The 101 Best College Towns In America For 2023

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
  2. Fairfax, VA
  3. East Lansing, MI
  4. Chapel Hill, NC
  5. Morgantown, WV
  6. Champaign, IL
  7. Ogden, UT
  8. Bloomington, IN
  9. Stillwater, OK
  10. Fort Myers, FL

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

Population: 121,093
% Undergrad Pop.: 29.3% (44th best)
Median Rent: $1,299 (154th best)
Unemployment Rate: 354.9% (7th best)
Crime Rank: 15th best
More on Ann Arbor: Real Estate | Crime | Cost Of Living

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

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

Population: 23,312
% Undergrad Pop.: 65.1% (7th best)
Median Rent: $1,822 (179th best)
Unemployment Rate: 402.9% (16th best)
Crime Rank: 94th best
More on Fairfax: Real EstateCost Of Living

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

East Lansing, MI
Overall SnackAbility

Population: 48,437
% Undergrad Pop.: 70.9% (5th best)
Median Rent: $969 (99th best)
Unemployment Rate: 715.3% (128th best)
Crime Rank: 22nd best
More on East Lansing: Real Estate | Crime | Cost Of Living

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

Chapel Hill, NC
Overall SnackAbility

Population: 61,912
% Undergrad Pop.: 25.2% (52nd best)
Median Rent: $1,221 (148th best)
Unemployment Rate: 506.6% (55th best)
Crime Rank: 24th best
More on Chapel Hill: Real EstateCost Of Living

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

Morgantown, WV
Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility

Population: 30,953
% Undergrad Pop.: 50.0% (13th best)
Median Rent: $840 (56th best)
Unemployment Rate: 1086.2% (176th best)
Crime Rank: 37th best
More on Morgantown: Real Estate | Crime | Cost Of Living

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

Champaign, IL
Overall SnackAbility

Population: 88,288
% Undergrad Pop.: 41.3% (24th best)
Median Rent: $922 (90th best)
Unemployment Rate: 499.4% (50th best)
Crime Rank: 11th best
More on Champaign: Real Estate | Crime | Cost Of Living

Colleges: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Parkland College, Regency Beauty Institute-Champaign

Ogden, UT
Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility

Population: 87,175
% Undergrad Pop.: 18.2% (72nd best)
Median Rent: $872 (68th best)
Unemployment Rate: 456.0% (3best)
Crime Rank: 12best
More on Ogden: Real Estate | Crime | Cost Of Living

Colleges: Weber State University, Ogden-Weber Applied Technology College, Nightingale College

Bloomington, IN
Overall SnackAbility

Population: 84,691
% Undergrad Pop.: 34.7% (32nd best)
Median Rent: $946 (93rd best)
Unemployment Rate: 716.4% (129th best)
Crime Rank: 63rd best
More on Bloomington: Real Estate | Crime | Cost Of Living

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

Stillwater, OK
Overall SnackAbility

Population: 50,183
% Undergrad Pop.: 33.0% (37th best)
Median Rent: $826 (48th best)
Unemployment Rate: 405.6% (17th best)
Crime Rank: 5best
More on Stillwater: Real Estate | Crime | Cost Of Living

Colleges: Oklahoma State University-Main Campus, Meridian Technology Center

Fort Myers, FL
Overall SnackAbility

Population: 83,505
% Undergrad Pop.: 10.7% (111th best)
Median Rent: $1,096 (125th best)
Unemployment Rate: 450.9% (30th best)
Crime Rank: 39th best
More on Fort Myers: Real Estate | Crime | Cost Of Living

Colleges: Florida SouthWestern State College, Florida Gulf Coast University, Southern Technical College

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 121,093
2 Fairfax, VA 23,312
3 East Lansing, MI 48,437
4 Chapel Hill, NC 61,912
5 Morgantown, WV 30,953
6 Champaign, IL 88,288
7 Ogden, UT 87,175
8 Bloomington, IN 84,691
9 Stillwater, OK 50,183
10 Fort Myers, FL 83,505
11 Iowa City, IA 75,849
12 New Brunswick, NJ 55,992
13 Seattle, WA 741,251
14 Laramie, WY 32,515
15 Manhattan, KS 55,045
16 Buffalo, NY 255,805
17 Towson, MD 57,542
18 Williamsburg, VA 15,034
19 Santa Barbara, CA 90,911
20 Omaha, NE 479,529
21 Albany, NY 96,860
22 Moscow, ID 25,652
23 Tempe, AZ 191,607
24 Lincoln, NE 286,388
25 Madison, WI 258,366
26 Logan, UT 51,266
27 Tampa, FL 395,912
28 Ruston, LA 21,987
29 Evanston, IL 73,979
30 Provo, UT 116,886
31 Atlanta, GA 497,642
32 Providence, RI 179,472
33 Berkeley, CA 123,065
34 Murray, KY 19,254
35 Cincinnati, OH 302,687
36 Lawrence, KS 97,348
37 Pittsburgh, PA 301,286
38 Fayetteville, AR 86,622
39 Harrisonburg, VA 53,558
40 Ithaca, NY 30,715
41 Tucson, AZ 545,340
42 Boston, MA 689,326
43 Normal, IL 54,699
44 Salt Lake City, UT 200,133
45 Corvallis, OR 58,612
46 Reno, NV 250,903
47 Columbia, MO 122,659
48 Washington, DC 701,974
49 Bowling Green, OH 31,638
50 Vermillion, SD 10,852
52 Radford, VA 17,833
53 Las Cruces, NM 102,950
54 Wichita, KS 390,566
55 Tallahassee, FL 192,885
56 San Diego, CA 1,414,545
57 Syracuse, NY 142,553
58 Dayton, OH 140,444
59 Las Vegas, NV 644,594
60 Fullerton, CA 141,061
61 Orlando, FL 284,817
62 Brookings, SD 24,479
63 Green Bay, WI 104,508
64 Boulder, CO 108,777
65 Kent, OH 29,698
66 San Luis Obispo, CA 47,402
67 Fresno, CA 526,147
68 Nacogdoches, TX 32,912
69 Norfolk, VA 244,300
70 Boca Raton, FL 98,776
71 Lynchburg, VA 80,970
72 Norman, OK 124,086
73 Lubbock, TX 257,013
74 Macomb, IL 17,658
75 Carbondale, IL 25,400
76 San Marcos, TX 64,053
77 Ames, IA 66,361
78 Huntington, WV 46,139
79 Durham, NH 12,016
80 Arlington, TX 397,269
81 Charleston, SC 137,041
82 Philadelphia, PA 1,581,531
83 Ypsilanti, MI 20,792
84 Poughkeepsie, NY 30,341
85 Columbus, OH 889,079
86 Milwaukee, WI 592,649
87 Santa Clara, CA 126,723
88 Lafayette, LA 126,674
89 Spokane, WA 219,185
90 Portland, OR 650,380
91 Durham, NC 276,341
92 Eugene, OR 170,457
93 Denton, TX 139,734
94 Tuscaloosa, AL 100,633
95 Thibodaux, LA 14,565
96 Albuquerque, NM 560,447
97 New Haven, CT 130,381
98 Missoula, MT 74,994
99 Baton Rouge, LA 222,191
100 Fort Collins, CO 166,069
101 Knoxville, TN 187,487

Best College Towns By State

Enjoy The Snack?