America’s best college towns offer students everything they need to thrive. Most of the best college towns in the US have more than one notable university or college to brag about. Small college towns are sometimes rather quaint but still offer a modern vibe for those who want to get a taste of independence in the real world. The first taste of independence offers students a chance to find out what living on their own is all about. Going out on their own for the first time is an exciting and fun time.
The top college towns in the US can be found scattered across the country. It seems as if every state has one or two exceptional college towns that truly embrace the college students who live there. Some students prefer to live in the small college towns because of the laid-back atmosphere. Those who like the bigger cities usually enjoy the fast-paced, hustle and bustle of day-to-day life. Students will sometimes choose the large cities because they can take part in internships and other educational programs.
1. Athens, GA
The Founders Garden is a beautiful place to visit when you just want to get away for a little while and relax. It is located on the North Campus of the University of Georgia and is named for the 12 founders of the Ladies’ Garden Club of Athens. It was the first garden club in the state of Georgia. While you’re there, pay a visit to the Tree That Owns Itself!
The University of Georgia North Campus and Athens Technical College are both prominent schools in the Athens, Georgia area. Athens is well-known for being a “college” town and provides students with many valuable resources.
Student Population: 39,000
Total Population: 126,913
2. Chapel Hill, NC
The Honeysuckle Tea House is a must-see if you live in the Chapel Hill, North Carolina area. The open-air farm stand is surrounded by 225 acres full of crops, herb gardens, and blueberry patches. There are many different garden areas to explore. Visiting the Tea House can be a very relaxing and enjoyable experience.
The Chapel Hill is one of the three points of the Triangle, consisting of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Taken together, the Triangle is home to more than a dozen colleges, universities, and community colleges. Chapel Hill is known as one of the popular college towns in the US.
Student Population: 85,000
Total Population: 60,998
3. Boulder, CO
Eldorado Canyon State Park is located on the outskirts of Boulder and provides the perfect getaway for anyone who wants to escape to nature. Full of trails and green space, it’s the perfect place to simply relax.
The University of Colorado Boulder and Naropa University are two of the most popular schools in the area. Boulder has a reputation for being one of the top college towns in the US.
Student Population: 30,300
Total Population: 106,392
4. Ann Arbor, MI
The Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum is the ideal place to go if you want to immerse yourself in nature. The gardens and arboretum are two of the most beautiful green spaces in the area. Ann Arbor is located in one of the most picturesque areas in the state of Michigan.
The University of Michigan is one of the most well-known universities located in Ann Arbor. U of M is also one of the most advanced medical research universities in the United States.
Student Population: 44,718
Total Population: 120,753
5. Madison, WI
If you have a passion for beautiful homes and amazing architecture, your first place to visit is Taliesin East. The home is the masterpiece of the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright and is located outside of Madison. The home and grounds are a great place to visit if you want to spend the day exploring the past.
Schools in the area include the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Madison Area Technical College. Madison has a reputation for being one of the cutest college towns in America.
Student Population: 43,820
Total Population: 254,977
6. Burlington, VT
Lake Champlain is one of Burlington, Vermont’s most beautiful places to visit. It has bike trails, hiking, and breathtaking vistas that everyone can enjoy. It is a great place for a day trip away from the hustle and bustle of your busy schedule.
The University of Vermont and Champlain College are both primary schools of higher learning in Burlington, Vermont. As one of the smaller college towns in the US, Burlington has a lot to offer students who choose to attend school there.
Student Population: 230
Total Population: 42,545
7. Charlottesville, VA
Castle Hill plantation is one of the most picturesque places in the Charlottesville, Virginia area. It has several buildings and gardens that showcase the art and architecture of many different eras. If you love the old plantation-style homes, this one is a must-see.
The University of Virginia and Piedmont Virginia Community College are the two primary schools in Charlottesville, Virginia. Charlotesville is one of the most popular college towns in the state of Virginia.
Student Population: 22,311
Total Population: 218,615
8. Blacksburg, VA
The Hahn Horticulture Garden is one of the most beautiful places in the Blacksburg, Virginia area. It sits on six acres and offers educational benefits and a variety of displays. The garden offers a peaceful retreat for students who need a short break from their day.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University is the primary school of higher learning in the Blacksburg area. Blacksburg is one of the most laid-back college towns in the country.
Student Population: 36,383
Total Population: 44,303
9. Eugene, OR
The Shelton McMurphey Johnson House is a unique tourist attraction that offers tours and hosts teas for local residents and guests. It is a Victorian home that has been fully restored and offers visitors a look into the style and quality older homes are known for.
The University of Oregon and Bushnell University are the two most prominent schools in the area. Eugene is one of the larger college communities that provide students with all of the amenities they need to succeed.
Student Population: 24,650
Total Population: 168,302
10. Davis, CA
The UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery is one of the most beautiful garden areas in the community. As part of the UC Davis educational program, it is a favorite tourist attraction. Both students and visitors come to the arboretum to relax and explore learning opportunities the facility has to offer.
The University of California, Davis is the predominant school in the Davis, California area. As a college town, Davis is one of the most well-known in the state for supporting the needs of its students.
Student Population: 31,162
Total Population: 68,543
11. Fort Collins, CO
Horsetooth Reservoir and Lory State Park are both natural recreation areas with beautiful scenery and a list of fun activities for both children and adults. These state parks offer learning activities and adventure opportunities for families who like to explore together.
Colorado State University is one of the most notable schools in the Fort Collins area. Fort Collins is one of most beloved college towns in the United States.
Student Population: 33,413
Total Population: 165,609
12. Ames, IA
Ledges State Park is approximately 15 miles to the west of Ames. Picnic areas, hiking trails, canyons, and water features are found in abundance within the state park. Just a short distance from Ames, the state park is a great way to explore nature and have fun with your family.
Iowa State University is located in Ames, Iowa. Faith Baptist Bible College is also close by. As one of the most student-oriented college towns in the Midwest, Ames offers many valuable resources to the students who attend school there.
Student Population: 33,391
Total Population: 66,023
13. Urbana-Champaign, IL
Robert Allerton Park was donated to the local university. It has a large manor house, natural woodlands, and a formal garden area. It is open to the public as a tourist attraction. Just south of Chicago, Champaign-Urbana offers students the best of both worlds. It is close to the big city and firmly nestled in farming belt in Illinois.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the most well-known university in the area. The blended communities of Urbana and Champaign come together to provide students with everything they need to succeed.
Student Population: 44,087
Total Population: 231,891
14. Berkeley, CA
The University of California Botanical Garden is one of the most beautiful features in the area. It is home to many different plants and natural areas that are divided into sections representing various areas of the world.
The University of California – Berkeley is located here. Berkeley is one of the most well-know college communities in the state of California.
Student Population: 42,000
Total Population: 121,485
15. Ithaca, NY
Close to Ithaca, you can find plenty of natural scenic areas. Cayuga Lake and Ithaca Falls are two areas that are known for their beauty and tranquility. The entire area is full of natural vistas and beautiful scenic ares.
Cornell University and Ithaca College are both located in Ithaca, New York. Ithaca provides students with all of the resources they need to complete their education.
Student Population: 27,000
Total Population: 30,569
16. Iowa City, IA
The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area. The museum and library contain numerous artifacts associated with Herbert Hoover’s presidency.
The University of Iowa is the primary university in the Iowa City area. Although Iowa City is one of the quaintest college towns in the US, it offers a peaceful place to attend school and raise a family.
Student Population: 22,304
Total Population: 171,491
17. State College, PA
The Arboretum at Penn State is one of the most beautiful and intriguing places to visit. The botanical garden hosts a wide variety of plants and unique structures. State College is located in one of the most picturesque areas of the state of Pennsylvania.
Penn State University is the primary university in the State College area. State College is one of the cutest college towns in America.
Student Population: 39,809
Total Population: 42.275
18. Amherst, MA
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art and the Emily Dickinson Museum are both unique places to visit if you want to explore the arts. In addition to all of the unique historical buildings, students also have access to the Atlantic Ocean for days when the beach is calling.
There are three well-known schools in Amherst. They are the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, Hampshire College, and Amherst College. As one of the most prestigious college towns in New England, Amherst offers everything a student could possibly need.
Student Population: 28,000
Total Population: 37,819
19. Boone, NC
Appalachian Ski Mountain and the Tweetsie Railroad are two of the primary tourist attractions in the Boone, North Carolina area. Students may also be interested in the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts.
Appalachian State University is a 4-year university located in the Boone, North Carolina area. Boone, NC gives students a chance to explore a variety of new opportunities when it comes to finding a job they like while they are still in school.
Student Population: 18,061
Total Population: 19,119
20. Cambridge, MA
The Harvard Museum of Natural History and the Harvard Art Museums are some of the most visited attractions in the New England area. Both have rich histories and are associated with Harvard University.
Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are both located in Cambridge, MA. Cambridge is one of the most historic college towns in the country.
Student Population: 50,289
Total Population: 116,632
21. Provo, UT
Bridal Veil Falls is a waterfall with scenic areas, walking trails, and picnic areas. A great place to get back to the beauty of nature. One of the most loved areas for skiing in the world, Provo really comes alive in the winter.
Brigham Young University is the most well-known school in the area. Provo UT and BYU are both steeped in strong religious tradition.
Student Population: 33,365
Total Population: 116,403
22. Tempe, AZ
In Tempe, AZ, both the Desert Botanical Garden and Papago Park are two of the most beautiful places in the entire area. Both offer scenic vistas and hiking trails.
Arizona State University is located in Tempe, AZ. Tempe is one of the most popular college towns in the southwestern United States.
Student Population: 74,878
Total Population: 187,454
23. College Station, TX
The Brazos Valley Veterans Memorial is one of the most popular attractions in the College Station area. It is located in the Veteran’s Park and Athletic Complex.
The main campus of Texas A & M University is located in College Station, Texas. College Station has a reputation for being one of the most focused college towns in the country.
Student Population: 68,726
Total Population: 113,686
24. Corvallis, OR
The Corvallis to the Sea Trail and Mid-Willamette Valley Food Trail are popular spots for visitors and residents alike. Both scenic byways and trails for hiking.
Oregon State University is one of the most well-known universities in the Pacific Northwest. Corvallis is a strong college community that provides support to all of the students that need it.
Student Population: 28,886
Total Population: 58,208
25. Oxford, OH
Hueston Woods State Park is a top favorite when it comes to getting back to nature and hiking trails. Getting back to nature is the best way to put the stress and frustration of college life behind you for the day.
Miami University, Oxford Female College, and the Miami University College of Arts and Sciences are all located in the Oxford, Ohio area.
Student Population: 16,522
Total Population: 22,700
26. Gainesville, FL
The Butterly Rainforest and the Harn Museum of Art are popular with both artists and tourists who visit the area. Gainesville is located in the center of the state, so a short drive to the east or the west will allow you to get some quality beach time.
The University of Florida is the most prestigious school in the Gainesville area. Students in the Gainesville area have access to many of the most valuable resources in the area.
Student Population: 71,630
Total Population: 132,127
27. New Haven, CT
The Yale Peabody Museum and the Yale University Art Gallery are unique features in New Haven, CT. From the beautiful college campuses to the rural farming areas, Connecicut offers almost any type of environment for you to explore.
Yale University and Southern Connecticut State University are the two most well-known schools in the New Haven area. New Haven is one of the top college towns in the US.
Student Population: 12,385
Total Population: 130,331
28. Bloomington, IN
The Constitution Trail and David Davis Mansion State Historic Site are two of the most popular tourist attractions in the area. Nestled in the heart of Indiana, Bloomington is surrounded by beautiful landscapes and interesting attractions.
Illinois Wesleyan University is the most well-known university in the Bloomington, IN area. Bloomington is one of the most beautiful college towns in the Midwest.
Student Population: 1,636
Total Population: 78,015
29. Manhattan, KS
The Flint Hills Discovery Center and the Sunset Zoo are two unique attractions that many visitors to the area enjoy. They are family-friendly and offer several different activities.
Kansas State University is the primary university in the area. Manhattan Christian College is close by as well. Manhattan is known for being a college town that supports its students.
Student Population: 17,700
Total Population: 55,290
30. Colorado Springs, CO
Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature areas are two of the most beautiful places in the United States. Both are nationally known and offer beautiful scenic vistas.
Colorado State University is one of the most popular schools in the Colorado Springs area. Colorado Springs is known as one of the top college towns in the country.
Student Population: 33,413
Total Population: 464,871
What Makes a Great College Town?
What makes a great college town is a different as colleges themselves. There are all kinds of college towns – small, out of the way towns, thriving modern towns, towns where the college is just part of the scene and towns where the college is virtually the entire town.
Some of the most fun college towns are small towns that are closest to the larger cities. Students can enjoy small-town experiences while being close enough to the larger metropolitan areas where they can enjoy live entertainment and professional sports. Larger cities are ideal when it comes to socializing and also will provide more employment opportunities for students who want to gain additional experience. Large cities offer a wider range of employment options and more opportunities for advancement.
Other students will thrive in an environment that is far from the city, where they can take a ride out of town and find themselves hiking in the mountains, renting a canoe, or driving through beautiful countryside. Lots of college towns in the Midwest and West are just minutes away from some of the most incredible sites in the world.
Many college towns have their own funky, fascinating culture all their own, like the way-out arty scenes of Athens, GA or Burlington, VT. College towns are a perfect breeding ground for art, music, and all kinds of experimentation – the combination of intellectual stimulation, young people exploring themselves and the world, and the resources of a college are a heady mix.
How Do You Define a College Town?
“College Town” is a special designation that may be a little different to everyone. For Value Colleges, the editors thought of towns that have their own flavor. To be a true college town, it’s not enough that a town or city have a college in it – most towns and cities of any size have some sort of college, even if it’s a small community college. And it’s not enough for a town to be known for its college – there are dozens, if not hundreds, or small towns that are known for nothing but the small liberal arts college that calls it home.
No, to be a real college town, a place has to have something different. It has to have a life of its own outside of the college – places for students to go outside the gates of the campus, activities not sponsored by the school, culture not directly tied to the arts or theater departments. Campus life is great, of course, and colleges can add much to the culture of a town, but a great college town is more than its college. The college is part of the life of a college town, but a great college town shows the unique interaction and marriage of college and town.
That’s what Value Colleges editors looked for – college towns that are true college towns, where alumni want to come back to retire and students hate to leave. And if a college town is in a beautiful location, all the better!