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Things to look into in a city


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Sorry if I'm asking a dumb question here, but this is the first time I'm researching which city to live in. What are some of the most important criteria to look for in a city/town? I know the basic things like appartments, cost of living, and transportation, but from your experiences, what are some other things I need to be looking at? Thanks in advance.

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I did my master's in a town that I absolutely couldn't stand, so I can tell you a few of the things that I wish I had looked into! The biggest thing for me was the political/social environment. The area that I was in was heavily conservative both with respect to social issues and politics. It was also heavily religious (as it was in the "Bible Belt"). As a very liberal atheist, I could never shake the feeling that I didn't fit in. Everyone I met had a very different worldview than I did, and while it's enlightening to see how other people think, I couldn't find very many people to connect with. And I often felt rather uncomfortable as people around me were talking about their gun love and making mildly racist comments, or claiming that evolution is a lie (I was in a biology department). So, this is definitely something I would consider! If you're liberal, don't go somewhere that'll be too conservative for your tastes (and vice-versa).


Along that same vein, if you're a member of a minority race or LGBT, check to see what the attitudes towards your identifying group are in the area. 


The other big thing was public transportation for me, since I didn't have a car. The area was very rural and so it was hard for me to get around, especially to the airport which was over an hour away. If you're looking at small towns, make sure that you know what's actually in the town and what you'll need to travel elsewhere for. 


Those two things (along with cost and standard of living) are big enough for me that they actually greatly influenced my decisions for PhD programs. Other things that are less important but that you may want to consider if you're really on the fence between two similar programs and areas are food (good restaurants if you like to eat out, or good grocery stores if you like to cook), things to do around town (because you'll want a life outside of work, at least on the weekends-- look for theaters if you like plays, museums if you like art, etc.), and climate/weather (does it rain a lot? snow a lot? is it too hot for your tastes?).


If you have pets, you'll also want to assess how pet-friendly the area is. Will you have a hard time finding an apartment if you have pets? Are there dog parks nearby? I have two dogs, so this mattered to me.


Also, consider crime rates if you're moving to a big city. Every big city has good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods, so make sure that your apartment's in the right part of town!

Edited by zabius
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@zabius Thank you so much for your super thorough reply. I heard a lot of people mention public transportation as a big thing, but I've never thought about political and social environment. That's really helpful. Also, I've never lived in the cold climate before (I used to live in a tropical country, then in SoCal ever since I came to the US); I know it's gonna be hard to deal with cold and long winter but it seems like I don't have much choice since I consider most of the US (apart from SoCal and Florida) cold.

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I did highly unscientific poll of grad students in my program (all but two of us came to the Midwest from another part of the US or another country). Here are some things they'd suggest considering:


If you are considering living in student housing, how does the cost/condition/convenience factor compare to living off-campus?

If you do not already have a car, can you get around town without one? (Tip: look into whether or not the school makes bus passes available to students as part of fees)

What is the social climate of the surrounding area like? (Is it conservative? Liberal? A "party school"? A small town? Large city?)

Where do most grad students in your program live? What are there suggestions or complaints?

How prepared are you for a physical climate different than the one in which you currently live?

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