Best Places to Live

2012 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.

Photo: Visit Bloomington

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'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.)

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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