How Far Away Should You Go To College?

GPS representing college far from homeOver half of all college students attend schools less than 100 miles from home. Only 16% of students travel 500 or more miles from home. This pretty much matches the preferences expressed by far too many parents and students of wanting to be close enough for them to come home on the weekends if they want to or in case of emergencies. Yeah, I have a problem with that.

Reasons to Stay Close to Home

First, let’s get some exceptions out-of-the-way. For families with a tight budget, travel costs are a real issue in deciding whether or not to attend a college far from home, especially if it involves airfare.

Some students can only afford to attend college if they live at home. However, I suspect that a large portion of this group is made up of students who don’t really understand the possibilities of financial aid.

First generation college students, particularly Hispanics, do much better if they are closer to family support groups. Students with health issues or learning disabilities might also do better with resources they are familiar with.

Then, of course, there are the situations where the perfect fit, the ideal school for you with the best financial aid, just happens to be in your back yard.

But What if Something Happens?

Now to my problem, especially with the parents. The final, last best excuse they have for not encouraging their kids to look at more distance schools is “in case something happens.”

This is understandable but not excusable. I mean, really, in a true emergency, what are the parents going to do? In anything less than a true emergency, as painful as it might be, the kids have to learn to deal with it sometime.

But this is a parental disease of, I suspect, epidemic proportions. When my son was doing his final school visits and actually talking to the coaches, the one question we always got was a variation of how will you feel with your son at a college so far from home. We were anywhere from Minnesota to Virginia and home was at least a two-day drive.

I would think, “you’re kidding right? We just decided to blow significant money traveling so that our family can visit the school and then we would turn around and tell him–just kidding?”

Actually, it wasn’t really that unreasonable of a question since our son is a homeschooled, only child. If any family was a candidate for backing out, according to most people’s expectations, we would certainly fit the bill.

But we had our answer ready. If you can’t be adventurous when you’re 18, then when–once you’re settled down with a job, married, and have two kids?

Money and Opportunities at a College Far from Home

By eliminating colleges based on distance you’re also eliminating your potential geography hook. Schools interested in a more national presence will often offer merit money to those who are from under-represented areas on their campus.

My son was flown to a college in Minnesota for a weekend as a diversity candidate because he was from Texas. The school wanted to expand its reputation outside its state borders and my son was seriously interested.

You eliminate the possibility of participating in activities. Our son would have probably never played college baseball in Texas, it’s just too competitive. Coaches in Wisconsin and Minnesota were actively recruiting him for their schools.

Ultimately, you’re just flat-out eliminating possibilities to reduce the pain of separation. To me, that seems to undermine the whole roots and wings concept of parenting.

I’m not saying it was easy for him to go to a college far from home in Wisconsin. The first month was really hard for him. He was calling almost every day because he was lonely. Those were miserable calls for both of us. Fortunately, baseball kept him going while he found his tribe on campus. He figured it out. And you know those “just in case” emergencies? We’re lucky he didn’t have one. But he was the person who twice took another student to the emergency room as needed. Somehow, they grow up and step up to the situation.

Sure, there are students who have no desire to leave home and are engaged and thriving in their home community. But there are even more who would like to try something different but are understandably fearful of leaving their comfort zone. And it’s a lot easier if mom and dad show confidence in their ability to manage on their own rather than worry them about the possibility of “something happening.”

Given the cost of education, it just makes sense to find the best college opportunities regardless of the location. As you consider your final choices, distance may be one factor in your decision-making. But limiting distance so that parents can be in range “just in case something happens” misses the point of going to college to get an education.

How Far Away Should You Go To College?