"Don't go to a school too far away in case "something" happens." What is that 'something' if you're of this opinion?

Genuinely curious. Not trying to pick a fight.

I often hear parents limiting kids’ school choices to those X hours away by car. No flights. No cross country, etc. The only reason I ever hear given is “in case something happens.” It’s never about visiting on weekends (in either direction), at least not as conveyed to me. I’m trying to better understand this POV. What is the ‘something’ that would happen, and why is a 3-5 hour car ride meaningfully different than a 4.5 hour flight? (Is it a smokescreen for cost of travel concerns?)

My kid was in the ER 3 times and in jail once in his first 2 years at college. Yes, actual jail. (He didnt do anything wrong, and charges dropped).

Flight means you are on the airlines time table. So that 4.5 hr flight could turn into 12 plus hours before one arrives, then add in rental car, etc. Driving means you can literally throw a bag together and go within an hour.


I had a family member who had an autoimmune condition and was in the hospital a couple of times during college. Her parents were able to jump in a car and be there in under 2 hours.


My daughter had symptoms of appendicitis. Since I could drive to her college, I was able to meet her at the hospital 4 hours after her call. While I recognize that a medical emergency is rare, it is definitely something to consider, especially since we live an hour from the nearest airport.


Usually I think this advice is given to parents of kids with health issues (physical or mental). DS is currently at a school three hours away by car and DD will be attending a school a similar distance next fall. We haven’t had any emergencies with DS (knock on wood), but it is not a big deal to drive to the school and back home in the same day. That has been convenient, especially in March of 2020 when we had to pick him up unexpectedly and in a hurry due to Covid.


For me cost was a factor. We live in the Northeast where there are plenty of choices of colleges ranging from LACs to large universities. And we are full pay. I told my kids if they wanted to fly to college they had to explain why the program at the college they wanted to attend was better than ones at colleges we could drive to. If they could make a case we’d allow it. Both went to undergrad within driving distance – but my S did go to grad school halfway across the country to get is MS at a top program in his field (which directly led to more employment opportunities). He said he was grateful that he didn’t have to deal with flying home for vacations for his undergrad years.

That said, in the end the kids were happy we could drive to their schools to attend things like Deans List celebrations, orchestra concerts etc. which we never would have flown out for.

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We are about 3 hours from my D’s school but it was by accident because we were planning on moving to another state.

I have to say that it’s very convenient being able to make the round trip in a day and not have to worry about hotel reservations for things like move in/out, parents’ weekend, and graduation.


We did not limit our daughter. She is five hours away with a direct flight (not likely to be available on short notice), or eight hours if we drove.

She has chronic migraines and ended up in the ER twice freshman year (severe dehydration from vomiting and pain). If her illness were life threatening, we would have considered advising her to stay closer to home. As is, it was not easy to take the leap of faith and send her. Thankfully, she has an incredibly decent and helpful boyfriend who she can rely on when things get unmanageable.

I would not mention any of this to people IRL who are not close friends. Many people do not understand how headaches could possibly be disabling.

As far as the difference between flying and driving, flights get delayed all the time, so then it turns into the difference between a 3-5 hour car ride and a 7.5 hour air travel experience.


Eldest D went to college a 2 hr flight away from home (=12+ hr drive). Had no health concerns prior to college but ended up having an autoimmune condition which landed her in the ER twice during her 4 years. Oh. And she got mono and was pretty much wiped out for a good two weeks. She managed herself very well, but finding doctors and specialists that accepted our insurance out of state while she was ill and on her own was not fun. We made use of food delivery and I flew out as quickly as possible, but how much easier it would have been to have driven up and brought her home to recover. Second D22 is looking for schools as we speak. She saw how stressful it was to be far away while sick and will not look farther than a 5 hr drive “in case” something happens to her while away at college!

My oldest went 45 minutes away (commuter train same amount of time) vs. 3 hour drive (with no car). Sophomore year her young grandmother was diagnosed with a fast moving cancer (lived 1/2 mile away, a second mother). She came home almost every weekend those 4 months and was grateful she could. I have a sophomore 2 hours away, it helped with covid (was literally pulling up out front when she got the message to come back for her stuff in the dorms). Her lease is year round, not only does she go back and forth during breaks, but has 2 locations to find work and internships (all leases are 12 months, not many want to sublet, plus she has 5 roommates to consider). One if my senior’s top pick is 750 miles away, she won’t be coming home for thanksgiving or Easter if she chooses to go there.

I don’t think parents “smokescreen” the cost of travel. When I was applying to schools in the east, my parents flat out said that they could only afford to bring me home at Christmas break, and that I’d better make friends with people who would invite me to their houses for the other breaks. That’s what I did.

I had concerns about my own kids applying to schools that would be hard to get to (both had depression and anxiety), but ultimately, our son went to school a 12 hour car ride away, and while our daughter was close by for college, she did end up spending her junior year in France.

I could see wanting your kid to stay close if they had a condition that wasn’t adequately controlled, if they seemed less mature than their peers, or if they were likely to get homesick and you couldn’t afford to get them home for every break.


@3SailAway I get it about the migraines. My niece has horrible migraines and has missed a lot of school (she is still in high school) because of them. I’m sorry your daughter is dealing with this as well.

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It really didn’t matter to my S or to me or my husband. He’s very self-sufficient, and while the cost of airfare was a consideration, we really just wanted the best fit, period. He looked at a school <20 miles away and one 3,000 miles away. In the end, he’s going to a school a four-hour drive/easy train trip from home, which seems just right and will save us some money and trouble.

While I don’t agree with/follow the belief of staying close, the idea that I can get a call from a child and be there in 4.5 hours because it’s a 4.5 hour flight is silly. Get a call at 5 in the afternoon and you may be lucky if you can get an early flight tomorrow and be there in 20 hours.

A 4.5 hour drive can almost always be a 4.5 hour drive.

I can certainly understand the concern if there are medical or other conditions. The generic “just in case”, not so much.


Heavy commute traffic, or an incident blocking the road, can make driving time much longer than in light traffic, although the scheduling overhead and potential delay would not be as long as with airline flights. However, a long drive can be fatiguing and dangerous if one is not well rested immediately before the trip.


We limited the distance for one child with “issues”, so that we could check up on frequently - which wound up to be unnecessary, mostly. It was wonderful to be able to just drive there (only 75 minutes away) to have lunch every once in a while, probably no more than monthly.

The other one wound up choosing to apply no farther than 6 hrs drive, because those were the schools that met his very specific needs, and wound up choosing a school about 100 min drive away. We’re happy about that, too. If that one had had good reasons to go to a school 3000 miles away, we would have allowed it, but reluctantly. We certainly did not limit the choice by distance. Cost of travel really didn’t come into the decision. Probably would have only come home winter break and summer vacation.

It has been a very good thing, because when medical issues came up, it was fantastic to be able to be there quickly and easily.

My kids both attended the same U which was a plane ride (5 hrs, 3000 miles) from our home. We didn’t limit them, it was what the chose. Both of them have fairly well controlled chronic health conditions they’d had for over a decade when they applied to college.

It made us happy that one of my best friends whom my kids like and know well live 30 minutes from campus, but that was a happy co-incidence.

I have had friends whose kids had hospitalizations— broken bones, bad mono, appendicitis. Somehow the kids and parents managed, even tho it meant unplanned plane trips by concerned parents and extra $$$

When I went to college, 3000miles and 2 plane rides from home, I did so with the expectation I would only get one plane trip home per year and likely not have any family visits. That worked out on for me & my family.

Truly appreciate all of the responses. Seems health/medical (particularly existing conditions) are a common theme, which also makes sense with the ‘real’ reasons being kept more or less confidential when discussing the idea of staying close®.

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I didn’t limit my kids but I did once have to drop everything and get in the car to be there for her emergency surgery. No pre-existing condition. Another friend’s kid was assaulted and she was able to get there in 3 hours. Things happen. But I still wouldn’t limit their choices based on that.

I think a lot of people feel that there is less of a chance that they will come back to the area after graduation if they get an internship/job with the assistance of the university.

My sisters car got robbed. She eating out and parked in a reasonably secure carpark someone smashed the back window to get to a laptop. She was living at home at the time and was a commuter college student. She called our dad and he sorted everything out, arranged for the car to be towed, cancelled bank card accounts ( she had automated online store accounts like amazon on the computer), called the police ect. She likes to think she is independent but sometimes its good to have a more experienced person around to have your back.

Its a crass term but its true, sometimes s### just happens.