Not Your Average College Town: University in a Major City

University of Southern California


College is all about independence. Students from suburbia often long for experiences that schools like New York University, Columbia, the University of Southern California, the University of Chicago, and others offer. Rather than feeling like just another college kid, you become part of a dynamic and diverse community with abounding inspiration. Still, the question comes up – “Won’t you be too distracted?” As a student at Columbia University, I have seen the immense benefits and unique experiences offered by attending school in a major city.

Your Personal Pro/Cons

Not all cities are the same, and what you’re looking for really matters. I fell in love with New York City when I was young for the bright lights, big buildings, and endless opportunities. As a college student, it’s extremely practical. Guaranteed on-campus housing helps you avoid expensive apartment searching, there’s no need to bring a car, and top internship and networking opportunities are just streets away. However, you have to be okay with the cold winters, crowded subways, and occasional rudeness from strangers. Think about the things you value most and what you’re okay with having to give up. If you’re really looking forward to tailgating football games, a big city university probably isn’t for you. School spirit tends to be diluted when you’re in a community that doesn’t revolve around your college. Cities are also a big step in independence, and you get the feeling of being thrown into the “real world.” If you’re interested in joining a fraternity or sorority, otherwise known as Greek Life, it might exist, but it will look different from the fraternity and sorority mansions of the South. Reflect on what you look forward to most about your upcoming college experience in making this decision.

Getting Around

A major advantage of going to college in a major city is that top tourist destinations are within a short distance. Check out the reputation of public transportation in your intended city if you don’t plan on bringing a car. New York City’s subway system is incredibly accessible with the help of Google Maps, and there are designated stops at both Columbia University and New York University. Google Maps also has a function where you can make lists of saved spots, like restaurants or museums, so you can always be on top of the coolest attractions. You should also check in about safety in your university’s community and make sure you’re capable of using your school’s security system, such as blue-light public safety signals and safety escort options.

Industries and Opportunity

Being a university student in a large city means being at the forefront of many opportunities. Recruiters can more easily visit your campus for networking events and your college may arrange workspace tours for students. You can intern part-time while you’re studying with top companies just blocks away. While at Columbia, I have interned at a public relations firm and at the Office of Hillary Rodham Clinton, both while balancing coursework during the semester. Networking through coffee chats and other informal experiences is also incredibly useful and coordinated by colleges. I have also engaged with other incredible experiences through connections with campus clubs, like appearing on a live show to ask Tom Steyer a question during his presidential run or having a conference at NBC’s headquarters. My classes have also integrated city life into the syllabus, including visits to the Museum of Natural History and photography exploration projects.

The Fun Stuff

On top of these benefits to your resume, moving to a big city for college can be unbelievably fun. You’ll try new things you didn’t know existed before. Follow blogs and Instagram accounts that chronicle happenings that you’re interested in for your city, like “Time Out” which has content for multiple areas. Some of my favorite NYC-specific accounts are @prettycitiesnewyork, @secret_nyc, and @nybucketlist on Instagram. Use these accounts to get ahead on special events like limited-time pop-up shops, art displays, and trendy restaurants. You can also bet that you’ll have endlessly interesting date options (like out of any romantic comedy) so you never fail to impress. You can combine work and play by hunting for the coolest study spots in the area. In the springtime, I loved taking my books down to the tables and chairs at Bryant Park and cramming for finals at Joe & the Juice.

Living in a major city for college might not be for you if you’re someone who values strong school spirit, enthusiasm for sports games, big Greek Life presence, and want time to be fully in student mode before graduating into the real world. On the other hand, if you crave independence, are flexible to change and hyperactivity, want to get ahead on industry experience, and want to have nontraditional fun, consider applying to metropolitan schools. New York City is one of my favorite things about my time at Columbia, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

About Emily Eget
Emily Eget is a political science student at Columbia University. As a first-generation college student from North Carolina, moving round New York City was a big but welcome change of pace. Since beginning her studies, she has completed internships ranging from fashion public relations to working at Secretary Hillary Clinton’s Times Square Office. In her free time, she loves volunteering with Columbia Youth Adventurers doing fun activities with kids from around the Harlem area, and participating in campus organizations like the University Life Events Council and her sorority, Sigma Delta Tau.

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