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.
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
|1||Iowa City||Iowa||University of Iowa|
|2||Ithaca||New York||Cornell University|
|3||Champaign-Urbana||Illinois||University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign|
|4||Rexburg||Idaho||Brigham Young University|
|5||Logan||Utah||Utah State University|
|6||State College||Pennsylvania||Penn State University|
|7||West Lafayette||Indiana||Purdue University|
|8||Bozeman||Montana||Montana State University|
|9||Bellingham||Washington||Western Washington University|
|11||Sioux Falls||South Dakota||University of South Dakota|
|12||Corvallis||Oregon||Oregon State University|
|13||Lawrence||Kansas||University of Kansas|
|14||Rochester||Minnesota||University of Minnesota Rochester|
|15||Grand Forks||North Dakota||University of North Dakota|
|16||Lincoln||Nebraska||University of Nebraska|
|17||Madison||Wisconsin||Unviersity of Wisconsin|
|18||Ann Arbor||Michigan||University of Michigan|
|19||Fayetteville||Arkansas||University of Arkansas|
|20||Springfield||Missouri||Missouri State University|
|21||Hanover||New Hampshire||Dartmouth College|
|23||Athens||Georgia||University of Georgia|
|24||Chapel Hill||North Carolina||University of North Carolina|
|25||Gainesville||Florida||University of Florida|
|26||Portland||Maine||University of Southern Maine|
|27||College Station||Texas||Texas A&M University|
|28||Burlington||Vermont||University of Vermont|
|29||Boulder||Colorado||University of Colorado Boulder|
|30||Morgantown||West Virginia||West Virginia University|
|32||Providence||Rhode Island||Brown University|
|33||Tuscaloosa||Alabama||The University of Alabama|
|34||Knoxville||Tennessee||University of Tennessee|
|35||Flagstaff||Arizona||Northern Arizona University|
|36||Clemson||South Carolina||Clemson University, South Carolina|
|37||New Haven||Connecticut||Yale University|
|39||Reno||Nevada||University of Nevada, Reno|
|40||Metairie||Louisiana||University of New Orleans|
|41||San Luis Obispo||California||Cal Poly|
|42||College Park||Maryland||University of Maryland|
|43||Honolulu||Hawaii||University of Hawaii|
|44||Las Cruces||New Mexico||New Mexico University|
|45||Princeton||New Jersey||Princeton University|
|46||Laramie||Wyoming||University of Wyoming|
|47||Hattiesburg||Mississippi||University of Southern Mississippi|
|48||Lexington||Kentucky||University of Kentucky|
|49||Anchorage||Alaska||University of Alaska Anchorage|
|50||Dover||Delaware||Deleware 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
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
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.