Best Places to Live

2015 10 Best College Towns

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
  • 10

    Bowling Green, KY

    Population: 61,617
    Courtesy of

    A spate of construction projects on and around the campus of Western Kentucky University helped the city of Bowling Green, KY engineer one of the nation’s most successful downtown redevelopment efforts. Once underused and blighted buildings are now home to restaurants, offices, apartments and art galleries that lure a steady stream of visitors. Community leaders are seeing the payoff of creating a development district that’s formally called the WKU Gateway to Downtown Bowling Green. The district is expected to bring county and city governments more than $200 million in revenue by 2037. The relationship between university officials and city leaders illustrates why Bowling Green is one of the Top 10 Best College Towns in the country.

    As WKU got a new health and science center, dormitory, alumni center and four new fraternity houses the city of Bowling Green added a minor league ballpark, concert venue, shopping centers, a Hyatt Place hotel and office buildings. More than 30 projects have been completed or are under construction in the Gateway district, which has become the city’s entertainment hotspot. Independent restaurants in Bowling Green, bars and shops draw students and full-time residents into downtown. Favorite hangouts for the college crowd include Hilligans Bar & Grill, 440 Main and Tea Bayou, a New Orleans cafe and tea bar.  

    Among the many performing arts venues in Bowling Green is the 1,800-seat Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center, better known here as SKyPAC. This large venue opened in 2012 and hosts a variety of performances from orchestra nights and musical acts to one-man shows. Tidball’s, located near the downtown square, packs in an assortment of up-and-coming bands with the occasional national act thrown in the mix. While the National Corvette Museum tops the list of “must see” attractions in Bowling Green the L & N Historic Railpark and Kentucky Museum delight visitors. A collection of caves, lakes and parks surround Bowling Green and provide amazing outdoor adventures. 

    Fun Fact: The tradition of waving a red towel at sporting events started with WKU basketball coach E.A. Diddle, who clutched a red towel on the sideline, chewed on it, threw it and often waved it at fans and to signal players.