Best Places to Live

2013 10 Best College Towns

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
    Photo: Bryan-College Station CVB

    Few cities are as tied to a university as College Station, TX, is to Texas A&M. Where many colleges came to an established city, College Station was built around the university. Most College Station residents can attribute their jobs, entertainment options, and quality of life in some form or fashion to A&M, which has become a preeminent place for research. The city provides residents with excellent schools, recreational outlets, entertainment options and more diversity than many would expect to find in central Texas.

    With the largest concentration of students on our list, College Station is almost more college than town. Local's refer to the city and surrounding region as “Aggieland,” due to the loyal support residents show Texas A&M. Restaurants, stores and bars offer students special discounts, and put their pride in the university on display by decorating with school colors on game days. Students gladly give back to the community by participating in service projects such as the Big Event, which began in 1982 and is now the largest one-day student-run service project in the nation. More than 18,000 students painted houses, picked up trash and spruced up yards during the last Big Event. Since 1989, A&M students have built a Habitat for Humanity house in either Bryan or College station each semester. Students have also helped plant trees in areas ravaged by wildfires.

    When it comes to quality-of-life amenities, College Station doesn't skimp. The city's 52 parks cover more than 1,400 acres, providing residents with swimming pools, athletic fields, hiking trails and more than 60 miles of bike trails. Restaurants range from burger and pizza joints to Asian fusion food trucks, steakhouses and Italian bistros. Jazz bars, dance clubs and honky tonks mesh nicely together with the city's primary entertainment district known as Northgate. The more laid back Wolf Pen Creek District includes a greenway and large amphitheater, a lake, galleries and outdoor art exhibits.

    Population: 99,399

    Student population: 50,000

    Don't Miss: Dixie Chicken, a traditional watering hole for many Aggies offering a real Texas atmosphere, burgers and beer

    Read more: Check out more photos of College Station, TX and a list of top employers.