Best Places to Live

2013 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.

Photo: Mark Cornelison

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.)

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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