After growing up in St. Louis, I had hoped that I would end up in college in a similarly metropolitan area. Kansas City was my dream – far enough away from home to escape the watchful eyes of my parents, yet near enough that I could go home when I wanted to, and chock full of interesting things to do and see. The fates intervened, in the form of my mother fishing a discarded college recruitment envelope from the trash. The contents of said envelope were offering me what amounted to nearly a full ride scholarship to attend a school in a very small town. I was devastated. What on earth was I going to do with my weekends, when the nearest decent mall was over an hour away, and the best possibilities for entertainment were reduced to a single three-screen movie theater and a brand new Super Wal-Mart?
Over time, I learned to cope, and even enjoy some of the benefits of living in a small college town. After completing two degrees there, I moved on to a different college town to continue my education, and ended up sticking around even after my educational plans petered out. When it really comes down to it, living in a college town isn’t all that bad. In fact, there are even reasons to really enjoy living in a town where the primary source of pretty much everything is a college or university. But it’s not all roses – for every thing I can think of that makes me like college town living, there are an equal number of reasons I want to get out, eventually.
Low Cost of Living
One of my roommates is from Chicago, and back when we were making plans for her to move in with me, she inquired about the rent and utilities at our apartment. When I gave her those numbers, she nearly fell over in shock. We live within walking distance of the campus, and though I know that we have a really great deal for our location, even the more pricey options in the same neighborhood are considerably less than you would pay for something comparable in a major city. Around here, the further you get from campus, the cheaper the living options get. And where, other than a college town, is living in a trailer going to be viewed as something that you do, without much of a social stigma?
Plenty to Do
No, a college town isn’t going to offer the kinds of cultural events that a major city might, but most college towns will at least make an attempt in that direction. Student organizations bring in speakers, performances, and other events, and any college with an art program is bound to be able to support at least a gallery or two, even if the bulk of the pieces are student-produced.
It may be a little odd to say this, but college towns are so much nicer when the students leave. Well, there are some downsides to that three-month span of time when the majority of the students flee back to their homes, but overall, summers in a college town are great. Things quiet down for a few months, the traffic gets easier to deal with, and the locals relax considerably.
That being said, even though I have generally enjoyed living in small college towns for nearly a decade and a half, I’ve also discovered a number of reasons why they annoy me thoroughly, or at least make me want to live somewhere else.
Turnover of Friends
I recently reacquired some belongings that had been at a house that I lived in previously, where the owner was kind enough to keep them for me. When sorting through these, I found a diskette and a phone number list that I hadn’t seen in years. Among the four people represented by those two items, three of them no longer live anywhere near here. The fourth does still live locally, but I never see him. Several years ago, these people were among some of my closest friends. With few exceptions, living in a college town generally means that the people you make friends with, especially students, will eventually graduate and move on. True, this doesn’t always happen (especially not here), but when I look around my circle of friends today, I realize that I haven’t known the majority of them for more than a couple of years, and that in a couple more years, the composition of the group will have shifted once again.
They’re everywhere. And while there are benefits to making friends among some of the college students, there are many more who make me want to run screaming. In my case, it’s usually the ones who really have no place being in college – the guys who are just there to party, squeak through on an easy major, and end up with a job paying the big bucks working for Daddy, a friend of the family, or some other personal connection, and the girls who are just there to party and find themselves a husband. The people who are actually in college to get an education are usually decent to deal with, but the majority of college students really bother me. I’m always so happy when May rolls around and the bulk of them leave for three months. (See what I mean about the summers being a good part of college town living?)
Parking in any town or city is always at a premium, and when you condense a large number of people with cars into a small college town, problems are sure to pop up. In this town, the parking is heavily regulated, and the towing companies make a killing by removing offenders from nearly every lot in town. On weekends when there is a major college or local event, and even sometimes when there isn’t, you can spend a considerable portion of your evening looking for a place where your car won’t be towed or ticketed. And that’s not even getting into the inability of some people to comprehend the parking dynamics of a small parking lot, particularly when the lot in question doesn’t have designated parking spots.
When all is said and done, I suppose the positive aspects of college town living might outweigh the negatives. But on a day like today, when I’m suffering from a serious lack of sleep, thanks to loud students and lack of parking, I’m ready to get out of this town. Later, I’ll go home to my small but affordable apartment, and then head out for a fun evening with my friends, and all will be right in the world.