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Location Matters

Despite the opportunities available in bigger cities, many students continue to choose attending college in smaller towns

Bloomington. Ann Arbor. Berkeley. Terre Haute. Muncie. Each are synonymous with the word college town and each evoke an image of brick sidewalks and green quads. A collection of buildings and libraries and dorms all centralized on a campus. College town campuses can be peaceful and less intimidating, but there’s still something enticing about a campus in a big city. In fact, a study by Nielsen reported that 62 percent of Millennials prefer to live in urban areas that provide more social and cultural opportunities. Despite this, many students are still drawn to college towns.

Growing up outside of the small town of North Manchester, Indiana, I knew making the transition to college would make it hard to leave such an at-home environment, so I knew I wanted that same connection when I went off to college. As a student at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, I still have that same small town feeling. The transition was easy. Everything is so close even though I live off campus, I rarely have to use my car and The Village, an area of businesses next to campus, is in walking distance. I was really impressed with the environment around me and how laid back the people in the community were. The cost of living isn’t outrageous and outdoor experiences such as hiking and biking trails weren’t too far, so I knew a college town was going to be the right fit for me.

A college town has a lot to offer students who seek it. The environment is free of big city interruptions; you don’t get that eggy smell of the sewer when walking to class, tall buildings aren’t covering the sun, and you don’t get that constant honking and yelling you might hear as a student living in a big city. In a college town you can still have a balance of cultural and outdoor experiences, while it might be harder for a student in a big city to go hiking.    

A study by The Rockefeller Foundation and Transportation for America reported that 66 percent of Millennials say that high quality transportation is one of the top three criteria when deciding where to live. Many freshmen in a college town don’t have a car because they are living in the dorms, so transportation becomes an issue. Chris Munchel, the Executive Director of Admissions at Ball State University in Muncie, said he reminds incoming students that they are provided with free transportation by the Muncie Public Transportation System. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, urban and rural households spend around the same amount on transportation, although urban households spend more on gas, while those living in rural communities tend to use public transportation.

Chris said that the mall and movie theatre are within five minutes of campus, as are many arts and cultural activities including the Muncie Civic Theatre, Cornerstone Center for the Arts, Minnetrista, shops and restaurants downtown, and more. As a student at Ball State University, I use the public transportation in Muncie not only to save time, but to save money. That being said, big city campuses also have public transportation. The differences include price and the crowd that are more prevalent in bigger cities.

Many students in college towns also tend to long for the entertainment that comes from living in a bigger city, but Chris said this shouldn’t be the case. He said the facilities at Ball State have attracted everyone from Laverne Cox to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Students are able save money attending these types of venues because they are put on by the university, events taking place in a big city are private venues and can cost two or three times as much.

When it comes to saving money, it is important for students to find a place to live at a reasonable price. Cagney Craig, a student at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), says she feels she is at a disadvantage because the cost of living in an apartment in Indianapolis is high for a college student. The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Indianapolis is $657 a month according to The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment around Ball State University’s campus is $486.

Although paying higher prices for the atmosphere might be a downfall of living in and attending a big city university, the big city always has its perks. From more theatrical venues, professional sports games, conventions, and concerts, many students are drawn to the opportunities big cities provide. Students are also closer to professional opportunities and internships. Craig reinforces this idea by saying she chose Indianapolis because of the abundance of internship opportunities without the inconvenient travel time.

Rachelle Hernandez, associate vice provost for enrollment management and director of admissions at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis said Minneapolis and St. Paul give students the career advantage of working with large, influential companies that are headquartered in the university’s backyard. She said many of these companies recruit employees from the university. One problem with a college town is that it holds only a number of internships until students are going to have to turn to a larger city. Muncie is an hour northeast of Indianapolis and although this doesn’t seem far, making that drive everyday can start to rack up gas money.   

Universities located in big cities are not the primary focus of the city the way they are in college towns. The University of Minnesota is located in Minneapolis, a city that contains 400,000 people. The school itself has 43,457 undergraduate students enrolled. Although this seems like a large number, there are many people outside of the university and since the university is in such a large city, students are more likely to encounter more diversity than students in a college town. Diversity is expanding to smaller college towns though, according to a study done by Penn State’s Population Research Institute. In 1980, two-thirds of places were 90 percent white. By 2010, only a third were. Though that might be the case, studies continue to show large cities like San Francisco, New York, and D.C. continue to have the greatest share of diversity.

College towns and big cities will always differ economically and culturally. The benefit of college towns like Muncie and Bloomington is that on any weekend, students can drive an hour into Indianapolis to take advantage of more culture and entertainment. Many college towns like this across the U.S. are located within an hour of a major city.

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