Geography matters.  

I chose my school through an intricate combination of whimsy and research. I did the campus visits, I wrote to a couple of professors, and I read through reams information. But the biggest factor in the selection process was that I went with my gut. I can’t explain why exactly. But here’s a huge piece of my decision that drove my father absolutely nuts:

I refused to go to the Midwest.

Now, if I was making the same decision today, that would no longer be an automatic disqualifier. I now have a couple of Midwestern cities that I would love to live in, with good schools to boot. But at the time, I had a very clear sense of my reasoning, which is that I had spent part of every summer visiting my grandparents in small town Minnesota. And I didn’t want to live there.

Casting a long shadow way out in the boondocks in Westcliffe, Colorado. (Small towns being another place I would not personally choose for study locations)

This sounds a bit silly, but it’s actually an important and relevant part of the process. You are choosing a place to live, and your environment has a huge impact on your lifestyle and overall happiness. I’m from Colorado: I need dramatic landscapes. And, at seventeen years old, that meant mountains. Or ocean. Or something other than gently rolling farmland.


So I ruled out the Midwest. And then I crossed off the South for some pretty uncomplicated political reasoning (again, not necessarily the decision I would make today). And I knew I wanted to get out of Colorado. So that essentially left me with the coasts: Somewhere San Francisco or northward, or somewhere in the dimly-imagined East Coast.

This was not a sophisticated process. But it was an effective system to narrow things down.

This drove my dad crazy, as I already said. He kept asking if I really thought that there were no good schools in the Midwest. And I kept saying in completely reasonable, calm terms (just kidding: the decision process was rather emotionally fraught), that it had nothing to do with quality. It had to do with where I wanted to live.

Eugene: the perfect balance of wild beauty and interesting town. At least to my taste.

And that’s what it boiled down to in the end. I found a program that I thought would be challenging and a good fit, in a place I wanted to call my home. As luck would have it, I fell equally in love with Oregon and the University of Oregon. I instantly saw myself in the active campus and post-hippie community, and in the small liberal-arts style microcosm of the Honors College. The whole place felt right: it felt like where I wanted to be, and where I wanted to study.

When you choose a college, you are probably choosing your home for the first time in your life. Give yourself the chance to choose the place. Think about city vs. suburb vs. town vs. rural. Think about distance to the airport and to the farmer’s market and the music venues and the sports arena. Will you have a car? If not, can you get to a grocery store on the bus? On a bike? Will you have to change how you dress to fit in? (A neighbor of mine was informed that she would have to buy pearls in order to fit in on her campus of choice. She bought the pearls. I bought hiking sandals.)

There are not right or wrong answers to these questions. This is not about passing judgment. It turns out, I have a deep love for green, rainy places that trumps my love of the wildness of the Rocky Mountains. I hope to never be landlocked again. I am willing to be rained on for the nine months of the academic calendar in order to feel like the world is exploding with growing things. Lots of people aren’t willing to live that weather.

So think about it. Add this to the list of what feels like an adventure and opportunity. And know that there are many good fits out there for you. There are many schools that will make you happy, and many cities that would feel like home, if given the chance. Factor in your geography. Pick yourself a home you’ll love.


Please leave a comment here about what location has meant for you and your college decision-making process. Have you chosen a place similar to your hometown? Far away? In a different climate? In a different country? Does location mean less to you than it does to me? Let me know!