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.
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.
|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
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 inNew 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
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
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.