Top Ten Best US College Towns of 2024

These are the best college towns in the United States as of 2024. The rankings are based on a number of factors, including quality of life, the quality of universities, and campus vibe.
The Top Ten
1 Madison, Wisconsin (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Madison, Wisconsin, is the quintessential American college town. Home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it is nestled between two lakes, offering beautiful views across much of the city. The college campus is incredibly nice as well, with the University of Wisconsin widely considered one of the best public universities in the US.

While it is not the smallest city, sitting at just under 270,000 people, it has the feeling of a smaller town. The sports scene is pretty great, with sports such as Wisconsin Hockey, Football, Volleyball, and Men's Basketball remaining paramount. The food is also incredible, with some of the best German cuisine in the US, along with numerous bars.

Overall, when you think of a college town, Madison is what comes to mind.

2 Ann Arbor, Michigan (University of Michigan)

Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan, is another college town that encompasses everything people expect within a great college town. Ann Arbor ranks as one of the most educated cities in the United States, with UMich ranked as a top 5 public university from year to year. With the city's population sitting at about 120,000, it is a small town, with the university student population reaching half of the city's population, giving it even more of a collegiate atmosphere.

Downtown has a plethora of restaurants, both expensive and less expensive, catering to both the college students and wealthier residents. In terms of the sports scene, nothing can top the Big House, home of the national champion Michigan football team, with other sports such as Men's Basketball and Hockey. One drawback is the rent, as it is fairly pricey, with the average rent sitting at about 2,000 dollars. On the whole, however, it is easily one of the best college towns in the United States, no questions asked.

3 Boulder, Colorado (University of Colorado Boulder)

Boulder, the home of the University of Colorado Boulder, is located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. This location alone allows for stunning views and excellent opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy the scenery, such as hiking trails. The town of Boulder has a population just above 100,000 people, so it isn't too large, more so offering a small-town environment which is perfect for a college campus to be located within.

The university itself is known for its engineering programs, with a large campus that extends into the city a great deal. Downtown Boulder is known for its cultural appeal, with various museums, fancy restaurants, and, once again, the beautiful flatiron features overlooking the city.

The sports and outdoors scene is terrific, with biking and hiking being the major staples, along with Colorado's sports teams, most notably their football and men's basketball teams. Overall, Boulder is a perfect mix of student life, nightlife, and scenery that anyone could ask for.

4 Corvallis, Oregon (Oregon State University)

Corvallis, home of Oregon State University, is located in the beautiful Pacific Northwest region. It is nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, providing the city with beautiful views. The area boasts many hiking trails and opportunities to get out in nature.

The whole city of Corvallis is known as a "Green City," with some of the highest parks per capita of any place in the country. It has the highest life expectancy in the Pacific Northwest and some of the most beautiful views of any college town in the country. Oregon State University is one of the top research universities, receiving more funding than all other universities in the state of Oregon combined. This makes it a hub for the earth sciences, attracting intellectuals in those fields from around the world.

The sports scene is fairly good, with teams like the Oregon State football team standing out, putting up several good seasons over the past couple of years. Overall, Corvallis is a naturalist's paradise, with the environment and scenery providing amazing views from an amazing town with good academics and atmosphere overall.

5 Chapel Hill, North Carolina (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Chapel Hill, home to the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, boasts a wide range of attractions, activities, and more. To start, the university encompasses 700 acres of parks and natural areas, with hiking paths and trails making it an incredibly walkable campus. The city itself, with its grand architecture, adds an old-fashioned Southern flair, which, combined with its small size (only around 40,000 residents), contributes to a very small-town energy.

The sports scene is dominated by North Carolina's powerhouse basketball program, which unites the community like almost no other program could. Other programs, like their football team and field hockey teams, also enjoy significant support. The university is ranked incredibly highly, consistently achieving top 10 public university rankings. This leads to the community frequently being ranked highly in terms of educated population.

6 Ithaca, New York (Cornell University)

Ithaca, home to both Cornell University and Ithaca College, is located in a relatively remote region of New York. However, this has not prevented Ithaca from fostering an incredibly unique community, one that is both incredibly walkable, diverse, and tight-knit with about 40,000 people. The town is focused on academics, with Cornell frequently ranking among the top ten universities in the country and top 20 in the world. Ithaca College also boasts one of the best music programs in the country, and additional pre-college schools rank highly nationwide as well.

This is not to say that it lacks nightlife. Its nightlife is highly ranked, with many opportunities to go to bars and clubs. The walkability is a significant factor, as it is one of the most walkable places in the country, which is great for college students who do not have access to a vehicle. Overall, Ithaca is an incredible town, and despite being somewhat expensive, it is a great place to attend and live after college.

7 Athens, Georgia (University of Georgia)

Athens, home to the University of Georgia, is known as "The Classic City" by those residing there. A small city/large town with a population of about 100,000 people, it maintains the feeling of an old Southern city, while the University of Georgia adds, in some aspects, a more youthful vibe.

The sports scene in the city is unparalleled, with the football fans of the Georgia Bulldogs being some of the most passionate in the country. This makes the university's Sanford Stadium an incredibly raw and exciting game-day experience. Downtown Athens is renowned for its music scene, with several music acts, such as Danger Mouse and Neutral Milk Hotel, emerging from the city. Athens also boasts a fantastic restaurant scene, catering to both college students and other residents alike. To sum up, Athens is a Southern Jewel, featuring an excellent culture, relatively cheap housing, and a great community.

8 Fort Collins, Colorado (Colorado State University)

Fort Collins, home to Colorado State University, sits right on the front range of the Rocky Mountains. This natural beauty is coupled with the many opportunities to get outdoors, including hiking, skiing, and hockey.

One of the major draws to Fort Collins is their large craft beer scene, attracting people from out of town and college students to the Downtown area, where large festivals are held. This helps to complement the collegiate atmosphere, along with the diverse food options which the downtown area of Fort Collins provides.

Colorado State is quite a good research university, producing many graduates, leading to a very well-educated Fort Collins populace.

9 Charlottesville, Virginia (University of Virginia)

Charlottesville, Virginia, home to the University of Virginia, is a town that boasts history, academics, and culture alike. With a population of about 45,000, Charlottesville is relatively small, yet the university's population contributes significantly to the city's daily life. As the home of two former United States presidents, the city's history is incredible on its own, with monuments such as Monticello reminding residents of the city's age and historical significance.

Downtown Charlottesville is a quirky mix of old and new, with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains accentuating the impressive mix of Southern culture the city has to offer. The university has been labeled as one of the "Public Ivies" and boasts incredible research and academic opportunities alike. Overall, Charlottesville is both an incredibly desirable place to live and attend school, embodying everything you look for in a college town.

10 Gainesville, Florida (University of Florida)

Gainesville, home to the University of Florida, is a moderately sized town located in the north of Florida. It boasts a tropical climate, an abundance of natural beauty such as Spanish moss, and a plethora of entertainment options, making this city incredibly popular among the general populace and college students alike. However, the party scene is particularly strong for college students, with many sites listing it as one of the top party schools in the nation that also have a significant focus on academics.

The sports scene is excellent, with Gator football leading the way. A plethora of other sports are quite popular as well, such as basketball. Gainesville's downtown has a bustling music scene, great restaurants, and a wealth of cultural elements, cementing its reputation as a melting pot of a city.

The Contenders
11 East Lansing, Michigan (Michigan State University)
12 Fayetteville, Arkansas (University of Arkansas) Fayetteville is a city in Cumberland County, North Carolina, United States. It is the county seat of Cumberland County, and is best known as the home of Fort Bragg, a major U.S.
13 Starkville, Mississippi (Mississippi State University)
14 Bloomington, Indiana (Indiana University)
15 Lawrence, Kansas (University of Kansas)
16 Lincoln, Nebraska (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
17 Ames, Iowa (Iowa State University)
18 Knoxville, Tennessee (University of Tennessee)
19 Cambridge, Massachusetts (Harvard University)
20 Bozeman, Montana (Montana State University)
21 Grand Rapids, Michigan (Grand Valley State University)
22 Boone, North Carolina (Appalachian State University)
23 Spokane, Washington (Gonzaga University)
24 Morgantown, West Virginia (West Virginia University)
BAdd New Item