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Why Attending a College in a Big City Is the Fastest Way to Grow Your Career

04/23/2015 04:26 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2015

College is an important decision.

That idea is instilled in many Americans at an early age. We're told that where we go and what we study will determine the life we will lead.

When I volunteer with Future Founders Foundation, a Chicago non-profit that empowers low-income youth through entrepreneurship, the question of my college choice always comes up.

Instead of spending time telling them about the decision process, I share the one factor that I think has made all the difference in my career: if possible, avoid the rural campus and go to a city with the largest amount of people.

It's what allowed me to intern with Clear Channel, the White Sox, Shedd Aquarium and Nike's Tournament of Champions while still in school, and laid the groundwork for me to start my own business at 27.

Here's why:

The traditional college experience is now a luxury.
Looking to get as far away from your parents and party for four years before entering the 'real world?' Good luck finding a job post-college. The real world is now. Choosing to put it off for four years means you put yourself at a disadvantage. If you want to float through life instead of living with purpose, you'll end up working for the people who took the time to explore meaningful career opportunities as early as possible. Don't mistake that as a push to join the rat race at an earlier age. Work can be rewarding and the drudgery of a 9-5 is avoidable if you find what you love to do, sooner rather than later. A city allows this to happen organically because of its wide array of companies located within it. Something that's not as accessible as rural campus, that is often a homogenization of college students. That means your opportunity for internships and part-time work is far greater, allowing you the chance to discover the career path that you find the most satisfying -- long before graduation. And with the majority of young people moving to an urban environment post-college, you're giving yourself a four-year headstart to learn the ins and outs of a city and build a network.

Cities are the birthplace of good ideas.
In Steven Johnson's book, Where Good Ideas Come From, the argument is made that the adjacent possible, which enables someone to develop uncharted insights into unexplored areas (think Steve Jobs and the iPod), happens at a faster rate in big cities; due to the sheer volume of exposure to various different types of people in a smaller space. Which means just by living in a city, you are more likely to come up with a good idea at a faster rate due to the diversity and saturation of it. This is important. A metropolis exposes you to a wide range of people on a daily basis that extends beyond race. Every day you encounter people who are different from you in age and socio-economic status. In a city, it's likely you'll even share your playground with college students from other schools. This naturally prepares you for life after college where you're expected to be able to interact and engage people from various backgrounds -- something that a rural campus has a hard time offering.

It's the organic way to build your network.
A city college provides a four-year head start for networking opportunities. The very nature of the city is proximity to opportunities that are hard to come by or don't even exist on a rural campus. For example, you're able to pursue coveted internships year-round, instead of during the uber-competitive summer season. That also means you're able to add and build work experience year round. Also, it's likely that you and the people you attend school with will stay there post-college. As a result, you have immediate access to connections you've spent four years cultivating. And they range from fellow students, alumni, professors, guest speakers, and supervisors. As an immigrant with no network, this was a crucial step in creating career opportunities for me.

City living better prepares you for life after college.
Where to go, where to rent and how to take public transportation -- all things you learn at a more leisurely pace when you're in college. And because you share your college campus with non-college students, you learn pretty quickly what appropriate attire is. There's nothing wrong with yoga pants or a sweatshirt, but living among non-college students teaches you to take care of your appearance because you never know who you'll run into on the street.

Classes in an urban environment provide a competitive edge.
When your college campus is just a few blocks away from MillerCoors's offices, it's easy to have Pete Marino, CCO for the company, come by for a guest lecture. Just one example of the real-life learning lessons and networking opportunities Ron Culp, instructor and director for DePaul University's public relations and advertising program, provides his Chicago-based students. That's the benefit of having professors who are current or recent working professionals (prior to joining DePaul, Culp was a partner and managing director of Ketchum's Midwest offices and head of the agency's North American Corporate Practice). Their teaching is based on recent scenarios from their workplace and not just theory from a book. also have the network to connect their students to other high caliber professionals in the city.

Ultimately, college is what you make of it. But in my opinion, there's no faster way to get your synapses firing than to be in place where change happens by the second.

The People Whose Career Grew Because of Their Urban College Experience