The Most Unique College Towns In America

Deciding where to go to college comes down to a lot of different factors, but one to consider is location. There are so many charming college towns across the United States that make off-campus life full of energy and excitement. Even those who have long graduated from a university find themselves settling in college towns due to their many attractions, youthful vibe, and spirited sports teams. So whether you’re getting out on your own for the first time or are looking for a place to retire, these are the top-ranked American college towns worth living.

Norman, Oklahoma Residents Are Really Into Sports

the gaylord family oklahoma memorial stadium at the university of oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Norman, Oklahoma is the third-largest city in the state and is home to the University of Oklahoma. Over 32,000 members of Norman’s population are students and the university usually has over 85,000 people who attend their sporting events. The University of Oklahoma funds many of the museums and theaters in the area.

The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art has the largest collection of French Impressionist art out of any other American university. Another popular museum is the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, which takes up over 50,000-square feet with exhibits in archaeology, Native American studies, paleontology, and more.

Leave Your Car Behind In Boulder, Colorado

a girl walking during the winter under a tree with pink flowers at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado
Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The city of Boulder, Colorado is relatively small but has become one of the nation’s favorite college towns. It’s almost entirely walkable with bike paths that run through most of the city, not to mention they have a top-rated public transit system. Most parts of the town are situated against some of nature’s most beautiful landscapes, which lead up to the Rockies.

Most students either go to the University of Colorado or Naropa University. There are a ton of startups and science and art institutes, making it a perfect balance of student and post-graduate life.

What Sets Fayetteville, Arkansas Apart From Other College Towns

an arch outside the university of arkansas in fayetteville, arkansas
army.arch/Flickr
army.arch/Flickr

Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas has been the main institution in Fayetteville, Arkansas for generations. The town sits on the outskirts of the Boston Mountains deep in the Ozarks and almost half the population has a bachelor’s degree. When classes are in session at the University of Arkansas many alumni travel back to relive their glory days at the football, basketball, and baseball games.

Fayetteville has been nationally ranked as one of the best places to live, retire, visit, and start a business. They have a prominent arts and music scene, put a lot of attention towards local businesses, and have a lively restaurant and entertainment district.

Champaign, Illinois Is Known For Their Nightlife

students out on the quad at university of illinois at urbana-champaign in champaign, Illinois
DHS Science and Technology Directorate/Facebook
DHS Science and Technology Directorate/Facebook

One of the things students enjoy most about Champaign, Illinois is the vibrant nightlife. It even ranked sixth out of every American college just for the nightlife. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the most prominent college in the area, which the city of Champaign shares with the city of Urbana.

Students can usually be found hanging out at Campustown, a commercial district with plenty of entertainment and retail options. Many Fortune 500 companies have offices in Champaign including State Farm, IBM, and John Deere and there are also many technology startups.

Providence, Rhode Island Has Tons Of Options For School

buildings around fall foliage in providence, rhode island
95.5 WSB/Facebook
95.5 WSB/Facebook

There are numerous options for college in Providence, Rhode Island. Most students are split between Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence College, the University of Rhode Island, and Johnson & Wales. The entire population of Providence is less than 180,000.

Since most of the schools are small liberal arts universities, there are big food and art scenes. Also, it’s one of the oldest cities in the United States after being founded by early colonist Roger Williams as part of a religious refuge from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636.

Why Businesses Thrive In Madison, Wisconsin

bascom hall at university of wisconsin, madison
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Numerous notable publications such as USA Today and Business Insider have ranked Madison, Wisconsin as one of the top college towns in the United States. The University of Wisconsin at Madison brings at least 50,000 new students to the city every year.

They are one of the fastest-growing cities for entrepreneurship in the Midwest. Madison is also a great spot for food because many of its restaurants and chefs have won prestigious awards including the James Beard Award. There is no shortage of live entertainment with dozens of venues hosting musical acts every night.

Ames, Iowa Has One Of The Lowest Unemployment Rates In The Country

football players running onto the field at iowa state university in Ames, Iowa
Stephen Mally/Getty Images
Stephen Mally/Getty Images

The demographics in Ames, Iowa definitely skew young with the median age being 23-years-old. Over 45 percent of the population is currently enrolled in college or graduate school with most attending Iowa State University. Those looking for work will most likely be successful in Ames because their unemployment rate is less than half of the national rate.

Iowa State University is a top choice for those looking to study agriculture, design, engineering, and animal science. A popular spot for students and residents of the town is the Jack Trice Stadium where football, basketball, volleyball, and tennis teams compete in games throughout the school year.

Look Out For This Colorful Character In Lawrence, Kansas

a girl posing with a statue of the bird mascot at university of kansas in Lawrence, Kansas
Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When walking around Lawrence, Kansas, it’s very common to see the locals wearing clothes with the beloved Jayhawk. That’s because it’s the mascot for the University of Kansas and over a quarter of the people living in Lawrence go to school there. The rest of the students go to Haskell Indian Nations University.

The architecture in Lawrence is marvelous with styles that range from Victorian, Gothic Revival, Tudor, Romanesque, and more. Rolling Stone named it one of the best college towns because of its vital music and art scenes. At South Park, you can find a gazebo that’s been there for 110 years, and bands still play there every summer.

Ithaca, New York Is A Perfect Balance Of City And Country

McGraw Tower at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Ithaca, New York is home to Ithaca College and Cornell University, making it a much-desired place to attend college. The entire city has only 30,000 residents, so it has a small town feel that isn’t too overwhelming. Ithaca has a perfect balance of city and country with gorgeous waterfall hikes and a lively downtown area.

While most people tend to leave the city after they graduate, it may not be a bad idea to put down roots there. Livability ranked it as one of the best places to live because of how much nature there is and the many fun events that happen throughout the year.

Tuscaloosa, Alabama Is All About Football

a bell tower at the university of alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Football season is something sacred in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Out in the streets, it’s common to hear people cheering for the Crimson Tide, the football team for the University of Alabama. Almost a quarter of Tuscaloosa’s population of 100,000 residents attends the university and many alumni return beaming with school pride.

Not only are they considered to be “The City of Champions,” but they are also one of the most livable cities in America, one of America’s best communities for young people, and one of the best places to launch a small business. Other points of interest around the area are the Bama Belle riverboat and the Alabama Museum of Natural History.

Why Employers Are Looking To Ann Arbor, Michigan For New Hires

aerial view of the Michigan Stadium at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Many prestigious companies know that the students who attend college in Ann Arbor, Michigan are getting the best out of their education, so they want to hire them. Places like Google, Toyota, and the Environmental Protection Agency look at schools such as the University of Michigan when deciding who they’ll hire.

University of Michigan football games are the number one source of entertainment during the school year, but there are also plenty of other cultural activities. About half of the population is currently attending one of the four universities, which gives Ann Arbor an authentic college town vibe.

College Station, Texas Is The Most Charitable College Town

a crowd of people near a sign that says home of the 12th man at texas a&m university in College Station, Texas
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Money Magazine rated College Station, Texas as the most educated city in the entire state. Almost 40 percent of the population attends a university in the area with the majority at Texas A&M University. This also makes the median age of College Station younger than 23-years-old.

One tradition that the students hold near and dear to their hearts is The Big Event. It’s the largest one-day community service event in the United States where thousands of Texas A&M students and alumni give back to the local community. Anyone going there for the first time should check out Northgate, a fun area with restaurants, music, shops, and more.

Get Outside If You’re In Bloomington, Indiana

sample gates at indiana university in Bloomington, Indiana
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Bloomington, Indiana was established in 1818 after early settlers were impressed by its “haven of blooms,” hence the name. The majority of the students living there attend Indiana University, which is one of the largest colleges in America. When in Bloomington, the most popular activities take place outdoors.

Locals recommend hiking the Deam Wilderness trails, seeing the Morgan-Monroe State Forest wildflowers, climbing the Cedar Bluffs Nature Preserve limestone bluffs, and fishing at the reservoir lakes. Since it’s a college town, they have an active nightlife with plenty of theaters, music venues, and restaurants.

Tree Huggers Will Love Athens, Ohio

people riding bikes at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio
Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

At least 20,000 students attend Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. It’s named after Athens, Greece due to it being an ancient center of learning. Almost everywhere you look there’s an abundance of trees, giving Athens the recognition of a Tree City by the National Arbor Day Foundation.

If you’re hankering to get outside, there are tons of state parks, forests, gardens, lakes, and trails just a short distance away from the college. Ohio University is the largest employer in Athens, so most of the city’s events take place there. One favorite among the locals is the Halloween Block Party, where the university turns into a haunted house.

Fairbanks, Alaska Has A Tight-Knit Community

a student with a large fur coat reading a book in the snow at University of Alaska in Fairbanks, Alaska
Jean-Erick Pasquier/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Jean-Erick Pasquier/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Anyone who can’t handle the cold shouldn’t head to Fairbanks, Alaska. The temperatures can reach 40 degrees below zero, but many students at the University of Alaska celebrate this. Some even take photos of themselves in bathing suits in the snow just to prove how much they enjoy living there.

The entire city has a population of only 32,000 people with about a quarter of them at the university. The community is very tight-knit, so everyone knows everyone and will help out their fellow students and faculty. When students aren’t studying they go out into the Alaskan wilderness, participate in the local art scene, and join in on the community events.

Bright Minds Are Drawn To Berkeley, California

sather gate at UC Berkeley in Berkeley, California
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

There’s a reason why Silicon Valley, the tech capital of the country, is just right across the Bay from Berkeley. University of California, Berkeley is one of the most difficult public colleges in the world for students to earn an acceptance letter. Only the brightest minds get to study there.

Berkeley also attracts an older crowd because the weather remains temperate year-round and its easy accessibility to nature. North Berkeley is home to a number of gourmet food options and artisans. It’s clear that when entering the city the residents have creative minds eager to make a difference in the world.

Why State College, Pennsylvania Is Nicknamed Happy Valley

students in front of old main playing frisbee at Penn State in State College, Pennsylvania
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

State College, Pennsylvania draws in people for various reasons. It’s home base for Penn State and has ranked as one of the smartest and safest small towns in America. Also, its music scene is thought to be one of the best in the country.

Penn State students call State College “Happy Valley” due to the rolling hills and overall joyous atmosphere of the town. During the summer over 125,000 people flock to the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, a five-day festival where paintings, pottery, jewelry, and other hand-made goods are available for purchase.

Go Green In Burlington, Vermont

downtown area in Burlington, Vermont with a restaurant and shops
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

When in Burlington, Vermont students have the option of attending the University of Vermont, Champlain College, Burlington College, or the Emily Post Institute. The University of Vermont is often called a “public ivy” because its public education is almost the equivalent of the other ivy league colleges.

In 2015 it became the very first city to be entirely powered by renewable energy, making it one of the greenest small towns in America. Music and art are very prevalent in Burlington. Many residents look forward to the South End Art Hop, which is a collaboration between artists and businesses who display art installations around the city.

Many Famous Musicians Came From Gainesville, Florida

auditorium and century tower at university of florida in Gainesville, Florida
Florida/Collegiate Images via Getty Images
Florida/Collegiate Images via Getty Images

Best College Reviews noticed that Gainesville, Florida was the second-fastest growing city in America because of its public university system. The most popular college out of the nine in the area is the University of Florida and about 35.5 percent of Gainesville’s population is currently in college.

Similar to other small college towns, there is a large startup, sports, music, and art scene throughout the city. Thousands of fans crowd the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during the school year to watch the Florida Gators. Also, musicians such as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stephen Stills, and The Eagles got their start here.

Tempe, Arizona Has One Of The Largest Cluster Of Universities Ever

a male student walking around with a backpack at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona
Laura Segall/Getty Images
Laura Segall/Getty Images

The city of Tempe, Arizona is best described as a college town because they have 42,000 students spread out across 16 different universities including Arizona State University. The large amount of college students led to Fortune 500 countries such as State Farm and Wells Fargo setting up shop there and employing students after they graduate.

Residents usually go to Tempe Town Lake to get outdoors, but will also travel to Papago and South Mountain parks for hiking, cycling, rock climbing, disc golf, and horseback riding. In the 1980s and 1990s, Tempe was a top spot for alternative music.

Corvallis, Oregon Is The Home Of Many Iconic Inventions

red brick hall at oregon state university in Corvallis, Oregon
Oregon State University/Collegiate Images via Getty Images
Oregon State University/Collegiate Images via Getty Images

Corvallis, Oregon is known for being the location of Oregon State University. Many genius inventions were discovered there including the computer mouse, dentist chair, and the artificial heart valve. The university is also nationally-ranked for its environment programs in natural resources, agriculture, marine biology, oceanography, and forestry.

The town is just a short way away from the Pacific Ocean, numerous trails, and other nature spots. Many tech companies put down roots in Corvallis including Hewlett Packard. At the end of the year, thousands of students attend a music festival called DAMJAM where big-name musicians such as Macklemore and Akon perform.

Hit The Books And The Waves In Honolulu, Hawaii

entrance of a white pillared building with palm trees at university of hawaii at manoa in Honolulu, Hawaii
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Anyone who loves the beach, palm trees, and surfing might want to attend the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, Hawaii, or one of their two community colleges. Honolulu is the capital of Hawaii, so there’s always something going on. Plus, after graduation students can look for many career opportunities in the area.

At night there is a multitude of entertainment options including authentic Hawaiian restaurants, shopping, and moonlit beach walks. First Hawaiian Center is the tallest building on the island with galleries and museums inside. The landscape alone is a top reason for people of all ages to consider making this remote island their permanent home.

Lexington, Kentucky Is The Horse Capital Of The World

main building at university of kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky
Kentucky/Collegiate Images via Getty Images
Kentucky/Collegiate Images via Getty Images

The “horse capital of the world” is located in none other than Lexington, Kentucky. Students either attend the University of Kentucky, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, or Transylvania University and go crazy for basketball games at the world’s largest basketball-specific arena. Lexington also has one of the most stable economies with booming technology and government sectors.

Music is a big part of the town with two summer festivals that celebrate bluegrass and Broadway hits. There are also numerous historical sites to check out including the Mary Todd Lincoln House, Pope Villa, and Martin Castle.

Provo, Utah Is Very Family-Friendly

students walking past a sign for Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah
George Frey/Getty Images
George Frey/Getty Images

USA Today found that about one in three residents of Provo, Utah are currently enrolled in college. There are eight different universities in the area, but the most popular is Brigham Young University. It’s operated by the Mormon Church and is one of the largest private universities in America.

Provo is surrounded by southwestern rocky mountain peaks, which make for great outdoor activities such as hiking and fishing. Since there is a large religious presence in this college town, it’s said to be friendly and family-oriented. This has led to some students settling there after graduation to start families of their own.

An Oscar-Winning Movie Was Shot In Beaufort, South Carolina

people walking around and eating at a restaurant in Beaufort, South Carolina
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

One word that best describes Beaufort, South Carolina is laidback. Their weather is warmer than average throughout the year with temperate winters and hot and humid summers. It’s the home of the University of South Carolina, Beaufort, known for its beautiful and large campus. The university ranks high for programs including education, liberal studies, and foreign language.

The city’s claim to fame is something remarkable. It was the primary shooting location for Forrest Gump. Military families may want to move here because they have a strong presence in the community with a Marine Corps recruitment depot, air station, and naval hospital.

Morgantown, West Virginia Is Praised For Its Economy

view of the campus at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia
West Virginia/Collegiate Images via Getty Images
West Virginia/Collegiate Images via Getty Images

Morgantown, West Virginia has a population of around 30,000 people and boasts one of the strongest economies in the county. Most students attend West Virginia University with famous alumni including Steve Harvey, Don Knotts, Cheryl Hines, and Taylor Kinney. Residents can often be found attending a college sports game, gathering at art and music festivals, shopping, and exploring the outdoors.

They have top-rated restaurants, a vibrant nightlife, a local farmer’s markets, and theater companies. Some local favorites are hiking at Coopers Rock State Forest or seeing the panoramic view of the city at Dorsey’s Knob, the highest point in Morgantown.

Cambridge, Massachusetts Makes Education A Priority

girl in pink sweatshirt holding a harvard flag at a football game in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Mark Peterson/Corbis via Getty Images
Mark Peterson/Corbis via Getty Images

More than three-quarters of the residents in Cambridge, Massachusetts have college degrees. That is most likely because it’s the city where the world’s most competitive universities, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are located. Since it’s just across the Charles River from Boston, there are numerous things to do around town.

People have the opportunity to go to museums, view public art, learn about the historic buildings and architecture, listen to the latest bands at music venues, and have adventures at the public parks. Even just walking around Harvard Yard could take up an entire day.

Lincoln, Nebraska Has A Good Balance Of Business And Pleasure

a cheerleader for the university of nebraska at a football game in Lincoln, Nebraska
Josh Wolfe/Getty Images
Josh Wolfe/Getty Images

Right in the center of the United States is Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s a decently-sized college town and home to the University of Nebraska. Many move to Lincoln for the clean air quality, lots of outdoor space, and family-oriented culture. It also has a pretty stable economy and plenty of business opportunities.

Residents know how to have fun. Lincoln has multiple music and theater venues, historic sites, museums, and parks. There are actually over 100 parks in the area full of hiking trails that total 373 miles and a bunch of colorful gardens.

Enjoy Some New England Beauty In Brunswick, Maine

student walking outside at bowdoin college in Brunswick, Maine
Tim Greenway/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Tim Greenway/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

New England Today called Brunswick, Maine one of the most picturesque college towns and it’s easy to see why. The town has less than 17,000 residents, is home to a liberal arts college, Bowdoin College, and has the best views of the Atlantic Ocean coastline. Bowdoin College dates back to 1794, so there’s a ton of history to be discovered.

One event the students love is the Bowdoin International Music Festival, which has been around for over five decades. Other places to go in Brunswick include the Androscoggin Pedestrian Swinging Bridge, the Skolfield-Whittier House, and the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Check Out Duluth, Minnesota’s Top Attractions

view of the city of Duluth, Minnesota
Jeff Schear/Getty Images
Jeff Schear/Getty Images

Duluth, Minnesota is surrounded by Lake Superior and there are miles of trails where people can get amazing waterfront views. Most of the college students go to the University of Minnesota, which offers fast-paced educational programs and common extracurriculars such as Greek life, intramural sports, and clubs.

The city is also a top Midwestern tourist destination. It has America’s only all-freshwater aquarium, the first transporter bridge, and the world’s longest freshwater bay mouth bar. Duluth is home to several local theater companies, including The Duluth Playhouse, one of the oldest operating community theaters in the United States.