When choosing a college, there’s more to consider than the frat parties and football games. Here are the pros and cons of attending school in a college town.
If you think of college towns as painted people yelling at men in tight pants, hours of beer pong playing, and all-night study sessions filled with quadruple-shot Starbucks drinks, then you’re absolutely right. However, as you’re about to see, there’s more to college towns than meets the dilated pupil.
But first, let’s define “college town”
Blake Gumprecht defines a college town in his book The American College Town as a city where a college and the culture it creates “exert a dominant influence over the character of the town.” These towns tend to be between 15,000 (Princeton, N.J.) and 250,000 people (Madison, Wis.), with a student population of at least 20 percent.
There are some things only college towns offer. Before you commit to attending school in one of these towns, consider the pros and cons.
PRO: Professors know professionals
In college towns, due to their moderate size, there’s a good chance your professors have connections with nearly every relevant company in town. The local professionals will almost always contact professors when there are openings in their companies. You’ll have a higher chance of landing the position than non-local applicants, since professionals want to support the school.
A good impression could mean a great referral.
CON: You graduate to a small pond
If you plan on sticking around town after graduation, you may have your work cut out for you. Unlike large cities, college towns have slim opportunities. While it’s true these towns tend to be recession-resistant (in 2009, three of the six cities with unemployment under 4 percent were college towns), the jobs most available are ones catering to college students, such as restaurants.
In the end, all the awesome local networking you did during college may not be what gets you your first job. You may have to relocate or try other techniques.
PRO: Unparalleled school spirit and community
School spirit in urban areas nowhere-near compares to that of college towns. Mainly because in college towns, it’s not just the students who are excited, it’s everybody.
Let’s take the great state of Texas as an example. If you’re looking for school spirit in Texas, forget Dallas colleges or colleges in El Paso and take a look at the quintessential college town of College Station, Texas — home to Texas A&M University. They call themselves Aggies. At the beginning of the year they hold a camp to teach incoming freshmen their traditions. They have bonfires, chants, greetings, sayings and several social events. They refer to students who don’t participate in these events as “2 percenters,” since they’re missing out on 98 percent of the Texas A&M experience.
Another perk of a college town is the community. Because college towns are smaller, you end up running into friends around town. This creates a tight sense of community, where the barista memorizes your drink and the mayor shakes your hand when he sees you.
CON: There’s nowhere to hide
With close community comes risk. Meaning, if you accidentally kill your friend’s hamster or dump the person you’re dating, there’s little room to escape confrontation. You’ll likely run into that person and have to suffer a slap in the face for what you’ve done.
Even worse, what if there’s a zombie outbreak in your town? College towns offer few hiding spots and the campus will surely be the epicenter of this tragic event. At least in big cities, the people-to-zombie ratio is encouraging.
PRO: You can fill an entrepreneurial void
If you’re an entrepreneur, moving to a college town may be your calling card. There’s probably something that hasn’t been done there yet. You can gather the support of the entire community and use academic resources. What better place to learn how to start a business?
You could even start an entreprenrual movement, like in Boulder, Colo. Nearly 20 years ago, Brad Feld, an investor in startups, moved to Boulder and laid down roots. Now, Boulder boasts a huge startup scene, with companies such as Rally Software and Kerproof. You could be the Feld of your college town.
CON: Leaving will cost you
Unfortunately, if you want to visit home or escape as fast as humanly possible, it’s going to cost you. Smaller airports means higher fares. Some college towns are so small, they don’t even have airports. Like in Princeton, where you have to take the train to Newark. Or Eugene, where it costs much less to commute to Portland and fly out of that airport. This may be discouraging to students who are avid travelers.
But maybe you’ll never want to leave. Maybe you’ll like the way your fins feel in that small pond and get hooked on the tight community. Maybe you prefer your body to be covered in school colors and your vocal chords to be used for screaming at the referee.
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