Growth, horizons, and wellbeing: Should I study in a big city or small town?

Weighing up whether to study amidst the bright lights of a big city or cosy feel of a town can be difficult - we give you the pros and cons.


Asha Bukharbaeva

10/17/20235 min read

When picking the right university to attend, there are many choices one has to make about the type of environment they are looking for. Besides their subject, their college, and many other things, students must also make one other choice: big city or small town.

As a student, the differences between a small versus big city are vast and can greatly impact one’s overall experience. In a small city, students may enjoy a close-knit community and a slower pace of life, which can foster strong relationships, wellbeing, and a sense of belonging. On the other hand, in a big city, students have access to a wide range of cultural events. Diverse career opportunities and a bustling social scene can broaden their horizons and expose them to new perspectives. But what’s ultimately better for a student experience? Here are some helpful pros and cons to help you weigh up big-city and small-town living.

Big city life delivers an abundance of opportunities

The abundance of educational institutions and resources, such as libraries, research facilities, and internship opportunities, is one of the greatest virtues of living student life in a big city. You will always find a fun event to go to, a cool talk to stimulate your mind, or a new thing to try. In terms of your life after university, major global cities often attract renowned professors and industry professionals, providing students with valuable networking opportunities and possibilities to connect with a wide range of people from different spheres. This can improve your perspective on life and help you to understand the wider world better. City life is also characterised as being more vibrant - offering a range of extracurricular activities, such as clubs, sports teams, and artistic communities, allowing students to grow and nurture themselves outside of academics. In short, life is wider in a big city.

Accessibility, stress, pollution and costs plague big cities

However, one of the big drawbacks to cities is the high cost of living. Rent, groceries, and transportation expenses tend to be higher in urban areas, which can put a strain on student budgets. Another thing to consider is commuting to university. It is often expected that student accommodations are located close to universities. City institutions tend to be housed in sprawling concrete jungles; sometimes spread diffusely across the city. Sometimes, students have to commute to their universities to attend classes and lectures, which can be time-consuming and depleting, potentially impacting both your mood, and derivatively, your academic performance. It might mean waking up at an unseasonably early time to drag yourself to a lecture, after having been out late socialising at a bar the night before.

Additionally, the fast-paced nature of city life can sometimes be overwhelming and lead to increased stress levels for students, particularly those who haven’t lived in an environment of that scale before. Mental health problems are more prevalent in urban areas. The fast pace of life, hyperabundance of possibilities of things to see and do, along with limited empty or green space can have a detrimental effect. On a physical health front, some people may also be sensitive to pollution in big cities, particularly in those with a heavy dependency on cars.

It is important for students to consider their own well-being and ability to cope with the demands of city life before making a decision on where to attend university. Taking time to evaluate the potential impact on your own mental health, and whether you flourish amidst busyness, can help engender a balanced and fulfilling college experience.

Small towns provide community, authenticity, and space

When it comes to small-town life the situation is the inverse. Small cities often have a stronger sense of community and belonging amongst the students and faculty. Closed-campus universities offer a more intimate and tight-knit environment where students can easily form close friendships and connections with their peers. Students also may find more support from locals, including neighbors, business owners, and community leaders, Additionally, small towns often provide a quieter and less hectic atmosphere, allowing students to focus more on their studies. What’s more, smaller cities may have lower living costs and less traffic congestion, making it easier to navigate and afford daily expenses.

Cosy communities may create limitations later

While big cities often offer a wide range of opportunities from new technology to a cosmopolitan society, these possibilities are more limited in smaller towns. Job opportunities, especially in specific fields, may be scarce within small towns, potentially requiring students to relocate after completing their studies. Some smaller towns may be more inclusive and welcoming to newcomers, while others could be more insular or resistant to change. That’s why a big portion of students’ experiences are in the hands of the town’s limited options.

The case of London

When it comes to the United Kingdom, many students dream of studying in London, the ultimate big city. Living and studying at London’s leading universities is highly romanticized in the media and amongst students across the UK, Europe, and the world. In reality, there are a lot of difficulties that come with all of the opportunities that London offers.

Most London universities are spread out around the city, so if having a campus atmosphere is important to you, London may not be an ideal location to get your degree. Commuting around the city can be very energy and time-consuming, the cost of living increasing each year and many many other factors make students feel less at ease when studying compared to their peers from small university cities in the UK.

Smaller British towns can be enriching in different ways

By contrast, choosing a university in Oxford, Cambridge, or Durham, where the main focuses of the towns are based around university campuses offers a completely different student experience. However, students who choose closed-campus universities possess different frustrations. The lack of things to do and places to go in your free time often motivates them to visit bigger cities over weekends and breaks.

Conclusion: Figure out your fit

Ultimately, both small and big cities have their own unique charm and appeal depending on student’s personal preferences and priorities. What is important is considering all of these aspects and how they align with your individual preferences and needs before making a decision to live in a certain city for a few years.