Gina del Monte wasn't planning to go to college in Philadelphia - until she visited St. Joseph's University.
Growing up in Wildwood, she had her sights set on schools in Washington when a friend at St. Joe's took her on a tour of the campus.
"I looked around and said, 'This is it,' " she said. "I just fell in love with the area."
Now a graduate, del Monte lives in Manayunk, working as an account analyst at the Graham Co. in Center City.
Del Monte is part of what Campus Philly says is a growing trend of students choosing to stay in Philadelphia.
Finding work, especially a paid internship, is a key factor, according to a survey released Tuesday by Campus Philly, a nonprofit devoted to helping the local economy by encouraging college students to stay in the Philadelphia area after graduation.
Paul Sevcik, a native of Aurora, Ill., who's now at home in Northern Liberties, illustrates the importance of an internship.
Sevcik graduated from Temple University in 2009 and landed an internship with the Gabriel Institute, a human resources firm in Center City. He was later hired as a full-time employee and has been with the company for 11/2 years.
"Internships and networking are key," said Sevcik, who has an MBA and a master's in human resources. "Philadelphia has many opportunities, and if you're willing to look, you'll find them."
Deborah Diamond, president of Campus Philly, attributed the trend found in the survey to an increased quality of life, affordability, and vibrancy within the city's neighborhoods.
"We need to embrace this image of a college town," she said. "Students are staying, both natives and non-natives."
In the past, Diamond said, there was a disjunction between Philadelphia and its area colleges and universities. The label of "brain drain" - the term for young intellectuals fleeing the city after graduation - no longer applies, she said.
Tara Weiner, managing partner at Deloitte for the Greater Philadelphia region, said that improvements in the city have also helped students secure jobs here.
"With the revitalization of the city over recent years, it has become a more attractive place to be for this generation of students," she wrote in an e-mail.
She added that Deloitte has noticed students' changing perceptions in the last five years, as they increasingly find Philadelphia a "desirable place to live and build a career."
In the Campus Philly survey, 48 percent of the non-natives said they stayed after graduation.
In a similar survey in 2004, 29 percent from outside the Philadelphia region said they made Philadelphia their home.
The survey also reported 58 percent of area students saying that they are likely to stay in or near the city after graduation. Seventy-five percent of recent alumni said they wanted to stay in Philadelphia, and 61 percent did so.
This year's survey was completed online by 4,600 people, of whom 822 were graduates. The students - 30 percent male and 70 percent female - represented 31 area colleges, including all of the major institutions. The responses were weighted to reflect the mix of the area's colleges.
Students were invited to complete the survey by Campus Philly and their colleges. Diamond described the results as "sound" and consistent with other studies.
To help students obtain internships, she said, plans are under way to connect students with paid internships at area nonprofits.
The results also point to the need for students to network. A new program will launch next fall to connect students with the city's creative industries and with each other. Participants include area colleges and nonprofits in the arts.
Philly Fellows executive director Tim Ifill, 30, said the results of the Campus Philly survey reflect what he's seen anecdotally with Philly Fellows, a select group of 16 who annually are given stipends to work for local nonprofits.
"We've definitely seen a big uptake in the level of interest in staying in Philadelphia," he said. Applications to Fellows have risen from 64 in 2006, when the organization started, to 264 last year.
Tamara Manik-Perlman said that although the social aspect was a major plus for Philadelphia, it took her a while to call the city home after graduating in 2003 from Swarthmore.
"It was a slow conversion," she said. "I think Philly ultimately won me over."
Manik-Perlman, who grew up in California, said that creating your own niche in the city, whether it is through the arts or community service, makes a difference in young people's decisions to extend their Philadelphia experiences.
"The real motivating factor for people to stay in the city is if prior to graduation they have formed some sort of community," said Manik-Perlman, who works as a GIS analyst and project manager for Azavea, a Center City firm.