The 101 Best College Towns In America For 2018


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Believe it or not, America has the best colleges in the world. It's been proven by data (and surveys) that the U.S. educational system is of the highest quality

It's actually not even close.

While we could debate which colleges within the United States are the 'best,' that's not the goal of this post. In fact, depending on how you scrutinize the data, you could make that argument for about a dozen higher-level institutions.

Our goal with this data is a lot more fun.

We wanted to know which college towns are the best.

You know, the type of places where there's energy and stimulation, but the type of place you can walk around at night. Where sports fans thrive, but where kids actually graduate. The happiest, chillest, most downright fun places where you can send your kids off to college where you won't break the bank, or worry about their well being.

Yes, those places exist.

And using data, here are the 10 best college towns in America:

  1. Ann Arbor, MI (Photos | Homes)
  2. Fairfax, VA (Photos | Homes)
  3. Morgantown, WV (Photos | Homes)
  4. Chapel Hill, NC (Photos | Homes)
  5. East Lansing, MI (Photos | Homes)
  6. Laramie, WY (Photos | Homes)
  7. Bloomington, IN (Photos | Homes)
  8. Seattle, WA (Photos | Homes)
  9. Iowa City, IA (Photos | Homes)
  10. Tempe, AZ (Photos | Homes)

While some of these may not seem like a 'real' college town per se (hello, Seattle), when you look at the numbers, it's hard to argue against.

And for those who live in Morgantown, Laramie and Iowa City - we tip our hats to you. There's nothing else to do within a three-hour drive from your college town, so at least you have this!

Finally, if you live in Bakersfield, CA - it's officially the worst college town in America. Sorry, Bako!

It's a dangerous place with not a lot to do, and a really lousy basketball team. (While the Cal State Bakersfield men's basketball team had some pretty good years as a Division 2 program back in the day, it simply can't compete with the big boys in D1.)

Read on to find out more.

How'd we figure out the best college towns in America?

To crunch our data on America's best college towns, we had to first decide which qualities (or rankings) make sense to use in the data, and then crunch the numbers for our rankings. Now, we had to make some assumptions here, so bear with us as we explain the methodology, and ultimately, how we came up with our rankings.

First off, we firmly decided that only cities with a Division 1 basketball program should make the cut. That's because a college town just isn't the same without a strong sports vibe.

You might be surprised to hear that there are more than 300 Division 1 basketball programs in America, so we didn't leave out very many cities.

We also decided the basketball team had to be good, and that it had to be well supported. Because how good could a college town be with crummy sports teams that no one watches, right?

Beyond sourcing the NCAA Basketball statistical database, we also used OpenStreetMaps, the College Scorecard, the U.S. Census, and FBI reporting data to include the following factors:

  • College-specific Factors
    • Graduation rate
    • Tuition Cost
    • Student Body Diversity
  • Quality Sports
    • Basketball Games
    • Basketball Team Win %
    • Average Basketball Game Attendance
  • Town Characteristics
    • Students Make Up Large % of the Population
    • Safety
    • Affordability
    • Income and Employment Opportunities
  • Things to Do
    • Bars
    • Museums & Libraries
    • Population Density

And, finally, if a city had more than one Division 1 basketball program, we combined both (or all of) their sports categories into one average score. Phew!

We ranked each city across each of the criteria, with one being the best.

We then took the average rank across each category, with the city posting the lowest overall score being crowned the winner of the title "Best College Town In America".

Ann Arbor, MI
Overall SnackAbility
9
/10

Population: 118,087
% Undergrad Pop.: 30.1% (45th best)
Median Rent: $1,114 (152nd best)
Unemployment Rate: 5.6% (29th best)
Crime Rank: 15th best
More on Ann Arbor: Real Estate | Data | Photos

If you live in Michigan, there's a choice. Michigan or Michigan State.

That's it

While these two teams will continue to battle one another on the court or the field for a long time down the road, when it comes to bragging rights off the court, Michigan earned it, big time.

The Michigan men's basketball team is one of the best teams in the nation, as you very well know. A good basketball team has a way of making an entire community a better place.

But it's not just the sporting tradition that makes Ann Arbor shine. It's the 15th safest college town in America we measured, and Ann Arbor is in the top 5% when it comes to entertainment options per capita, too.

Nice job, Maize and Blue.

Colleges: University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Washtenaw Community College, Concordia University-Ann Arbor

Fairfax, VA
Overall SnackAbility
7
/10

Population: 23,620
% Undergrad Pop.: 64.3% (7th best)
Median Rent: $1,750 (176th best)
Unemployment Rate: 5.5% (27th best)
Crime Rank: 88th best
More on Fairfax: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Would you have thought that the home of George Mason University, Columbia College and VIU would be the second best college town in America? Us either?

And by the way, VIU stands for Virginia International University.

Fairfax has it goin on when it comes to the actual university grade: the cost to attend, graduation rate, and quality of the universities in Fairfax.

Plus, there are more museums per capita in Fairfax than any other college town in America, and plenty of bars, too. Fairfax ranks 4th in the country for our 'entertainment score'.

So, while the sports teams struggle, the quality of life on and around campus more than makes up for it.

Colleges: George Mason University, Stratford University, Columbia College

Morgantown, WV
Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility
7
/10

Population: 30,364
% Undergrad Pop.: 50.9% (12th best)
Median Rent: $742 (47th best)
Unemployment Rate: 8.6% (99th best)
Crime Rank: 29th best
More on Morgantown: Real Estate | Data | Photos

If you've ever been to Morgantown, you already know it - this place is an island in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps that's why there's so much jam packed in such a small area.

When it comes to quality of basketball and the attendance for games, UWV students have it made; the university ranks 8th in the nation for our sports score.

Other factors: An entertainment score that puts Morgantown in the top 15%.

Factors that bring Morgantown down - a lack of diversity, and a higher than average unemployment rate. But hey - it's cheap to live here!

Colleges: West Virginia University, West Virginia Junior College-Morgantown, Monongalia County Technical Education Center

Chapel Hill, NC
Overall SnackAbility
8.5
/10

Population: 59,005
% Undergrad Pop.: 26.5% (48th best)
Median Rent: $1,061 (148th best)
Unemployment Rate: 5.4% (22nd best)
Crime Rank: 30th best
More on Chapel Hill: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Having spent nearly four years living in Chapel Hill, the author of this post can attest to the quality of life in Chapel Hill. Not only is the basketball team the best in the nation (and very well supported), the quality of life on and around campus is amazing.

Franklin Street has bars on top of bars (literally), and plenty of places to eat and mingle. It's not a very diverse place, nor is it very affordable.

But in terms of charm, safety and lovability, Chapel Hill is pretty much the best college town you could call home.

It's A Great Day To Be A Tar Heel!

Colleges: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Aveda Institute-Chapel Hill

East Lansing, MI
Overall SnackAbility
8
/10

Population: 48,395
% Undergrad Pop.: 71.0% (5th best)
Median Rent: $896 (106th best)
Unemployment Rate: 10.1% (132nd best)
Crime Rank: 10th best
More on East Lansing: Real Estate | Data | Photos

While Michigan took top honors, it's rival down the road isn't too far behind. While Michigan has the 3rd best ranked sports program according to our metrics, MSU is 10th. (It has the 2nd highest winning percentage in the last 5 years.)

Michigan State ranks 8th in the country for graduation rate, and has a really low unemployment rate too, meaning lots of students stick around once they graduate. East Lansing is also the 10th safest college town in America, too.

The downside? MSU is far above average when it comes to tuition cost. Does that make a college town less 'awesome?' Maybe just a teeny bit.

Colleges: Michigan State University, Douglas J Aveda Institute, Michigan State University-College of Law

Laramie, WY
Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility
8.5
/10

Population: 32,096
% Undergrad Pop.: 26.6% (47th best)
Median Rent: $728 (38th best)
Unemployment Rate: 4.7% (7th best)
Crime Rank: 5th best
More on Laramie: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Say what Cowboys?

People in Wyoming are probably eyes wide open at this one. Sure, Laramie, like Morgantown, is an island among some of the most isolated (and boring) regions in the country. Which is why is likely ranks in the top 20% in the country for 'things to do' per capita.

But what really sets Laramie apart is the 'city characteristics' category, where it's 4th in America. It's relatively affordable, there are plenty of jobs (for residents), and crime is the 5th lowest in America.

It's not a very diverse place, and the basketball team is average (but the games are very well attended).

Frankly, there are FAR worse college towns within 1,000 miles of Laramie where you could spent 4 years, that's for sure.

Colleges: University of Wyoming, Wyotech-Laramie

Bloomington, IN
Overall SnackAbility
7
/10

Population: 83,093
% Undergrad Pop.: 35.4% (32nd best)
Median Rent: $839 (90th best)
Unemployment Rate: 8.0% (86th best)
Crime Rank: 68th best
More on Bloomington: Real Estate | Data | Photos

There's two main reasons why Bloomington makes the top ten. Basketball and beer.

Game days are a huge deal in these parts, and practically everyone in town is at the game or has the game on. Now, when it comes to drinking, Bloomington is a real party town, too. There are only 10 other college towns in America with more kegs per student than right here in south central Indiana.

It's a relatively expensive degree, but just about everyone graduates.

Colleges: Indiana University-Bloomington, Tricoci University of Beauty Cuture LLC-Bloomington, Ivy Tech Community College-Bloomington

Seattle, WA
Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility
8.5
/10

Population: 668,849
% Undergrad Pop.: 6.6% (141st best)
Median Rent: $1,266 (159th best)
Unemployment Rate: 5.1% (13th best)
Crime Rank: 155th best
More on Seattle: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Did you really ever think of Seattle as a college town?

We didn't.

Did you know that the University of Washington, Seattle University, Seattle Central College, Seattle Pacific and a number of other smaller colleges make their home here?

While PAC-10 basketball certainly has a lot of room to improve, the sports teams are pretty well supported. It's a diverse place with plenty of jobs and the 5th-most bars per capita in America.

Now, if they could get the rent and homeless problem under control...

Colleges: University of Washington-Seattle Campus, Seattle Central College, North Seattle College

Iowa City, IA
Overall SnackAbility
8
/10

Population: 72,385
% Undergrad Pop.: 26.6% (47th best)
Median Rent: $873 (105th best)
Unemployment Rate: 4.4% (6th best)
Crime Rank: 28th best
More on Iowa City: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Nothing like game day in Iowa City. Especially on the football field (which we didn't measure).

Basketball is HUGE in Iowa, and the quality on the court and attendance numbers prove it.

Did you know Iowa City has the 6th lowest unemployment rate of all college towns (4.4%)? Did you know it is the 20th safest place and that 70% of students graduate?

If you knew all of that, you probably live in Iowa, and likely were already very well versed on how great Iowa City is as a college town.

Colleges: University of Iowa, La James International College-Iowa City, The Salon Professional Academy-Iowa City

Tempe, AZ
Overall SnackAbility
7
/10

Population: 174,708
% Undergrad Pop.: 25.9% (51st best)
Median Rent: $985 (134th best)
Unemployment Rate: 6.0% (36th best)
Crime Rank: 131st best
More on Tempe: Real Estate | Data | Photos

In case you didn't know it, Arizona State is a party school.

The sports teams have improved lately, as has the student body support.

Tempe is in the top 15% when you look at entertainment, in the top 20% for quality of campus life, and is relatively affordable, too. It's actually a really cool place when it's not 110' degrees.

Plus, the students have plenty of places to get wasted (as do the locals) when they aren't at Lake Havasu or Mexico.

Colleges: Arizona State University-Tempe, Rio Salado College, Western International University

There You Have It -- The Best College Towns In The US

If you're looking for the best college towns in America, you came to the right place. These places all have great college sports programs, tons of stuff to do, and are great places to raise a family.

If you're curious, these are the worst college towns in America, starting with the absolute worst, Bakersfield:

  1. Bakersfield, California - home of Cal State Bakersfield
  2. Jackson, Mississippi - home of Jackson State University
  3. Clarksville, Tennessee - home of Austin Peay University
  4. Santonio, Texas - home of UT - San Antonio
  5. Riverside, California - home of UC Riverside
  6. Chattanooga, Tennessee - home of UT - Chattanooga
  7. Indianapolis, Indiana - home of Butler University
  8. Littlee Rock, Arkansas - home of UA Little Rock
  9. Newark, NJ - home of Rutgers University
  10. Akron, Ohio - home of the University of AkronLittl
For more reading, check out:

101 Best College Towns In America

Rank City Population
1 Ann Arbor, MI 118,087
2 Fairfax, VA 23,620
3 Morgantown, WV 30,364
4 Chapel Hill, NC 59,005
5 East Lansing, MI 48,395
6 Laramie, WY 32,096
7 Bloomington, IN 83,093
8 Seattle, WA 668,849
9 Iowa City, IA 72,385
10 Tempe, AZ 174,708
11 Champaign, IL 84,672
12 Stillwater, OK 48,104
13 Ogden, UT 84,900
14 Omaha, NE 443,072
15 Albany, NY 98,425
16 Manhattan, KS 55,909
17 New Brunswick, NJ 56,427
18 Buffalo, NY 258,989
19 Towson, MD 58,189
20 Evanston, IL 75,472
21 Provo, UT 115,718
22 Corvallis, OR 55,766
23 Lincoln, NE 273,018
24 Fayetteville, AR 80,552
25 Moscow, ID 24,855
26 Berkeley, CA 118,585
27 Logan, UT 49,539
28 Williamsburg, VA 14,988
29 Madison, WI 246,034
30 Santa Barbara, CA 90,922
31 Fort Myers, FL 71,051
32 Boulder, CO 105,420
33 Boston, MA 658,279
34 Ithaca, NY 30,625
35 Murray, KY 18,726
36 Lawrence, KS 92,611
37 Tampa, FL 361,477
38 Atlanta, GA 456,378
39 Vermillion, SD 10,778
40 Harrisonburg, VA 51,979
41 Syracuse, NY 144,350
42 Ruston, LA 22,245
43 San Luis Obispo, CA 46,716
44 Cincinnati, OH 298,011
45 Normal, IL 54,534
46 Columbia, MO 117,165
47 Pittsburgh, PA 305,305
48 Washington, DC 659,009
49 Tucson, AZ 527,586
50 Ames, IA 64,073
51 Bowling Green, OH 31,641
52 Eugene, OR 161,649
53 San Diego, CA 1,374,812
54 Radford, VA 17,186
55 Fullerton, CA 139,491
56 Las Vegas, NV 613,295
58 Reno, NV 237,121
59 Brookings, SD 23,292
60 Fort Collins, CO 157,251
61 Huntington, WV 48,735
62 Providence, RI 178,851
63 San Marcos, TX 57,743
64 Ypsilanti, MI 20,577
65 Boca Raton, FL 91,702
66 Durham, NC 251,761
67 Norman, OK 118,974
68 Kent, OH 29,761
69 Dayton, OH 141,143
70 Fresno, CA 513,807
71 Thibodaux, LA 14,565
72 Austin, TX 907,779
73 Arlington, TX 383,899
74 Durham, NH 10,666
75 Lynchburg, VA 78,755
76 Orlando, FL 263,306
77 Lafayette, LA 125,808
78 Lubbock, TX 244,507
79 Nacogdoches, TX 33,789
80 Las Cruces, NM 101,459
81 Green Bay, WI 104,951
82 Macomb, IL 18,771
83 Columbus, OH 837,038
84 Wichita, KS 388,033
85 Greensboro, NC 282,177
86 Philadelphia, PA 1,559,938
87 Denton, TX 128,421
88 Baton Rouge, LA 228,694
89 Charleston, SC 129,888
90 Spokane, WA 212,078
91 Norfolk, VA 245,724
92 Santa Clara, CA 122,725
93 Portland, OR 620,589
94 Auburn, AL 60,318
95 Carbondale, IL 26,066
96 Binghamton, NY 46,277
97 Tuscaloosa, AL 96,352
98 Tallahassee, FL 188,466
99 Hempstead, NY 55,454
100 New Haven, CT 130,405
101 Albuquerque, NM 556,859

Best College Towns By State

Enjoy The Snack?