How Far Away Should You Go To College?

GPS and MapHalf of all college students attend schools less than 100 miles from home. Only 20% of students travel 500 or more miles from home. This pretty 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 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

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.

You eliminate the possibility of participating in activities. Our son would have probably never played college baseball in Texas, it’s just too competitive.

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.

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 parent can be in range “just in case something happens” misses the point of going to college to get an education.




Parents may limit how far away you should go to college to maintain their own comfort zone.
  1. […] A total of 14 schools had an average net price of less than $25,000, including three engineering schools, making these excellent candidates for college merit aid. These schools are in the Midwest and the South with the exception of one each in New York and Pennsylvania. It’s not that bargains don’t exist on the West Coast or in the Northeast, there are just going to be more opportunities for bargains in less popular destinations. […]

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