The Good and the Bad About Big City Colleges
George Washington University (GW), my wife’s alma mater, is the perfect example of a big city college. It has risen in popularity as admissions to more selective schools have become more competitive. GW is often cross-shopped against other big city colleges such as Boston University, Drexel University, Fordham University, New York University and Northeastern University that are quite similar. They are all in big cities where students want to be, and all are very expensive. I have rarely heard of situations where these schools will meet an applicant’s full financial need.
From the standpoint of sticker price schools like GW are not a good value. It would be very hard for me to justify that someone pay close to $70,000 a year to go to college in a city such as Boston, New York or Washington DC unless the family is not worried about the money or sees a payoff before graduation. But for students who come from families who have the money these schools can be a great stepping stone to better things.
I made a list of some of the upsides and downsides of going to big city colleges. First the upsides:
- You never lack for things to do when you have free time.
- There’s plenty of entertainment on and off campus
- It’s easier to knock on doors to find work.
- You can mix school and work when the school has night classes, internship and co-op programs.
- City life can be a great introduction to real life.
- There’s no need a car at school. Buses or mass transit will take you anywhere.
- You have access to resources, libraries and museums, beyond those available on campus.
- Sometimes city schools have agreements to allow you to take courses at other city schools.
Now here are some downsides to big city colleges:
- It’s harder to develop a campus community when it is so easy to leave campus to live, work or be entertained.
- Housing is more expensive than it would be in an isolated small town or a college town.
- The on-campus options are also more expensive.
- Noises are louder than they would be in an isolated small town or a college town.
- Urban campuses are typically smaller; they have a more crowded feel to them.
- Some urban campuses don’t look like campuses at all. They might consist of several buildings spread out across several blocks or they are a small number of buildings located on very few blocks.
- Mass transit operates at different hours and time intervals during evenings and weekends. Cities have designed transit systems, buses and subways, around the journey to work, as opposed to mobility 24-7. If you use the bus or the subway on the weekends you’re likely to experience a longer waiting time.
The best reason to go to big city colleges are the opportunities to take advantage of the city and make connections.
Some cities such as New York and Washington DC are the centers for several industries. There is no city like New York for people who want to work in arts, advertising, entertainment, financial services and the media. There’s no city like Washington DC for people who love politics. It can be a huge boost to go to school in a city that is the place to go for the career of your choice.
However, these schools can become a money pit for the students who do not have direction or the resources to cover the costs of living in a major metropolitan area.
I have heard too many stories of people who transferred from one of these schools to go to a less expensive one, even a university that is in the same city.
Are there less expensive alternatives to some of the popular big city colleges?
Of course. Ohio State and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, as two good examples, are large public universities that actually have more resources than schools such as GW or NYU. They are quite accessible to excellent as well as very good students. They are also located in cities that are state capitals as well as major business centers. The costs of living on campus or off campus will be far less than the costs of living in New York or Washington DC. Not to mention that there are plenty of alumni of both schools who have moved on to live in New York or Washington DC who can help you when you get there.
I realize that places such as Columbus, Ohio or Minneapolis, Minnesota do not have the “pull” of New York or Washington DC. But they do have strong sectors in fields such as health care, finance, retail and media as well as interesting politics for those who are interested in government on a major scale. In addition, the state school dominates the market for internships and entry-level jobs.
In this sense they may be the best of the big city colleges. They are certainly the better values.
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Listen to my talk, College Is A Learning AND Living Community, hosted by Dr. Cynthia Colon from Destination YOUniversity on Voice of America Radio!
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