Best College Towns in Your State

When it's time to party we will always party hard.

Best College Towns Map
Tyler Abbott
Staff Writer, Mobile & Wireless
Read More
September 03, 2019
4 min read

There’s always an exciting energy when you step into a college town. You see students recklessly riding scooters into busy intersections, groups walking by with stacks of Little Caesar's pizza—and, of course, obnoxiously loud music playing at all hours of the day.

Are you asking if I live in a college town and just wrote down what I observed out my window for the past ten minutes? You would be correct.

You might be surprised which college towns ended up ranking high (shout out to Rexburg, Idaho!). We broke down the best college towns according to the cost of living, job opportunities, and ease of transportation. You’ll find wild parties in any old college town, but it’s especially nice when you can find somewhere affordable with plenty of opportunities.

These are the college towns that offer the best experiences for students around the country.

Methodology

We gathered a list of college towns and narrowed it down to cities with fewer than 250,000* residents. We kept in mind that the metro areas surrounding the smaller towns would also include the student population.

Using data from the 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 the 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
Ranking
City
State
University

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

10

Blacksburg

Virginia

Virginia Tech

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

22

Williamstown

Massachusetts

Williams 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

31

Oxford

Ohio

Miami 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

38

Lawton

Oklahoma

Cameron 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

The scariest thing about college has nothing to do with tests or dates with crushes—it’s debt. Nobody wants to come out of college owing money for the rest of their lives.

You can expect to save a little more cash while you’re learning in Springfield, Missouri; Rexburg, Idaho; or Logan, Utah. Your part-time job money goes much further in these towns than it would in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles.

Cost of living is important to college kids on a ramen budget, so thankfully you can find awesome college towns that won’t drain your wallet. 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

Most college kids have to work while they go to school, at least if they want to have some fun on the weekend. If you want a steady job while studying, you want a town with low unemployment rates for people aged 20–24.

As you can see, the Midwest and the South are great places to find a job, while the northeast 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

If anyone knows about the danger of pollution, its college-age kids. They want to make sure they have a bright future on a healthy planet! Oh, and they also want to get home reliably after a pub crawl. Thank goodness for public transportation.

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 recently improved its city access even more 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 you gotta let off some steam from time to time. 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.

Partying is an essential part of the college experience, whether that be late nights at the club or late nights with your Dungeons & Dragons group (no shame!). Just make sure to get your homework done beforehand.

For what it’s worth, there certainly are wild parties in Reno if you find the right folks—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 creates a better environment for students to have mentors. Every student needs some connection to help them land that first job or internship.

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.

Best college towns with a high population of college-educated folks: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?

Are there any rad college towns on the rise out there that we don’t know about yet? Or do you want to just share some fun stories of things you did in your college town? We’re totally here for that.

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.

Tyler Abbott
Written by
Tyler Abbott
Tyler has been obsessed with watching sports as efficiently as possible since the creation of the DVR. He is always on the lookout for the best tech in TV and wireless so he can watch all the sports and still have enough time to hang out with his baby. He has written about streaming, wireless, and TV for over three years. He hopes the Lakers will eventually get better.

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