The Benefits of Studying at a Big-City College: An Insider’s Opinion

Ana-Marcela Lopez

As you begin the quest for the perfect school for you, you’ll have to answer several questions along the way. Do you want to stay in state, or should you venture out? Private or public? What do you want to major in? What type of campus do you want: urban or residential? And wait—what does that even mean? 

It’s best to take time to decide whether you want to go to college in a big city or a smaller college town, as the type of community surrounding your campus can have as much impact on your undergraduate experience as the college itself. At Colleges of Distinction, we know this to be true, but we wanted to know more. That is why we turned to Notre Dame de Namur University to discuss the opportunities as well as a few of the challenges that come with going to college in a big city. Located in Belmont, California, a mere 30 miles from San Francisco, Notre Dame de Namur is a shining example of a university campus nestled within a larger metropolitan area. We had the pleasure of interviewing Notre Dame de Namur’s provost, Dr. Hernan Bucheli, and Assistant Director of Communications and Media Relations, Zack Rogow. Read on about the benefits of going to college in a big city and what it’s like at Notre Dame de Namur. 

How does a big-city campus enrich the classroom experience? What can students look forward to, in and out of the classroom, when they’re surrounded by a big city?

Dr. Hernan Bucheli: Well, first and foremost it depends on what big city. Talking about Notre Dame de Namur, we’re located right in the heart of the Silicon Valley, and the Bay Area is the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country. So it’s a really diverse, thriving area. Additionally, the economy of innovation creates huge opportunities for our students that wouldn’t be available somewhere else. Many examples of recent graduates have gotten tech jobs or started their own companies. A recent survey of alumni shows that 95% of those seeking work are employed. And 3/4 are working in a field related to their major. Being close to a big city helps with all that. 

One of the biggest advantages of having a big city outside your dorm room is the ability to apply the theory you learn in the classroom within the greater context of the world around you. This is not to say that those opportunities are impossible in smaller towns, but the frequency and diversity of opportunities are greater in metropolitan areas. In the case of Notre Dame de Namur, students of all disciplines apply their knowledge to the unique opportunities Silicon Valley has to offer. 

How do students connect socially and culturally to the Bay Area?

Dr. Bucheli: Well, the Bay Area is very diverse in a lot of ways: ethnic, gender, political, socioeconomic diversity. So students have a wonderful opportunity of connecting with all kinds of people through cultural events through museums through parks and rec, through internship opportunities. The list goes on and on. 

At Notre Dame de Namur, the surrounding community is just an extension of the classroom. Community-Based Learning is an essential part of the undergraduate experience. Through strong partnerships with organizations, students are applying theory from the classroom to real-world situations while also supporting the local community. With nearly 20 community-based learning courses offered, students have ample opportunity to learn while giving back. Outside of the classroom, there are student-led clubs and organizations guided by the university’s mission of social justice and peace. 

Notre Dame de Namur is one of the most diverse campuses in the nation and has a prominent commitment to diversity. How does this diversity contribute to a more rewarding and enriching experience for students?

Dr. Bucheli: Well, it basically provides a few things: diversity enriches our students because it greatly expands the people and ideas they are exposed to. And so, when you’re in an area that is very vibrant in that space, it allows for those exciting opportunities. A hallmark of the Notre Dame de Namur experience is that we embrace diversity, so when we recruit or connect with external communities, that’s a big draw. The range of experiences provides a deeper portfolio for students to explore. 

For those who didn’t grow up in a big city, going to college in one can take some getting used to. What are some pieces of advice you would give to students who fear getting lost in a metropolitan campus?

Dr. Bucheli: Notre Dame de Namur is a small school is a big pond, so drawing on friends to help you navigate the urban landscape is key. 

Getting used to the hustle and bustle of city life while also getting accustomed to college life can be challenging. That’s why it’s so helpful to draw on support systems on campus and find a group of friends who can help you make the most of your college experience. Going to college, regardless of size, can take you far out of your comfort zone. And one of the biggest challenges of going to college in a big city is how easy it can be to feel lost in the crowd. When you find your niche and create your own community, you will be better able to overcome feelings of isolation or anxiety. The San Francisco Bay Area is swarming with hundreds of thousands of people, but Notre Dame de Namur University’s smaller campus naturally makes it easier for students to have a sense of place and belonging. What’s more, the school’s learning communities make it possible for students to form even smaller, more tightly knit groups of friends. These communities encourage students to connect with people and experiences both on and off campus. Students are engaged and not left behind through student programming, living-learning communities, leadership retreats, conferences, and more. Like a Russian nesting doll of communities, these learning communities within NDNU—which is also within the larger Bay Area community—make it easier to feel a sense of belonging. Even in such a busy metropolitan environment, schools like NDNU offer the resources to ensure that any student can find their “home base.”

At Colleges of Distinction, we really focus on career development, a badge which Notre Dame de Namur has earned. What are some of the ways going to college in a big city jump-starts a student’s career?

Dr. Bucheli: Going back to internships, they are able to get their foot in the door with big companies like Sysco, Google, etc., and we have students that get internships and then end up working there. We have connections to nonprofits, banking, and healthcare. There are a plethora of opportunities. Because we are in a large city with lots of experiential learning opportunities, students have a leg up over another type of environment. I would say small institutions like Notre Dame de Namur take pride in connecting individual students to areas of industry they have a passion for. We do that through our faculty. Faculty will go out of their way to find those connections for students. I’m thinking of a professor in the sciences who found really cool summer research projects. At a small school, that can happen. At larger schools, it may be harder to do. That’s important for people to know. 

What are some of the other ways Notre Dame prepares students for life after college, both professionally and personally?

Dr. Bucheli: We have alumni that mentor students. We have opportunities for students to come back and use the career center and access to retraining.

Zack Rogow: We have an active student success center that schedules résumé and cover letter workshops to prepare students for their career. There’s also a professional culture in the Bay Area, so students seem to absorb by osmosis being here in this area. So by the time they graduate, they are ready to go out into the world and professional life.

While the bulk of your college career is spent on campus, the surrounding environment can contribute to your overall experience both professionally and personally in exciting ways. Metropolitan areas are home to businesses and organizations that could lend important internship and job opportunities. Further, when you live in a big city, you are constantly interacting with professionals on a daily basis. You might bump into a business executive or an editor-in-chief at your favorite coffee shop or while grocery shopping. The opportunities for organic connections are abundant in a big city. 

As you think about what school is right for you, consider the benefits of going to college in a big city. The people and experiences you encounter during your time in college can impact your future in exciting ways. Whether it’s a great internship that leads to a job or the meaningful relationships you create along the way, a big city can make your college experience unforgettable. Visit Colleges of Distinction to learn more about Notre Dame de Namur University and other great schools at which you can learn, grow, and succeed. 


Learn More About Notre Dame de Namur University

Notre Dame de Namur (NDNU) features small classes that average 15 students, personal attention, quality courses and instructors, and a range of majors. Professors at NDNU are not only gifted instructors, but they are also committed to advising and mentoring students through the college journey. Individual learning is a key feature of an NDNU education. The university strives to give students the tools, knowledge, and inspiration to successfully engage and expand their talents. NDNU’s location also presents learning opportunities through community engagement and internships that can’t be found elsewhere.