When You Leave Home For College

The movies always seem to portray going-away-to-school the same exact way: some fresh faced kid packing their beat up car with stuff and hitting the road to go away to school. Growing up, I always assumed that when you went away to college, you actually went away—as in out of the state, or even across the country. I had this idea in my head that barely anyone stayed close to home when they went to school. But, obviously, as I grew up and ultimately attended college myself, I learned that was pretty false.

According to a 2011 UCLA survey of incoming freshmen, less than 15.5% of students attend school more than 500 miles away from their homes. The Chronicle of Higher Education also reported that 73% of students attend schools in their home states. So, clearly, the idyllic image of packing the hand-me-down car full of stuff and heading to some far off university for college isn’t exactly the scene that most college students live out.

Still, for those that do relocate, either for undergraduate or graduate school, the process can be daunting, especially since you likely won’t have a group of friends to help you out or make the move with you. You’ll likely be doing it on your own, and that can be pretty scary to think about.

Though I only went a few hours from home when I attended college, I moved clear across the country when I first began my graduate program. I didn’t even visit the city I moved to before I packed a few suitcases and hopped on a one-way plane. (Note: I definitely don’t advise this.) So, now that I’m about to move away to another state yet again, I’ve collected a few pointers and tips along the way to make the process as seamless and stress-free as possible.

Visit the city and the school.

No brainer, right? Wrong. Sometimes, if you’re moving really far away, a visit can be very expensive, or time consuming. When I moved from Florida to California as a broke undergrad, I didn’t really have the means to take a trip out to visit campus before I moved. This time, I made sure I had the funds set aside to take a trip up to my new city and spend a few days there. I visited campus, took a tour, and got to know the neighborhood.

Don’t trust everything you read online.

When it comes to apartment hunting, especially, the reviews online can be very misleading. On one hand, most people who take the time to write a review are the people who had a terrible time and want to complain about it. Loudly. On the other hand, many apartment complexes will actually have their employees go onto those rating sites and talk the place up like it’s paradise, so you have to take everything you read with a grain of salt. When I got to town, I asked everyone about places they lived and where to avoid. The locals really do know best.

Ask to be put in touch with a current student.

The best source for info on the school you’ll be attending are the students that already go there. If you’re going for undergrad, just contact your major department. They likely have a few go-to students that they could put you in touch with. If you’re going for graduate school, your program is likely on the smaller side, and getting a few current student contacts will be as easy as asking your program director. Ask these students about housing, what they like about living in that city, and any tips they might have for a newbie.

If you can’t visit, use Google Street View.

Let’s say you really can’t visit the city before you move there, but you’ve found an apartment complex you like online, and wish you could check out the neighborhood it’s in. Guess what? You totally can. Google Maps has a feature called Street View, and believe it or not, it’s useful for other reasons than just creeping on celebrities and exes. Type in an address, click street view, and take yourself on a virtual tour of the neighborhood. Keep in mind, though, that some of the photos might be a few years old. Just check the date in the top left-hand corner.

And most importantly of all, GET CAMPUS CADDIE. Your safer and simpler college experience.