By Barbara Hewitt
Money Magazine recently released their annual list of the “Best Places to Live” in the US. The list ranks 746 cities with populations between 50,000 and 300,000 based on criteria such as salaries, unemployment rates, housing accessibility, and the quality of the school system. You can see the list at http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/bplive/2010/top100. (Who knew that Eden Prairie, MN, ranked number one, was such a gem?)
Of course, there are many factors that go into deciding where to locate when you graduate from college. Being near family and friends, living in a place in which you are familiar and comfortable, or enjoying a particular climate are all valid reasons to focus your search in a particular region. However, I often think that new graduates (who typically could be very flexible when deciding where to settle down) limit their career choices unnecessarily by placing too much emphasis on the “where” and not the “what” of their first jobs. I have seen many students turn down amazing opportunities because the positions were not in their preferred locations.
I also speak from personal experience. When I was graduating from my Masters program back in 1991 we were in a recession, much like today. Jobs were tight as colleges and universities cut their budgets. My “ideal” job at the time involved working in the career center of a small college. I absolutely was not going to consider residential life positions, as the thought of moving back into a dorm and being on call 24 hours a day was not one I relished. However, as any new student affairs professional can tell you, residential life jobs are much more abundant than career center positions in any given year. My hope was to work on the East or West Coast… I didn’t really care where as long as I wasn’t “stuck” in the vast expanse of the Midwest. I’m not quite sure why I was so determined to avoid the Midwest, as I had no experience with the area. I grew up in upstate New York and attended undergraduate and graduate school in Pennsylvania. Outside of a brief study abroad stint in Spain, I had not lived anywhere else. Nevertheless, opportunities were scarce, and I eventually accepted a position at the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio. Not only was I living in a state that was nowhere on my desired list, but the position involved serving full-time as the Assistant Director of Career Services AND a residence hall director for a dormitory. Clearly, this position was not exactly what I had envisioned upon graduation.
So…how did it all turn out? Great! I loved working at a small school and found it very easy to get involved in the campus community right away because of the school’s size and the fact that I was able to get to know students both in a career context as well as more personally in the residence hall. While a live in position was not something that I actively sought, I realized that residential experience is extremely helpful for any student affairs professional to possess, and managing a staff of five resident assistants provided me with a wonderful supervisory experience. I really enjoyed the town of Wooster itself, (Ohio ended up being a terrific place to live), and I quickly became involved in community service working at a local women’s shelter. Granted, I did eventually tire of living with over 100 college students, but on the plus side I had free room and board for two years – a definite advantage for a new professional with college loans to repay.
The take away for me (and hopefully you!) is that it never hurts to at least be willing to consider a variety of locations during your job search. You will have many more opportunities available and may discover a new place that you never considered before but with which you could fall in love. Maybe Columbia, MD (#2 on the Money list) or Newton, MA (#3 on the list) is just the place for you!