Home to about 120,000 residents, with a metro area of about 600,000, Columbia offers many urban amenities - diverse dining options, a lively nightlife, a rich array of museums and other cultural opportunities - while also preserving a quality of life typically found in smaller communities. Cost of living is low here. Housing in particular is affordable, both in comparison to the nation as a whole and in comparison to other Southern college towns. The city is easy to navigate by car, by bike, or on foot. Several residential neighborhoods and many amenities are within walking distance of campus.
Columbia's temperate winters allow USC students to participate in outdoor recreational activities year-round. Some 90 miles of local riverfront and a large lake just outside of town offer numerous recreational opportunities, including an extensive network of trails for hiking, jogging, and biking. Miles of beaches and the Blue Ridge Mountains are each only a two- to three-hour drive away.
The city's diverse mix of residents also affords numerous opportunities for community involvement and activism. Columbia has been recognized as being particularly hospitable for gay, lesbian, and transgender residents. As the state's capital, it is also home to a range of political and special interest groups. Many students get involved in the community by volunteering in schools, or working with local community-service organizations. Because the university and the city enjoy a strong and positive relationship, a number of students have been successful at proposing and launching community service projects of their own design.