We all love our college towns, but some are better than others. Here, we rank the top 25 college towns in America.
College is about the students — their classes, their tailgates and their other contributions to campus. However, some colleges across the nation do so much more than unite their student body; they unite their entire towns as well. Here, we rank the top 25 college towns and campuses in the country.
25. Greenville, NC
When people think of schools in North Carolina, the Triangle’s trio of UNC-Chapel Hill, NC State and Duke are always the first schools to come to mind. However, drive just under two hours east and you arrive to Greenville, NC, one of the funnest schools on the East Coast. What makes Greenville — known as “G-Vegas” to many of the locals — the ideal college town, though, is its always unwavering support of the Pirates.
Plus, Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, home of East Carolina’s football team, has one of the coolest traditions in college sports. Skip to 0:25 in the video below when the music cuts out, and the 50,719 fans in attendance continue to belt out Bon Jovi while the game is live.
They said it:
Gordan Burrell, Band, Project L.I.T., Communications Major:
"Because as a school we are literally like a family, other schools talk about how we’re just a party school just because we know how to throw down, if you go to a party at (N.C.) State or UNC, you have to be in a frat or know someone, at ECU you can just walk into the door anywhere, any tailgate, any pregame, any party and be treated like family."
24. Boston, MA
No matter what you want to study, there’s going to be a place in Boston, MA to study it. With top colleges such as Boston University, Boston College, Emerson College, Northeastern University, MIT, and Tufts University right in Boston (and Harvard just over 15 minutes away), there’s a melting pot of students who can explore, learn in and intern in one of the most lively metropolitan cities in America.
Boston College is the only school with a FBS football program, but that doesn’t mean sports take a backseat at the other schools. Boston University and Northeastern both have top hockey programs and the Harvard-Yale football rivalry even hosted ESPN’s College Gameday in Cambridge.
They said it:
Trevor, Industrial Engineering Major at Northeastern University:
"Northeastern, and the whole Boston area, has a non-traditional sports culture. With BC and Harvard having the only college football in Boston, hockey along with professional sports become a culture. Whether the game is in stunning Fenway Park, historic Matthews Arena (the first home of the Bruins and now Northeastern’s hockey team), or newly renovated TD Garden, the over 30 colleges in the area rally behind every sports team. Streets are filled with Brady jerseys on Sundays and Sox jerseys in October. The concept of a “sports school” has been transformed into a sports community."
23. Morgantown, WV
There’s a whole lot of nothing in West Virginia. However, if you get lost and somehow drive through Morgantown, you’re sure to have a great time. The Mountaineers know how to throw some exciting tailgates, but the fun doesn’t end there. Looking at some of the funnest college football we’ve seen over the past decade, a lot of it has come out of West Virginia from the likes of Pat White and Tavon Austin. In a state where not a lot is going on, everyone’s attention is on the Mountaineers and their athletic programs.
22. Iowa City, IA
There’s not a lot going on in Iowa, but haven’t we learned that in many cases, that’s the first requirement for the perfect college town? They may not have the love of Colin Cowherd, but the entire state of Iowa loves the Hawkeyes.
They said it:
Tony, Grew up just outside Iowa City:
"Iowa City is the University of Iowa, it’s difficult to think of one without thinking of the other. As a youngster, making the drive from my small town to Iowa City meant we would see black and gold everywhere, we might see Chuck Long strolling through campus or bump into Roy Marble at the mall. Being from a rural community, going to Iowa City also meant that we would see a more diverse collection of people. I remember sitting on the grass in the endzone stands at Kinnick watching Iowa vs. Iowa State and how much pride we had for the black and gold! Attending George Raveling’s youth basketball camp was also a huge highlight of my youth as I felt even more connected to the Hawkeyes. To this day, it’s hard for me to drive into Iowa City and not purchase something from Scheel’s with black and gold on it."
21. Notre Dame, IN
There’s so much I can say about the college town tradition in South Bend, but I’ll let this spark my quick monologue about Notre Dame:
I have no idea if it’s accurate, but I assume that every kid from Notre Dame, IN is just like Rudy. If you haven’t seen this movie, close this slider and go watch it. He does literally anything to play just one game for the Fighting Irish. His family didn’t go to Notre Dame, but he’s still raised a diehard fan.
I teared up a little bit watching that video.
They said it
Will, Accounting Major:
"Making the journey to Notre Dame for a football game is on the bucket list for many sports fans. This is not hard to see when you arrive to South Bend. The atmosphere on a football weekend is electric, as the entire community shuts down in support of the Irish. Also, check out the nearby Eddy Street, the home of many popular restaurants and bars."
20. Columbia, MO
Columbia, MO and its school, the University of Missouri, have had a rough year. They received a lot of poor publicity over the past year and even a decrease in freshman enrollment. The school and its issues aside, Columbia is a great place for college students.
It has the downtown that every college town needs, complete with cheap food and fun bars, and is actually a fairly progressive-thinking campus. Just like another city to make the rankings, Austin, TX, Columbia has a vibrant music scene that ranges from impromptu street performers to organized local bands and artists.
19. Madison, WI
Look, when Wisconsin has a sports team to rally around, they do so in full force. The population of Green Bay, WI is barely over 100,000, yet the Packers still have one of the most successful franchises in the NFL.
The University of Wisconsin, located in Madison, WI, has that same kind of support. The Badgers have football and basketball teams that compete on an elite level almost every year.
Outside of sports, kids still have fun in Madison. From stealing cafeteria trays to go sledding to getting free bacon with their beer to bratwurst festivals, there’s always something to do.
They said it:
Amber, Communications Science and Disorders Major:
"Madison is so diverse, but yet you feel like you know everyone with how outgoing to whole campus is. Gamedays literally fill the streets with parties and games which leads to a packed Camp Randall or Kohn Center for the best game experience of your life. I honestly don’t want leave this school unless they force me out. Also, we pregame harder than your school parties."
18. Eugene, OR
Ever since my high school lacrosse days, “Look good, play good” has been the motto. We looked good, but we didn’t always “play good.” Oregon, on the other hand, always looks good and it almost always plays well. The Ducks can say “thanks” to alumnus Nike chairman Phil Knight for that.
Eugene is far from Portland or any other major cities, but if you’re driving down the West Coast, you’ll immediately know when you’re in Eugene. But hey, a student can tell you better than I can.
They said it
Derek, Journalism Major:
"From the walk along the footbridge to Autzen on Saturdays in the fall to the numerous clubs and activities such as intramural basketball, which is what I play, the University of Oregon is one of the best, if not the best college town in America. Walking around campus, you would instantly know it’s a great college town because of the number of “O” sweatshirts and other clothing apparel that are worn. The giant billboards all around Eugene say something related to Oregon and their pride of being a duck. The students from the business school and journalism school (which is where I am) takes pride in what their faculty teaches them and wants to go to the next level. There’s nothing like Eugene. From the faculty to students to alumni and people that reside in Eugene, this is the best college town in the country. There’s no flock that could say otherwise, and if they do, they can just duck on out."
17. College Station, TX
“Why is Texas A&M in front of Oregon? What criteria are even used in this inane rankings?”
Most of my criteria are secret and I will never reveal them, not even to my higher-ups at FanSided HQ. However, I will admit I used “Manziel Measure” to decide what order to put Oregon, Texas A&M and the University of Texas in.
We know where Manziel’s priorities lay, and he de-committed from Oregon in favor of taking his talents to College Station, T.X. That tells me enough.
They said it:
Alec, Biology Major:
"A&M just has a different feel. It’s not like anywhere else. It’s home. The culture and tradition make the school feel unique for every student that passes through campus. There are opportunities everywhere you look to get plugged in and get involved in making A&M a better place. The residents are another part of what makes the university so great. The acceptance and generosity of the college station residents is the heartbeat of Aggieland. They give back to us, while we try our best to give back to them through respect in our daily interactions. A&M is a special place and it is so true that you can’t understand it from the outside and you can’t explain it from the inside."
16. Austin, TX
You thought the “Manziel Measure” was done with. You thought wrong.
Despite being a star as Texas A&M, Manziel still lowkey wanted to be a Longhorn, and tried to get into fraternity parties at the University of Texas in Austin. Manziel goes where he believes fun will be (even if that’s Las Vegas the night before Cleveland Browns’ gameday).
Man, a real low blow, Johnny. Anyways, he was kicked out and I guess that gives him a bad reputation at both schools now.
Outside of the “Manziel Measure,” Austin offers a lot, from the music festivals in this slide’s feature image, as well as Zilker Park, The Drag, 6th Street, the Congressional Mall and Lady Bird Lake. In a way, Austin is like its own little oasis in the state of Texas, its motto being “Keep Austin Weird.”
They said it:
Paige, Textiles and Apparel Major:
"UT is the best school because it’s in Austin, Texas. You’re never bored, as there are thousands of groups available to join, numerous good restaurants, and fun nature spots. UT is the school for any type of person – with so many groups you can get involved in, every person can find their place."
15. Blacksburg, VA
Like Jacob, the student below, says, there isn’t anyone in Blacksburg that isn’t invested in Virginia Tech and the Hokies.
Almost Blacksburg’s entire population is comprised of students, and they’re happy, too. According to the Princeton Review, Virginia Tech ranked first for “Their Students Love These Colleges” and “Quality of Life.”
I don’t really know what a Hokie even is, but at least it makes students smile.
They said it:
Jacob, Computer Science Major:
"The atmosphere, everyone loves the Hokies and is super friendly. There isn’t anyone in Blacksburg that isn’t invested in the Hokies. Blacksburg exists solely because of Virginia Tech, and everyone feels that Blacksburg and Virginia Tech is home. We are the fittest campus and have the best food in the nation. The outdoors is where the Hokies live, and the hikes around Blacksburg are always filled with students on the weekends."
14. Chicago, IL
Must I go through all the things to do in Chicago? One of the biggest cities in America, there’s plenty of professional sports, a vivid nightlife, plenty of places to make connections and intern and also some of the top schools in the nation.
They said it:
Ben, Journalism Major at Northwestern University:
"A city as large and diverse as Chicago offers a wide set of internship and career opportunities for college students and plenty of entertainment options in the meantime: five big-four sports teams, Wrigleyville and other trendy bar areas, Second City comedy club and plenty more."
13. Chapel Hill, NC
Chapel Hill, NC aka “Chapel Thrill” is an instant classic as far as college towns are concerned. The oldest public university in the United States, UNC-Chapel Hill has been around a long time. With time comes awesome traditions, and for the Tar Heels, those include rushing Franklin St. after any win against crosstown rivals Duke, and after Final Four victories.
On days where the Tar Heels aren’t victorious, Chapel Hill still has a class college town feel. Franklin St. offers a wide variety of bars and restaurants for students to eat at and the center of campus is beautiful and lush with trees.
They said it:
Kelly, Advertising and Entrepreneurship Major:
"So, I like Chapel Hill because the campus and the town are so intertwined. We have so many options to do things around the school, but Carrboro and Franklin St, still feel like they are on-campus. I still feel “at home,” I have the option of going to a college bar with my friends, or I can go do my own thing less than five minutes down the road. The way Chapel Hill is set up, you get to choose exactly what type of day or night you want to have. The food options are unreal, so much variety and highly respected places to eat. From the food trucks and places like Al’s Burgershack, that place is hands down the best burger in the area by the way, to sit-down restaurants like Lantern, students get to choose. I think that really is the big theme of Chapel Hill, everyone has a place, and everywhere feels like home."
12. Tempe, AZ
Sun Devils really know how to have fun. Tempe, AZ is the highest PAC 12 school in the rankings, and for good reason. Arizona State University throws down arguably better than any school in the nation, the weather is beautiful and the school was ranked as the most innovative in the nation two years in a row (in front of Stanford and MIT).
They said it:
Andy, Journalism Major:
"No. 1 in innovation for two years in a row, few places can compare to Arizona State – home of the “Pride of the Southwest.” Housed in barren Tempe, Arizona, life in the desert grins to a teeming student body of almost 100,000. From El Paisano’s to Sparky’s Ice Cream Den, the fearsome fork is emblazoned on the walls and the spirit spills from the bars into the streets on Mill Ave., where Sundevils flock to for anything on this college student shop meets downtown restaurant strip. Consistently being ranked among the top 10 or 3 hottest student bodies, its not hard to see why after a walk in the four cavernous state-of-the-art Sun Devil Fitness Centers. Intramurals sports pepper the practice fields on campus when its not being used by one of our 75 Greek organizations. Gameday here explodes into maroon and gold and the streets flood and pack as the PAC 12 shifts its attention to Spring Break University. Arizona State offers an oasis in the desert where endowers have allowed for the construction of an almost entirely eco-powered university. And being eco-friendly is hot."
11. Knoxville, TN
Knoxville, TN is another school with a lot of tradition. The football team has gone through its dark days (though, with that recent comeback win against Florida, could they be coming to an end?), but the town’s support for the team never faltered.
They said it:
John, Bachelor of Science Mechanical Engineering (alumnus):
"The gameday experience in Knoxville is unlike any other. The RV’s and boats start showing up on Thursday. Tailgating on Cumberland Ave. begins in ernest before 8:00 A.M. on Saturday, regardless of when kick-off is. There is a constant wave of orange and white clad fans descending onto campus. Rocky Top is heard almost continually between the tailgaters and the people driving in to the game. Although there are some bitter rivalries in the SEC, the atmosphere is friendly and fun. Volunteer fans begin to filter down to the stadium for the Vol walk. The sound of the band playing as they march to the stadium carries through the campus. Neyland Stadium starts to become electric as the fans file in. Anticipation builds as everyone is waiting for the Vols to run through the T and Jeff Jarnigan the PA announcer to declare, “Its Football Time in Tennessee!”"
10. Columbia, SC
Columbia, SC is an interesting town. There’s rough areas and it doesn’t have the urban upside of Chicago, Boston or Atlanta, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great place for a college campus. Between the extremely high Greek presence at the University of South Carolina and the plethora of bars, there’s never a dull night. The “Horseshoe,” the center of USC’s campus, is one of the most scenic places of any campus in the United States. The palm trees that litter the campus and Columbia are there as a constant reminder you really are in the south.
They said it:
Alifia, Business Major:
"Cola is great because of college football. The school spirit is insane here and the campus is beautiful. Off campus, there’s lots of fun things to do. The riverwalk by campus is awesome to go tubing and downtown is fun for those who want to party but it also has all these cute boutiques and restaurants. The Vista is like a fancier area – so freaking pretty and such good food. But, mainly football, yeah."
9. Atlanta, GA
As far as things to do, Atlanta, GA is one of the gems of the south. Between the giant aquarium, major league sports teams, booming businesses and much, much more, it’s a great place to be a college student. Georgia Tech provides a top-notch education, but not without losing out on the ACC experience, where the Yellow Jackets compete at a high level, particularly in football. There’s also Emory University, which is routinely ranked as having one of the prettiest campuses in America (and for good reason).
They said it:
Vaishak, Computer Science Major at Georgia Tech:
"Atlanta is an awesome city to be in as a student. It’s home to some incredible universities such as Georgia Tech and Emory. These universities are top-ranked colleges in the US. Atlanta also offers cheap housing compared to other major cities, which makes it a lot more affordable as a student. It also has a lot of variety – from Midtown to Buckhead to Edgewood, there is a huge range in food, drink and culture. On the career side, Atlanta Tech Village is a growing startup scene, with already famous alum such as Yik Yak. If you like nature and parks, the gigantic Piedmont park is in the heart of Midtown and is only a mile away from Georgia Tech’s campus. In the middle of Piedmont park is a lake, with open fields and paths surrounding it for sport and relaxing strolls. As far as college towns go, Atlanta is not a typical one, but it certainly is amazing!"
8. Clemson, SC
Ask someone what there is in Clemson, SC, and they’ll tell you “Clemson.” The university defines the town, and that’s not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, the university’s enrollment of just over 22,000 almost doubles the town’s population (according to Google, I don’t know how that works either). Yet somehow, the Tigers always sell out all 81,500 seats at Memorial Stadium. Talk about dedication.
Honestly, it’d be higher if they didn’t ban Harambe memes from campus. Party foul …
7. Gainesville, FL
“Wow, I’m in the front row at an Adele concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City. How should I take advantage of my awesome proximity to one of the most talented artists in the world? I got it, let’s make her do the Florida Gator chomp.”
So, the Gainesville faithful know how to make their pride travel with them. I love it.
They said it:
Stephen, Statistics Major:
"Gainesville is a great college town because it offers everything. There’s a strip of bars right across from campus that are cheap and fun, some nicer bars downtown and plenty of other things to do if partying isn’t your scene. The athletics are also a big deal to everyone. The whole city practically shuts down on Saturdays when the Gators are in town."
6. Syracuse, NY
As Joakim Noah would say, “Who ever says they want to go on vacation to” Syracuse? Nobody, really. It’s cold, and there’s not a lot of tourist value in New York outside of the city. However, Syracuse University offers a lot to its students. A top-notch school with high-level athletics, a beautiful campus and the best party scene in America.
Plus, Otto the Orange is easily the best mascot in college sports. How can anyone in living there not fall in love with him?
5. State College, PA
State College, PA is the epitome of a college town in America. Without Penn State University, there is no State College, PA The Nittany Lions have the best tailgating scene north of the Mason-Dixon line, a huge alumni base and loyalty that no other school can compare with.
They said it:
Sammi, Pre-Major in Business School, Intends to Study Marketing:
"State College is an awesome college town because the whole town is centered around campus and Penn State. Football game days are something special, bringing over 150,000 people to the town for every game (some people just tailgate and don’t even intend on going in the game). Even when it isn’t a game day, the atmosphere around campus and downtown is filled with school spirit and people are always looking out to help the students. It’s so awesome to be a part of something as big as Penn state and being an athlete makes it even more fun to represent a school as big as Penn State."
Sandie, Communications Major:
"It’s literally all college students, there’s hardly any real people around so it’s a non stop social gathering. Everywhere you go you’ll know someone or will make friends. For a school that has 40,000+ students, it feels smaller once it becomes your home."
4. Ann Arbor, MI
Go to school in Ann Arbor, MI, and you’re bound to be around some fellow smarties. After all, Ann Arbor has been ranked as the most educated city in America. Makes sense that the smartest coach in college football, Jim Harbaugh, is the University of Michigan’s coach. “The Big House,” Michigan’s football stadium, can hold over 109,000 spectators and has set numerous attendance records. There’s not a lot of better places to be than Ann Arbor when it comes to class and football.
They said it:
Payton, Grew up in Ann Arbor:
"Ann Arbor, Michigan will always have a special place in my heart. Walking to the Big House with tens of thousands of people is an amazing experience. Downtown Ann Arbor has amazing food and people watching that can keep you busy for hours. The campus itself is HUGE, it’s incredible how much land the university has stockpile. There is tons of diversity in Ann Arbor as well with the hospital and the university bringing in people from all places. I don’t know of many places that are better than Ann Arbor in the Fall."
3. Tuscaloosa, AL
ROLL TIDE, ROLL!
Connor, the student below, breaks down what it means to be a member of the Crimson Tide better than I ever could.
However, if you need a breakdown on why the University of Alabama means to much to not only the student body and alumni, but also the entire state, watch the 30 for 30 film, “Roll Tide War Eagle.”
They said it:
Connor, Electrical Engineering Major:
"Tuscaloosa is an amazing college town because of how much it has to offer. With a great bar scene and fraternity parties at least three days a weeks, it’s hard to be bored. Tuscaloosa has two great areas that a college student can enjoy: the strip and downtown. The strip is the section of bars and restaurants less than a two-minute walk from campus and provides students with cheap food and a whole lot of fun. It is also the area that was absolutely swarmed with students when we won the national championship last year. Tuscaloosa’s downtown is a little bit further away from campus and is a nicer area with well-established restaurants and hotels, and is a site for a multitude of greek parties when the organizations rent out some of the restaurants. Tuscaloosa is all about football, though. Every home football game sees 100,000 fans come from far and near to join the 30,000 students on campus to watch the Crimson Tide roll. Tuscaloosa goes from being the fourth largest city in Alabama to the second largest on those memorable Saturdays. Tuscaloosa and especially the University of Alabama’s campus is stunningly beautiful, with open quads, large trees and beautiful buildings. All visitors are impressed with the beauty and openness of the campus. I am a part of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, one of the thirty on campus fraternities and 16 on campus sororities. Greek life dominates the University of Alabama, with more than a third of all students a part of these organizations, it is easily the biggest college for greek life. Each year a new $15-18 million dollar mansion goes up for a fraternity or sorority. Tuscaloosa has rebounded enormously since the devastating tornado in 2011. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spend on construction of new apartments and stores that has drastically improved the quality of the town."
2. Oxford, MS
Ole Miss is another school where enrollment somehow outnumbers the town it resides in in terms of population. The enrollment may be hovering around 23,000, but go to one tailgate in Oxford, MS and you’ll think it’s 100,000. Students and non-students alike love their Rebels.
They said it:
Parker, Management Information Systems Major:
"Ole Miss is a totally different animal compared to many schools around the country. The Grove on Gameday is the Mecca of tailgating. There is a wonderful atmosphere of southern hospitality (and beautiful women). Hearing thousands of students go insane in Vaught-Hemingway is one of the most dangerous alley for any away team. Because of the beautiful campus and outrageous school spirit, there is no better college town than Oxford, Mississippi."
1. Athens, GA
Athens, GA has a lot going for it: a vibrant fanbase, an adorable mascot, active Greek life, a winning tradition on the field and much more. The population of Athens is over 100,000, taking away the rural feel from the University of Georgia while still providing places to intern and explore off-campus.
Georgia’s campus is also regarded as one of the most beautiful places to live and learn in the country, and after taking a quick look, it’s not hard to see why.
They said it:
Neil, Journalism Major:
"I’ve lived in Athens for a little over a year now and I couldn’t be happier. Athens’ embodies the perfect college town; its creativity and social scene creates a learning environment for students that is unrivaled. Athens’ personality has developed to be unique and appealing by encouraging local businesses and preserving the history of the city. Saturdays in Athens are nothing like I had ever experienced. Any green space on the campus is covered in tents surrounded by the the bulldog faithful. Tens of thousands of people flood into the city to tailgate, socialize, and most importantly, watch the Bulldogs play. Anyone from Athens is proud to say that they can call the Classic City their home. Athens has created an identity for itself that makes it, without a doubt, the greatest college town in America."
So there you have it, the top 25 college towns in America. What’d we miss?