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Flying the coop doesn’t mean a one-hour drive

I am 3,100 miles from home.

I made the decision to move in late 2012. After unexpectedly enjoying my high school visit to Oklahoma Christian University, I made the commitment to join the young Eagles track and cross country team beginning in the fall of 2013. So I sold a third of my possessions, boxed away my sports trophies and keepsake items and packed the rest into two and a half duffle bags.

Many Oklahoma Christian students gaped at me — and still do — when I told them I willingly chose to move from Juneau, Alaska — a town of 30,000 souls — to Oklahoma City, home to 1.3 million people in the metro area.

My fellow students’ reaction occurs because I’m part of a minority. I’m part of the 19 percent who choose to venture more than 500 miles from home for college, and more specifically, part of the two percent who move at least 2,000 miles away.

Moving far away is emotionally taxing. Leaving the stability of mom, dad and siblings, lifelong friends and the familiar barista who knows my order by heart is stressful not only to think about during high school, but also to carry out at 18 years old.

Katy Edwards, a fellow senior at Oklahoma Christian, launched headfirst into the same college student minority by driving nearly 1,000 miles from Marianna, FL, to Oklahoma City, OK. According to Edwards, her independent spirit and desire to move out of the house at 18 helped the long distance transition.

Individual and family financial situations hold back students from moving out of state for college. Those who dare to move far away — which I decree as at least a four-hour drive away or in another state — even if they have low finances, find themselves drowning in debt after college.

The Institute for College Access and Success said 69 percent of students who graduate from a public or nonprofit college average $28,950 of debt. Oklahoma’s average college student owes $23,430 by the time they graduate.

The problem with so many college students staying close to home is they remain closed minded to the cultures of other states and the way other people interpret life. They also miss out on learning how to truly be independent.

For example, Edwards needed to find a new bank to use temporarily during her four years at Oklahoma Christian, and she needed to visit the doctor occasionally, all without her parents guiding her along and telling her what to do. She said undertaking these tasks by herself prepared her for post-college adult life.

According to Edwards, not all high school graduates are mentally prepared to move far away from home for college. She said if students move a short distance away at first, and then gradually living farther and farther away from home, they can feel more comfortable mentally, emotionally and physically, while also gaining vital experience in independence.

Another solution for college students to feel comfortable moving far away from home is finding a college near grandparents or adult siblings, but still far enough away from home to keep the student from driving home every other night or every weekend.

A two-year community college is another option. These kinds of schools often host small-town students, such as in the case of Fort Scott Community College.

Addisohn Jones, a 2015 graduate of Fort Scott High School in Fort Scott, Kansas, said one of his high school teachers asked students where they wanted to attend college. According to Jones, 90 percent of the class said they wanted to enroll at the local community college because they felt the most comfortable staying in town. He chose to move 1,200 miles away and attend a film school in Orlando, FL instead.

I advocate for more high school grads to move away from their parents. College students who are forced to be independent and self-reliant learn so many important things: your own spiritual faith, not your parents’; what to do at a bank or doctors office without complete parental influence and you can regulate your own sleeping, eating and studying habits.

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