5 Great College Towns to Settle In Post-Graduation

Think college towns are just for students? Think again. These small cities and towns are amazing places to live at any stage of life.

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Madison, WI
Courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Madison/Bryce Richter

Your diploma has been framed, the cap and gown is in storage and you’ve been to more going-away parties than you can count. Now, where to focus that job hunt and look for a place to settle down? If your destination wish list includes lots of culture, a smaller-town feel and football Saturdays (you’re never too old to tailgate), it may be time to head back to school — only without all the classes and homework. Here are five college towns that are great places to live, post-grad. 

1. Madison, Wisconsin

If the Midwest is calling your name, this true college town, home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is an easy answer. Frequently recognized on award lists — top post-grad town, best city for biking, happiest city in the world, greenest city, fittest city, etc. — the state capital has the feel of a smaller town (population 252,551) but offers big-city amenities and culture.

With an array of museums, the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the nation and plenty of food fests — from the world’s biggest Brat Fest, to Craft Beer Week, to the Isthmus Beer Cheese Festival — it’s also just 77 miles from Milwaukee and 122 miles from Chicago.

It’s also a great place for twenty-somethings (more than half the population is younger than 30) and those who seek an active lifestyle (you’ll find five lakes, 10 public beaches, more than 260 parks and bike paths everywhere you look). 

Ready to move? The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $806, slightly below the national average, and the median home value in Madison is $249,300. The largest job sectors include healthcare, life sciences, agriculture, advanced manufacturing and IT, and of course, public employment in education. Is that “On, Wisconsin” we hear you humming?

OR State University

courtesy of Oregon State University under a CC 4.0 license.

2. Corvallis, Oregon

So your ultimate town wish list includes charming homes, close proximity to outdoor adventures, a vibrant college campus and breweries, wineries and independent restaurants? It’s a tall order, but Corvallis, home to Oregon State University, will check all your boxes. 

The pretty, stately campus, situated near downtown, is one of just a few universities with a National Register of Historic Places status, and plays host to a multitude of cultural events (and Pac-12 athletics) open to the public throughout the year. 

With a population of 58,735 and average Benton County home price of $296,100, it’s also a place where creative jobs are common —41.7 percent of the workforce includes jobs in science and technology, design and architecture, arts, entertainment and media, healthcare, law, management and education.

Weekend warriors will love its location in the Willamette Valley (just 90 minutes from Portland), where both skiing and the Oregon coast are easy drives, but crowd-drawing events, including the da Vinci Days Festival and the Corvallis Fall Festival, make staying put fun, too. 

IA State University
Photo: Iowa State University News Service

3. Ames, Iowa

“Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.”

Longtime residents of Ames may tire of the famous “Field of Dreams” movie line, but the quote isn’t far off. Boasting Iowa State University, 36 parks, a fun downtown scene, miles and miles of bike trails, four golf courses and more, this college town is a solid place to put down roots.

And it’s not just us saying it: Ames, with a population of 66,191 (including students), has racked up a long list of accolades including best place for STEM grads, best town for millennials and healthiest city. 

If you plan to have kids, Ames boasts one of the nation’s top school systems. If you crave culture, the university brings in Broadway shows, Pulitzer Prize-winning speakers and famous artists. If you love athletics, the Big 12 ISU Cyclones will have you cheering. 

And it’s affordable, too: The median home value is $183,300 and the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $643 (compared to a national average of $825). Top jobs are in education, government and professional, scientific and technical services.

Heaven? No, it’s Ames. 

4. Ann Arbor, Michigan

Thinking of a move to Wolverine territory? Start by learning the lyrics to the University of Michigan fight song (“Hail! to the victors valiant; Hail! to the conqu'ring heroes; Hail! Hail! to Michigan, the champions of the West!”), then get ready to take notes on what makes this city, our #1 Best Place to Live in 2018, so beloved.

First, of course, is the college, with its award-winning museums, cultural performances, nationally ranked sports teams (the football stadium seats a whopping 107,601–think epic tailgating) and Instagram-worthy campus. 

Then there’s the food and drink scene: more than 300 restaurants, food trucks, a charming farmers’ market and a spate of breweries. Or the festivals held most weekends, such as July’s Ann Arbor Art Fair, April’s FoolMoon and FestiFools and holiday lights fest. Or the outdoor options — golf, hike, mountain bike, snowshoe or cross-country ski or canoe, paddle board or kayak the Huron River. 

Named a winner on lists celebrating the most educated cities in America, best coffee, best college towns, happiest cities, best cities for entrepreneurs, best city for millennials and so on, Ann Arbor boasts about 117,000 residents (University of Michigan students included). The median home value, at $366,500, is a bit pricier than smaller college towns, but with almost 10 percent of the work force employed by the university (the city’s largest employer), unemployment is low, with health care, automotive, IT and biomedical research fields leaders in industry.

Ann Arbor? Hail, yes!

5. Fort Collins, Colorado

When it comes to Rocky Mountain college towns, Boulder tends to get most of the love. But Fort Collins, home to CU’s intra-state rival, Colorado State, is bursting with potential as a worthy city to put down roots.

And if you’re a beer drinker? It’s time to hoist a pint. Fort Collins makes 70 percent of the craft beer made in Colorado, and is No. 4 nationally when it comes to the number of microbreweries per capita. When friends come to visit, hop on a brew tour (there are plenty to choose from) to sample a Fat Tire from New Belgium, a 90 Shilling from Odell or a Dunkel from Zwei. 

Just an hour’s drive north of Denver, this Northern Colorado town (population: 158,600), may center on CSU (which boasts a world-class performing arts center, historic buildings and a new state-of-the-art stadium), but it also supports a ballet troupe, opera company, symphony, art galleries, museums and lots of live music venues. The major employers in the area include Advanced Energy Industries, Anheuser Busch, Banner Health and CSU. 

And the setting ain’t bad either. Located along the Cache La Powder River, and along the Front Range, camping, hiking, skiing, fishing, biking and other outdoor adventures are just moments away. It’s a perpetual award-winner on top cities lists, from best city for cycling to best place to raise a family to best place to live.

The average home price in Fort Collins is climbing — currently it’s at $444,360, with one-bedroom apartments renting for $1,200 on average. But it’s easy to see why folks come here for college and stay forever. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lesley Kennedy is a features writer and editor living in Denver with her husband and two daughters. more

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Tue, 08/28/2018 - 12:20