By Sarah Wright
Point: Location Doesn't Matter
It doesn't matter whether you go to school in West Virginia or San Francisco - what matters is the quality of education you receive. Let's say you want to major in industrial design, and you're also an avid skier. You'd be doing yourself a disservice to select a school in Colorado without any sort of industrial design program, but with easy access to a world-famous ski slope. There will be plenty of opportunities to ski in your lifetime, but you'll only go to college once.
Focusing too much on location can also cause students to overlook some important aspects of college life. If you're a die-hard Republican, you probably won't want to go to a school that describes itself as a 'liberal liberal arts school,' even if it is located in a quaint Midwestern town. Similarly, a dorm with a beautiful ocean view is a great idea - but not if that dorm is a run-down concrete box with no air conditioning. Location only tells part of the story of college life.
Counterpoint: Location Matters - A Lot
The other side of this coin is that location has a huge impact on day-to-day life for a student. If you hate busy urban environments, you're probably not going to be happy with a school that's smack dab in the middle of a busy city, with high-rise dorms and academic buildings located right next to major roads. Similarly, if variety of entertainment and access to urban conveniences are a necessity for you, you're not going to want to move to a small college town with nothing but trees and deer for 50 miles.
No matter what the fine details of a school are - even if it's the best school for the field you're interested in - your life will be impacted in some way or another by where you live. Even if it's a matter of climate or culture, colleges don't exist on an equal footing academically, and they don't exist on an even plane environmentally, either.
In reality, it doesn't make sense to go all one way or the other. The school itself should matter a great deal in your decision, but it's somewhat dishonest to suggest that a school's character isn't at all influenced by its location. Your experience at a school will depend on a lot of factors, of which location is one.
It's reasonable to say that you won't consider schools in a certain region, or that you'd prefer to attend a college that's in an urban or suburban location. But romanticizing a school, say, simply because it's located on the beach isn't really smart. You should look at all the factors that make a school what it is, including academic standards, quality of student life and available majors, before making your final decision on where you'll attend college.
You can learn a lot about a school's physical environment through virtual college visits.