with all the advantages, college life may not be for everyone. Heavy traffic and rowdy neighbors can cause some professionals to leave for a metropolitan area with a larger buffer between college hangouts and more professional-friendly areas.
“Even though I still love being close to a campus, as I start getting older I find myself gravitating toward nicer bars and areas of town where the number of professionals is higher than students,” van Joosten said. “But the nice thing is it’s all close enough to take advantage of both.”
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