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Best College Towns in the U.S.

9 Best College Towns in the U.S.

Searching for the best college towns in America? From balancing a social life with a high-quality education to finding programs and events you’ll love, there’s a lot to consider when choosing your home for the next few years. Check out our list of the nine best college towns and cities in 2022!

Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan

American flag flying in front of University of Michigan. Photo by Instagram user @uofmichigan

Photo via @uofmichigan

  • Population: 115,633
  • Student Population: 47,907
  • Known For: Awesome tailgating, striking landscapes

Do you look great in maize and blue and love college football? Ann Arbor might be the perfect college town for you! Home to the University of Michigan—which is consistently recognized as a top public research university—Ann Arbor is the perfect place for students who love innovation! Computer and information sciences, business administration, economics, and experimental psychology are some of the largest degree programs, but no matter your major, you’ll be connected post-graduation with one of the largest alumni networks in the U.S. If you’re searching for a college town with the best tailgating, get ready for lively Saturdays with the Wolverines. Just remember to pack a winter coat because Ann Arbor does experience all four seasons!

What to Do in Ann Arbor

Catch a game with one the most historic football programs in the country, The University of Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium. Stroll from the 3,207-acre campus to Detroit Street for food truck rallies and the year-round Ann Arbor Farmers Market. Stay active with the 90.1 lane-miles of on-street bike lanes and the Huron River Water Trail, which also runs through the city! Check out the permanent collection as well as temporary exhibits at the University of Michigan Museum of Art. Discover your next favorite band at local non-profit venue, The Ark. See relics of the past and learn about the history of our planet and our solar system at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History. Catch some laughs with local stand-up comedy at Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase. Stop at Zingerman’s Delicatessen to pick up a Zingerman’s Reuben and your groceries for the week, or to enjoy coffee and chocolate.

Berkeley, CA: University of California, Berkeley

  • Population: 120,463
  • Student Population: 42,327
  • Known For: Politically-active community, passion for the arts

Just east of San Francisco, you’ll find one of the best college towns in California. The University of California, Berkeley is a top public university known for being a hot spot for arts, culture, and politics. Credited as the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, the campus frequently hosts political rallies and protests. With this passion for activism, it’s easy to see why majoring in social sciences is a popular choice for UCB students. The university offers top-rated arts and humanities programs, and chemistry, mathematics, and engineering are also prominent degree options on campus. In fact, UCB’s dedication to STEM helps many students find employment after graduation at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Plus, Berkley’s close proximity to San Francisco is ideal for students looking for weekend fun or for recent college grads who want to live somewhere with cool neighborhoods and careers at tech startups!

What to Do in Berkeley

Visit a number of local attractions like the Sather Tower on Berkeley’s campus. Check out some of history’s greatest science experiments at The Lawrence Hall of Science. Jog along Telegraph Avenue to see where the city’s past and present architecture meet. Soak up the sun and get your fill of nature when you explore the Berkeley Rose Garden, Berkeley Botanical Garden, or Tilden Regional Park. Spend the afternoon at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Catch live music, eat wood-fired pizza, and grab a local brew in a former livery stable from the 1890s at Jupiter. Take a study break and order a Honey Oat Latte at local non-profit 1951 Coffee Company.

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Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at mid-day with leafy trees. Photo by Instagram user @uncchapelhill-

Photo via @uncchapelhill

  • Population: 66,103
  • Student Population: 30,092
  • Know For: Rich history, culture of innovation

Home to one of the oldest American public universities, Chapel Hill is a college town through and through. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of the most recognizable names in education. Boasting an amazing basketball program and excellent academic record, the university is considered among the top ten best-value schools in the country! This area of the Carolinas—often called The Research Triangle—is full of college students, with North Carolina State University 30 miles away and rival Duke University is just nine miles away in nearby Durham. These rivalries run deep and extend beyond the realm of athletics. Residents of Chapel Hill live by the powder blue, and those who attend the university often end up doing the same!

What to Do in Chapel Hill

It would be criminal to attend the University of North Carolina without attending a Tar Heel basketball game at the Dean E. Smith Center. Be sure to visit The Carolina Basketball Museum to learn about this historic program and some of the greatest players to ever wear the powder blue. Unwind with a stroll through the spacious North Carolina Botanical Garden to see a variety of plant species—many of which can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Check out cultural art and artifacts from all over the world at the Ackland Art Museum. Try authentic Turkish dishes like Balik Sis and Baklava while sipping cocktails at Talullas.

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College Station, TX: Texas A&M University

Daybreak over the campus of Texas A&M. Photo by Instagram user @tamu

Photo via @tamu

  • Population: 123,539
  • Student Population: 70,418
  • Known For: Southern traditions, dedicated sports fans

Tucked between Houston and Austin, College Station is home to the excellent Texas A&M University! As one of the largest public research universities in the U.S., having received grants for land, sea, and space studies, the Aggies are as serious about academics as they are about their campus traditions. The name “Aggies” comes from the school’s agriculture past, and to this day, agriculture remains a popular field of study, along with marketing, business management, and engineering. With the largest student section and military band in the country, it’s easy to see why this is one of the best college towns in America for football fans!

What to Do in College Station

Join the 12th Man and cheer on the Aggies at Kyle Field. Those who love military memorabilia will have plenty to explore right on campus of the Texas A&M Aggies at the Sam Houston Sanders Corps of Cadets Center! Visit the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Center to learn more about the Texan President’s administration. Go wake boarding, swimming, and camping at Lake Bryan! Get dinner and catch a show in College Station at Stage 12. Grab a Cappuccino or Cold Brew at Carport Coffee. Head to Downtown Bryan for food, drinks, and First Friday. Be sure to try The Tuscan, Popeye, and Sith Lord Pizzas at RX Pizza. Or slip on your boots, throw back a beer, and shoot some pool at Dixie Chicken.

Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University

Sun peeking over the center of campus at Oregon State University. Photo by Instagram user @vahid_g

Photo via @vahid_g

  • Population: 58,517
  • Student Population: 32,312
  • Known For: Top-rated degree programs, breathtaking views

A view of the Cascade Mountains and an hour drive to the ocean makes Corvallis a student paradise! Home to Oregon State University, this is one of the best small college towns in the Pacific Northwest. Not only does this ideal location elevate OSU as one of the most beautiful college campuses, but it also helps the university’s forestry, oceanography, and marine biology programs remain some of the best in the world. Plus, creatives can find strong MFA programs for writing with knowledgeable professors. Natural beauty and academic excellence make Corvallis one of the best college towns in the Pacific Northwest!

What to Do in Corvallis

For on-campus fun, go bowling, play shuffleboard, or catch the big game on TV right on Oregon State’s campus in the basement of Memorial Union. Go hiking and biking around Beaver Nation, explore beautiful natural caves off the coast, or head to Chip Ross Park for extraordinary views of the city. Buy local fruits and vegetables at the local Farmers Market. Try Lamb Birria, Carne Asada, and Prawns in Crema at del Alma. Head over to 2 Town Ciderhouse for a Blueberry Cosmic Crisp, Brightcider, or The Bad Apple. Spend some free time exploring the best of Benton County wineries. Or find even more craft breweries, farm-to-table restaurants, and concert venues await just 90 minutes away in Portland.

Ithaca, NY: Cornell University

  • Population: 31,371
  • Student Population: 23,620
  • Known For: Education-oriented, tight-knit community

If you’re a student with Ivy League dreams, make your way to beautiful Ithaca, home to Cornell University. Undergraduates hoping to study engineering, biology, computer science, and hotel or resort management will be in good company here. Cornell is also known for having premier graduate programs at Cornell Law School and Weill Cornell Medicine. Students dreaming of pursuing visual and performing arts can also find a home at nearby liberal arts school Ithaca College. Passion for higher education and small-town charm make Ithaca one of best college towns to live in.

What to Do in Ithaca

Check out scenic wineries around Cayuga Lake, where you can also enjoy spectacular views of nature and great boating. Take a walk at the pedestrian-only area of the Downtown Ithaca Commons, or go hiking at any of the nearby trails and state parks, like Taughannock Falls State Park. Experience the best of Ithaca’s local music scene each year at Porchfest. Catch a play like Sweeney Todd or An Odyssey at Hangar Theatre, or see displays and art exhibits at the Johnson Museum of Art. Dance the night away or play pool at Moonies Bar & Nightclub. Visit one of the many breweries and cideries in Ithaca for unique brews and alcoholic ciders.

Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas

  • Population: 101,211
  • Student Population: 26,744
  • Known For: Basketball fandom, nursing programs

Located at the top of Mount Oread, the University of Kansas overlooks the entire college town of Lawrence. KU’s school spirit is off the charts—the whole city is painted with messages of “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!” Historically, Kansas is a basketball state, so it checks out that the University of Kansas is home an amazing college basketball program. Plus, journalism, pharmacy, finance, and engineering are popular majors at KU, along with the top nursing program in Kansas. Not only is Lawrence an excellent place to learn, but the campus’ striking limestone buildings, green spaces, and warm community make it a wonderful place to live, as well.

What to Do in Lawrence

Watch the Kansas Jayhawks (NCAA) play their way to March Madness at Allen Fieldhouse. Explore several local shops and restaurants like Au Marché and Love Garden on Massachusetts Street in Downtown Lawrence. If art and music are more your scene, have your pick of expansive art exhibits at Spencer Museum of Art. Catch a concert or movie at the historic Liberty Hall, or head to The Granada to see your favorite national and international musicians. Love to spend time outside? Set out on Clinton Lake in a pontoon boat, or spend afternoons hiking, biking, or enjoying any of the 54 parks in town.

Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison

Daybreak over the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus buildings. Photo by Instagram user @uwmadison's profile picture uwmadison

Photo via @uwmadison

  • Population: 265,158
  • Student Population: 44,640
  • Known For: College party scene, bustling job market

There’s always something exciting going on in Madison! The presence of University of Wisconsin-Madison brings a collegiate spirit and young professional energy to this mid-sized city. Economics, psychology, computer science and political science are among some of the university’s popular programs. And, fortunately for students looking to pursue their passion for journalism or satire, UW-Madison is birthplace of The Onion, giving you a great foundation to build off. Between countless local bars and spirited game day tailgates, it’s easy to see why UW-Madison is recognized as a top party school in America!

What to Do in Madison

Saturdays are for college football in Madison! Spend the day tailgating, enjoy the game, and shake the stands to “Jump Around” at Camp Randall Stadium. But it’s not just Badgers football that residents rally for—local fans cheer for volleyball, hockey, basketball, and more! Make your way downtown to State Street for unique shopping, dining, and the Madison Night Market. Find amazing cross-country skiing in this top college town. Have your fill of kayaking, disc golf, or biking and hiking with a view when you visit the five lakes surrounding Madison. Check out historical and contemporary art exhibits at the Chazen Museum of Art. Stop in for a Beyond Burger, Black and Bleu, or Toadstool Burger with a brew at Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry.

Tempe, AZ: Arizona State University

Arizona State University's Walter Kronkite School of Journalism at midday. Photo by Instagram user @asufoundation

Photo via @asufoundation

  • Population: 207,982
  • Student Population: 74,795
  • Known For: Partying, Innovation

Home to one of the most innovative schools in the U.S., Tempe is a truly unforgettable college town. Arizona State University is one of the most recognizable schools in America, and not just for the famous nightlife. In fact, students at Arizona State can work directly with NASA to learn about innovative solutions and space exploration. There are also plenty of outdoor activities, hangout spots, and job opportunities available for college students. Combine all of that with warm temperatures year-round and it’s no surprise Tempe is a popular college town in 2022!

What To Do in Tempe

Soak up the sun on the beach, try paddleboarding, or take a canoe out on the water at the Tempe Town Lake. Catch a spring training game from the Cactus League (MLB) at Diablo Stadium. Check out art exhibits ranging from ancient sculptures to modern art at the ASU Art Museum. Show your school spirit by attending a Sun Devils football game at Sun Devil Stadium. Try The Big One, The Little One, or a Tijuana Torpedo at local favorite burger joint, The Chuckbox. Enjoy drinks and a British pasty like The Oggie, Peppered Steak, or The Pilgrim in a pub atmosphere at the Cornish Pasty Co. Try one of 30 rotating taps or one of the 600 bottled or canned beers at Taste of Tops. Enjoy live music, participate in an open mic night, or play the night away in an arcade with your favorite drinks at Yucca Tap Room.


Population statistics from World Population Review and UnivStats

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