The movies always seem to portray going-away-to-school the same exact way: some fresh faced kid packing their beat up car with stuff and hitting the road to go away to school. Growing up, I always assumed that when you went away to college, you actually went away—as in out of the state, or even across the country. I had this idea in my head that barely anyone stayed close to home when they went to school. But, obviously, as I grew up and ultimately attended college myself, I learned that was pretty false.

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According to a 2011 UCLA survey of incoming freshmen, less than 15.5% of students attend school more than 500 miles away from their homes. The Chronicle of Higher Education also reported that 73% of students attend schools in their home states. So, clearly, the idyllic image of packing the hand-me-down car full of stuff and heading to some far off university for college isn’t exactly the scene that most college students live out.

Still, for those that do relocate, either for undergraduate or graduate school, the process can be daunting, especially since you likely won’t have a group of friends to help you out or make the move with you. You’ll likely be doing it on your own, and that can be pretty scary to think about.

Though I only went a few hours from home when I attended college, I moved clear across the country when I first began my graduate program. I didn’t even visit the city I moved to before I packed a few suitcases and hopped on a one-way plane. (Note: I definitely don’t advise this.) So, now that I’m about to move away to another state yet again, I’ve collected a few pointers and tips along the way to make the process as seamless and stress-free as possible.

Visit the city and the school.

No brainer, right? Wrong. Sometimes, if you’re moving really far away, a visit can be very expensive, or time consuming. When I moved from Florida to California as a broke undergrad, I didn’t really have the means to take a trip out to visit campus before I moved. This time, I made sure I had the funds set aside to take a trip up to my new city and spend a few days there. I visited campus, took a tour, and got to know the neighborhood.

Don’t trust everything you read online.
When it comes to apartment hunting, especially, the reviews online can be very misleading. On one hand, most people who take the time to write a review are the people who had a terrible time and want to complain about it. Loudly. On the other hand, many apartment complexes will actually have their employees go onto those rating sites and talk the place up like it’s paradise, so you have to take everything you read with a grain of salt. When I got to town, I asked everyone about places they lived and where to avoid. The locals really do know best.

Ask to be put in touch with a current student.

The best source for info on the school you’ll be attending are the students that already go there. If you’re going for undergrad, just contact your major department. They likely have a few go-to students that they could put you in touch with. If you’re going for graduate school, your program is likely on the smaller side, and getting a few current student contacts will be as easy as asking your program director. Ask these students about housing, what they like about living in that city, and any tips they might have for a newbie.

If you can’t visit, use Google Street View.

Let’s say you really can’t visit the city before you move there, but you’ve found an apartment complex you like online, and wish you could check out the neighborhood it’s in. Guess what? You totally can. Google Maps has a feature called Street View, and believe it or not, it’s useful for other reasons than just creeping on celebrities and exes. Type in an address, click street view, and take yourself on a virtual tour of the neighborhood. Keep in mind, though, that some of the photos might be a few years old. Just check the date in the top left-hand corner.

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Graduate students may want to live further from campus.
More often than not, the apartments closest to campus are going to be pretty full of undergrads who like to party and be noisy. This isn’t always the most ideal setting for a graduate student. So, while the furnished, all-inclusive, individually leased student apartments might be absolutely perfect for someone just starting out as an undergrad, it might be worth it for a graduate student to look a mile or two away from the campus.

In my case, I noticed that many of the complexes a bit further from campus were populated mostly by graduate students, and most residents and locals commented on how much quieter these areas were than those complexes nearest to school. Also, as a graduate instructor, I never wanted to risk ending up having one of my students as a next-door neighbor.

Check out crime reports.
This one is my Mom’s favorite tip. It’s absolutely a smart idea to look up crime reports within a mile or two of campus and/or your chosen apartment complex. You can’t always make a clear judgement of how safe a city is just by looking at it. As a single woman moving to a new city alone, it is super important to me to know what goes on in the neighborhood I’m moving to. This way, I can take necessary precautions, or even move to a different area that is safer. Area Vibes is an interesting tool to hear from current residents and get an idea for what kind of place the neighborhood really is.

 

So, whether you’re moving down the road or across the country, you can feel better equipped to take that next step in your life and start somewhere new. The honorable mentions on this list might be the most important, though: find the best donut shop, locate the best coffee (for me, it’s The Golden Roast in Knoxville, TN), and of course, the best pizza delivery. Once you’ve got those figured out, you’ve pretty much got it all together. Happy travels!