How far from home do you want to be?

College Location

By Ari Finkelstein

It’s a tough choice: on the one hand, you’ve been at home all your life, and there would be nothing so comfortable as to attend the local community college five minutes down the road; on the other hand, you’ve been at home all your life and nothing ever seemed so reasonable as to enroll at the University of Antarctica (real place). 

One of the biggest decisions you’ll have to face as a prospective college student is how far from home you want to be, and it’s not always an easy choice.  Often, the decision comes down to finances.  Tuition at private colleges has become so exorbitant in recent years that even the best students choose to stay near home and attend less-expensive state schools.  This paradigm may be changing, though. 

Recent fiscal decisions by universities with large endowments – as well as increased pressure by the federal government to lower the cost of college – are starting to make elite universities affordable to a much larger demographic.  Today, a student from a middle-income family in Kansas can attend Harvard for less than he or she would pay to attend K-State.   So the question then becomes, economics aside, do you want to be across the country (or the world, for that matter) from where you grew up?

If you go away to college, your idea of Home is going to change.  For most students, college is the first time that they have lived away from their family, and that means a significant adjustment.  Some students will have the resources to travel frequently between home and college, or have their parents do so, but others will find that they are very much on their own once they have left the nest.  So you have to ask yourself: can I handle it? 

You may find that the perks of getting away from home end up outweighing your nervousness.  Sure, you won’t have home-cooked meals and someone to do your laundry, but you’ll be more or less completely independent for the first time in your life.  You can listen to music as loud as you want, stay up as late as you want, and do all those things you’ve been forbidden to do at home for the last 18 years of your life.     

You will also get to know an entirely new place.  Whether your destination is across the state, on the opposite coast, or overseas, you’ll broaden your horizons immensely, and this is invaluable in and of itself.  College is very much about curiosity, and what could be a better start to the process than planting yourself in an entirely new environment?  Even if you think you might eventually want to live in the same place where you grew up, college can be a good time to test the waters and see what it’s like away from home.  You could even think of it as an extended vacation.       

And though you are leaving your immediate family, that doesn’t mean you won’t have a community to support you.  You may choose a college that your siblings or parents have attended, where there is already an aura of comfort or familiarity.  You could pick a school that many of your high school friends are also going to, so that you can walk in with a pre-existing social network.  Even if you don’t know a soul at your college of choice, you could live in an all-freshman dorm, which are designed to have a more social and familial air.  And whether or not you’ll get along, you have a new brother or sister in your roommate.  After all, you guys are in this together.

All that said, some students just might not be ready to go to college far from home.  Think back to times you went to summer camp, or visited relatives for a prolonged period.  Were you alright being on your own, or did you get homesick?  It’s not a good sign if the week you spent at band camp in high school turned you into an insomniac and resulted in an eating disorder.  Homesickness in itself is not a good reason to stay put (after all, almost everyone suffers from it to some extent), but extreme anxiety about being away from home or depression resulting from homesickness, might be.   Think about what you can handle.

In the end, it may just come down to what you’re comfortable with.  You should seriously think about the different educations you’d be getting at different schools, but you know yourself better than anyone else, and how important it is to you to be close to home.  Do your research, listen to your parents, but make the decision that’s right for you.  If your dream is to study whales in Antarctica, go to Antarctica and study whales.