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The 50 Best College Towns In America

By Merrill Cook

0. Intro

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There are a lot of things that have to click to make a truly great college town. Whether it’s feeling the palpable vibe of an alma mater, having tons to do, or the fact that your college town is a great place to stay after you’ve graduated, we’ve worked to provide you with a quality list of the best college towns in the nation.

What we considered:

  • Livability
  • Student-to-resident ratio
  • Cultural Offerings
  • School Presence
  • Large Employers

The towns at the top of our list have all of the above, while towns featuring only a handful of our criteria are ranked lower. As an example, 50th ranked Tacoma has high livability and large employer scores, it lacks somewhat in the other three, particularly in student-to-resident ratio and school presence. We recognize that everyone values different things in their college towns, but in an effort to establish diversity of views in the ranking of college towns, we have decided on the above criteria as a valuable way to highlight the towns that truly are a great part of our college experience, before, during, and after school.

50. Tacoma, WA

50. Tacoma

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Home to the University of Puget Sound, City University of Seattle-Tacoma, The Evergreen State College Tacoma Campus, Pacific Lutheran University, and the University of Washington Tacoma, this college town is bustling with students. Listed as the 19th most walkable city in the nation, and one of America’s most livable areas, Tacoma has the makings of a quality college town even without a flagship institution. A light rail system also runs through town and through to Seattle. Historically, the Port of Tacoma (Washington’s largest port) has supported the city’s economy, but today a variety of employers call Tacoma home, including local Universities, state departments, healthcare providers and Boeing. The city is sometimes known as “America’s gayest city” with LGBT couples allowed to marry and a number holding political offices. Art, seafood, microbreweries, and coffee make Tacoma a joy similar to Seattle, just a bit smaller.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 198,397
  • Student Population: 7,235

49. East Lansing, MI

eastLansing

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Directly adjacent to the capital of Michigan (Lansing), East Lansing is an important economic center and home to two medical schools, one veterinary school, two law schools, and Michigan State University. Each year, East Lansing hosts a number of festivals. A large number of neighborhoods have local traditions and scheduled events, and cultural offerings abound through theaters and museums. General Motors, as well as four major national insurance companies call East Lansing and Lansing home. Since 1996, high-speed internet has been available in East Lansing, providing a great environment for tech companies and research (academic and otherwise). With many urban renewal projects in the works, East Lansing continues to improve year to year, building on its reputation as a great college town.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 48,579
  • Student Population: 50,000

48. Tuscaloosa, AL

48. Tuscaloosa

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In recent years, Tuscaloosa has been named one of America’s most livable cities, and one of the “100 Best Communities for Young People” by America’s Promise Alliance. Like most of the larger state around it, most of life in Tuscaloosa centers around the University of Alabama (particularly their sports teams) leading to a great camaraderie. Tuscaloosa boasts a diversified economy including a Mercedes-Benz assembly plant, BF Goodrich Tire manufacturing, and numerous healthcare companies. Most of the cities nightlife centers around the University, with the nation’s #1 sports bar (according to Playboy Magazine) about a mile from campus at the Houndstooth Sports Bar.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 95,334
  • Student Population: 34,852

47. Flagstaff, AZ

47. Flagstaff

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Flagstaff is home to Northern Arizona University, a number of large corporations, a strong cultural presence, and proximity to the Grand Canyon. A number of theaters, festivals, and music events provide a vibrant cultural experience. Large businesses in Flagstaff include the makers of Gore-Tex, Nestle Purina Petcare, and Walgreens. The Lowell Observatory and United States Naval Observatory Flagstaff Station provide scientific jobs in the community, and have recently coupled with the Discovery Channel to build a new telescope for future projects.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 65,870
  • Student Population: 26,006

46. Bozeman, MT

46. Bozeman

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Bozeman is home to Montana State University and unrivaled access to recreational and outdoor activities. From fly fishing, to rock climbing, to skiing, spelunking, or just exploring, Bozeman has it all. For being relatively small, Bozeman offers an astounding number of coffee shops, bars, art galleries and restaurants, and cultural offerings are always present at the university. A number of tech startups call Bozeman home, with over a dozen bio tech companies, and at least eight tech companies engaged in research or production of laser optic equipment. Gibson Guitar Corporation’s acoustic guitar factory is also based in Bozeman.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 39,860
  • Student Population: 15,294

45. Tempe, AZ

45. Tempe

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Tempe is located in the East Valley section of the Phoenix metro area, and is home to Arizona State University. Though recently losing one, Tempe has been the home of the headquarters and executive offices of two Fortune 500 companies: US Airways and Insight Enterprises. Around these businesses, others have flocked, including JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Safeway. In tandem with a growing university and thriving economy, Tempe offers wonderful hospitality, shopping, and housing options.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 168,228
  • Student Population: 76,000

44. San Luis Obispo, CA

44. San Luis Obispo

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One of the oldest cities in the state of California offers Spanish and Native American historical sites, views of the Santa Lucia Mountains, and access to the coast. California Polytechnic State University fills the town with bright students every fall and provide cultural offerings, adding to the ranks of the “Bike Happening” in which the first Thursday of every month features costumed bike riders circling the center of town. From antiquity, a set of mysterious tunnels underlay the city, creating their own “underground city” that many brave adventurers have explored. With a larger metro area, there are a number of large employers including the University, Pacific Gas and Electric, and Tenet Healthcare.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 45,119
  • Student Population: 18,762

43. Claremont, CA

43. Claremont

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Sometimes known as the “City of Trees and PhDs,” Claremont is as beautiful as it is well educated. Home to the Claremont Colleges, a quiet community, and access to L.A.–the second largest metro area in the nation–Claremont has something to offer everyone. With tons of boutiques, coffee shops, and restaurants, there’s always something to do in Claremont. Outdoor activities are ever accessible as well, as you can go skiing or snowboarding in the San Gabriel Mountains, and swimming in the Pacific on the same day. CNN Money ranked Claremont as the top place to live in California.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 34,926
  • Student Population: 5,072

42. Eugene, OR

42. Eugene

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The hometown of Nike is known for outdoor opportunities, support for the arts, “alternative” lifestyles, and the University of Oregon. Eugene has lots of green space, and uncontested views of Skinner Butte and Mount Pisgah. As a politically active town with a connection to the outdoors, it’s not surprising that Eugene was home to “anarcho-primitivist” protests in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Despite the urge of some of Eugene’s residents to return to nature, there are a number of large employers in the town, including PeaceHealth Medical Group, the University of Oregon, and the school district.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 159,190
  • Student Population: 24,548

41. Grand Forks, ND

41. Grand Forks

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Grand Forks offers the cultural accoutrements expected of a college town thanks to the University of North Dakota, while also offering a strong and diversified economy and low cost of living. Industries employing the most residents of Grand Forks include defense, healthcare, education, food processing, and research. Altru Health System and Grand Forks Air Force Base are the largest employers, with Amazon.com and LM Wind Power also calling the city home.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 54,932
  • Student Population: 15,250

40. Fayetteville, AR

40. Fayetteville

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Like many of the best college towns on our list, Fayetteville ranks highly as a town in which to start a business or retire. Forbes ranked Fayetteville as the 8th best city for business and careers in 2010. US News ranks Fayetteville as one of the best towns to retire in the nation. Home to the University of Arkansas, and accompanying local bars, restaurants, coffee shops and cultural events, Fayetteville offers everything you would want from a college town set in the beautiful Ozark Mountains. Large employers include the University of Arkansas, the largest Fortune 500 company Walmart’s corporate headquarters, and Tyson.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 76,899
  • Student Population: 24,537

39. Athens, GA

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Athens is home to the University of Georgia, has lower rent than the nation’s average, and has many venues, restaurants, bars, and coffee shops that cater to an intellectual environment. Thanks to a devoted student and community fan base, and some talented Athenians, a number of national music acts have come out of Athens, including Neutral Milk Hotel, Danger Mouse, Widespread Panic, and R.E.M. While the University of Georgia is the largest employer in the town, healthcare and heavy industry feature heavily on the largest employers list.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 115,452
  • Student Population: 34,518

38. Bloomington, IL

38.Bloomington

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Bloomington and its twin city Normal are home to Illinois Wesleyan University and Illinois State University. Through Illinois State University, a number of cultural offerings, sports events, and businesses catering to student nightlife are present. Large employers like State Farm Insurance, Mitsubishi, and Country Financial, coupled with a low cost of living make Bloomington a great location for young college town seekers.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 77,733
  • Student Population: 22,592

37. Oxford, MS

Photo by Robert Jordan

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Oxford is consistently ranked as one of the top college towns in the nation, and one of the nation’s most charming small towns. Home to University of Mississippi, Oxford sports deep south charm and is known for a polished night life, and famous southern authors and artists. William Faulkner’s home “Rowan Oak” is a must see, and John Grisham currently has a home in Oxford. Due to its college town vibes and proximity to Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans, Oxford has a unique and varied music scene, with big acts often stopping between larger cities. With Hotty Toddies and Verandas galore, it’s a place in which everyone should stop in at least once.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 18,916
  • Student Population: 18,224

36. Bloomington, IN

36. Bloomington

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Bloomington, named for the prolific blooms spotted by settlers, often lives up to its name. Home to Indiana University, often named one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation, and a designated Tree City, Bloomington is a beautiful town. A wide array of support services and entrepreneurial community help Bloomington to retain and attract talent. It’s one of Entrepreneur magazine’s 50 “Hottest Small Cities for Entrepreneurs” and ranked No. 3 by Forbes as “Best Places for Business Careers.” The largest employers are in the education, pharmaceutical and tech sectors. With numerous festivals, restaurants, shopping, and drinking establishments, as well as tons of outdoor opportunities, Bloomington is an immensely livable city.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 83,565
  • Student Population: 32,371

35. Waterloo-Cedar Falls, IA

35. Cedar Falls

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Waterloo and Cedar Falls are home to University of Northern Iowa, one of the most progressive populaces in the state, and a growing tech presence. In recognition that not everyone wants to move to a small town, the city has taken many steps in recent years to retain talent and attract highly-skilled workers. The UNI incubator program has housed many up and coming tech firms, and the city is in the process of redoing many trails to enhance quality of life. Downtown is bustling with restaurants and nightlife, and the Waterloo is home to one of the largest homosexual population in Iowa; a yearly gay pride parade called the Cedar Valley Pridefest draws crowds from around the region.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 164,913
  • Student Population: 12,159

34. Logan, UT

34. Logan

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Logan is home to Utah State University. Besides natural beauty, and strong cultural offerings, perhaps what makes Logan most unique is the large Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) present. The Utah Festival Opera operates from Logan, and one of the best farmer’s market in the country is open on Saturdays throughout much of the year. While Logan may not be for everyone, Newsmax has listed the town as one of the “Top 25 Uniquely American Cities and Towns” in the nation. Large employers include Utah State University, Icon Health & Fitness, Gossner Foods, Schreiber Foods, and the Space Dynamics Laboratory.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 48,879
  • Student Population: 27,812

33. Lafayette, IN

33. Lafayette

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Lafayette is home to Harrison College and Purdue University, around much of town life and economy revolves. Purdue has the 3rd largest Greek System in the US, meaning there’s always a social or outreach event going on. The Wabash river offers great outdoor opportunities, and local brewing at the Lafayette Brewing Company, as well as a host of other local restaurants and bars offers a great time. The largest employers in Lafayette (besides Purdue) include Caterpillar, Wabash National, and Subaru.

Additional Information:

  • Population:67,925
  • Student Population: 38,788

32. Manhattan, KS

32. Manhatten

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Though small, Manhattan has been voted one of the top ten places to retire young by CNN and Money magazine. In 2011, Forbes also ranked Manhattan first for “Best Small Communities for a Business and Career.” Home to Kansas State University, the school’s 24,000 students promote nightlife and cultural offerings in the town. Tallgrass Brewing Co offers homegrown brews. As far as employment, The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, Kansas Department of Agriculture, Kansas State University, and the Farm Bureau all call Manhattan home.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 56,069
  • Student Population: 25,000

31. Lawrence, KS

31. Lawrence

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Lawrence is home to University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University. While creature comforts and livability are present (as seen in it’s high ranking in many “best cities to retire” lists), it’s also been described by the New York Times as having “the most vital music scene between Chicago and Denver.” The yearly Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival is at the center of the music scene, garnering some 60,000 ticket sales in recent years. Top employers in Lawrence include the University of Kansas, Vangent, Hallmark Cards and the World Company.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 89,512
  • Student Population: 27,784

30. Syracuse, NY

30. Syracuse

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Syracuse is the economic and educational hub for central New York, a region of over 1 million residents. This being said it has the offerings of a large metro area, while also being the home of centrally located Syracuse University, some schools of the State University of New York, and Le Moyne College. Cultural offerings such as theaters, opera, museums, classical music, and a vibrant nightlife complement life in Syracuse. Large employers include the Upstate University Healthy System, local universities, Lockheed Martin, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 145,170
  • Student Population: 24,667

29. Columbia, MO

fire in the sky

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Columbia has a reputation of progressive politics, protected journalism and public art centering around University of Missouri, Columbia College, and Stephens College. Shelter Insurance, Columbia Insurance Group, MFA Oil, and Carfax all call Columbia home, though the University of Missouri and healthcare industries are by far the largest employers. Numerous restaurants and venues that bring some of the best indie and jazz artists through Columbia help keep the town busy at nights. And NCAA D1 athletics and a number of professional teams within a few hours drive are also a plus.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 115,276
  • Student Population: 37,954

28. Binghamton, NY

28. Binghamton

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Binghamton is home to Binghamton University, is an economic powerhouse, and a regional cultural center. Centered around the defense industry, there are tons of employment opportunities for graduates or newcomers. Large employers include Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, IBM, Sanmini-SCI, and Universal Instruments. The city is home to a variety of festivals, a large gathering of art galleries downtown, and the regions premiere philharmonic. Coupled with a number of museums, many of the towns historic buildings assure there’s always something new to explore.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 47,376
  • Student Population: 15,308

27. Lincoln, NE

27.Lincoln

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This Nebraskan city topped the CDC list of healthiest U.S. cities in 2008, and was the #1 Gallup-Healthways “Happiest and Healthiest City” in 2013. Known as Silicon Prairie, Lincoln ranked #4 on Forbes’ list of the best places for business and careers in 2013. Besides those who move to town, talent for the education, health, and information technology sectors comes from University of Nebraska, Union College, and Nebraska Wesleyan University. Due to a stable economy, good schools, and size, Lincoln has been considered one of the most welcoming cities for immigrants and those moving from elsewhere in the US for many years.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 265,404
  • Student Population: 52,609

26.Amherst, MA

26. Amherst

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Inhabiting a region known as Happy Valley, Amherst is home to three top-tier schools: Amherst College, Hampshire College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Prestigious names associated with Amherst in the past include Noah Webster, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Frost. Many prominent artists and writers also live in Amherst today. As one might expect, along with prominent artistic and cultural events, Amherst is also a center of liberal politics. While the Universities are the largest employers in Amherst proper, a number of larger economic centers are within commuting range.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 37,819
  • Student Population: 30,000

25. Minneapolis, MN

25. Minneapolis

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While Minneapolis is slightly larger than other cities on our list, it’s also home to the fourth-largest student body amongst public 4-year Universities. As far as offerings, a full 16.6% of the city is comprised of parks, and Minneapolis is second only to NYC in terms of theaters per capita. It’s one of the nation’s top bicycling cities, and 5 Fortune 500 corporations that call Minneapolis home. Minneapolis offers the best of both a college town and a larger city.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 400,070
  • Student Population: 58,862

24. Cambridge, MA

24. Cambridge

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Cambridge is perhaps best known as an intellectual powerhouse. The town’s higher education offerings include Cambridge College, Episcopal Divinity School, Harvard University, Hult International Business School, Lesley University, Longy School of Music, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While Harvard and MIT are the largest employers, the level of highly qualified grads makes Cambridge a center of tech and research activity. Currently Google, Novartis, Pfizer, IBM Research and Microsoft Research call Cambridge home. Stapes, Hewlett-Packard and Amazon.com are in the process of opening offices. Nonprofit groups and think tanks are also abundant, including the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, and the National Bureau of Economic Research. Cambridge receives a 100/100 in walkability, has vibrant cultural and artistic offerings, and a number of upper end restaurants.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 105,162
  • Student Population: 29,565

23.Burlington, VT

23. Burlington

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While Vermont may be small, Burlington’s metro area holds a full third of the state’s total population. The town was labelled a “town to watch” by AARP in 2007, highlighting a number of components also beneficial to college towns: new urbanism, smart growth, mixed-use development, and easy living standards. The University of Vermont, Burlington College and Champlain College round out the student population in this college town. A vibrant musical, artistic, and cultural scene make this small town an exciting place to visit or stay. Phish originated in Burlington, and it is home to the Emily Post Institute (an etiquette organization).

Additional Information:

  • Population: 42,417
  • Student Population: 14,193

22.Fargo, ND

22.Fargo

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The largest city in North Dakota accounts for 16% of the entire state’s population. Traditionally reliant on an agricultural economy, in recent years Fargo has developed food processing, manufacturing, technology, retail, education and healthcare economic sectors. In 2009 Forbes ranked Fargo as the 7th best small city in the nation to start a business or work. Though it does get cold in the winters, a large influx of college students, numerous entertainment options, and jobs after college make Fargo one of America’s fastest growing college towns.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 113,658
  • Student Population:14,629

21.College Station, TX

21.College Station

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The home of Texas A&M University was named the most educated city in Texas, and 11th most educated in the U.S. by Money magazine in 2006. Texas A&M’s status as a land, sea, and space-grant institution leads to a great deal of research in the area, as well as a stronger economy. Current research projects are being performed by big names such as NASA, the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation, and Office of Naval Research.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 97,801
  • Student Population: 58,809

20. Morgantown, WV

20.Morgantown

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This small city lies not far from Pittsburgh and D.C., is the home of West Virginia University, and boasts both a strong local economy and WVU’s business incubator. With abundant outdoor activities, and an educated workforce, Morgantown has been listed on CNNMoney’s 50 Best Places to Launch a Business for several years. The Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit connects the three campuses of West Virginia University and downtown, providing a unique public transit option with good coverage of the town.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 118,506
  • Student Population: 29,466

19.Lexington, KY

19.Lexington

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The “horse capital of the world” is home to Transylvania University as well as the University of Kentucky. Home to southern hospitality, the world’s largest basketball-specific arena, and booming tech and government sectors, Lexington has one of the nations most stable economies, and is fun to boot. The Urban Growth Boundary, established in the late 50’s keeps city density high, and preserves the surrounding horse farms that give the region its identity.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 308,428
  • Student Population: 30,000+

18. Tallahassee, FL

18. Tallahassee

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Tallahassee is home to two large public universities: Florida State University, and Florida A&M University. In 2007, Kiplinger’s ranked the town as the second best “Top Ten College Towns for Grownups” and the town is often featured on lists of good “medium sized cities” to live in. A long list of yearly festivals, dining, and entertainment options attract interest from both local residents and tourists.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 181,376
  • Student Population: 51,140

17. Hartford, CT

17. Hartford

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Hartford is one of the oldest cities in the US. An economic powerhouse for its size, Hartford is home to (most notably) University of Connecticut law school, Trinity College, and University of Hartford.

Historical attractions abound in Hartford, including the nation’s oldest public art museum, the Wadsworth Atheneum; the nation’s oldest public park, Bushnell Park; and the nations second-oldest secondary school, Hartford Public. Mark Twain, one of Hartford’s most illustrious residents left his house that can now be toured as a museum. Today, many large employers in the insurance industry call Hartford home, including Travelers, Aetna, The Hartford, The Phoenix Companies, Hartford Steam Boiler, Lincoln National Corporation, and United Healthcare.
Additional Information:

  • Population: 124,775
  • Student Population: 25,000+

16. Charlottesville, VA

16. Charlottesville

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This small town is the home of two former U.S. Presidents, a UNESCO world heritage site (Monticello), and tons of fun outings. Listed as the “brainiest” city in the US by Lumosity in 2012, the University of Virginia– one of the Public Ivies– is definitely a rallying point for the town. The downtown mall, one of the longest outdoor pedestrian malls in the nation, rolling vineyards, and views of the Blue Ridge Mountains make Charlottesville a beautiful spot with great livability.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 43,475
  • Student Population: 21,095

15.Blacksburg, VA

15. Blacksburg

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Blacksburg is home to Virginia Tech, Radford University, and a number of large employers. With close to two students for every non-student, Blacksburg is definitely centered around college life. Though small, the town is forward thinking, as the home to Blacksburg Electronic Village (BEV) since 1991. BEV and close proximity to high quality graduates make Blacksburg an ideal location for tech firms.

As far as creature comforts, Blacksburg is situated between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains with beautiful views around town. In the mountains there are tons of scenic drives and outdoor activities. In town, there are more than 150 restaurants, pubs, art galleries, and boutiques. If you want a high quality town that’s on the smaller size, Blacksburg could be the place for you.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 42,620
  • Student Population: 30,000

14. Fort Collins, CO

14. Fort Collins

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Fort Collins is home to Colorado State University and on Money magazine’s Best Place to Live in the US list since 2006. A great homegrown music and microbrewery scene complement the town’s collegiate vibes, with one of it’s most attended events hosted by New Belgium Brewery; “Tour de Fat” as the event is called, draws over 20,000 people riding bikes and dressing in costume.

As part of the Front Range Corridor, Fort Collins is close to other destination locations such as Boulder and Denver. Within sight of the Front Range, there are limitless outdoor opportunities as well as skiing in the winter.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 148,612
  • Student Population: 31,256

13. Champaign-Urbana, IL

13.Champaign Urbana

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Champaign-Urbana is one of the greenest cities in the US. However, it also offers a more urban feel than similarly-sized cities. Without many traditional suburbs, Champaign-Urbana is home to a developed urban setting surrounded by farmland and small farming villages. If you want the cultural offerings of a world class university town without the traffic, urban sprawl, and high cost of living, Champaign-Urbana is the place for you.

Traditional industries such as big farming and Kraft Foods split employment opportunities with a growing information and technology sector and the University itself. THe University of Illinois is one of the great public universities in the US, and many of the town’s arts, entertainment, and intellectual activities center around the school. A lively music scene, museums, festivals, and a number of theaters make sure you’ll have plenty to do in town.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 231,891
  • Student Population: 42,326

12. Pittsburgh, PA

Classic Pittsburgh_Martinec, John.jpg

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Pittsburgh’s a bit bigger than other locations on our list, but has a student population that keeps pace with the population of the city as a whole. Largely thanks to it’s status as the home of many corporate headquarters through the 20th century, Pittsburgh has massive research infrastructure, libraries, cultural districts, and the most bars per capita in the U.S.

Currently Pittsburgh is home to some 1,600 tech firms (including Apple, Google, and Intel), and federal headquarters for cyber defense, robotics, and energy research. Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh, and a whopping 66 other colleges and Universities make Pittsburgh one of the “smartest” cities in the US.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 306,211
  • Student Population: 95,436

11. Gainesville, FL

11.Gainesville

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Gainesville was the 2nd fastest-growing city in the nation from 2007-2011, highlighting a large growth in working-age population, employment, and median income. As with many cities attracting young talent, Gainesville is also a growing startup hub, the poster child of which is the music startup Grooveshark.

In Gator country, one of the top party schools in the nation meets a thriving research environment and highly competitive athletic programs. The University of Florida ensures that almost half of the town’s 120,000+ residents are students. Those who have come to love Gainesville cite near tropical weather, natural beauty, a strong business climate, and lots of entertainment options as reasons to love the city. If you’re a nature buff, you’ll love the variety of parks sporting spanish moss and palm trees, and other features such as the butterfly rainforest, or University of Florida’s “Bat House.” Gainesville has a number of museums, and, like any college town worth its salt, a booming night life with tons of bars from which to watch a Florida Football Game.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 126,047
  • Student Population: 50,000

10. Corvallis, OR

10.Corvalis

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Corvallis is home to Oregon State University, a number of large employers, and beautiful views of the Cascade Range. A naturalist’s paradise, Corvallis was the nation’s #1 Green Power Community in 2009, and is ranked by Outside Magazine as one of the top 20 towns in which to live. Corvallis is known for high life-expectancy, tons of parks, and a high quality of living.

Consistently ranked as one of the smartest towns in America, Oregon State University receives more research funding than all other public higher education institutions in Oregon combined. It is also one of only two universities in the nation to be a land-grant, sea-grant, space-grant, and sun-grant institution. Complementing the town’s talent, Hewlett-Packard, CH2M Hill, and AVI BioPharma all call Corvallis home.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 55,055
  • Student Population: 27,952

9. Iowa City, IA

9.Iowa City

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Iowa City boasts a storied literary scene, a community that gives back, and good dining and night life. The Iowa Writer’s Conference, and associations with writers such as Robert Frost, Flannery O’Connor, and Kurt Vonnegut help make Iowa City North America’s only UNESCO City of Literature. Events like the Iowa City book festival and Literary Walk keep the bookish vibes alive and present today in Iowa City.

An acclaimed hospital system hosts a series of city wide events focused on giving back. The largest student organization at the University of Iowa, hosts Dance Marathon, a 24-hour dance party that has raised $14,539,000 for children patients at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. For those looking for a good time, the University of Iowa was ranked as the nation’s top party school of 2013. As would be an established nightlife and dining scene are present downtown.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 70,133
  • Student Population: 31,065

8.State College, PA

8.State College

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Through recent years, State College has been known as one of the smartest towns in America, one of the best music scenes in the country, and one of the safest small towns in the country–not bad, eh? State College is fairly medium sized compared to other cities on our list, with metro area population coming in around 100,000. The city is graced with large employers like AccuWeather and Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems.

On top of all State College’s amenities, a few minutes drive leads you to golden cornfields and rolling hills with cattle. State College truly is a college “town” in the truest sense of the word, with a local obsession with Penn State football, great local schools, and a thriving downtown located near the University.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 41,983
  • Student Population:45,518

7.Chapel Hill, NC

7.Chapel Hill

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Great weather, a vibrant collegiate atmosphere, music, arts, and tons of food festivals make Chapel Hill a great college town. Beautiful Georgian architecture and the basketball powerhouse Tar Heels are infectious. There’s no way life in Chapel Hill can’t center around the University.

With over 700 acres of parks and natural areas, the town could double as a nature sanctuary, yet it’s connected worldwide. As a part of the “Research Triangle” there are tons of opportunities to work in science, tech, or healthcare. The town also boasts one of the highest rates of residents with graduate degrees, and a local, world-class research university. If that’s not enough for you, Chapel Hill was also recently hailed as “America’s Foodiest Small Town” by Bon Appetit magazine.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 58,424
  • Student Population: 29,137

6. Berkeley, CA

6.Berkeley

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Berkeley is a town consumed by an emblematic university, and connected to the big city. Across the east shore of the San Francisco Bay, Berkeley is temperate year round, with natural sanctuaries throughout the city. Berkeley is known for its progressive politics, so if you’re around town for long, you’re likely to see some activism, rallies and the like.

Located across the Bay from Silicon Valley, Berkeley is a great place for the young or technically savvy. The “Gourmet Ghetto” in North Berkeley is home to a number of more affordable gourmet food options and artisans. And like most towns filled with creative young folks, Berkeley has a thriving music and arts scene.

Additional Information:

  • Population:110,000
  • Student Population:35,000

5.Ames, IA

5.Ames

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Ames is home to Iowa State University, many big employers, and a great standard of living for a smaller town. Perennially listed on top places to live by organizations like CNN Money, Ames has a number of large employers, a 3.2% unemployment rate, and an average age of 23.8 (the total population of 58,000+ includes the student population off 33,241).

Small town vibes, large employers, and a vibrant night life make Ames a true college “town.” The University itself is nothing to sneeze at either, as the home of the first digital computer, and the nation’s first land-grant institution. Local employers like 3M, the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Animal Disease Center, and the national farmer’s association provide plenty of post-graduate opportunities in Ames.

Additional Information:

  • Population:58,965
  • Student Population:33,241

4.Ithaca, NY

4.Ithaca

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Ithaca is a naturally beautiful, very walkable town known as the home of Cornell and Ithaca College. Though the winters are brutal, and it’s a bit isolated (4 hours from NYC, and an hour away from the nearest big city), these are also facts that foster a unique sense of community. Almost half of Ithaca’s population are students throughout the school year, and accordingly, there are tons of local student-centered gatherings and nightlife offerings. For a town it’s size, Ithaca also boasts a surprisingly talented and diverse music scene. The school of music at Ithaca College attracts a great deal of talent, and many graduates choose to stay in town after they graduate. Throw in some good brews from a number of local breweries and you’ve got a pretty awesome college town!

Additional Information:

  • Population: 30,331
  • Student Population:27,400

3.Madison, WI

3.Madison

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From its historic downtown on an isthmus between two lakes, to rolling prairies surrounding the city, Madison is a beautiful and vibrant community built around University of Wisconsin-Madison. 20+ miles of trails in the UW-Madison Arboretum and vibrant fishing, boating, and swimming communities add to the cities outdoor charm. With one of the most educated populaces of US cities (48.2% of residents over 25 hold a bachelor’s degree), big business and entrepreneurialism are prevalent. Large employers include Google, Microsoft, Alliant Energy, Epic, and a host of other impressive companies.

To really get the feel of Madison, it’s best to start on State Street, which links UW with the state capital. Lined with boutiques, cafes, a bustling night life, and most importantly, independently-owned local businesses, State street has something for everyone, with a Wisconsin flavor.

Additional Information:

  • Population: 240,013
  • Student Population: 42,820

2.Ann Arbor, MI

2.Ann Arbor

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Roughly one out of two Ann Arbor residents are students during the school year, setting the stage for a college town feel. University of Michigan football games are the real center of entertainment in Ann Arbor. Outside of football season, however, there is a good mixture of modern cuisine, bars, museums, parks, and cultural offerings. Despite the frigid winter months, bike paths, trails, and good city planning make Ann Arbor quite livable. Ann Arbor has quality education from K-post grad, and boasts some of the finest elementary school music programs in the country.

While the University of Michigan is the largest employer in Ann Arbor (employing some 30,000 workers)–tech and science jobs are also on the rise. The city is home to Google’s AdWords offices (the company’s main source of revenue), and Toyota. JSTOR and Environmental Protection Agency offices offer other research offerings (quite a few for a town Ann Arbor’s Size). With a high student to resident ratio, great livability, a college town feel, and an impressive mixture of employers, Ann Arbor is a fantastic college town.

Additional Information:

  • Population:113,934
  • Student Population: 59,000

1.Boulder, CO

1.Boulder

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Boulder is known as a hip and healthy town with a hippy past and great views of the Flatirons. Boulder is one of the nation’s most celebrated towns – in rankings it regularly gets voted the best outdoor town, the brainiest city, one of the top cities for artists, and America’s Foodiest Town. Though it’s relatively small, the entire city is walkable, there are hundreds of miles of bicycle paths, and an outstanding public transit system. Nature abounds in Boulder with many central roads heading through downtown and ending at trail heads leading into the Rockies. A ring of Green Space surrounds the city, and buildings must remain below a certain height to preserve mountain views. Pearl Street Mall, an outdoor shopping area filled with fine food, book stores, art galleries, and coffee shops, is a central Boulder street.

The University of Colorado, and Naropa University (the nation’s first Buddhist University) provide the central student base for Boulder. For those out of school, numerous science institutes, local artisanal movements, and tech companies call Boulder home. The most notable employers include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations, the Geological Society of America, and the Space Science Institute.

Boulder has the perfect mix of student life and post graduate livability, making it an easy selection as our best college town in America.
Additional Information:

  • Population: 97,385
  • Student Population: 47,000