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5 Things You Should Know About Going to College in a Big City


Going to school in a big city will hugely impact your college experience. From the food to the activities off campus to your job prospects after college, urban schools have a million things to offer. This kind of environment isn’t for everyone, though, so you’ll want to know what to expect if you’re thinking about going to college in a big city.

With that in mind, we reached out to some in-the-know collegiettes for their take on urban schools. Read on for our top five tips for life as a college student in a big city! Don’t worry, you’ll be Carrie Bradshaw-ing it in no time.

1. You might not have a campus, so explore!

Depending on which city schools you’re looking at, you might not have the typical campus layout. Your dorm, dining hall and class buildings could be scattered across several blocks in a given city. While this may be a weird adjustment and make you feel like there isn’t really a campus at all, it just means you should do that much more off-campus exploration!

Any city school will be equipped with a local public transportation system, which is a much better, wallet-friendly alternative to having your own car (which probably isn’t permitted by your school and would be very expensive anyway).

Alaina Leary, a second-year graduate student at Emerson College in Boston, says, “One thing I really recommend is to get to know the public transportation.” Getting acclimmated to the city via the subway or bus system is a really effective way to explore--getting lost on it one day might result in you finding your new favorite café!

It’s also really easy to get stuck in your campus bubble—even if you don’t have much of a campus to speak of! One of the great features of going to school in a city is that you only have to walk a couple of blocks before you’re off campus! “My best advice for anyone who is going to school in a big city is to get out into the city and experience life,” says Taylor Carson, a senior at Temple University in Philadelphia.  

If you end up at a city school, it means you’re lucky enough to have a guaranteed four years of endless exploration (don’t forget about, you know, college, though). “It can definitely be intimidating but it is so worth it,” Taylor adds.

2. Everything is more expensive

The rumours are true—the cost of an average cup of coffee in a city could buy you several cups of coffee anywhere else. Don’t let the expensive nature of city living get you down, though. There are plenty of ways around it! Look for student discounts, be willing to travel a little further for cheaper options and get really into consignment shopping!

Particularly at stores and restaurants around campus, you’ll be able to find plenty of deals for students. “I recommend students check out what perks and discounts their student ID gets them,” Alaina says. Most museums will be cheaper or free, movie tickets will be a bargain and there are tons of rewards programs for students at places like coffee shops and fast food restaurants.

Getting to know the neighborhoods in your city will really make it feel like home. “Take advantage of as many restaurants/food joints as possible,” says Megan Sawey, a senior at Temple University. “Sampling some of Philly’s most iconic locations has helped me to feel as though I’m not just a student who’s invading the city temporarily.”

Finding events on and around campus is really easy to do. Click through your suggested events on Facebook, sign up for clubs on campus (and be bombarded with events emails) or even try out random listservs in your city. Organizations like Nonsense NYC and DCist are great resources for finding random events in your city.

You can even get an idea of these features before you commit to a specific city or school. "When you visit, instead of just seeing all the famous museums and sites, try to find some smaller places," says Marisa Brown, a senior at Barnard College in New York City. "They can help give you an idea of what it's like to be a local."

3. It’s loud, busy and dirty—and you’ll end up loving it!

City living means adjusting to constant noise, weird smells and dirtiness. No fear, though, there are plenty of budget-friendly, time-saving life hacks that will hugely help you out with the hustle and bustle of urban life.

Make your dorm or apartment your sanctuary, a place you can always come back to escape the crowded, not-so-fun parts about the city. “Once you learn to find silence in the city, you’re essentially set for success,” says Catherine Abes, a first-year journalism student at Ryerson University in Toronto. “If my limited experience has taught me anything, it’s that city living is very, very loud. My tip for anyone coming from a quieter city like me: bring earbuds.”

Eventually, you’ll find that all of the seemingly unappealing characteristics of urban life are actually what give it its charm. Strangers yelling on the streets at all hours of the night will be like your own reality TV show, and the stories you hear from cab drivers and food cart workers will be some of your favorite memories.

Related: The Pros and Cons of City Schools & What It’s Like to Go to One

4. All the opportunities can feel very overwhelming

The plethora of things going on in big cities can sometimes give you so many options that you feel completely paralyzed. This is totally understandable—when you have all of these options to choose from, it’s hard to decide what you’ll enjoy the most and find the most rewarding! Once you get over the amount of possibilities, you’ll realize that there are tons of things you want to do, and not enough hours in the day.

City life is a constant hustle. Though it may seem like it’s impossible to get anywhere in the urban job market, you just need the right amount of motivation and willingness to take initiative. “The opportunities are endless here and being surrounded by successful people is great motivation,” says Autumn Dube, a senior at Emmanuel College in Boston.

“It’s  much easier to find opportunities near you, especially with big companies, when you’re in a big city versus a more rural area,” says Mara Hyman, a recent graduate from the University of Southern California. You have the advantage of all of these openings, so get in there and get to experiencing life!

Ultimately, the endless career options offered by a city are something you can't get anywhere else. They make city schools that much more exciting and alluring! "It's a good idea to choose a city you could see youreslf living and working in after school," says Marisa.

5. You might feel really isolated, but you’re not alone!

To quote the renowned Mila Kunis in the cinematic masterpiece that is Friends with Benefits, “Every place can be lonely sometimes.” College is a weird, transitional period during your life, and it’s really easy to get stuck in a routine that will become really suffocating and lonely.

Try to get ahead of these moments and take advantage of all that your city has to offer. “Urban universities are so unique to the college experience, and looking back on my college career I wouldn’t change a thing!” Taylor says.

Your experience at college in a big city isn’t going to be like the one you see in a romantic comedy. Your living situation is going to be less than ideal, you will constantly be on the brink of a financial crisis and sometimes you’re going to feel really lonely.

These might all seem like reasons not to go to an urban school, but don’t forget that college is what you make of it! Going to school in a big city means you’ll meet tons of interesting people with amazing life stories, you’ll eat the best food and every now and then, the sunset peeking between the skyscrapers will take your breath away

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