Best Places to Live
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10 Best College Towns

Introducing the best college towns of 2017

When the term “college town” comes to mind, it may invoke images of beer pong, tailgates and textbooks, but colleges are an ecosystem of learning, innovation, culture and support – and living in one means these advantages are right at your fingertips. It boils down to this: college towns are where fun becomes life changing.

The Top 10 College Towns 2017 list came to life through a collaboration between Livability.com and ABODO Apartments, the leading off-campus and young professional apartment search engine in the U.S. Our team first analyzed U.S. cities with a population between 20,000 and 350,000 and at least one college campus. We formed this list by cross-referencing 2016 city population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division with data from the U.S. Department of Education on all college campuses in the U.S. by city.

Data is vital to determining big decisions, however data doesn’t doesn’t interact with neighbors. It won’t cheer at football games or rent an apartment, it doesn’t walk through parks, it can’t taste local food or brews. Although, median salaries, availability and affordability of rental housing, and things to do were are also considered. We ended up with 228 cities that meet our criteria, but only the best of the best make our yearly list.

So that’s where Livability comes in. Sure, the cost of living estimate is great and many young people and businesses are moving to these regions. But is this city a great place to live?

Many college towns have regular spots on our Top 100 Best Places to Live and Best Cities for Entrepreneurs rankings – and for good reason. Entrepreneurship flourishes in college towns, which directly correlates with a fruitful quality of life outside of work. Acting as an incubator, colleges draw students with a wide variety of perspectives, skills and interests, and connects those who share them. Not only does this lend itself to a well-educated workforce that creates innovative ideas and solutions, it creates an educated customer base that can appreciate those efforts (and spend money on them, too).

Between community pride, flourishing culture, and a constant stream of of talent, college towns are much more than an economic stabilizer. If you’re looking for more than just financial success, look no further than one of these top 10 college towns.

Ranking Criteria

30% – Percentage of the population ages 20 to 29 • 30% – Ratio of the city’s median salary (from the Bureau of Labor Statistics) to its August 2017 median one-bedroom rent (from ABODO listings) • 20% – Number of jobs in the education sector per 1,000 jobs in the city, which we limited by a minimum of 90 • 20% – Ratio of the median salary in the city to the nation for education jobs

10. Corvallis, OR Population 54,981
9. Ann Arbor, MI Population 116,194
8. Gainesville, FL Population 127,559
7. Lawrence, KS Population 91,305
6. College Station, TX Population 101,141
5. Champaign, IL Population 84,008
4. Lafayette, IN Population 70,661
3. State College, PA Population 42,129
2. Ames, IA Population 62,815
1. Ithaca, NY Population 30,565
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10 Best College Towns

The best college towns in America, ranked one through 10.

While the term "college town" may bring to mind solo cup-littered parties and riotous football games, there's far more to these youth-filled cities than tailgating and sports. It starts with education itself. An educated workforce brings in industry and employment opportunities, which is why many college towns also made it onto our list of the 50 Best Cities for Entrepreneurs. Successful universities are always huge employers in communities, too. That’s why just to get on our 2016 list, towns had to have more than three colleges, and a high percentage of jobs in the education sector.

But a great town is about more than just numbers. It’s about heart. And history. It’s about being a breeding ground for culture, and a celebration of what makes our country great. There might not be a better expression of the American dream, in fact, than our next generation of youth working their way through college. That’s why our team of experts weighed in, as well—to give it our own personal touch.


The 100 Best Places to Live 2016


The universities that reside in the towns on our 2016 list range from the elite and private (Harvard University in Cambridge), to the huge and public (University of Michigan in Ann Arbor). Each of them gives as much as they get from their communities. And the real winners are the residents, who get the kind of quality of life that only comes from living in one of the Top 10 College Towns in the US. Whether you’re looking for a place with career options, high wages, great housing options and plenty of things to do, or even a place to live the solo cup lifestyle, you’ll find it in each of these 10 towns.

 

Ranking Criteria

Population of 25- to 29-year-olds • High percentage of jobs in education sector • Local restaurants and bars • Affordable housing • Diversity

10. Provo, UT Population 115,345
9. Denton, TX Population 125,734
8. Greensboro, NC Population 279,427
7. Fairfax, VA Population 23,402
6. Tallahassee, FL Population 187,024
5. Ann Arbor, MI Population 116,194
4. Cambridge, MA Population 107,916
3. Columbia, SC Population 131,958
2. Irvine, CA Population 238,474
1. Tempe, AZ Population 169,816
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10 Best College Towns

The best college towns in the country, ranked one through 10.

It doesn't take a master's degree to know that the best college towns appeal to more than just students. Sure, a quality education is a great outcome but there's more to life than what you find in a college textbook or lecture hall. College town residents benefit from the economic stability that universities provide and the creative energy that students bring. Living in a college town, even if you're not pursuing a degree, will certainly keep you entertained. 

Our 2015 ranking of Top 10 College Towns all provide supportive places for students to thrive both academically and socially. In each city on the list, the college or university plays a central role culturally and economically. When choosing where to go to college, students should look at the academic reputation and the financial considerations but they should also consider where the school is located. When leaving home for the first time, students are really choosing a place to live as well as a place to go to school.

AFTER GRADUATION: See which cities are the Best Places for Recent College Grads.

How did we pick the Top 10 College Towns? We started with the data. Our editors analyzed data from the Census, Esri and other sources to find cities with a high concentration of schools, and a highly-educated population. We looked at cities that have a high population of 25 to 29-year-olds as an indicator of the towns' ability to retain graduates who decided it’s a cool enough place to stay after graduation. We looked for towns that were diverse and places where education is a dominant employer. Some bonus points were given to towns with Division I athletics because like it or not, strong sports programs help define college towns. We also considered the availability of rental housing and the affordability of that housing.

Finally our editors narrowed down the short list based on their experience criss-crossing the nation and based on further research into town and gown relationships.

Not all college towns are alike, that's part of the allure. The resulting list of the Top 10 College Towns provides a wide range of locations for students, whether looking for a big state school, or a smaller private university. See which towns made our 2015 list.

BLAST FROM THE PAST: See our 2014 Top 10 Best College Towns

 

Ranking Criteria

Population of 25- to 29-year-olds • High percentage of jobs in education sector • Local restaurants and bars • Affordable housing • Diversity

10. Bowling Green, KY Population 61,617
9. Lincoln, NE Population 269,726
8. Columbia, SC Population 131,958
7. Gainesville, FL Population 127,559
6. Cambridge, MA Population 107,916
5. Denton, TX Population 125,734
4. Berkeley, CA Population 117,384
3. Columbia, MO Population 115,391
2. Durham, NC Population 246,084
1. Manhattan, KS Population 55,769
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10 Best College Towns

Conference rivalries extend to cities and towns.

The atmosphere, scenery and people surrounding a college play a key role in the experience students have while attending classes. While the best colleges equip students for jobs, the best college towns foster creativity, social interaction and recreational pursuits. These benefits extend to more permanent residents, especially recent graduates and young families – and even retirees. Like the universities they host, college towns yield incredibly loyal fans. They'll boast on and on about their city's great art scene, diverse economy and the unique traditions that separate it from other towns. Combine a great college with a highly livable city and you've got something to cheer for.

NEW LIST: See who made the 2015 Best College Towns. 


We know that not all great college towns are football powerhouses. But in many ways, there is nothing more quintessentially "college town" than seeing thousands of students, alumni and fans flowing through town in their home-team colors on a football Saturday. So to create our fifth iteration of the Best College Towns list, we thought we'd take a football-themed approach, both in terms of using the Football Bowl Subdivision cities and in terms of playing off the rivalries that are inherent in college sports. We grouped cities according to how their colleges are divided by the FBS, and we chose the best college town in each division. Also like the FBS, we subbed in South Bend, a high-ranking "independent" city, for a lower-ranking town from the American Athletic Conference. Then we took a data-driven approach to ranking each city.


We calculated livability aspects of our best places to live list,  but skewed the list toward measuring the impact these colleges and universities have on their cities and what would make life better for college-aged people. To gauge the impact of the universities, we analyzed the number of jobs in the education sectors and the ratio of stadium capacity to population. We looked for places with housing affordability and a high percentage of rental units. We measured walkability with Walk Score and used Census data to determine the number of bars in each school's county. We also looked for cities with a high concentration of degree-holders and of 25-to-34 year-olds to see if they were the kinds of cities that students would want to stay in once they graduated.


Finally, we checked out the entertainment scenes, recreational opportunities and cultural amenities these cities had to offer. This included the number of restaurants, music venues and museums as well as bike trails, parks and sports facilities each city has. We also looked at festivals that bring the communities together and the partnerships that exist between the colleges and towns.
What we found were places where the college and city share a synergy that influences the entire community. The cities on this list provide dynamic settings while keeping with the traditions that honor the past.

 

 

Ranking Criteria

Student population • Percentage of 24- to 35-year-olds • Affordable housing • Walkability • Education Sector Jobs • Educational attainment • Entertainment venues

10. Hattiesburg, MS Population 46,762
9. South Bend, IN Population 100,590
8. Moscow, ID Population 24,688
7. Champaign, IL Population 84,008
6. Charlottesville, VA Population 45,084
5. Tempe, AZ Population 169,816
4. Fayetteville, AR Population 79,037
3. Oxford, OH Population 21,762
2. Logan, UT Population 49,400
1. Ames, IA Population 62,815
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10 Best Cities for New College Grads

Thousands of new college graduates will soon be looking for somewhere to start a career, hopefully somewhat related to their chosen field of study. These are towns with high numbers of young adults, great entertainment options and, most importantly, employment potential.

Economists predict that new college graduates should have an easier time finding jobs in 2014 than they have in the last few years as more companies are looking to hire. Just because it's easier doesn't mean it's easy, but we're here to help. Our list of the Top 10 Best Cities for New College Grads ranks cities where jobs are available and where you'd want to live during all those non-working hours.

To determine the best cities for recent college graduates, we analyzed factors such as the number of 25- to 34-year-olds living in each city, the availability of rental properties, unemployment rates, educational attainment levels, use of public transportation and the types of jobs these places offer. We also sought out cities that cater to a younger demographic by offering lots of recreational activities, hot nightlife and a hip vibe. What we found were places where new college graduates are likely to find jobs they'd actually want, homes they can afford and a social scene that allows them to more easily make new friends, fit in and engage with the community.

In assessing the best cities for new college grads, we took into account the top-hiring industries, which, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, are: educational services; professional, scientific and technical services; health care and social assistance; and government. Starting salaries for recent college grads have risen over the last two years, a trend the class of 2014 would like to see continue.

“The overall average starting salary for the class of 2013 is buoyed by the increases to two disciplines in particular – a 2.9 percent increase for humanities and social sciences graduates and a 2.3 percent bump for business majors,” says Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director.

Though it's too late to change your major, there's still time to examine the best cities for new college grads. Take a look at our picks before you start sending out resumes.

Ranking Criteria

Number of 25- to 34-year-olds • Unemployment rate • Rental vacancy • Rental costs • Non-service jobs (better paying) • Public transportation users • 25- to 34-year-olds with a bachelor's degree or higher • Bars and restaurants per capita

10. Mountain View, CA Population 77,973
9. Naperville, IL Population 145,058
8. Fargo, ND Population 113,464
7. Ann Arbor, MI Population 116,194
6. Hoboken, NJ Population 52,452
5. Minneapolis, MN Population 399,950
4. Bethesda, MD Population 62,102
3. Austin, TX Population 887,061
2. Bellevue, WA Population 134,630
1. Cambridge, MA Population 107,916
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10 Best College Towns

Our Top 10 College Towns 2013 list showcases communities with strong ties to the universities that call them home. These places offer residents a high quality of life thanks largely to the impact the college has on the town.

The best college towns appeal not just to potential students but to potential residents and businesses looking for strong economies and opportunities to grow. Sports teams, research facilities, historic buildings, and proximity to bars and restaurants create an attractive atmosphere to spend four (or five) years, but a university's off-campus impact can also shape a town's character and keep people there for a lifetime.

“The same factors that make locations attractive to students also make them attractive to businesses,” says Steven Cunningham, director of research and education at American Institute for Economic Research College Destination Index. “A growing, highly-educated population with an extensive proportion of creative people and entrepreneurs means a high-quality labor pool. City accessibility supports morning commutes. Low cost of living means less upward pressure on wages. A high student concentration suggests enthusiastic part-time labor and internships. Favorable economic measures suggest a stable business environment and local demand for goods and services produced. All of these factors are important to quality of life in the broadest sense, which is important to employees and retirees.”

The criteria used to identify and rank the Top 10 College Towns 2013 ranged from cost of living and educational attainment to the participation local colleges take in community outreach.

“University outreach can provide significant assistance to area residents,” says Jim Fitzgerald, president of the International Town-Gown Association and associate director of University of Virginia Community Relations. “Through outreach, universities can offer numerous programs including continuing education courses, CPR training, counseling and career services, mentoring and tutoring and, frequently, legal advice. University students frequently support community businesses and nonprofits through volunteerism, internship programs and financial donations.”

Take a look at our picks for the Top 10 College Towns 2013. (and check out our latest list here.)

Ranking Criteria

Low cost of living • Top Employers (must be a college) • High student to resident ratio • High educational attainment • Strong college-led community outreach • High percentage of 21- to 34-year-olds

10. College Station, TX Population 101,141
9. Fayetteville, AR Population 79,037
8. Madison, WI Population 243,122
7. Missoula, MT Population 69,190
6. Iowa City, IA Population 71,832
5. Lexington, KY Population 308,306
4. Columbia, MO Population 115,391
3. Gainesville, FL Population 127,559
2. Ann Arbor, MI Population 116,194
1. Boulder, CO Population 103,919
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10 Best College Towns

Our third annual list of the best college towns looks at cities where the college plays an integral part of the economy and culture. We ranked the cities according to the ratio of students to residents, cost of living and entertainment options. You'll be surprised by what we found.

True college towns are places where the identity of the city is both shaped by and complementary to the presence of its university, creating an environment enjoyable to all residents, whether they are enrolled in classes or not. They're true melting pots where young minds meet old traditions, and political, social and cultural ideas of all kinds are welcomed.

The recently released 21st edition of Princeton Review's Best Colleges guidebook was used as a starting point to identify top-ranked universities within Livability.com's own listing of Best Places to Live. In the book, author Robert Franek lists what he called "key factors" that make a college town a great town for students, including: good location, weather and public transportation; a beautiful environment; friendly people; access to and availability of career opportunities; fun things to do off campus; and good college-community relations.

The ratio of students to non-students in a city was examined, because it doesn't seem right to call a place a college town if you can't tell classes are in session with a quick glance at the mix of people on a busy sidewalk. The college in towns being considered had to be a big economic player in terms of jobs, as well as impacting the strength and diversity of the city's retail sector. Also factored in were cost of living and walkability. 

Uncovered were 10 great towns where the college and city are inextricably linked to make it a great place to live, whether in a dorm or permanent home. Take a look at our picks for the Top College Towns of 2012. (And see who made our latest list here.)

Ranking Criteria

Best Colleges (According to Princeton Review) • Environment, weather, public transportation • High student to resident ratio • Top Employers (must be a college) • Low cost of Living • High walkability • Low unemployment rate

10. Blacksburg, VA Population 43,530
9. Ann Arbor, MI Population 116,194
8. Athens, GA Population 119,684
7. Bloomington, IN Population 82,813
6. Corvallis, OR Population 54,981
5. Lawrence, KS Population 91,305
4. Champaign, IL Population 84,008
3. Logan, UT Population 49,400
2. Oxford, MS Population 20,769
1. College Station, TX Population 101,141
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10 Best College Towns

Sure, the presence of a college gives you sports teams, arts scenes and nightlife to cheer for, but these towns offer dynamic living and a range of entertainment options to keep you busy. Take a look at our picks.

A good college town stimulates young minds. It offers a touch of the familiar while encouraging exploration and fosters a sense of pride. And even if you're not taking classes, there's just something about being near a campus that gets in your blood. You can't help but become intertwined in the history, the pageantry and the excitement that a college creates.

This list isn't a ranking of schools. It's not a roundup of party places either. Livability.com's Top 10 College Towns are cities where academic endeavors extend beyond the campus and energize the community. These places have become economic epicenters, artistic hubs, cultural cornerstones and entertainment meccas. They give the student great places to learn, grow and play, while at the same time giving residents the benefits that come with being near a vibrant educational institution. In a nutshell, they've got a lot of offer whether you're after a degree, a new career or a place to settle down.

Check out our most recent Top College Towns list here.

Ranking Criteria

Campus offers resident enrichment. • College promotes community spirit • Great restaurants • Low unemployment rate

10. Fargo, ND Population 113,464
9. Oxford, MS Population 20,769
8. Louisville, KY Population 608,732
7. College Station, TX Population 101,141
6. Auburn, AL Population 58,693
5. Ann Arbor, MI Population 116,194
4. Madison, WI Population 243,122
3. Athens, GA Population 119,684
2. Burlington, VT Population 42,570
1. Boulder, CO Population 103,919
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10 Best Cities for College Grads

We've done the homework for you. Find out which cities are the best for recent college grads.

No need to pull an all-nighter hoping to find the best cities for new college grads. We've already done the homework for you.

Consider it our graduation gift to you. You were probably hoping for cash or a flat-screen TV. Sorry :)

If you're not a recent grad but you know someone who is (or you're really hoping will be soon) steer them here. We've got some advice to share ...

Congratulations. You did it. Yeah. You're finished with college. Welcome to the real world. A world full of bills to pay, responsibility, and harder decisions than whether or not to take a study break at the bar. Yes, full-on adulthood is in front of you, but with that comes something William Wallace would certainly urge you to fight for: FREEDOM!

The freedom to choose what you want to do and where you want to be. Seems like a daunting task, so we've compiled a list to help make searching for the perfect city a little easier. We looked at some of the best cities around the country, based on job opportunities, salaries, population age and of course, night life and cultural scenes. We're essentially presenting you a guide to some of the best places to live if you're a recent college graduate. So don't despair, because as a friend who watched Braveheart once said, "They can take our kegs, but they can't take our freedom."

Ranking Criteria

Number of job opportunities • Competitive salaries, • High ratio of single residents • Lively cultural scene

10. Nashville, TN Population 634,512
9. Provo, UT Population 115,345
8. Tucson, AZ Population 528,374
7. Knoxville, TN Population 183,066
6. Charlotte, NC Population 792,137
5. Fort Worth, TX Population 796,614
4. Kansas City, MO Population 467,990
3. San Jose, CA Population 1,000,860
2. San Antonio, TX Population 1,413,881
1. Lincoln, NE Population 269,726
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10 Best College Towns

College, it turns out, is an experience shaped as much by what's happening off campus as it is in the classroom. We've selected 10 top college towns that provide plenty of culture and things to do when you're not studying.

Great college rivalries are the stuff of legends – Army vs. Navy, Alabama vs. Auburn, Harvard vs. Yale. Many of the most famous clashes extend far beyond sports into the world of academia, graduation rates, job placement and even party-ability. 

Now Livability.com is throwing down the gauntlet by ranking our Top 10 College Towns: Great Cities for School and Life After Graduation.

College is about more than getting a degree; it's about establishing a life. That's why this list isn't a ranking of colleges, but rather a ranking of great cities that are home to some of the nation's best colleges and universities. These cities are cultural hubs, artistic centers, intellectual meccas, and economic drivers offering students and residents some of the best places to live, study, play and launch a career in America.

Check out our most recent Top 10 College Towns list here.

Ranking Criteria

Low unemployment rate • Percentage of 21- to 34-year-olds • Restaurants per capita • Median income • Median housing costs

10. Springfield, IL Population 117,061
9. Charlottesville, VA Population 45,084
8. Burlington, VT Population 42,570
7. Bloomington, IN Population 82,813
6. Eugene, OR Population 159,615
5. Boulder, CO Population 103,919
4. Nashville, TN Population 634,512
3. Chapel Hill, NC Population 58,766
2. Athens, GA Population 119,684
1. Gainesville, FL Population 127,559