Best College Towns in Your State

College towns come with a sense of community and pride that you can’t always find in big cities, so if you’re looking for an escape from the rat race, one of these towns might be the perfect fit.

You might be surprised to see which places made our list, but we sought out towns with a low cost of living, abundant jobs, and easy transportation. These things make it easier to leave the comfort of your parents’ house, find good work during your studies, and get around town easily.

And after all is said and done, you can grab some grub and a drink down at the local pub to watch your home team win and relax with friends. We were happy to see that so many towns offer great places for college students to feel at home.

Methodology

We gathered a list of college towns and narrowed that list down to cities with fewer than 250K* residents and we kept in mind that the metro areas surrounding the smaller towns would also include the student population.

Using data from United States Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we analyzed overall population, student population, rental costs, college education rates, transportation access, unemployment rates, and bar availability. From there, we narrowed it down further by weighing cost of living, unemployment rates for 20–24 year olds, and easy access to the city.

*Maine, Hawaii, and Alaska did not have college towns with a population of less than 250K that met our criteria, so they are the exceptions.

Best College Towns by State

RankingCityStateUniversity
1Iowa CityIowaUniversity of Iowa
2IthacaNew YorkCornell University
3Champaign-UrbanaIllinoisUniversity of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
4RexburgIdahoBrigham Young University
5LoganUtahUtah State University
6State CollegePennsylvaniaPenn State University
7West LafayetteIndianaPurdue University
8BozemanMontanaMontana State University
9BellinghamWashingtonWestern Washington University
10BlacksburgVirginiaVirginia Tech
11Sioux FallsSouth DakotaUniversity of South Dakota
12CorvallisOregonOregon State University
13LawrenceKansasUniversity of Kansas
14RochesterMinnesotaUniversity of Minnesota Rochester
15Grand ForksNorth DakotaUniversity of North Dakota
16LincolnNebraskaUniversity of Nebraska
17MadisonWisconsinUnviersity of Wisconsin
18Ann ArborMichiganUniversity of Michigan
19FayettevilleArkansasUniversity of Arkansas
20SpringfieldMissouriMissouri State University
21HanoverNew HampshireDartmouth College
22WilliamstownMassachusettsWilliams College
23AthensGeorgiaUniversity of Georgia
24Chapel HillNorth CarolinaUniversity of North Carolina
25GainesvilleFloridaUniversity of Florida
26PortlandMaineUniversity of Southern Maine
27College StationTexasTexas A&M University
28BurlingtonVermontUniversity of Vermont
29BoulderColoradoUniversity of Colorado Boulder
30MorgantownWest VirginiaWest Virginia University
31OxfordOhioMiami University
32ProvidenceRhode IslandBrown University
33TuscaloosaAlabamaThe University of Alabama
34KnoxvilleTennesseeUniversity of Tennessee
35FlagstaffArizonaNorthern Arizona University
36ClemsonSouth CarolinaClemson University, South Carolina
37New HavenConnecticutYale University
38LawtonOklahomaCameron University
39RenoNevadaUniversity of Nevada, Reno
40MetairieLouisianaUniversity of New Orleans
41San Luis ObispoCaliforniaCal Poly
42College ParkMarylandUniversity of Maryland
43HonoluluHawaiiUniversity of Hawaii
44Las CrucesNew MexicoNew Mexico University
45PrincetonNew JerseyPrinceton University
46LaramieWyomingUniversity of Wyoming
47HattiesburgMississippiUniversity of Southern Mississippi
48LexingtonKentuckyUniversity of Kentucky
49AnchorageAlaskaUniversity of Alaska Anchorage
50DoverDelawareDeleware State University

Cost of living

These places are great not only for getting an education, but also for warding off the pain of debt that nearly every student faces.

It’s hard spending the same amount of money on a small studio apartment as you do on your education. But you can expect to save a little more cash while you’re learning in Springfield, Missouri; Rexburg, Idaho; or Logan, Utah.

Cost of living is important to college kids on a ramen budget, so we appreciate towns that hosts these eager minds without draining their wallets—a little extra fun money keeps the brain in tip-top shape, right?

Best college towns for cost of living:

1. Springfield, Missouri
2. Rexburg, Idaho
3. Logan, Utah
4. Las Cruces, New Mexico
5. Morgantown, West Virginia

6. Lawton, Oklahoma
7. Oxford, Ohio
8. Knoxville, Tennessee
9. Fayetteville, Arkansas
10. Athens, Georgia

Student employment

We understand that most college kids have to work while they go to school, so we made sure to look at at unemployment rates for people ages 20–24.

Rexburg, Idaho, has an impressive unemployment rate for college-aged folks (0.4%), followed by an also stellar 1.9% rate in Logan, Utah.

As you can see, the Midwest and South are great places to find a job, while the North East and coastal states job competition might be higher—especially if they’re near a big city.

Best college towns for student employment

1. Rexburg, Idaho
2. Logan, Utah
3. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
4. Fayetteville, Arkansas
5. Bozeman, Montana

6. Bellingham, Washington
7. Iowa City, Iowa
8. Lawrence, Kansas
9. West Lafayette, Indiana
10. Grand Forks, North Dakota

City access

We love the idea of getting around without enduring a commute or adding to single-rider car pollution.

Ithaca, New York, for example, hosts two major schools (Cornell University and Ithaca College), and over 22% of the population roams freely by walking, biking, or using public transportation.

Iowa City is improving its city access even more this fall by extending its express bus service to Cedar Rapids—respect!

Best college towns for city access*

1.  Ithaca, New York
2. Corvallis, Oregon
3. College Park, Maryland
4. Iowa City, Iowa
5. State College, Pennsylvania

6. Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
7. Honolulu, Hawaii
8. Boulder, Colorado
9. Ann Arbor, Michigan
10. Princeton, New Jersey

*Ranked by percentage of 16+ year old population that uses walking, biking, or public transit.

Night life and fun

Working hard is important, but it’s also great to let off some steam. These college towns have great bartender employment rates, meaning you’ll always have someone to serve you a fresh one after a midterm or the big game. Just don’t use them as your therapist without tipping well: they might be working through school too.

While partying is at the front of a lot of people’s minds, don’t underestimate the ability of students to handle their homework and still have a fun social life.

We’ve partied in Reno, and we’ll tell you, if you find the right folks, it can be a great time—just avoid walking downtown at 4 a.m. after you’ve lost one of your shoes.

Best college towns for bars*

1. Williamstown, Massachusetts
2. Grand Forks, North Dakota
3. Madison, Wisconsin
4. Reno, Nevada
5. Metairie, Louisiana

6. Champaign-Urbana, Illinois
7. Providence, Rhode Island
8. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
9. San Luis Obispo, California
10. Rochester. Minnesota

*(ranked by bartender employment rate)

The college-educated population

The love for learning doesn’t stop once school is over, and towns with more college graduates in the area will foster a better environment for students to have mentors and empathetic support.

Along with that support, areas with higher rates of college education often have a higher average income, meaning that a fresh graduate might be able to nab a lucrative job right out of the gate—which can be quite the challenge sometimes.

It’s unclear whether the college-educated population decided to settle down in their original college towns or if they were just attracted to the good vibes the community brings, but either way, these cities will be great picks for college.

Best college towns with a high college-educated population

1. Bozeman, Montana
2. Boulder, Colorado
3. Corvallis, Oregon
4. Lawrence, Kansas
5. Madison, Wisconsin

6. State College, Pennsylvania
7. Logan, Utah
8. Iowa City, Iowa
9. Ann Arbor, Michigan
10. Lincoln, Nebraska

What’s your favorite college town?

We found a lot of good reasons to call these college towns the best in your state. We went for a mix of the things that make college life easier with cost of living, employment, and city access, but we understand there’s a lot more that goes into it.

What makes a college town great for you? Is it the sports enthusiasm, the location, or the all-too-familiar “I don’t know—it’s just got good vibes” mentality? Let us know what you think.