Raised in the suburbs of Washington, DC, I was nervous about moving to the Midwest for college.
For those of us born and bred on the East Coast, Middle America seemed like a foreign country. I worried about committing myself to spending a monotonous four year-stretch living amid a barren landscape, where farm silos took the place of skyscrapers and cattle outnumbered the human population 10 times over.
I grew concerned that I wouldn’t be able to master the regional dialect – apparently “pop” means soda and a “bubbler” is a water fountain.
My anxiety mounted and I wondered whether my time in the nation’s heartland would be spent in total social seclusion, branded as a big city elitist by the native population and therefore forever shunned.
But only one day after unpacking my boxes and setting up my dorm room, I realized that my concerns were totally unfounded.
Not only did the Midwest offer a welcomed reprieve from the frenetic pace of life I had grown accustomed to in Washington, I learned more about life, culture and people in my four years at Kent State University than I had in 18 years living on the coast.
As acceptance letters begin to pour into high school seniors’ mailboxes across the country, I urge the nation’s rising freshman class to consider attending college in the Midwest. Here are 10 reasons why.
1) The First Day of Spring is Better than Any Holiday
Southern California can brag all it wants about its year-round 70 degree temperatures and cloudless skies, but who wants to live in a place that only has one season?
Sure, winters in the Snowbelt can seem dreary and endless, and you will inevitably come to loathe the term lake-effect. But each changing season offers so many upsides that make it all worthwhile.
Foremost among them, the first day of spring is a celebration unlike any other. When the temperature breaks 60 degrees for the first time in late-April, everyone takes to the streets.
Bikini-clad women adorn the lawns of sorority row, a freshly-tapped keg sits on every porch and impromptu dance parties break out in the streets, bringing traffic to a standstill.
While the springtime thaw is an annual delight, the Midwest’s brutal winters build character. Yes, trekking two miles through three feet of snow as blistering wind whips at your face while trying to make your 7:45 am lecture will feel miserable at the time. But years later, you’ll reflect on the experience and beam with pride, knowing that it prepared you to take on any challenge that lay ahead.
Another perk: no one can call you an alcoholic when you’re downing a handle of vodka each night as a means to “stay warm.” And everyone takes advantage of the opportunity to find that special cuddle buddy who will help shake off the shivers.
2) Tailgates, Traditions and Football
On Saturdays, the atmosphere is electric and the air carries a distinct smell of beer and brats. From Urbana-Champaign, Illinois to Lincoln, Nebraska, tailgating before a football game in the Midwest is a veritable art form.
It’s an experience unlike any other. You’ll come to love nothing more than the sound of country music blaring through the speakers of a pickup truck.
So too, you will discover that the only victory sweeter than winning a cornhole match is the pure bliss that courses through your veins after your school vanquishes a rival.
More importantly, when it comes to traditions, no other region in the country can hold a candle to the Midwest.
There are few things more exhilarating than watching a senior tuba player dot the “i” at Ohio State as “The Best Damn Band in the Land” performs “Script Ohio,” and unless you’ve been through an earthquake that hit 8.0 on the Richter scale, nothing can prepare you for “Jump Around” at a Wisconsin Badgers game.
3) A Mecca for the Frugal
If you’re a penny-pincher, the Midwest is the place to be.
Since moving to New York City, I find myself yearning for those college days when I could walk into a bar, buy a round of drinks for a crew of 15 people and somehow ring up only $30 on my tab. In Ohio, I could maintain a strict budget yet still live like a king.
While I might have relied on drink prices to conclude that Midwest living is cheap and easy, others have made the same determination factoring the overall cost of groceries, housing, utilities, transportation and other commodities.
According to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC), pulling data from the Council for Community and Economic Research’s ACCRA Cost of Living Index, Midwest citizens enjoy a lower cost of living than almost every other region other than the Southern States.
Of the thirteen states that comprise the Midwest, nine are counted in the top 25 states with the lowest cost of living. Additionally, Forbes lists nine Midwestern metro areas in its list of “The 20 Most Affordable Cities,” including four from the Buckeye State: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton and Akron.
With student loans now soaring to astronomical heights, spending your college years in the middle of the country might be your best option in saving yourself from plunging even deeper into debt.
4) Rife with Sexiness
This point is entirely unscientific and completely subjective, but college students in the Midwest are (to put it crudely) crazy hot.
In every lecture, you’ll find yourself sitting next to some bombshell farmer’s daughter eager to cast away her innocence and sow her wild oats. For the ladies, everyone played football or soccer growing up, so men with chiseled physiques are aplenty.
Sure, you’ll find your “People of Walmart” types when you venture into town. But if you stay on campus, you’ll be privy to some hearty servings of grade-A eye candy.
5) Midwest Nice
Not only are Midwesterners beautiful, but they’re friendly to boot.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge published a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology where they analyzed the personality traits of nearly 1.6 million people living in the United States over a 12-year span using Facebook, surveys and other methods.
According to the report, which measured five personality dimensions – neuroticism, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and extraversion – subjects from the Midwest states exhibited friendly and conventional traits more commonly than subjects from any other region.
6) Who Needs Oceans When You Have the Great Lakes
As a coastal kid who loved nothing more than taking day trips to the Atlantic Ocean for some surf and sun, I wasn't sure if I could manage living so far from a beach.
To my delight, I discovered that there’s ample shoreline in the northern Midwest. On a warm day in August, you’ll find students from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University covering every inch of sand on Lake Michigan’s shore. In Cleveland, wakeboarders and water skiers delight over Lake Erie’s seemingly endless expanse of tranquil water.
As a surfer, I was most pleased to discover that I could satisfy my cravings for some shreddable waves while living in the middle of the country. Believe it or not, a number of surfing associations and shops cater exclusively to the Midwest’s surfing community, and in the winter, the conditions can be absolutely epic.
7) Fun Aside, Midwest Colleges Offer First-Rate Scholarship
For the studious among us, don’t assume that you have to head to Cambridge, Massachusetts in order to receive a superior education.
The University of Chicago’s Department of Economics invented a groundbreaking new branch of philosophical thought and currently employs a faculty that includes six Nobel Prize winners. With two more Nobel Laureates in the physics department, you’ll find some of the foremost scholars in the world at the Windy City’s top university.
The University of Michigan, which Forbes lists as is the fifth highest ranking public school and third best state school in the nation, tops the list of “Public Ivies,” which includes eight other Midwest campuses:
Indiana University, Miami University, Michigan State University, The Ohio State University, University of Illinois, University of Iowa, University of Minnesota, and the University of Wisconsin.
8) Embrace the Depravity: Festivals, Parties and Riots
What’s college without a little mischief and degeneracy?
At Kent State, there’s no better opportunity to enjoy some wholesome debauchery than at the annual College Fest block party held at the end of each school year.
When I was a sophomore, the event grabbed national headlines after thousands of students clashed with police. As students hurled bottles and bricks, the SWAT team retaliated with tear gas, flash-bangs and rubber bullets, and 33 students were arrested.
While other Midwest schools’ festivals and street parties don’t descend into the same level of chaos, they are no less enjoyable.
For the stoners, the University of Wisconsin-Madison will hold its 44th annual Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival this coming fall, featuring speeches by prominent advocates and politicians, some awesome live music, and plenty of food and other forms of “recreation.”
If weed's not your thing, you can head over to Wisco’s Mifflin Street Block Party, where you’ll find 20,000 thirsty college students enthusiastically celebrating the end of the spring semester.
When it comes to Halloween parties, Ohio University is the place to be. Each year, as many as 30,000 students from all over the country flood the Athens campus to take part in the festivities.
While Ohio University ranks seventh on The Princeton Review’s list of the top 20 party schools in the nation, the University of Iowa takes the top spot. Also included on the list are the University of Illinois, University of Wisconsin, Depauw University and Miami University.
9) You’ll Simply Have the Best Time of Your Life, and Be Better Off For It
If you’re looking for a complete college experience that provides a wildly enjoyable social life and first-class education, then going to school in the Midwest is a no-brainer.
While each campus has uniquely different offerings and though it might sound clichéd, there’s something for everybody in the Midwest university network.
With a host of top NCAA athletic programs, massive Greek systems and wide open spaces, it is an ideal environment for those coming of age. For anyone looking to make the most of their college years, consider spending them in Middle America. You won’t regret it.
Photo via Jeff Schorfheide