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I wrote a post on my careerblog, “Best Cities for College Grads and Young Professionals,” based on the work of urban expert Richard Florida, best-selling author of  Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where You Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life.

Florida posits that metro areas dominated by a “creative class” of high-tech knowledge workers, artists, musicians, gays/lesbians, and “high bohemians” foster an open, dynamic personal and professional atmosphere that correlates with high economic development.

Florida says living in the right place significantly affects one’s happiness, as much as choosing a career or a spouse. To choose a city, he suggests matching one’s lifestage and personality with a city’s physical aesthetics, social networks, job opportunities and services.  Florida’s “Who’s Your City?” website offers resources for selecting a place to live: Singles Map, Creative Class Map, Personality Maps, New Geography of Work, Real Estate Map, and Mega Regions of N. America.

My careerblog post explores “best cities” rankings for college grads and young single professionals, using Florida’s paradigm. But what does this have to do with choosing a college?

Many cities on “best” lists are large metros with many universities, or actual “college towns.” So NYC, Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, Minneapolis, Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle are on many lists, but so are college towns like Austin TX, Madison WS, and Raleigh NC. Next Generation Consulting has identified many other college towns for its “next gen” hotspot list. To name a few: Eugene OR, Ann Arbor MI, Gainesville FL, Colorado Springs CO and Durham NC.

These metro areas share Florida’s “creative class” characteristics. In college towns, that stimulating atmosphere is likely partially driven by not only the student/alumni population, but the academic, research, healthcare and technology complex that is an outgrowth of major universities.

In my consulting practice, I find that many clients want colleges in “creative class” metro areas. Here in North Jersey, I may  be observing the sophisticated, cosmopolitan attitudes of teens in our area, who have been hopping the train to “go into the City” throughout high school.

When choosing a college, these students often reflect a Northeast bias, but also a city-bias. Many will not consider excellent, highly ranked schools in rural areas or even mid-sized cities that they do not perceive as–for want of a better word—“next generation.” They can’t articulate it, but Florida’s “creative class” explains what they are seeking in the environment surrounding their future college.

This is unfair to thousands of terrific schools that don’t happen to be plunked down in the middle of, say, Boston. I explain to my clients that every college, even with a student body of less than 2,000, is in and of itself a “creative class” mecca. When surrounded by some of the greatest minds in the country, who cares that beyond the campus walls there are only rolling hills and a few gas stations? Some students “get” that, but many believe they must have proximity to a “happening” metro area to “feel alive.”

Fair enough. It is crucial for high school students to be in touch with everything they’re looking for in a college, not only academic programs but campus setting and geography. It’s a personal thing, and it has more longterm impact than we realize when making the college decision.

Students become connected to the area where they go to college. If the school’s surrounding area has jobs, it may be easier to find internships, build professional networks, and land one’s entry level job in the college’s metro area. It is familiar and comfortable for the student who has already spent four years there. The student has connections among faculty, undergrads, grad students and alumni who have  chosen to stay in the local area for further study or career pursuits.

So choosing a college could be choosing where you will live as a college grad and young professional. Put that together with Florida’s premise that living in the right place is pivotal to a person’s happiness. We always knew college choice was a key life decision, but this adds another dimension to that choice–not only the what but the where.

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