If there’s one thing I hate, it’s getting ripped off. And yet, I feel like I’m diving headfirst into one big, overpriced scam. In the past couple of weeks, after accepting a job offer in New York City, I have turned browsing Craigslist apartments into a hobby. Everyone has told me it’s too early to even browse, but I come from a family that leafs through listings in the newspaper and attends open houses without any intention of moving. I am obsessed with real estate, and I am obsessed with getting good deals. However, I am repeatedly ripping my heart out of my chest as I search for an apartment. I catch myself using the word “affordable” when I really mean “relatively affordable,” which, in real life, is completely unaffordable.
I grew up in Lawrence, Kan., so moving to the city was always a distant dream of mine. I remember sitting in fifth hour newspaper class in high school, talking nonstop with my best friend about moving away and “doing the writer thing” with her. I remember learning that I had been accepted to Cornell and feeling like that city dream was close enough to touch — being in New York state and all. That makes me laugh now. But even with graduation on the near horizon, the City still feels like an impossible combination of close and far. I am extremely excited for my job, but it isn’t the insane writing gig that got my heart beating fast in high school. I question how much I have changed throughout college insomuch that I’ve learned that full-time “doing the writing thing” in NYC can’t be supported by picking up a few shifts as a hostess like it could in Kansas.
It is close, or closer at least, in geography and time, but it is so far away in terms of feeling like a possible, human thing to do. How can I throw myself into a career and try to build a home while pouring unimaginable money into rent, which isn’t even an investment? Even though I have been dreaming of the City since childhood, I must admit, the math is scary.
A Daily Beast article from 2018 explained how young people are choosing to move to humbler Midwestern cities rather than the dreamy, recognizable names on the coasts just for the sake of cheaper rent. “Do the math: The average millennial needs 28 years for a San Francisco down payment, compared to nine years in Minneapolis and less than three in Kansas City,” says the subheading. This type of investment, in choosing less popular destinations for more reasonable rates, is becoming increasingly popular. However, at Cornell, this could not feel farther from the truth.
Nearly every senior I know plans to work in NYC, Washington D.C. or San Francisco. Maybe it is a mob mentality, or maybe it is easy to convince ourselves that these cities are where all the opportunities are.
Being from the Midwest, maybe I have lower standards for how “cool” a city has to be in order to call it “cool.” But to me, Kansas City is actually only seeming cooler and cooler. I start to wonder why I had such big city dreams when I remember all the things that make the Midwest special, like the reasonable rent and restaurants. Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana and Ohio are all in the top ten most affordable states, according to the U.S. News and World Report. This list takes into account housing, groceries and income. While it does feel appalling that minimum wage is still $7.25 in some places in the country, it is undeniable that your dollar goes farther in Middle America. So why don’t we consider packing our bags and heading to the Midwest after college? Well, there is something to be said for the romanticism of dreams, and dreams aren’t really about logic.
Growing up, ending up back in Kansas after college was my greatest fear. To me, it was a symbol of stagnancy. Now, from upstate New York, it’s easier to see all the good things that Kansas had to offer. And maybe, one day, I will go back. But for now, it’s still all about apartment hunting and the MTA. So, it is maybe the greatest irony that I am arguing for the sanctity of Midwestern living. But it certainly isn’t for reasons such as logic or frugality. The Midwest seems like the clear winner when considering money. Instead, I am going to NYC both because I love it and because the people I love are doing it. I am excited about the work, and I hope to get excited about paying for an apartment too.
I think about all the ways living in the City will be different from living in Kansas or even in Ithaca. I won’t have to commute an hour to the nearest Trader Joe’s anymore, but I will have to wait in line for an hour. I’ve swallowed the difficult truth that I can no longer offer to hold strangers’ babies. I have practiced not saying “good morning,” wearing more black and walking faster. These are all parts of getting acclimated to a new life in a bigger city. Maybe getting used to being ripped off will be a part of it, too. Collegetown real estate prepared me for this moment, and I’m going to keep looking at Craigslist until I cry.
For anyone looking to pursue something creative after college, think creatively. My job will give me so much opportunity for learning and growth and the ability to still chase my writing dream. Success at my first job after college, to me, has become finding a supportive network of goal-oriented, interesting people and doing work that I find exciting and fulfilling.
Sarah Lieberman is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Blueberries for Sal runs every other Tuesday this semester.