Alex Heighington didn't look through campus brochures to peruse programs or co-op opportunities. For her, it was all about the location.
"I had no idea what I wanted to take, so it was all about getting away," says the 22-year-old from Red Deer, Alta., who had never been east of Quebec.
She started at the University of Prince Edward Island in 2011 after applying based on the vacation stories of her high-school English teacher.
"He told me about his vacation in PEI and how it's just beautifully calm, just an amazing place. How everybody should see it," explains Ms. Heighington.
And while the red-brick buildings, stone pathways and elm trees of UPEI's campus have the palpable charm Ms. Heighington was looking for, she admits her initial ideas of going away to university on PEI were somewhat romanticized.
"I guess I wasn't expecting it to be as small-town as it is," she says of the university with a full-time student population of only 4,400. But she adds quickly, "Not that that's a bad thing at all because I love the small-town feel now."
Selecting a campus location can be part of what makes a productive and positive experience for students, says Melinda Giampietro of Options Solutions Education Consultants.
"It comes down to three things: place, program and personality," she explains. But if location is a priority, she warns that there are many internal and external factors to consider no matter whether the campus is in a big city, small town, or nestled on an island.
- Am I ready to be far from home?
- Will I be bored in a more rural or secluded setting?
- Do I crave anonymity?
- Do I want to spend four years doing co-ops and networking in this location?
- What will be my most academically productive environment?
Urban Campus 1
These campuses are integrated into the fabric of the city, in a downtown location.
Students interested in the hustle and bustle of a large, urban setting in a downtown core might consider this location. Ms. Giampietro says many students thrive in this environment, from those who want to access everything from museums or nightclubs steps from campus, to those who crave the anonymity they can enjoy off-campus.
But productivity is a major item to consider. The urban setting is full of distractions, so it's important to assess whether you can separate school life from urban life without feeling like you've missed out on either, Ms. Giampietro says.
Urban Campus 2
These universities are located in an urban centre, but the campus is outside the downtown core and often functions as its own mini-city.
This campus life may provide the right balance for the student who wants to access the urban setting of a university, but likes the idea of a more remote location. In the case of students who may feel distracted by the downtown core, the more isolated campus may allow them to dedicate their campus life to education, but still have the option to access all that the city has to offer.
Which university is right for you?
These schools are in an area with a small population and/ or significantly removed from the nearest urban centre.
While these locations often don't offer a wide selection of art galleries or specialty stores, these campuses can often be idyllic and feel comfortable and safe to students.
Some may find this environment too small, but Ms. Giampietro suggests that the small-town feel of these schools could be one of their best qualities as campus-based activities are a large part of the culture.
"I think a lot of those universities … run on heritage and tradition, those are schools that really use their location as a push to build school culture, to build inclusivity," she says. "Those are the kids that wear their sweatshirts on campus."
Island schools are isolated from the mainland.
Ms. Heighington is entering her last year studying diversity and social justice (formerly women's studies) and anthropology at UPEI and says her time here so far has provided her with a sense of community, a picturesque setting and low housing costs. But there's the issue of a job after graduation.
"[PEI] would be such a great place to live afterward, but it's also hard because of the lack of opportunities for jobs after you graduate," she says. "I hope that one day I can retire there or get a cottage or come back for vacations."
Ms. Giampietro says students who are attending any university should consider what is important to them: Is this location selection about having an adventure outside of one's comfort zone? Is it a way to explore a new region? Or are you better to stay and build the network where you want to live long-term?
More stories from the Canadian University Report