BLOG: All Things Higher Ed

Find fit, belonging, and community in smaller college towns

For prospective college students from larger cities, the idea of attending college in a rural setting may cause feelings of doubt, uncertainty and even fear. However, there are many benefits of attending college in a smaller, more rural community that students should consider before making a decision about where to pursue their education. In this post, we explore the advantages of attending college in a rural setting, with a focus on finding community, fitting in, and socialization — particularly for first-generation students.

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Campus setting: rural vs. urban

When it comes to choosing a campus setting, there are typically two main options: rural or urban. Rural campuses are located in small towns or remote areas, while urban campuses are in bigger cities. While each campus setting has its own advantages and disadvantages, it's important to consider what you value most and what you want to get out of your college experience.

Benefits of attending college in a smaller community

Belonging and fit

For many students, attending college in a more rural community can provide a sense of belonging and fit that may be more difficult to find on other types of campuses. In a smaller community, students may feel more connected to their peers and professors, and may have an easier time finding friends with similar interests. This can be especially beneficial for first-generation and international college students, who may feel more at-ease and better supported in a smaller, close-knit community.

Comfort and identity

Attending college in a rural setting can also provide a sense of comfort and identity that may be harder to find on bigger, more urban campuses. For example, if you grew up in a rural area or have always felt more at home in smaller communities, attending college in a rural setting may feel more natural and comfortable for you. 

For students from larger, more metropolitan areas, rural campuses can provide an opportunity to step out of their comfort zone and explore new ways of living and thinking. In like fashion, "city students" have the opportunity to impart lessons learned from their background and experiences with other students. After all, learning from the diverse experiences of others is what higher education is all about.

Diversity and finding community

Contrary to popular belief, rural campuses can be as diverse and inclusive as urban campuses. While the student body may not be as large or as varied, there are still plenty of opportunities to connect with people from different backgrounds and cultures. In fact, attending college in a rural community may even make it easier to find community and connect with others who share your interests or identity. For example, if you're interested in outdoor activities or environmentalism, you may more readily find like-minded individuals in a smaller setting.

Social fit and connection

Attending college in a smaller community can also provide a stronger social fit and sense of connection. It's easier to get to know people and form meaningful relationships. Additionally, more personal interactions with professors outside the classroom can help foster a stronger sense of place and greater engagement in the overall process of learning and growing.

Socialization and adulting

An under-appreciated aspect of attending any type of in-person, residential school — be it rural, urban or suburban — are the invaluable opportunities for personal growth, socialization, and yes, adulting. It's true that living in a smaller community can require more self-sufficiency and responsibility, as there may be fewer amenities or resources available than in an urban environment. However, this can also help students develop important life skills and prepare for life after college. Additionally, rural campuses often offer unique social opportunities, such as bonfires, barn dances, or other outdoor activities that can be fun, educational and hard to find anywhere else.

As we've shown, attending college in a smaller, more rural setting can provide numerous benefits for prospective students: a sense of belonging and fit, comfort and identity, diversity and finding community, social fit and connection, and lots of opportunities for socialization and adulting. While urban campuses may offer different advantages, it's important to consider what you want from and value most about your college experience. Choose a campus culture that aligns with your goals and interests. Whether you're a first-generation college student or simply looking for a different kind of college experience, attending college in a rural community can be a rewarding and life-changing decision.

Dig deeper: Check out some of the ways students discover — and create — community at Central Michigan University.

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