College Towns That Are Amazing Places for Anyone to Live
College towns, in general, are great places to live. They aren’t just home to college campuses; they’re part of (and sometimes the heart of) a community.
Some are research powerhouses that offer ample employment opportunities, and many regularly open their campuses for cultural and educational events. They also tend to attract businesses that cater to a younger crowd.
These 24 college towns offer residents just about anything they may want: cultural and entertainment opportunities such as museums, theater, and art and music venues, as well as diverse eateries and shopping, oftentimes within walking distance.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Home to: University of Michigan
Median household income: $61,247
Median home value: $271,600
Top employers: University of Michigan, Google's AdWords, Toyota, JSTOR, the Environmental Protection Agency
Ann Arbor has a variety of museums and arts venues, as well as outdoor festivals and hundreds of restaurants. Niche rated the city the second best to live in as well as the fourth-best city to raise a family, while Business Insider named the city sixth in its Happiest and Healthiest list in 2013. According to WalletHub, Ann Arbor is the most educated city in the U.S.
Home to: University of Wisconsin, Madison
Median household income: $59,387
Median home value: $223,300
Top employers: Google, Microsoft, Alliant Energy, Epic, University of Wisconsin
The city’s lakeside location provides ample outdoor opportunities, and it’s also within 50 miles of 21 state parks, forests and recreation areas. One of the cities least affected by recessions, it has experienced continued economic growth.
The business district includes a thriving farmers market, restaurants and shops. One of the most educated cities (almost half of residents have bachelor’s degrees), Livability named it the third-best place to live in 2019.
Home to: University of Georgia
Median household income: $37,191
Median home value: $116,500
Top employers: University of Georgia, St. Mary’s Health Care System, Caterpillar
The city is especially known for its music scene. Brantley Gilbert, the B-52s and R.E.M. are from Athens, among others. Other cultural venues, in arts and theater, are prominent, and the city is also known for being home to a number of Pulitzer Prize winners and actors.
The rents are lower than the national average. According to 24/7 Wall St, it is the most educated area of the state, with almost 40 percent of all adults possessing a bachelor’s degree.
Home to: University of California, Berkeley
Median household income: $75,709
Median home value: $861,800
Top employers: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Bayer
The city is known for its diversity — more than half of the population is considered minority — and liberal social values. Located just across the bay from Silicon Valley, there are nearby employment opportunities in the tech industry, but one doesn’t have to leave the city for music and arts or gourmet food options. Niche named it both the Healthiest City and the Healthiest Place to Live, as well as the third best city to live in America overall.
Home to: Indiana University
Median household income: $33,172
Median home value: $176,300
Top employers: Indiana University, Cook Medical, Crane Naval Warfare Surface Center, General Electric, Baxter Healthcare Pharmaceuticals
Bloomington offers a charming downtown as well as miles of hiking trails. It’s known for its BEAD (Bloomington Entertainment and Arts District), a 60-block district of restaurants, galleries, theaters, music venues and more.
Ithaca, New York
Home to: Cornell University, Ithaca College
Median household income: $31,967
Median home value: $233,100
Top employers: Cornell University, Ithaca College
Located in the Finger Lakes region of New York, Ithaca has many outdoor options and boasts higher-than-average air and water quality. It’s a walkable city; more than 40 percent of its residents commute by foot.
Forbes ranked Ithaca No. 5 on its 2019 list of Best Small Places for Business and Careers, and in 2016 it made Livability’s list of Best Cities for Entrepreneurs.
Home to: University of Alabama, Stillman College, Shelton State Community College
Median household income: $42,428
Median home value: $172,000
Top employers: University of Alabama, Mercedes Benz, BF Goodrich Tire
Tuscaloosa is host to a number of parades and city festivals. The university’s arboretum takes up 60 acres adjacent to the VA hospital, and includes 2.5 miles of trails.
The Houndstooth, a city institution, has been listed among the nation’s best college bars by Sports Illustrated and Travel and Leisure. In 2009, the city was No. 11 among small metro areas on CNN’s Best Places to Launch list.
Home to: University of Colorado and Naropa University
Median household income: $64,183
Median home value: $600,400
Top employers: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations, the Geological Society of America, the Space Science Institute, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, IBM, AstraZeneca
Ranked the ninth healthiest city in the nation by Niche, the city is walkable and has hundreds of miles of bike paths. According to 24/7 Wall Street, Boulder is the most educated city in Colorado, which is one of the most educated states in the U.S. Bloomberg listed Boulder at the top of its Brain Concentration Index.
To add to its accolades, National Geographic named it one of America’s Best Adventure Towns.
Home to: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Parkland College
Median household income: $49,586
Median home value: $154,800
Top employers: University of Illinois, Carle, FedEx, Kraft Heinz
The Champaign-Urbana metro area is walkable, ranking eleventh-lowest by percentage of people who commute to work by private car in 2013. It also has its own public transport system, and is a regional hub for rail and bus lines with easy access to three major airports, Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis. The theater and music scenes are active, and it hosts the annual Pygmalion Music Festival.
Over 30 percent of the population is enrolled in college or grad school.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Home to: University of North Carolina
Median household income: $67,426
Median home value: $397,700
Top employers: University of North Carolina, University of NC Health Care System, Aramark
Named "America's Foodiest Small Town" by Bon Appetit, the city is home to numerous food festivals, and it has more than 700 acres of parks and natural areas to walk all that food off.
Chapel Hill has one of the highest rates of residents with graduate degrees. Its proximity to Raleigh and Durham adds to the possibilities, both for employment and leisure activities. It ranked No. 3 on Entrepreneur magazine’s 2017 list of the 25 Best Cities for Entrepreneurs.
East Lansing, Michigan
Home to: Michigan State University
Median household income: $37,433
Median home value: $181,100
Top employers: Michigan State University, Michigan Education Association, General Motors, Meijer, IBM Global Delivery Services
Bookstores, restaurants, bars and coffee shops line East Lansing’s main street, and there’s an abundance of art and culture venues. The city hosts several art and music festivals each year.
The public transit system includes an Amtrak hub, making it easily accessible to larger cities nearby. The city is walkable and has a boardwalk trail that runs along the river from the MSU campus to the state capitol building downtown. The city made Livability’s list of the Top 100 Best Places to Live in both 2018 and 2019.
Home to: Oregon State University
Median household income: $46,285
Median home value: $291,300
Top employers: University of Oregon, Hewlett-Packard, CH2M Hill, AVI BioPharma
Likely influenced by its status as one of only two land-, sea-, space- and sun-grant institutions, Oregon State University is the recipient of significant research dollars. Forbes called it one of the smartest cities in America, and Inc. named it one of the 10 Best Small Cities for Entrepreneurs.
In 2010, it was one of only two cities to receive the Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Leadership Award for its commitment to advance the green power market.
Home to: Cambridge College, Episcopal Divinity School, Harvard University, Hult International Business School, Lesley University, Longy School of Music, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Median household income: $89,145
Median home value: $670,200
Top employers: Harvard, MIT, Google, Novartis, Pfizer, IBM Research, Microsoft Research
Cambridge is one of the most educated cities in America. More than 75 percent of residents 25 or older have a bachelor’s degree. It is considered a walkable city, and boasts a vibrant cultural and artistic scene as well as fine dining.
Niche ranked Cambridge the best city for young professionals in America. It also ranked the city as the eighth healthiest city in the nation.
Home to: University of Arkansas
Median household income: $41,158
Median home value $193,000
Top employers: Walmart, Tyson
Fayetteville’s location near the Ozarks is one of its largest assets. Residents enjoy biking and hiking its trails, and kayaking nearby rivers.
The town also boasts two theaters with full seasons of productions. Traveling downtown is easy and free via the Razorback Transit bus system. The city has a low unemployment rate, and CNN Money listed it as one of the 25 Best Places to Retire in the U.S.
Fort Collins, Colorado
Home to: Colorado State University, Front Range Community College
Median household income: $60,110
Median home value: $308,800
Top employers: Hewlett Packard, Intel, AMD, Otterbox
In 2006, Fort Collins was named the best place to live by Money magazine. It is close to Boulder and Denver, and its location provides outdoor activities year-round.
Brewing and cycling are part of the local culture. They collide in events like New Belgium Brewing Company’s Tour de Fat, which involves bicycling in costume.
Iowa City, Iowa
Home to: University of Iowa
Median household income: $45,991
Median home value $202,200
Top employers: University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, Mercy Hospital, Iowa City Community School District, ACT, Integrated DNA Technologies, Oral B Laboratories.
The first U.S. city designated a UNESCO City of Literature, Iowa City has the highest literacy rate in the country. It’s a walkable city that hosts several festivals each year. According to Livability, which rated the city No. 4 of Top 100 Best Places to Live, the city rivals its larger neighbors, such as Chicago, Minneapolis and Kansas City.
Entrepreneur magazine ranked it No. 2 in its 25 Best Cities for Entrepreneurs list in 2017.
Home to: University of Tennessee
Median household income: $52,458
Median home value $169,400
Top employers: U.S. Department of Energy, University of Tennessee, Covenant Health, ALCOA, Dollywood
Knoxville offers the benefits of city life in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. The town has interesting shops, restaurants, museums and a zoo, and is home t: the International Biscuit Festival and the Knoxville Brewers' Jam.
The cost of living is low. Average housing costs well below the national average. In 2019, Knoxville made U.S. News & World Report’s Best Places to Live list.
College Station, Texas
Home to: Texas A&M University
Median household income: $39,430
Median home value: $205,600
Top employers: Texas A&M, NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research
Texas A&M's status as a land-, sea- and space-grant institution has attracted biotech and energy companies to the area where they have set up what they refer to as the “Biocorridor.” The city has a small-town feel, but as Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio are not far away, there’s easy access to big city life.
College Station has more than 50 parks and multiple museums, as well as restaurants, wineries, breweries and distilleries. It’s on Forbes magazine’s 2019 list of Best Small Places for Business and Careers, and it made Money magazine’s list of most educated states in 2006.
Home to: Iowa State University
Median household income: $42,755
Median home value: $187,000
Top employers: 3M, Barilla, Ball, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Animal Disease Center, the National Farmers Organization
Ames is known for being the birthplace of the electronic digital computer. The town offers walking trails and a busy downtown with many restaurants and cultural venues.
Iowa State University was the nation's first land-grant institution and houses labs for the U.S. Departments of Energy and Agriculture. In 2010, Ames made CNN’s top-ten list of Best Places to Live and in 2018, was No. 2 on Livability’s top-ten list for job seekers.
Home to: University of Kansas, Haskell Indian Nations University
Median household income: $49,297
Median home value: $183,700
Top employers: University of Kansas, Lawrence Public Schools
In its 2019 Top 100 Best Places to Live list, Livability calls Lawrence “an under-the-radar cool city” due to its focus on arts and education. The economy is thriving; the city has an unemployment rate lower than the state and the nation overall, and a lower-than-average cost of living.
More than half the city’s residents age 25 and older hold a bachelor’s degree. It also has repeatedly made Forbes list of Best Small Places for Business and Careers.
Home to: Northern Arizona University
Median household income: $51,758
Median home value: $296,700
Top employers: Gore-Tex, Nestle Purina Petcare, Walgreens, Flagstaff Medical Center, Lowell Observatory, U.S. Naval Observatory Flagstaff Station (NOFS)
Flagstaff has a strong tourism sector and is known for its theater, festivals and music events, as well as for its amazing nighttime skies. Besides being a prominent employer, The Lowell Observatory attracts visitors with its educational programs. The observatory also collaborates with NOFS on projects and is working with the Discovery Channel to build an advanced telescope for future projects.
According to 24/7 Wall St, Flagstaff is the most educated city in Arizona.
Home to: Illinois Wesleyan University, Illinois State University
Median household income: $64,503
Median home value: $164,800
Top employers: State Farm Insurance, Mitsubishi, Country Financial
The best-educated city in Illinois, more than 43 percent of adults have a bachelor’s degree. It also boasts an exceptional high school graduation rate of more than 95 percent.
Its lower-than-average cost of living bolsters its appeal. The downtown area has 11 blocks of restaurants and shops. Galleries, music and museums can be found in the Bloomington Entertainment and Arts District.
The city is also home to Beer Nuts.
Home to: University of Nebraska, Union College, Nebraska Wesleyan University
Median household income: $55,875
Median home value: $130,800
Top employers: University of Nebraska, Nelnet, Ameritas, Lincoln Industries
The state capital, Lincoln offers Midwestern charm, clean air and plenty of culture. The city offers music venues, theaters, historic sites, museums and more than 100 parks with trails and gardens.
The CDC named it the healthiest U.S. city in 2008, and Gallup named the city the Happiest and Healthiest City in America in 2013.
Home to: Kansas State University
Median household income: $47,632
Median home value: $193,900
Top employers: Fort Riley Military Base, Kansas State University
Manhattan, also known as the “Little Apple,” is a healthy city with many biking and walking trails that are well utilized, even for commuting. Its Aggieville district includes ample restaurants, bars and shops.
The city takes pride in its pre-K to 12 public education system, as well as its variety of housing options at all price points. Livability named it one of the Best Places to Live in America.