Study in the US: Should I attend a rural, suburban or urban university? | Top Universities

Study in the US: Should I attend a rural, suburban or urban university?

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Chloe Lane

Updated Sep 11, 2023



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For many students, location is an important factor to consider when choosing a university. This is especially true in the US, where there are so many universities to choose from: there were over 151 ranked US universities in the most recent QS World University Rankings.

Aside from choosing whether to attend an in-state university or an out-of-state college, you should also consider whether you want to attend a rural, suburban or urban university. 

What are rural, suburban and urban universities?

What are rural, suburban and urban universities?

Rural universities are universities located in and around the countryside. They are generally quieter, campus based and situated near small towns and farms. Universities include the University of Idaho, Cornell University and the University of Mississippi.

Urban universities are located in large cities and are usually not campuses. Universities include Columbia University, the University of Washington, and University of Texas at Austin.

Suburban universities give you the best of both worlds. Located close to large cities but with without all the hustle and bustle, these universities also tend to be campus based. Popular suburban universities include Northwestern University, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Connecticut and Stanford University.

Rural universities: advantages and disadvantages

Rural universities

Free from big city noise, pollution and traffic, rural universities are generally campus based and are located in the countryside or near small towns. Rural universities give students the opportunity to enjoy the natural surroundings and greenery and have a traditional college experience in an often-beautiful campus.

Advantages of attending a rural university

Enjoy green surroundings

A rural college usually offers all kinds of green space on campus, meaning you can enjoy a relaxing walk in the fresh air between lectures. Being surrounded by nature is particularly beneficial for students studying an outdoors related degree, such as agriculture, which these schools often rank highly in.

Close community

Rural universities usually have a strong campus community to make up for a lack in off-campus facilities. They are usually smaller than city-based universities. Being in a smaller space also means you’re likely to run into people more frequently, which makes it easier to build long-lasting friendships and connections. 

Save money

The overall cost of living in a small town is much lower. Electricity, bills and rent are generally a lot cheaper in rural areas in comparison to a big city. A rural university may mean there are fewer distractions to spend your money, making it easier to save.

Disadvantages of attending a rural university

It may be more difficult to find off campus accommodation

Depending on how rural your university is, there may not be a great deal of off-campus accommodation. This may mean that you’ll be living on campus for most of your time at university.  

Might be harder to find internships and part time work

While you may be able to find work on campus, there are generally fewer opportunities for employment in the surrounding area as most jobs are situated in cities.


When the buses only come three times a day, travelling can become a frustrating experience. However, lots of students bring cars to university when studying in a rural campus university, so you might be able to bag a lift from a friend when you need to get to the train station. 

Top rural universities in the US

Urban universities: advantages and disadvantages

Urban universities: advantages and disadvantages

Located in major metropolitan areas, urban universities are for students who want to experience the hustle and bustle of city life alongside their studies. Urban universities are usually not campus based, but have buildings scattered around the city, so you really feel part of city life.

Advantages of attending an urban university

Opportunities to meet lots of people

The great thing about studying in a large city is the opportunities to meet tons of new people at any given moment. There are numerous events happening constantly, giving plenty of prospects to meet new friends and connections.

Plenty to see and do

With many large cities offering 24/7 entertainment, students will rarely run out of things to do. Visit theatres, museums, bars and restaurants and enjoy music and sports events.

A more diverse student body

City universities tend to have a higher number of international students and, as a result, there is usually a lot more diversity in the university.

Disadvantages of attending an urban university

Can feel lonely

Although you can feel lonely anywhere, cities can have a tendency to feel more isolated than small town campus universities. With the large numbers of people, it can be harder to build meaningful connections with individuals. 

Higher cost of living

Bills, food and entertainment will usually cost significantly more in a city university compared to a rural campus university.

Lots of distractions from studying

Although the abundance of entertainment is an attractive aspect of university life in a large city, this can also be a huge distraction from your studies. 

Top urban universities in the US

Suburban universities: advantages and disadvantages

Suburban universities: advantages and disadvantages

If there are different aspects of urban and rural universities that appeal to you, you might want to consider attending a suburban university. 

Located in small cities, large towns or in residential areas near large cities, these universities generally have excellent transport links to large cities, meaning you can enjoy the benefits of attending an urban based university while still enjoying a small-town campus university feel. 

Advantages of attending a suburban university

Access to a variety of entertainment

As suburban universities are mostly situated in towns near to large cities, students have the option to enjoy campus entertainment or venture further into the city to enjoy the many restaurants, bars and activities on offer. 

Good career prospects

With large towns and cities just a bus or train ride away, there are likely to be plenty of career opportunities on offer for students and graduates.

Less busy than urban universities

The goldilocks of universities: suburban universities are not too busy, not too quiet. You really do get the best of both worlds.

Disadvantages of attending a suburban university

Transport may be pricy

In a similar way to rural colleges, suburban universities may encourage students to own a car, which can be expensive. Some suburban universities will have better transport links than others but it’s generally quite costly to get into big cities.

You’ll have to commute to get to jobs and internships in the city

Although living close to a large city will make it easier to secure sought after jobs and internships, you might then have to commute which will eat up time and money. 

Top suburban universities in the US

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