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
  • 9

    Fayetteville, AR

    Population: 79,037
    University of Arkansas

    An old law in Fayetteville, AR, prohibits dogs from barking after 6 p.m., but it doesn't say anything about hog calling. In fact, yelling out “woo pig sooie” isn't just tolerated in this funky college town, it's encouraged. Many residents of this city cheer on Tusk the Razorback, the official mascot of the University of Arkansas. The Razorbacks' reach can be felt throughout the city, from its medical center and performing arts events to the research assistance students and professors provided to local companies.

    Students at UA are also cheered for their community outreach, which includes a student-run emergency food assistance program, literacy programs to help elementary school children develop a love for reading and mentoring girls in underprivileged neighborhoods. Razorbacks also take part in the Clinton Global Initiative, working on five projects including an effort to create a national coalition of food pantries.

    Fayetteville has become a haven for entrepreneurs and innovative companies, largely because of its college town vibe, artistic scene and progressive residents. A collection of developers recently renovated many old homes and apartments, transforming them into hip, modern abodes.

    College students mix well with residents in Fayetteville's top restaurants, which offer everything from BBQ (sorry hogs) to Thai food and contemporary cuisine. Music from a variety of bars and restaurants spills onto Dickson Street, the city's entertainment district, nearly every night of the week, while the Downtown Square and Gardens provide a more peaceful place to pass through. The annual Bikes, Blues & BBQ rally rumbles into the city every fall, while the Walton Arts Center sets the stage for musicals, plays, concerts and comedic performances.

    Population: 75,818

    Student population: 24,537

    Don't Miss: Scull Creek Trail, which is lined with mature trees and connects the UA campus with other parts of town, including shopping centers.

    See where Fayetteville ranked on our Top 10 Best BBQ Cities list and why we named it one of the best places to live in America.