Majors? Student-to-faculty ratios? Class sizes? Research opportunities and internships? Student-support services? Financial aid and scholarships?
The ins and outs of the college search touch on so many different areas, it’s no wonder it can feel like running a marathon. This is a big decision you are about to make, and you should ask as many questions as possible when you’re looking for your dream school. But there’s something we often find students forget to ask about, and it’s an important part of the search.
What about location?
When you step back and look at it, it’s maybe a no-brainer that location is a big part of the search. From things as simple as weather to things as complex as a college’s relationship with the town (or lack thereof) outside of campus, a school’s location colors the fabric of day-to-day life for students and the surrounding community. Small towns might not have as many resources as larger ones, but might feel cozier. Big cities and metropolitan areas might have a ton of things to do off campus, but the campus community might gey lost in the noise as a result. Additionally, location impacts everything from the types of internships available to you to the kinds of professors interested in teaching at the institution.
Just as there isn’t a single “best” college for everyone, neither is there a single best location. Some students might love a particular city but dislike the climate of the region. Others might love the idea of a small town, but not really enjoy or appreciate what that college town has to offer. Just as you might decide you’re in love with small liberal arts colleges but not all liberal arts colleges, so, too, might you discover that you love some big cities, small cities and villages… just not the one a particular college is located in.
Thinking about location alongside everything else on your plate might seem daunting, but don’t worry. We have a great tip to help you tackle this new facet of your search, even if you can’t visit: get a feel for what the students are saying.
Just like you might be eager to get away from your hometown — or want nothing more than to stay close to home — there’s a good chance your future peers have thoughts on location. Listening to their stories and learning about their relationships with their college towns is a huge step in figuring out if a given environment is right for you.
Take F&M and Lancaster, for instance. Lancaster is a small city straddling the line between a metropolitan region and a rural region. So while we have a plethora of restaurants, art collectives, and other cool places to explore within a mile of campus, we also have a sense of campus identity because we are adjacent to the center of town rather than smack in the middle of it.
Students come to Lancaster because of F&M's educational opportunities, but they soon discover that this not-too-big, not-too-small city allows them to feel connected to their location in nuanced and meaningful ways. Through service and internship opportunities, getting connected to local scenes, and simply living in Lancaster, our students grow and thrive in ways they hadn’t even considered when choosing to spend four years at F&M.
And here is an added bonus for students looking to scratch that big-city itch from time to time: Lancaster is within two hours of Philadelphia and three hours of New York, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. You can get there by car or train with just a little planning.
The Student Perspectice
International student James Zhou reflects on living and learning in Lancaster:
"The best thing about Lancaster in my opinion is that the community is small and compact. Going downtown to eat ramen at my favorite ramen shop or leaving campus to get a haircut at my regular hair salon, I usually find myself getting me into small conversations with the acquainted people there who work in the shops.
Since Lancaster is relatively small compared to lots of other places in America, it's really easy to engage and interact with the community. What surprised me, however, was the diverse cultural background here in Lancaster. People really do come here from all over the world, and it's fun to listen to the many stories that they have.
For fun, my friends and I sometimes travel to nearby cities like Philadelphia to eat hot pot or go to a nearby cinema downtown and watch the newest movies. Transportation to other major cities is pretty convenient because we have a train station relatively close to campus.
Due to the global pandemic, I haven’t been able to return to China for over a year. However, that doesn’t mean that my semester breaks were boring! Staying in Lancaster was honestly more fun than I expected. During the winter, I was able to stay on campus, and hanging out with other students who decided to stay for the winter was really interesting! We had lots of picnics on campus and watched tons of movies together in our college houses.
Having been in Lancaster for so long, I’d say that it's one of the best places that I’ve ever been to. I hope that this gives you a better picture of what Lancaster is like and what college students like me do here for fun."