How to Pick a College: Is a Big City Right for You?

Deciding how to pick a college is extremely stressful. I still remember my senior year of high school, when I was frantically applying to schools, writing essays, and visiting campus’ nationwide. A huge part of my decision was whether to attend a traditional state school or a big city school.

In the end, I ended up choosing a city school, and now attend university in Chicago, IL! While I love the choice I ended up making, I wish I would’ve had someone to tell me the pros/cons of attending a city school beforehand. Without further ado, let’s explore how to pick a college.

How to Pick a College: Is a Big City Right for You?

The Good Things About College in a Big City

First, let’s talk about the good things that come along with attending a big city school. I could probably go on for hours because I love my school + big cities so much 😉

Fast + Fun Lifestyle

Living in a big city honestly never gets boring. There is never a time where I feel like there is nothing to do because I can always hop on the train/get an Uber and go downtown. Living in a city means that there is constantly concerts to attend, museums to visit, etc.


The diversity you get to experience when living in a big city is probably my most favorite part. Not only are people from all different walks of life, but also all different ages, etc. Attending college in a big city is like sharing your college experience with a million other people, all somewhat different than yourself. This is awesome, for me, because there are always new things to learn and new people to meet.


I really think that attending college in a big city like New York or Chicago is for a certain type of person. Because city schools have a lot of commuter students, the campus itself can sometimes feel dead. This sometimes forces me (and other students) to go back to our apartments, or “do our own thing.”

Basically, living in a city has made me feel like I am a lot more independent than other people my age. I don’t really see my university as my home base while in college, but just a place I go to attend classes.

Growth + Opportunities

Perhaps the most valuable part of attending school in a city is the multitude of opportunities, internships, mentors, and career choices available to you.

Almost everyone I know that attends my school has had at least one internship in their undergraduate years. Because you are in such a buzzing location, opportunities for your career + personal growth are constantly presenting themselves. There are also tons of creative and up-and-coming people/businesses in big cities, which I love!

The Bad Things About College in a Big City

Like anything, there are some downsides to attending school in a big city. It’s a give and take!

Not So Typical

I’m not even sure if I would consider this a negative or not, but attending college in a big city is going to be completely different than anything you ever imagined university to be. Nothing you have seen from movies/media growing up will really correlate to what attending a big city school is like.

For example, at my school at least, greek life (sororities and fraternities) are not big. A very small percentage of undergraduate students at my school are involved in greek life, where some state schools have a majority of students involved.

There is also no football team at my school, as I previously mentioned, so I don’t get to attend stereotypical college game-day parties or tailgates.

School Spirit

Don’t get me wrong, I have tons of pride about where I attend school. However, I feel like it’s a lot different than the “in your face” pride that I see at other schools. Because we don’t have huge sports teams, our school spirit is a little less apparent, and it can feel a little isolating at times. There is definitely still school spirit at city schools, but it is expressed in very different ways than more traditional schools.


I only lived in the dorms of my college for my freshman year. After that, it was apartment living for me. The truth is, a lot of universities cannot accommodate the large number of students that they attract because space is limited in big cities. Because of this, a lot of students live in apartments/houses throughout the city and have to commute to school.

Oh, how I miss my freshman days and being able to roll out of bed and be across campus in class 10 minutes later 🙂

Do you have any other tips on how to pick a college?

  • Gina Ritchie

    I work in a school that serves students with learning disabilities. This is one of the factors that we often discuss as we help students consider their options. I think it is important that the community is large enough that they can find a peer group but not so rage that they get lost. This is a delicate balance. I think visiting colleges is really important.

    • Emma Lenhart

      I totally agree that everyone should visit colleges before thinking about attending. It’s super important to get a feel for the school and make sure you are comfortable. Thanks for reading, Gina!

  • Good thoughts – my daughter is starting to look at colleges and I shared this article with her.

    • Emma Lenhart

      Thanks, Maryn! Best of luck to her.

  • I love this post! I can totally relate to this as someone who currently attends University in Dallas (no football team here either and Greek life isn’t a big deal). But I love being able to go to museums and experience a heap of culture at every fingertip around campus. 🙂 Choosing a college in the city definitely isn’t the choice for everyone and I like how you laid out both the pros and cons.

    • Emma Lenhart

      Thanks for your comment Anshula 🙂 I agree that it’s not for everyone…but for some, it’s great!

  • Sarah Gallo

    Great breakdown! I have a love/hate relationship with having gone to school in NYC. Definitely a well thought out article!

    • Emma Lenhart

      Thank you Sarah! I actually was looking at attending school in NYC, too.

  • Jessica Dolnick

    I can relate to all of these. I’m glad I chose a big school though. I think it opened up my mind a lot more.

    • Emma Lenhart

      That’s awesome, Jessica. I agree on my part.

  • Stacey Eckert

    I wish I had been able to read this post when I was a senior in high school, it would have made my decision so much easier!

    • Emma Lenhart

      Aw, I’m sorry Stacey!

  • Great post! There are definitely pros and cons.


    • Emma Lenhart

      Thanks Allie 🙂

  • Mummytimestwo

    So true, it’s all about choosing the place that is right for the individual person. What is right for one may not necessarily be for another.

    • Emma Lenhart

      Exactly! I tell my friends that all the time.

  • I love how you broke down the differences. There are definitely positive and negatives to both! It’s an important decision and you have some great things to think about!

    Keep smiling!
    Molly |

    • Emma Lenhart

      Thank you, Molly! 🙂

  • Great article especially a true Chicago girl born and bred I went the traditional route to say goodbye to all the hustle bustle 🙂

    xo, Jessica || The Petite Diaries

    • Emma Lenhart

      That’s awesome, Jessica! Good for you 🙂

  • Blossom Onunekwu

    I wasn’t even paying attention to how big the city was…maybe I should have, though since Macon ain’t poppin lol.

    • Emma Lenhart

      Haha! 🙂