This post is for anyone who lives within a twenty mile radius of where I’m sitting right now (which, I hope you can intuit, is on the Tufts campus in Medford, Massachusetts).
I hail from Belmont, Mass, a town exactly 4.1 miles away from my alma mater. Yes, that means with a day free of inclement weather and a PowerBar, I could conceivably walk home from Tufts for Thanksgiving break – or, you know, a Tuesday snack. When I was drafting the list of colleges to which I would apply, distance from home instantly became one of the most frequent topics of discussion. I grew up in an area with many amazing options when it came to higher education, and come senior year of high school this felt a little bit more like a curse than a blessing. So what if I like Tufts? I found myself thinking. One of the most important parts of the whole college experience is moving far away from home… isn’t it?
As it turns out, the answer to that question is no, and I wish there had been someone to tell me that when I was 17 (ugh, I know my mom is going to read this and text me “I did! I told you that!”). If I had internalized that fact, I could have used my time more wisely, thinking about far more important aspects of the colleges I was considering – you know, like programs, people, and fit. So here I am, to offer a bit of insight into the (un)importance of the number of miles between your current home and your nebulous future one so that you may focus your thoughts elsewhere.
College is different. This is true no matter where you go. Heck, college could be in the treehouse in your own backyard and it would be different. You are going to have endless options of fascinating classes to explore, thousands of new people from all over the world to meet, and extracurricular opportunities galore to take advantage of. Your schedule will be completely turned upside down, your parents won’t be around to ask you about your day at the dinner table, and you’re going to get involved in at least one thing that makes your friends from high school say: “Wait, what?!” A college’s ability to transform you has to do with the people that populate its campus and the intellectual excitement that fills its classrooms. It has little to do with how long it takes to drive from your home to its gates (which in my case is 14 minutes if there’s no traffic. 21 minutes if I stop at Dunkin, which, let’s face it, I always do).
During my freshman year at Tufts, I told myself I wouldn’t return to Belmont until Thanksgiving. I felt homesick (yes, you can feel homesick from 4.1 miles away, please stop laughing) and I was often tempted to have my sister come hang out with me, but I stuck it out until Thanksgiving. By then, I felt that Tufts was a place that was very much my own. It felt as far away from what I knew as any other beautiful college campus would, and it had already begun to feel like a home away (albeit not far away) from home.
After Thanksgiving, my perspective on the idea of distance had changed. So what if my commute was a quick drive instead of an expensive plane ride? I could still feel my independence growing by the minute. And I finally realized how wonderful it was to be a college student in Boston! I embraced this place – a young city with quirky suburbs and endless places to explore – in a way that felt different and more grown up than I had before. I hadn’t really known my city at all, as it turned out, no matter how many times I’d traveled in with my family. And being close to home actually did switch from curse to blessing. Do not underestimate the power of a home-cooked meal during a particularly stressful week of final exams, my friends. When I graduated from Tufts, I was delighted to realize that my friends from high school were moving back to Boston and my friends from Tufts were sticking around. I had the best of both worlds, it turned out, and I’m so glad I decided to get over the idea of distance as a measure of growth.
No matter where you go, college will force you out of your comfort zone. Focus on the people, the academic programs and, most importantly, the energy of a place during your college search. Because you are going to grow and change so much in these four years, and this is true even if you already know how to navigate the T.