Because she seemed most excited about colleges with lots of spirit and thriving Greek life, I recommended some of the big, public, Southern schools, places like University of Georgia and Florida State. Her voice notably perked up when we started chatting about the idea of living in a big house with her sorority sisters, and getting to participate in hundred-year-old traditions. But she also seemed hesitant about actually applying to these schools.
When I asked her about it, she explained that she loved living in California and knew that she wanted to live in California long-term, and she worried that spending four years in South Carolina or Alabama would make it harder for her to come back home. My first reaction was to share my own story of growing up in the Bay Area and spending my college years in Chicago, of coming home before leaving for grad school in Boston, of coming back and putting down long-term roots in California. But my story is just one anecdote, and it made me curious to see what the data said.
A 2018 study by the Wall Street Journal and Emsi digs into the data about where students go to college and where they move after graduation, and comes up with a few big takeaways. First, 61% of community college graduates stay within 50 miles of their school after graduation compared to 40% of state university alums, but state university grads tend to stay within state lines. Students who graduate from elite schools (it’s unclear how they define “elite”) move, on average, 700 miles from their alma mater, typically to large, coastal cities. And unsurprisingly, students who do their coursework primarily online are the most likely to live 500 or more miles away from their university.
So yes, there is some evidence that people stay close to where they went to college, but more so for community college students than any other group. And there is definitely evidence that state and regional universities have gotten increasingly good at developing relationships with local companies to strengthen internship and job opportunities for their graduates. San Jose State University here in the Bay Area is an excellent example of this, connecting their graduates to Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. In fact, there are more SJSU graduates working at Apple than from any other university, including Stanford and Berkeley. So there is something to be said for going to college in the place you’d like to eventually work.
But there are also a lot of benefits to leaving home for college, like meeting people who are different from you, or getting to experience a part of the country or world that you’ve always been curious about but aren’t sure you want to commit to permanently. And you may find that you feel at home in this new place, or that being away from home is easier than you anticipated.
All of which is to say that where you want to end up eventually can play a role in your college search, but it doesn’t have to. And you may find that where you want to live changes over time, and going to college away from home could give you the chance to evolve. I’m generally of the view that it’s good to try new things, and I’d rather keep doors open than close them. But as with everything in applying to college, it’s a personal choice that you get to make. And as with everything in life, there’s a lot of time to change your mind and try something different.