Do Children Need to Go Out of State for the Real College Experience?

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College is an unforgettable time for most of us — it’s where we come into our own, begin to carve unique paths and form lasting memories and relationships. Many adults fondly reminisce about their college years, cherishing the freedom, independence, reinvention and fun.

But is this experience reserved for those who attend out-of-state schools? Must it begin in a dorm room far away, or can children have the same transformative experience by attending an in-state college or even living at home? As a former admissions officer who has observed both perspectives, I can confidently say that children can enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience no matter how far they are from home. Let’s explore this further.

Related: What I Learned as a First-Generation College Student

Redefining the college experience

Let’s first define the “real college experience.” It encompasses three fundamental components: students living autonomously, forming new connections beyond childhood bonds and navigating their independence through self-directed decision-making and learning from mistakes. When we consider these elements, it becomes obvious that students can experience that special transformative college journey without putting hundreds of miles between them and their parents. In fact, sometimes students still rely on their parents even when separated by hundreds of miles, which I can personally attest to. As a college student, I would often bring my laundry home to wash all the way from Boston to Connecticut. On the other hand, even a two-mile distance can provide that necessary sense of freedom and autonomy.

As I’ve often advised students, the campus environment is a novel experience for everyone, regardless of their college. The sense of wonder and excitement is palpable for any student taking their first steps onto campus. They are surrounded by peers from diverse backgrounds, each with their own stories, perspectives and aspirations. The campus is a hub of activity, with countless clubs, organizations and events catering to various interests. Whether it’s joining a sports team, participating in a cultural festival or volunteering for a cause, the campus is always abuzz, and students have many ways to get involved.

Further, it’s also a place of growth and self-discovery. Away from the familiarity of home and without their parents, students are pushed outside of their comfort zones and encouraged to take risks, try new things and challenge themselves. This process of self-exploration and personal development is an integral part of the college experience and isn’t exclusive to out-of-state students.

Related: 5 Reasons College Is Worth It for Entrepreneurs

The advantages of staying close to home

Staying closer to home for college has several advantages. A major benefit to attending an in-state college is the cost. Tuition costs jump from a few thousand to $40,000 when attending an out-of-state school. This is especially important considering the “freshman year flounder,” where some students get caught up in the excitement of newfound freedom. They may not take academics as seriously and need to retake courses, prolonging their education by a year or so and, thus, increasing costs for their families. On the other hand, with in-state tuition, students can take advantage of lower costs during their first couple of years of college and then transfer to an out-of-state school to continue living the college dream for their final years.

Staying closer to home also allows for a smoother transition into the responsibilities and challenges of college life. This can be particularly valuable for those who are introverted or haven’t had extensive experience living independently. Encouraging your child to become independent and leave comfort behind is crucial, but pushing them to dive headfirst into living alone in a different state might be too much too soon. Attending a school closer to home will allow them to gradually step out of their comfort zone at their own pace, with the emotional support of family nearby when they feel overwhelmed. Moreover, while out-of-state Ivy League schools can offer more global degrees, students hoping to begin their careers in their home base may find it easier to network and access relevant career opportunities by attending an in-state college. To decide which option is best for your child and feasible for you financially, It’s important to have these conversations seriously and first understand your child’s needs and goals.

Related: Should Your Entrepreneurial Child Go to College?

Setting boundaries: The key to the college experience

On a final note, regardless of whether your child moves thousands of miles away or stays at home, the only way for them to truly have that explorative college experience is if you respect their independence and set healthy boundaries. While it can be challenging to watch them leave the nest, giving them the freedom to fully embrace this part of their lives is essential for their growth. It’s important to allow them to make their own mistakes while letting them know you’re there to support them from a distance, even if they’re just in the next room. Create this distance by avoiding micromanaging their decisions and resisting the urge to constantly check in on them. Trust your child to navigate their college experience and discover their true potential as independent, emerging adults.

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