Let’s review how to explore, and what you should look for in a college’s surrounding town.
Once you’ve established that the university campus you’re considering is great, and that everything appears to be right in line with what you were looking for, you also need to look around town. A beautiful campus is one thing, but the surrounding area also needs to meet some basic needs. And even if it has what you need, it is equally important that you feel safe.
The following are four things you need to look into during your school visits. Go early or stay late to look into them because they are as important as anything else. Trust us, you’ll be glad you did.
Arts & Entertainment
What are you and your newly acquired friends going to do for entertainment on those rare nights you’re all caught up with work? Or those Fridays you decide not to head back home? Redbox and Netflix will only entertain you so many nights of the year (and do you really want to spend your youth on a couch?), so there needs to be something else that you would be interested in doing with your spare time.
Once you’ve established there are, indeed, things to do and places to go, you’re going to need to figure out how you’re going to get there. Are you going to have a car? Does the bus go there? How comfortable are you with Uber? Are there actually Uber drivers in town? Walking is great (and free)!
Quick aside: There are pros to having a car on campus, and there are definitely cons. Finding a parking spot in a college town is always a pain (especially if you’re a no-go-parallel-parker), and you generally have to pay some sort of parking fee in college (even when there isn’t guaranteed parking); however, being able to go where you want when you want is a blessing. Just be sure you’re willing to put up with the stress. If not, mom or dad coming to get you on Friday afternoons will be something to look forward to (hopefully).
Back to the entertainment: see how far it is from campus, and make sure it’s something you’d enjoy doing for four years. Of course having fun is not the reason you’re going to college, but you need to have it once in awhile if you’re going to keep your sanity. All fun and no play makes Jack a dull boy, as they say.
Groceries & Shopping
College dining halls are convenient, but if you eat there for every single meal, your intestines won’t be writing you any thank you letters. Going around the college’s surrounding town, scout out for eating spots. While you’re on your tour you need to keep a look out for where the closest (and affordable) grocery store is, and, more importantly, figure out how you are going to get there. After all, walking with thirty pounds of groceries for a mile and a half is doable, but not recommended. Most colleges have little mini-marts where you can pick up your basic necessities using general payment options or a meal card; however, these places usually significantly mark up their prices.
So where is the closest grocery store in the college’s surrounding town, not campus? Drive there at some point during your visit. Scope it out. Does it have the type of food you need? If you’re allergic to gluten, how is their gluten-free section? Having delicious, healthy food is important, so take the time to find out.
Also while you’re scoping out the grocery stores, take a look for any general shopping needs you may have. Where will you get clothes or anything else you’re going to need while you’re there? True, a lot of stuff you could probably pick up while visiting your parents. But if you’re going to school far from home (or you are going this solo), you’ll need to know how you’re going to take care of yourself in the long run.
Once your required dorm days are over (if they are required), where will you live? Scope out the neighborhoods. Make sure you feel safe in them. Do the houses seem cared for? Is someone keeping up with maintenance? Will you still be able to walk to campus? If so, will you feel safe doing so? Do buses go out that way? Or will you need a car? If so, what’s the parking situation like?
Questions, questions, questions! So many questions to answer! Don’t get overwhelmed. Make a list and answer them one at a time.
Now you could live on campus for the entire four years, but a lot, if not most, of your college debt will come from dorm living. Plus, not all schools guarantee dorms all four years. It’s important to know the college’s policy for all four years and assess the off-campus rental market.
Lastly, scope out the areas where you think you will likely be able to get a job. As with the above sections, figure out how you’re going to get there. It’s not always advisable to get a job your very first semester of college (because you can only adapt to so many things at once and still be successful), but at some point you might want to pick something up.
Once you’ve found a high business area, submit an application early to wherever you would like to work. In the college’s surrounding town, a busy marketplace can be fast-paced, because you’re going to have a lot of competition. If there’s a waiting list for popular on-campus jobs, it’s good to get on it as soon as you can.
Cover all your bases when evaluating a college and the town in which it resides. Ask yourself the following questions while touring surrounding areas:
- How will I get here?
- Will I feel safe traveling to and from here?
- Will I feel safe while I’m here?
- Is this place somewhere I would want to live in for four years?
If all of the questions have good answers, then your dream college still deserves you. If not, it may be time to move on. Learning is important, but so are the day-to-day things. If you were left unimpressed after touring the greater areas of the college in question, weep not, the perfect college is out there.