A Guide to “The College Life” in New Mexico

(Everything you need to know - and more)

Dane Smith Hall, University of New Mexico

Welcome to college in New Mexico. Whether you’re brand new around here or you’ve been starin’ up at the Sandia Mountains your whole life, you’re in for a real treat.

If you choose to stay after college and buy a house, make sure you're covered with an affordable home insurance policy.

To help get you all settled in and ready for the road ahead, we’ve put together this guide to prep you for life around the state that puts the extra in extracurricular. So, let's get into it.

Chapter One: New Mexico Conversation Starters

Now, easily the most important thing to do once you get to New Mexico is make some new friends. However, in order to make friends with a real-life New Mexican you gotta know a thing or two about 'em first. You can't just spout off a bunch of facts from the state's Wikipedia page on population and state birds and all and expect to fit in — you gotta go for a way, way deeper dive. 

When trying to assimilate to local culture, try a few of these conversation starters out:

  • “Red or green?” Nothing to do with stoplights or Christmas colors, when someone from New Mexico asks you, “red or green,” they’re asking which kind of chilis you want. And the chilis from Hatch Valley are the best in the world.
  • “What kind of Coke do you want?” New Mexico residents don’t pump their own gas, an attendant handles that for ‘em — the law says so.
  • “It’s all sick.” Just like calling something good “bad”, this is a local favorite form of praise whether it’s a good meal, a song, or whatever.

Chapter Two: Where To Crash

If you’re not already set on living in the dorms, you’re going to need to know where to lay your ever-growing head at night. So let’s talk about the hot rentals around the area.

The home of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, has the average apartment going for about $897/month, and even a little less in Las Cruces, where New Mexico State is. But of course that’s right inside the city, and you can probably even find lower prices out in a number of nearby cities for less.

PRO TIP: If you put, like, two to three bunk beds in every room and grab a bunch more roommates, your rent will be dirt cheap!

Chapter Three: What's with These Locals?

To live among the folks of New Mexico, it’s best if you understand them. And it’s pretty obvious once you get here, you’ll notice the otherworldly natural landscapes only add to the alluring diversity seen throughout the state. While the Native American and Hispanic origins of the state go back millennia, there has been an eclectic mixing of ethnicities and cultures throughout the state over the years. No city represents that better than Santa Fe. 

Home to more than 70 ethnicities, this multicultural capital city is home to not only Native American, Latino and Anglo cultures, but also African-American, Asian, and Middle Eastern. It’s a smorgasbord of cultures all wrapped up in a charming southwestern vibe. 

Throughout the state you’ll see everything from traditional pueblo-style living in Taos to the diversity of the state’s capital in Santa Fe and the touristy hot spot of Albuquerque—it’s all here.

And when it comes to food, you’re going to love it. We already mentioned Hatch chilis, but there has probably never been a bad meal served in this state. From fry bread to  sopapillas and local fast-food favorites like El Pollo Loco, you just can’t go wrong.

Chapter Four: Where to “Study” Around Town

Now that you’re getting all nice and settled into New Mexico life, it’s time to focus on those studies. But everyone knows how distracting roommates, video games, and fridges can be when you’re trying to focus. So why not try some of the great sights and local hot spots for a little study sesh? Here are a few places we recommend:

  • Dwan Light Sanctuary: On the campus of United World College is a room where the windows are made of prisms instead of windows. When the sunlight pours through the prisms, it casts rainbows all over the white interior in what’s probably the most peaceful place on earth.
  • Caliches Frozen Custard: With locations in both Las Cruces and Alamagordo, a Caliche frozen custard is the perfect treat to help give you that second wind on your studies.
  • In a hot air balloon, maybe? Why not, right? And the perfect time to do this is at the International Balloon Fiesta.. Though the balloons take off early in the morning, floating above the state is a nice, relaxing way of clearing your head and focusing on that paper that’s due next Monday.

Chapter Five: No FOMO Weekend Activities around New Mexico

One of the best things about college is the weekends. And New Mexico has plenty of incredible things to do, see, smell, and eat, to rest your mind from all that studying you’ve been doing. Here are a few of our favorite local things to do:

  • Burning of Zozobra: Every year, Santa Fe features the burning of a massive 50-foot devilish-looking marionette called “Zozobra” — “Old Man Gloom.” At his feet are pieces of paper with the troubles, worries, and anxieties of the locals. The idea is that, once burned, they will be free from those chains for a whole year. It’s kinda like a tamer version of Nevada’s Burning Man.
  • Roswell: If New Mexico is renowned for anything, it’s for its shady (and sometimes comical) past with UFOs. The International UFO Museum and Research Center is located in Roswell, and focuses on the 1947 Roswell Crash and later claims of UFO incidents all over the world.  
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park: Located in the Guadalupe Mountains, this stunning park is full of deep canyons and desert wildlife to discover. However, the highlight of the park is not what lies above ground, it’s what lies beneath. There are more than 100 caves hidden beneath the Chihuahuan Desert where the park is located, with some of the wildest formations you can imagine.
  • Ra Paulette’s Hand-Carved Caves: These one-of-a-kind gems can be found in La Madera, in the desert north of Santa Fe. For over 25 years, artist Ra Paulette has been hand-carving caves in the desert, creating intricate underground marvels. Once he’s done, he leaves, allowing fate to take over. Most caves are located on private land, so a tour is advised. 
  • Chaco Culture National Historical Park: This park can be found near Nageezi. It offers visitors a glimpse into the prehistoric past. The area was home to thousands of people between 850 and 1250 A.D. Visitors can explore the massive ancestral Pueblo buildings that are still scattered across the landscape. 

Chapter Six: The Post-College Job Scene

Maybe you know exactly what you want to do after graduation, or maybe you’re still undeclared. Either way, we’re so sure you’re going to want to stick around after the ceremony that we should probably talk about the local job market and which careers are hot right now around town.

First, the current unemployment rate in New Mexico is 5.8%, which is above the national average. The minimum wage is $7.50 an hour, while the cost of living was ranked 24th by U.S. News & World Report, which makes it just about average. And WalletHub ranked the state 43rd overall among the best states for jobs when taking into account economic opportunities and available jobs. But that doesn’t necessarily mean bad things for you.

The majority of success in New Mexico these days comes in the world of health services. And according to Zippia, the top fastest-growing jobs are personal care assistant, home health aide, and physical therapist. The state’s leaders in employment are the New Mexico VA Health Care System, Lovelace Health System, and Presbyterian Healthcare Services. If you’re in the healthcare field, and you’re dead set on New Mexico, it may be your lucky day. 

Besides health services, construction saw a 9.0% rise in employment in the last 12 months, while financial activities saw a 4.8% rise. If health services and construction aren’t your thing, with the right attitude and drive, you can make yourself a pretty enchanting little life out here.

Chapter Seven: Say Goodbye to Winter Jackets, ‘Cuz Here You Come

Alright folks, there you have it — your supremely helpful, though far-from-complete, guide to New Mexico college life. It's true that we can't pack in absolutely everything that's important to consider before making a huge cross-country move, but we hope we helped you get the ball rolling.

Good luck. And remember your affordable home insurance policy.

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