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What Kind of Campus Is Best?

Where do you want to go to school? To help yourself come up with a list, break the question down into components. One of the most important is the setting: whether you prefer an urban, suburban, or rural campus. The difference can be profound, and hard to grasp without in-person experience.

If you have the time and resources to visit some campuses before you apply, try to visit a good mix. For example, if you’re in the New York City metropolitan area, you could go from NYU to Columbia, and then up to Vassar and Bard. Within a two-hour drive of NYU’s Washington Square Park campus, you can find three other, strikingly different types of college atmosphere. NYU’s campus is thoroughly integrated into one of the most famous urban environments in the world, while Columbia has a more sheltered and traditional campus located in the somewhat more subdued Upper West Side. Vassar has a suburban setting in the small city of Poughkeepsie, and in the hamlet of Annandale-on-Hudson, Vassar has rural surroundings.

It’s important to visit, and to visit a variety of campuses, because it’s hard to imagine what life will be like in a place when you’ve never been there. It will also show you that variety exists within the categories we use to group colleges and their campuses. Both Columbia and NYU are considered ‘urban,’ and yet the feeling of Columbia’s collegiate, classical, and enclosed grounds is very different from standing at one corner of Washington Square Park in front of the library at NYU.

Similarly, Vassar and Bard are both lumped into the capacious group of ‘liberal arts colleges,’ but have different feels. The moral is that you’ll have to go see for yourself, but setting remains an important part of the college search.


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