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This week I’d like to take the opportunity to answer a simple question.  It was a big question for me when I was getting ready to start at Columbia.

I grew up outside of Chicago, in the northwest suburb of Arlington Heights, IL.  About a 45 minute drive from the city, my hometown borders several nature preserves and even areas of farmland.  I like nature.  I like being able to take walks in the woods.  I feel fresher after spending a few hours away from civilization.

When I applied to Columbia, I was living in a different suburb of Chicago, but I still had a lake nearby, as well as a forest preserve to walk in.  The big question for me when I made the decision to enroll at Columbia was: where should I move to?Could I have stayed as far out of the city as I was?  Yes.  But that would have required a brutal one and a half to two hour commute each way, if I were to take the train into the city.  Driving downtown and parking every day adds up quickly, too – you can expect to spend $10 per day to park in the lots located near campus.

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The big question for me was: how close to Columbia should I live?  Should I give up the aspects of the suburbs that I love and be nestled right in the city?  Or should I tolerate a longer commute and make it work?

In the end, I found a location that suits both needs: I’m living right on the border of the city line.  It’s less than a half hour drive to nearly all of the friends, family, and familiar haunts I have out in the suburbs.  There is a forest preserve across the street from where I live.  And my building is walking distance to the CTA Blue Line, where it takes me roughly an hour to take the train downtown, and a little longer to get to class.

So if you’re starting at Columbia and moving in from outside of Chicago, should you live in the outskirts of the city?  I’d say absolutely not.

For a new grad student at Columbia, you should, if it’s possible, prepare to be completely dedicated to the program and the Columbia experience.  You’ll get more out of it for doing so.

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I’m able to commute to classes easily enough, but when it comes to smaller gatherings, spontaneous get-togethers with other students, movie screenings, and other “it’s not essential but it might be really helpful” kinds of events, I can tell you that I am missing out.  Because unless I plan these kinds of events along with class or another downtown obligation, I am always faced with the question of whether I’m willing to sit through hours of commuting to go.  And the majority of the other students in my program don’t have to ask that question: they’re just in.

So if you have good reasons for living outside the city, I say go for it.  I’m actually very happy where I am, even though I know it limits my opportunities at Columbia.  But that’s me.

If you’re a student coming in from out of town, you should live somewhere where you can be right in the thick of things, able to respond to the pulse of Columbia as it beats.

For more perspective on commuting or what it’s like living further out of the city, feel free to e-mail me!