Welcome to College Confidential!

The leading college-bound community on the web

Sign Up For Free

Join for FREE, and start talking with other members, weighing in on community polls, and more.

Also, by registering and logging in you'll see fewer ads and pesky welcome messages (like this one!)

As a CC member, you can:

Difference between "urban", "suburban", and "rural"

PBaileyPBailey Posts: 676Registered User Member
I get the difference between urban and rural, obviously, but what are the differences between urban and suburban and suburban and rural? Do different people's description often differ?
Post edited by PBailey on

Replies to: Difference between "urban", "suburban", and "rural"

  • pierre0913pierre0913 Posts: 7,598Registered User Senior Member
    Dictionary Definition:

    Urban- of city: relating to or belonging to a city
    Suburban - relating to suburb: relating to, belonging to, or located in a suburb
    Rural - outside city: found in or living in the country

    To put in simply, take Boston as an example, the city of boston itself is the urban area, the bordering towns where there is still public transportation/people commute to Boston are the suburban areas, and rural areas are where there is no public transportation to Boston and where people do not go to work in Boston.
  • interesteddadinteresteddad Posts: 23,557Registered User Senior Member
    "Suburban" covers a lot of different kinds of territory, so you almost have to take it school by school. For example, Swarthmore is listed as suburban, but is located in a gorgeous old heavily wooded neighborhood inside the beltway of a city of 5 million people. It has a train station on campus that takes you to downtown Philadelphia in 20 minutes (it's about 11 miles).

    Or, suburban can mean a totally self-contained campus that requires a car to get to the city.

    Different people want different things. Some students want a suburban that offers easy access to a major city. Others want a suburban that is more like a rural campus.

    There's something for everyone.
  • PBaileyPBailey Posts: 676Registered User Member
    @interesteddad: Yeah, that's kind of the problem. For example, especially on the West Coast, a lot of "cities" are really spread out, and it's basically a gigantic suburb...what would that qualify as? Is there any resource that goes into a little more detail than just classifying a campus as urban, suburban, and rural. I know a visit will be better than any description, but I can't visit all the schools I'm interested in...
  • pierre0913pierre0913 Posts: 7,598Registered User Senior Member
    PBailey, go to the princetonreview.com, go to a college's page that you are interested in by using the search colleges tab at the top of the page, click campus life (an option on the left-hand side) and read the student descriptions of the campus and it will tell you about the surrounding area of the college.
  • interesteddadinteresteddad Posts: 23,557Registered User Senior Member
    Use Google Earth's satelite views to look at the neighborhood around campus. Even better if it's an area that has "street view". You can "drive" up and down the streets around campus and look around in all directions.
  • gd016gd016 Posts: 373Registered User Member
    For schools classified suburban, it's best if you type in the schools address into Google Map or something to see how long it takes to drive to the actual city to get an idea of how suburban it is. Sometimes schools that are as far away as an hour to the city are put down as suburban while schools that are as close as twenty minutes away from the city center are also classified as suburban.

    Urban on the other hand is when the school's address is actually in the city.
  • coureurcoureur Posts: 11,386Registered User Senior Member
    Urban = Seinfeld, Ally McBeal
    Suburban = Leave it to Beaver, Desperate Housewives
    Rural = Green Acres
  • k&sk&s Posts: 2,139Registered User Senior Member
    Urban- of city: relating to or belonging to a city
    Suburban - relating to suburb: relating to, belonging to, or located in a suburb
    Rural - outside city: found in or living in the country

    In reality tho, the settings are not always so set in stone based on the technical definitions.

    For instance, CMU and Pitt would be considered "urban" since they are in the city of Pittsburgh and Northwestern would be considered "suburban" since it is in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago (tho, one can argue that Evanston is a "small" city of about 80k).

    But in reality, the setting for CMU and Pitt is not that diff. for that for NU.

    CMU and Pitt are in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh which is a residential area (not unlike Evanston) and is about a 20 min drive from downtown Pittsburgh (which has the skyscrapers, sports stadiums, etc.).
  • puddleglumpuddleglum Posts: 1Registered User New Member
    Rural Urban Suburban are also general designations given by the US government agencies (often used for determining grants and tax incentives). Not all agencies use the exact same population break downs or terms (exam. some may use Metropolitan Areas). Furthermore, agencies who use Rural, Urban, and Suburban data, sometimes define the boundaries different than other agencies. This link gives a pretty good explanation as to why (don’t miss the detail tab at top): Rural, Urban, Suburban ZIP| Rural Urban Continuum
  • annasdadannasdad Posts: 4,825Registered User Senior Member
    When looking at the environment for a college, there are really fourth and fifth categories, I think, although they are not an official classification - small city and midsize city.

    I would describe a midsize city as a place where you can find anything you need from a shopping standpoint, where there's a decent public transportation system, and where the city is considered a mecca for nearby rural areas - but where you will not find the cultural and entertainment opportunities that a truly large city would provide (except those that are sponsored by and part of the university).

    As an example of a midsize city, Urbana-Champaign. It's not rural - it's the center of a SMSA of over 200,000. But it's not really "urban" when compared to Chicago or St. Louis or Indianapolis. And it's not a suburb of anywhere.

    A small city would be similar, but would lack the public transportation system and be a satellite (although too far removed to be a "suburb") of a bigger place. For example, Beloit, which is to some extent a satellite of Rockford, Ill., or Galesburg, which is a satellite of the Quad Cities. These places are qualitatively different from true small towns - think Grinnell, or Gettysburg, or Mt. Vernon (Iowa), or Hillsdale - which are what I would call "truly rural."
  • vincehvinceh Posts: 2,291Registered User Senior Member
    Defining Urban-Suburban-Rural is kind of like defining pornography - Tough to do but I know it when I see it.

    Maybe if you list a few schools you're thinking of we can place them onto the continuum.
  • M's MomM's Mom Posts: 4,562Registered User Senior Member
    There's also two types of 'urban.' There's the Georgetown/Columbia type of urban where the schools have distinct campuses with all their major buildings built on or around that campus. Then there are truly urban schools like George Washington and NYU that are integrated into the city-scape and are not built around a 'campus' concept.

    I'd add that there are also different types of 'rural' Grinnell is a college town, surrounded by farms, but the campus is in the town. Middlebury is the same. You can walk into town. Then there are rural campuses where you can't get into town without a car or a bus - they are not walking distance - Colby is an example. How much of a 'town' there is when you get there is another question.

    I think the 'take away' is the urban/suburban/rural are just crude short-hands for what is really a continuum.
  • LonghaulLonghaul Posts: 2,314Registered User Senior Member
    Agree with M's Mom.

    Coming from the Philly/NYC region, my son THOUGHT he hated urban & was fine with rural.

    After visiting LA and San Antonio last summer he concluded most cities are not the "Urban" he envisioned and many urban areas will be fine to him. Our burb area has more traffic and congestion than many cities.

    After talking in depth with Sewanee grads he concluded if he needs a vehicle and 30 minutes to get to a Target/Wal-Mart he couldn't live there.

    He has ditched the Urban/Burb/Rural and replaced it with what is in walking distance, what is in 15 minute drive, how much "green" or open space is surrounding campus.
Sign In or Register to comment.