The 101 Best College Towns In America For 2021


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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
  2. Fairfax, VA
  3. Chapel Hill, NC
  4. East Lansing, MI
  5. Morgantown, WV
  6. Bloomington, IN
  7. Ogden, UT
  8. New Brunswick, NJ
  9. Seattle, WA
  10. Laramie, WY

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
8.5
/10

Population: 120,735
% Undergrad Pop.: 29.4% (44th best)
Median Rent: $1,237 (153rd best)
Unemployment Rate: 386.6% (19th 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
7
/10

Population: 23,531
% Undergrad Pop.: 64.5% (7th best)
Median Rent: $1,834 (18best)
Unemployment Rate: 413.5% (24th best)
Crime Rank: 92nd 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

Chapel Hill, NC
Overall SnackAbility
9
/10

Population: 60,998
% Undergrad Pop.: 25.6% (5best)
Median Rent: $1,191 (148th best)
Unemployment Rate: 338.5% (7th best)
Crime Rank: 32nd 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

East Lansing, MI
Overall SnackAbility
7
/10

Population: 48,729
% Undergrad Pop.: 70.5% (5th best)
Median Rent: $952 (98th best)
Unemployment Rate: 861.3% (156th best)
Crime Rank: 10th 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

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

Population: 30,712
% Undergrad Pop.: 50.3% (14th best)
Median Rent: $851 (65th best)
Unemployment Rate: 974.2% (17best)
Crime Rank: 3best
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

Bloomington, IN
Overall SnackAbility
7
/10

Population: 84,116
% Undergrad Pop.: 34.9% (32nd best)
Median Rent: $917 (90th best)
Unemployment Rate: 669.7% (12best)
Crime Rank: 70th 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

Ogden, UT
Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility
5
/10

Population: 86,833
% Undergrad Pop.: 18.3% (72nd best)
Median Rent: $818 (5best)
Unemployment Rate: 478.7% (48th best)
Crime Rank: 130th best
More on Ogden: Real Estate | Crime | Cost Of Living

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

New Brunswick, NJ
Overall SnackAbility
5
/10

Population: 55,960
% Undergrad Pop.: 49.9% (15th best)
Median Rent: $1,470 (169th best)
Unemployment Rate: 581.7% (89th best)
Crime Rank: 46th best
More on New Brunswick: Real Estate | Crime | Cost Of Living

Colleges: Rutgers University-New Brunswick, New Brunswick Theological Seminary

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

Population: 724,305
% Undergrad Pop.: 6.1% (145th best)
Median Rent: $1,614 (174th best)
Unemployment Rate: 409.4% (2best)
Crime Rank: 16best
More on Seattle: Real Estate | Crime | Cost Of Living

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

Laramie, WY
Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility
8
/10

Population: 32,381
% Undergrad Pop.: 26.4% (47th best)
Median Rent: $797 (4best)
Unemployment Rate: 483.3% (5best)
Crime Rank: 5th best
More on Laramie: Real Estate | Crime | Cost Of Living

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

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 120,735
2 Fairfax, VA 23,531
3 Chapel Hill, NC 60,998
4 East Lansing, MI 48,729
5 Morgantown, WV 30,712
6 Bloomington, IN 84,116
7 Ogden, UT 86,833
8 New Brunswick, NJ 55,960
9 Seattle, WA 724,305
10 Laramie, WY 32,381
11 Champaign, IL 87,636
12 Stillwater, OK 49,952
13 Iowa City, IA 74,950
14 Evanston, IL 74,587
15 Buffalo, NY 256,480
16 Tempe, AZ 187,454
17 Omaha, NE 475,862
18 Towson, MD 57,817
19 Manhattan, KS 55,290
20 Williamsburg, VA 14,927
21 Provo, UT 116,403
22 Moscow, ID 25,319
23 Lincoln, NE 283,839
24 Santa Barbara, CA 91,376
25 Berkeley, CA 121,485
26 Albany, NY 97,478
27 Madison, WI 254,977
28 Fort Myers, FL 79,927
29 Logan, UT 50,863
30 Ruston, LA 21,976
31 Corvallis, OR 58,028
32 Fayetteville, AR 85,166
33 Ithaca, NY 30,569
34 Boulder, CO 106,392
35 Murray, KY 19,171
36 Tampa, FL 387,916
37 Lawrence, KS 96,369
38 Cincinnati, OH 301,394
39 Atlanta, GA 488,800
40 Harrisonburg, VA 53,273
41 Boston, MA 684,379
42 Vermillion, SD 10,753
43 Normal, IL 54,891
44 Salt Lake City, UT 197,756
45 San Luis Obispo, CA 47,302
46 Radford, VA 17,691
47 Pittsburgh, PA 302,205
48 Providence, RI 179,494
49 Syracuse, NY 142,874
50 Las Vegas, NV 634,773
51 Columbia, MO 121,230
52 Washington, DC 692,683
53 Tucson, AZ 541,482
55 Bowling Green, OH 31,526
56 Reno, NV 246,500
57 San Diego, CA 1,409,573
58 Fullerton, CA 139,611
59 Dayton, OH 140,569
60 Kent, OH 29,811
61 Huntington, WV 46,667
62 Brookings, SD 24,108
63 Ames, IA 66,023
64 Boca Raton, FL 97,468
65 Durham, NC 269,702
66 Ypsilanti, MI 20,828
67 Fresno, CA 525,010
68 Las Cruces, NM 102,102
69 Nacogdoches, TX 33,200
70 Green Bay, WI 104,777
71 Norman, OK 122,837
72 Thibodaux, LA 14,494
73 Lubbock, TX 253,851
74 Fort Collins, CO 165,609
75 Eugene, OR 168,302
76 Macomb, IL 17,857
77 Orlando, FL 280,832
78 Arlington, TX 395,477
79 Lynchburg, VA 80,569
80 Austin, TX 950,807
81 Charleston, SC 135,257
82 Denton, TX 136,195
83 Philadelphia, PA 1,579,075
84 Greensboro, NC 291,303
85 Durham, NH 11,159
86 Santa Clara, CA 127,721
87 Hempstead, NY 55,300
88 Lafayette, LA 126,666
89 San Marcos, TX 63,220
90 Portland, OR 645,291
91 Norfolk, VA 244,601
92 Carbondale, IL 25,597
93 Columbus, OH 878,553
94 Baton Rouge, LA 224,149
95 Spokane, WA 217,353
96 Tallahassee, FL 191,279
97 Wichita, KS 389,877
98 Poughkeepsie, NY 30,381
99 Auburn, AL 64,054
100 Tuscaloosa, AL 99,390
101 Albuquerque, NM 559,374

Best College Towns By State

Enjoy The Snack?