College Location: Close to Home or Far Away?

By Patricia Gorden Neill - February 26th, 2013

Among the myriad decisions you have to make concerning college, a big one is how close to home, or how far away do you want to be? Like all other decisions, this one has pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses for each situation. The main thing to keep in mind is that you want the college you pick to be the right one for you academically and socially. The next few years will be an important time for you. You’ll be growing and changing in many ways, such as becoming more independent, making more decisions unilaterally and adapting to your new life. Whether you’re most comfortable somewhat close to home or desire a brand new situation farther from home is something only you can decide.

Before we delve into the pros and cons, here’s a couple of things to keep in mind. A good friend of mine went to a small private college that was only 40 minutes away from her home. Yet she almost never went home since she didn’t have a car. Then her family decided to move to another state as her father was offered a better job there. So she went to a college close to home until her home moved away from her. While rare, it can happen. Even if you choose to attend a college close to home, you may not get home all that often because you are busy building a new life at school.

Eighty-six percent of freshman college students chose a school within 500 miles of their home, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Over half of all college students attend a school within 100 miles of home. If you pick a school close to home, relax, you’ll be in the main stream. If you apply to schools far away, consider yourself adventurous. In other words, there’s no right or wrong on this question, just do what you consider best for you.

Staying Close to Home

Pros

Saving Money: There’s no doubt that staying close to home will save you money in travel costs. Living at home and commuting to school would save you even more, but most students heading off to college want to live at the college as well. However, if you live at home, you’d save the expense of room and board, which could come to $8,000 to $10,000 a year, or approximately $40,000 for the whole four years. If you live at college, but it’s only an hour or three to drive home, then heading home for a weekend because you’re homesick isn’t a big deal. If you’re 3,000 miles away, getting home for a weekend would be possible, but prohibitively expensive. Figuring out finances is a big part of going to college, and facing the reality of your own personal finances is one of those necessary steps in growing up and becoming independent.

Familiar: If you live at your college, but it’s within a few hours of your home, you’ll have a sense of familiarity. Family and friends are close enough to lend support if necessary. When you’re not that far away from home, jumping in the car for a quick trip home for face-to-face time isn’t a huge problem. This extra level of comfort could make the transition to college life easier for you.

In State Tuition: Attending a college in your own state means a lower tuition than out of state public colleges would charge. Colleges often have scholarships for in state students as well. Going to an in state college could cost around $15,000, an out of state college could cost up to $25,000, and attending a private college can run you $35,000 a year and up. In state tuition can make a big difference in the cost of college.

Cons

Familiar: If family and friends are close by, are you more likely to depend on already formed friendships rather than developing new ones? Will you rely overmuch on parental support when you should be experiencing the world on your own? The same familiarity that can be a help can also be a hindrance in that you might be too comfortable and reluctant to become more independent.

Depends on the Parents: If your parents are mother hen types and insist on visiting you all the time or having you come home more than you’d wish, then moving farther away might help establish more space for you to grow and develop. You will need that space to become the person you’re growing into in this exciting time of your life.

Going to College Far Away

Pros

New Experiences: Nearly all the people you meet will be new to you. You have a clean slate, so to speak, to find new friends and grow intellectually and socially. You have a new city and a new environment to discover and explore and gradually make your own territory.

More Independence: Your family and friends are now hours or longer away and you will have to adapt and become independent if you’re not already. While this can be intimidating and a bit scary, it is also exciting and challenging. Your new roommates will help you discover new facets to your personality that you weren’t aware existed.

Cons

More Expensive: Going to college out of state or across the country will no doubt cost you more than a college close to home. Unless you’re going for an unusual major offered only at one university, such as blacksmithing at Southern Illinois University, then staying in state makes more financial sense. Business administration, however, is offered nearly everywhere. You’ll have to spend more not only on tuition and room and board, but expenses for doing your laundry, eating outside of the college meal plan, travel and getting around town.

Travel Inconvenience: Besides the cost of a car, fuel, parking and/or airplane tickets, you’ll have to reckon with the inconveniences that come with travel such as cancelled flights, hazardous weather, waiting for security checks at the airport, lost baggage and so forth. No matter how often or seldom you do go home, it will cost you time, money and stress.

Culture Shock: While attending a college far outside your experience so far can be eye-opening and exciting, it can also cause some culture shock, especially if you come from Farmland, Minnesota and attend a large state college in southern California. Culture shock can cause stress and discomfort, which might distract you from your studies. Be wary about choosing a college too far out of your life experiences so far.

About the Author

Patricia Gorden NeillPatricia Gorden Neill edited medical and scholarly journals for over 20 years in the ivy-covered halls of the University of Rochester. She is a freelance writer, often covering higher education and the concerns of college age students, and is regularly published on a variety of websites.