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Best big college towns in America

  • Best big college towns in America
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    Best big college towns in America

    It’s the time of year when students across the country are making the age-old agonizing decision: where to go to college. The choices are endless: big university or small private school, close to home or far away, urban life or tiny town. Even for those committed to the idea of city life, there is an array of choices.

    Using WalletHub’s latest study, which rated the best college towns and cities using a number of metrics including “wallet friendliness” and “social environment,” Stacker compared the 50 biggest cities on the list. Every city has at least 300,000 residents, and the data team limited the selection to those with a university or college population of at least 7,500 students. Some locations have a number of schools to choose from, others have one flagship university.

    Read on to learn of the best big college towns in America.

    ALSO: Best college in every state

  • #50. El Paso, TX
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    #50. El Paso, TX

    Total score: 46.17
    Wallet friendliness rank: #16
    Social environment rank: #145
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #382

    Nestled between the U.S. border with Mexico and the eastern border of New Mexico, El Paso, Texas, is home to several large public universities, including the prestigious University of Texas at El Paso, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at El Paso, and the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine. Close proximity to Las Cruces means New Mexico State University is another option, and the school offers in-state tuition to those coming from El Paso. The city boasts a wide array of cultural and outdoor activities, including the El Paso Museum of Archeology, the Franklin Mountains State Park, and the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens.

  • #49. Oklahoma City, OK
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    #49. Oklahoma City, OK

    Total score: 46.19
    Wallet friendliness rank: #128
    Social environment rank: #158
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #306

    Home to the public University of Oklahoma, University of Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University — Oklahoma City, and Langston University (part of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities or HBCU), as well as the private Oklahoma City University and Oklahoma Christian University, there is something for everybody. In addition to its institutions of higher learning, the city also boasts the Oklahoma City Thunder professional basketball team, Oklahoma City Museum of Art, and National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. The Bricktown neighborhood is a popular nightlife destination, where students can find everything from live banjo music to hip wine bars.

  • #48. Fresno, CA
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    #48. Fresno, CA

    Total score: 46.21
    Wallet friendliness rank: #108
    Social environment rank: #190
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #291

    California State University Fresno and the University of California Merced both call this Central Valley city home, as well as the smaller, private California Christian College and Fresno Pacific University. Located 60 miles from Yosemite National Park and Kings Canyon National Park, the city is an easygoing and affordable home base for exploring some of California's best outdoor offerings. The historic Tower District is a popular nightlife destination for residents of all ages, who come for everything from the Tower Theatre to the gay dance bars.

  • #47. Albuquerque, NM
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    #47. Albuquerque, NM

    Total score: 46.39
    Wallet friendliness rank: #147
    Social environment rank: #115
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #320

    Educational opportunities in Albuquerque include the University of New Mexico, Central New Mexico Community College, Trinity Southwest University, and the University of St. Francis College of Nursing. The city's Old Town, the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway, and the Albuquerque Biological Park offer recreational opportunities, and Albuquerque is home to a vibrant restaurant scene and the world famous International Balloon Fiesta every October.

  • #46. Lexington-Fayette, KY
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    #46. Lexington-Fayette, KY

    Total score: 46.53
    Wallet friendliness rank: #172
    Social environment rank: #128
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #286

    Known for its lively college athletic scene, the Lexington-Fayette region is home to the massive University of Kentucky, which also happens to be the city's largest employer. Transylvania University, one of the nation's oldest colleges, is also located in the region, along with Sullivan University and Commonwealth Baptist College. Students also flood the area for its low cost of living and variety of corporate job opportunities, including Xerox, Lockheed Martin, and IBM.

  • #45. Baltimore, MD
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    #45. Baltimore, MD

    Total score: 46.58
    Wallet friendliness rank: #263
    Social environment rank: #122
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #224

    Baltimore has long been a popular urban destination for college students, who flock here to attend the prestigious Johns Hopkins University, as well as Loyola University Maryland, the Maryland Institute College of Art, and the public University of Maryland, Baltimore, and University of Baltimore. The city's distinct neighborhoods and cultural enclaves contribute to a vibrant city life that features local breweries, numerous sports franchises, and well-connected bus and light-rail services.

  • #44. St. Paul, MN
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    #44. St. Paul, MN

    Total score: 46.89
    Wallet friendliness rank: #255
    Social environment rank: #100
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #235

    Usually associated with nearby Minneapolis, St. Paul makes up one half of the famous Twin Cities and is home to several highly ranked colleges and universities. Among them are Macalester College, Concordia University, St. Paul, Saint Catherine University, and Metropolitan State University. Known for their diverse population of immigrants and refugees, the Twin Cities provide students with a vibrant cultural backdrop in which pursue their studies, and together are ranked the best in the country for public park access and quality.

  • #43. Anaheim, CA
    9/ JamesKirkikis // Shutterstock

    #43. Anaheim, CA

    Total score: 46.94
    Wallet friendliness rank: #346
    Social environment rank: #92
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #85

    More than just the home of Disneyland, Anaheim serves as host to the private Anaheim University (which caters to graduate degrees) and the Southern California Institute of Technology, as well as two local community college districts. The city's location in the greater Los Angeles area means access to other major universities as well, including the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Southern California. Disneyland is a popular job choice among students, and the Anaheim Packing District, anchored by historic Packing Hall, is a popular weekend hangout for locals and tourists alike.  

  • #42. San Jose, CA
    10/ AlexeyUlashchick // Shutterstock

    #42. San Jose, CA

    Total score: 46.95
    Wallet friendliness rank: #371
    Social environment rank: #34
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #131

    Arguably Silicon Valley's tech epicenter, San Jose is a popular destination among college students seeking degrees in the tech field, as well as those who want to escape to nearby San Francisco for entertainment. San Jose State University and the California University of Management and Technology call this city home, and prestigious Santa Clara University and world-renowned Stanford University are both nearby. The city is served by multiple light rail and train systems, and the high concentration of tech companies means a wide selection of jobs and internships for students.

  • #41. Aurora, CO
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    #41. Aurora, CO

    Total score: 47.12
    Wallet friendliness rank: #274
    Social environment rank: #293
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #52

    A suburb of Denver, Aurora's higher education institutions focus on non-traditional students and include Columbia College—Aurora, the Community College of Aurora, and Pickens Technical College. Nearby Denver is also home to the University of Colorado—Denver and the University of Denver, among others. The area is known for its year-round outdoor activities, including hiking, skiing, and mountain biking. Several annual festivals draw residents of all ages, including the Great American Beer Festival and the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival.

  • #40. Omaha, NE
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    #40. Omaha, NE

    Total score: 47.24
    Wallet friendliness rank: #77
    Social environment rank: #116
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #322

    Omaha plays backdrop to many of the state's educational institutions, including the University of Nebraska Omaha, Creighton University, and Clarkson College. The University of Nebraska Medical Center also is located here. With its low cost of living and various historic landmarks, Omaha is an appealing blend of the urban and suburban. Its Old Market neighborhood is home to everything from wine bars and art galleries to live music venues and old pubs.

  • #39. Louisville, KY
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    #39. Louisville, KY

    Total score: 47.25
    Wallet friendliness rank: #205
    Social environment rank: #76
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #279

    Students attending any of Louisville's major educational institutions—including the University of Louisville, Spalding University, Bellarmine University, and Simmons College of Kentucky—have good reason to love their school's location. Not only is the city home to party-heavy annual events like the Kentucky Derby and the Forecastle Festival, it also has a vibrant indie music scene and a park system designed by Frederick Olmsted, who designed New York's Central Park. Like Kentucky's other big city of Lexington, Louisville has strong traditions centered around college sports, particularly UL's Cardinals franchise.

  • #38. Indianapolis, IN
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    #38. Indianapolis, IN

    Total score: 47.25
    Wallet friendliness rank: #210
    Social environment rank: #97
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #263

    Indiana's most populous city includes tens of thousands of students scattered across several institutions, including Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis, Butler University, the University of Indianapolis, and Marian University. The city's seven cultural districts focus on history, and the city offers a buzzing culinary scene. Plans for a stronger public transit system are underway, and a host of museums, parks, and sporting events are welcome distractions from studying.

  • #37. Fort Worth, TX
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    #37. Fort Worth, TX

    Total score: 47.26
    Wallet friendliness rank: #250
    Social environment rank: #133
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #193

    The Dallas-Fort Worth metro area is home to over two dozen institutions of higher education, including massive public universities—the University of North Texas, University of Texas at Dallas, Texas A&M Commerce—and smaller private institutions, including Texas Wesleyan University, Southern Methodist University, and the University of Dallas. A major transportation hub, the two cities have a lot to offer to those looking to work in business—American Airlines, GM Financial, and XTO Energy all are headquartered here.

  • #36. New York, NY
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    #36. New York, NY

    Total score: 47.35
    Wallet friendliness rank: #414
    Social environment rank: #6
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #158

    Long the dream of many suburban kids hoping to move to the city for college, New York has no shortage of educational institutions, from the elite—Columbia University, New York University, Barnard, and Juilliard—to the alternative: the New School, the Pratt Institute, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Attractions outside of school include bars and restaurants, robust public transit, and people and cuisines from every corner of the world. The high cost of living and lack of personal space can make it hard for some college students.

  • #35. New Orleans, LA
    17/ GJGKPhotography // Shutterstock

    #35. New Orleans, LA

    Total score: 47.95
    Wallet friendliness rank: #276
    Social environment rank: #25
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #282

    Several public and private institutions call The Big Easy home: Tulane, Loyola University New Orleans, Xavier University of Louisiana, and Louisiana State University's Health Sciences Center New Orleans, which hosts six of the university's schools, including a medical school. The city's storied tradition of street celebrations and live music, warm climate, and growing alternative arts scene make it a popular destination for college students from around the country, many of whom stay after graduation to work in tourism, energy, and health care.  

  • #34. Milwaukee, WI
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    #34. Milwaukee, WI

    Total score: 47.99
    Wallet friendliness rank: #153
    Social environment rank: #89
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #277

    One of the largest cities in the Midwest, students flock to Milwaukee to attend the gigantic UW Milwaukee, the private Milwaukee School of Engineering, Jesuit-led Marquette University, and the women-only Mount Mary University, among other institutions. Though winters can be long and harsh, Milwaukee is known as “the city of festivals" for annual events like PolishFest, Festa Italiana, Summerfest, and the nearby Wisconsin State Fair.

        

  • #33. Portland, OR
    19/ JosemariaToscano // Shutterstock

    #33. Portland, OR

    Total score: 48.29
    Wallet friendliness rank: #356
    Social environment rank: #7
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #259

    Portland is an easy-to-navigate urban college destination. Local institutions of higher learning include the public Portland State University, the private University of Portland, Lewis & Clark College, and Reed College, and the massive, graduate-focused Oregon Health & Sciences University. An outdoors-focused city, Portland offers miles of biking and running trails, nearby backpacking and skiing destinations, and close access to lakes and rivers. The city's MAX light rail and downtown streetcars make navigating its five distinct areas easy, and many students also bike.

  • #32. Boston, MA
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    #32. Boston, MA

    Total score: 48.37
    Wallet friendliness rank: #395
    Social environment rank: #19
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #98

    Home to some of the oldest institutions in the United States, Boston is a classic college town. Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Boston University are all here (the first two in the suburb of Cambridge), as are Brandeis (in nearby Waltham), Tufts, and Northeastern. Boston supports a number of industries for students to enter after graduation; several financial services companies, venture capital firms, and biotech brands are based here. The city's numerous hospitals and medical services also make it an ideal destination for those entering the health care field.

  • #31. Phoenix, AZ
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    #31. Phoenix, AZ

    Total score: 48.42
    Wallet friendliness rank: #173
    Social environment rank: #73
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #261

    Sprawling Phoenix has in many ways been defined by its massive student population: Arizona State University's home base is in the suburb of Tempe, with three additional campuses in the metro region, including Downtown Phoenix. Smaller schools in the area include Phoenix College, the largely online University of Phoenix, and Grand Canyon University. A warm climate and vibrant nightlife scene make Phoenix popular with those seeking the traditional big-school experience, but close proximity to nature. The array of outdoor activities means the area is attractive to adventure-seekers as well as party animals.

  • #30. Colorado Springs, CO
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    #30. Colorado Springs, CO

    Total score: 49.33
    Wallet friendliness rank: #135
    Social environment rank: #64
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #262

    The public University of Colorado Colorado Springs is located here, along with the private Colorado College and campuses for the alternative DeVry University and Remington College. The U.S. Air Force Academy also is based in the area. The city is known as a conservative bastion in the state, with numerous conservative religious groups, including Focus on the Family and Young Life, headquartered here. A concentration of defense contractors means many post-graduation jobs center around the military and aerospace industries.

  • #29. Washington D.C.
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    #29. Washington D.C.

    Total score: 49.57
    Wallet friendliness rank: #402
    Social environment rank: #13
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #96

    There's no shortage of higher education opportunities in the nation's capital: American University, Georgetown, George Washington University, and Howard are just some of the city's big draws. Students interested in politics and government tend to flock here, as internships on Capitol Hill are plentiful. An efficient metro system, robust nightlife scene centered around U Street, and centuries of history make D.C. a popular college destination for students of all backgrounds and interests.

  • #28. San Antonio, TX
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    #28. San Antonio, TX

    Total score: 49.59
    Wallet friendliness rank: #81
    Social environment rank: #31
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #339

    A couple of Texas' major public universities have campuses in San Antonio, including University of Texas at San Antonio and Texas A&M. There's also a host of private schools here, including Trinity University, St. Mary's University, and the Southwest School of Art. San Antonio is a popular destination both within Texas and across the country, with a major sports franchise (NBA's San Antonio Spurs), vibrant nightlife scene, and numerous historic attractions, such as the Alamo and River Walk. These features, along with a robust college sports tradition and growing culinary scene, make the city an exciting, if distracting, place to attend college.

  • #27. Philadelphia, PA
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    #27. Philadelphia, PA

    Total score: 49.76
    Wallet friendliness rank: #306
    Social environment rank: #22
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #192

    Philadelphia is home to some of the nation's oldest and most storied educational institutions. The Ivy League University of Pennsylvania is here, along with Temple and Drexel universities. The city's large student population is reflected in the number of bars and clubs scattered about the Center City and Passyunk Square neighborhoods, and the number of historic tourist attractions and museums means there's something for those of all interests. Major industries centered here include health care, financial services, and biotech.

  • #26. Mesa, AZ
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    #26. Mesa, AZ

    Total score: 49.89
    Wallet friendliness rank: #166
    Social environment rank: #221
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #71

    A suburb not far from Phoenix, Mesa is close enough to access that city's institutions of higher learning, but also hosts its own satellite campuses: Arizona State University's Polytechnic school and Mesa Community College among them. Housing is plentiful and can be more affordable, but Mesa lacks as many entertainment and nightlife options as its neighbor.

  • #25. Jacksonville, FL
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    #25. Jacksonville, FL

    Total score: 50.02
    Wallet friendliness rank: #94
    Social environment rank: #106
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #226

    Large, quiet Jacksonville is home to many of the state's public educational institutions, including the University of North Florida, Florida State College at Jacksonville, and the University of Florida's Health Sciences Center. Private institutions include Jacksonville University and Edward Waters College. A port town, Jacksonville offers jobs centered around the transportation and shipping industries, as well as financial services fields.   

  • #24. Kansas City, MO
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    #24. Kansas City, MO

    Total score: 50.03
    Wallet friendliness rank: #140
    Social environment rank: #183
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #149

    Booming Kansas City, a major Midwest hub, is the location of the University of Missouri Kansas City, the Kansas City Art Institute, Rockhurst University, and William Jewell College. Some of the city's draws include its famed barbecue, historic jazz scene, and major sports franchises. A large number of companies or organizations have operations here, including Ford, Dairy Farmers of America, Honeywell, and Hallmark.

      

  • #23. Chicago, IL
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    #23. Chicago, IL

    Total score: 50.42
    Wallet friendliness rank: #308
    Social environment rank: #14
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #253

    A number of notable educational institutions make their homes here, including the celebrated University of Chicago and Northwestern University. Other schools include Loyola University Chicago, DePaul University, and University of Illinois at Chicago. The city's diverse array of cultural and recreational offerings, solid public transportation system, and ties to numerous industries, from media to banking, make it a popular choice for those seeking a true urban college experience.    

  • #22. Charlotte, NC
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    #22. Charlotte, NC

    Total score: 50.71
    Wallet friendliness rank: #190
    Social environment rank: #44
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #215

    Charlotte and its surrounding suburbs see tens of thousands of college students filter in and out each year, from the massive University of North Carolina at Charlotte, to highly ranked Davidson College and the smaller Queens University of Charlotte. The nearby North Carolina Research Campus offers research opportunities in various areas of study for both undergrad and graduate students. In recent years, Charlotte has become a major financial services and banking hub, with Wells Fargo and Bank of America maintaining corporate offices here, as well as Microsoft.  

  • #21. Long Beach, CA
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    #21. Long Beach, CA

    Total score: 51.07
    Wallet friendliness rank: #300
    Social environment rank: #75
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #76

    What Long Beach lacks in educational offerings (the only two schools within the city proper are CSU Long Beach and Long Beach City College), it makes up for in recreational and professional opportunities. Home to one of the busiest ports in the world and a fairly significant oil industry, jobs are plentiful, and a vibrant arts scene includes numerous museums and live music venues. Plus, the city is near Los Angeles and Orange County, which means it's not a far drive to the many schools in either area.

  • #20. Denver, CO
    32/ NickFox // Shutterstock

    #20. Denver, CO

    Total score: 51.26
    Wallet friendliness rank: #321
    Social environment rank: #11
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #209

    Colorado's Mile High City is home to students attending the University of Colorado Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and Regis University, among other institutions. The city is known for its access to numerous year-round outdoor activities, and a good public transit system links parts of the city. Denver's status as home to thousands of students is reflected in its cuisine: the first-ever Chipotle is on the University of Denver campus.   

  • #19. Houston, TX
    33/ NateHovee // Shutterstock

    #19. Houston, TX

    Total score: 51.26
    Wallet friendliness rank: #68
    Social environment rank: #26
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #300

    The University of Houston's flagship campus, as well as its Clear Lake and Downtown campuses are based here, along with the Historically Black College and Universities (HBCU) Texas Southern University and the private Rice University. The city is a hub for the energy sector; ConocoPhillips, Halliburton, and Phillips 66 are all headquartered in Houston, which as the country's fourth-largest city, is also home to diverse arts, culinary, and professional sports scenes.    

  • #18. Sacramento, CA
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    #18. Sacramento, CA

    Total score: 51.35
    Wallet friendliness rank: #264
    Social environment rank: #18
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #223

    Though it's California's fastest growing city, Sacramento's educational offerings are surprisingly limited: California State University system's Sacramento State is the only traditional four-year college located within the city. Other institutions with satellite campuses in the area including the University of San Francisco, University of the Pacific, and University of Southern California; the massive University of California Davis is within a short drive. But what the city lacks in higher education opportunities it makes up for in its growing popularity as a cultural destination. And compared with the surrounding Bay Area, Sacramento's cost of living is still relatively affordable.

  • #17. San Francisco, CA
    35/ TonoBalaguer // Shutterstock

    #17. San Francisco, CA

    Total score: 51.78
    Wallet friendliness rank: #398
    Social environment rank: #3
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #97

    San Francisco proper is home to two major four-year schools: the private University of San Francisco and the public San Francisco State University. Other nearby schools include Stanford, St. Mary's, and University of California Berkeley; the storied University of California San Francisco serves as a medical school and research facility. The benefits of attending college along the Golden Gate are numerous: myriad outdoor opportunities year-round, world-famous cuisine and nightlife, and dozens of cultural and tourist attractions. The downsides are an extremely high cost of living and the one of the nation's worst housing shortages, which has made it impossible for some students to reside within city limits.

  • #16. Dallas, TX
    36/ KenWolter // Shutterstock

    #16. Dallas, TX

    Total score: 52.10
    Wallet friendliness rank: #238
    Social environment rank: #43
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #141

    Dallas is home to a number of public and private institutions, including the University of Texas Dallas, Southern Methodist University, the University of Dallas, and Paul Quinn College. The frozen margarita comes from here, as does some celebrated barbecue, and the city's downtown Arts District is popular among visitors and residents alike.  

  • #15. Nashville, TN
    37/ ErwinWidmer // Shutterstock

    #15. Nashville, TN

    Total score: 52.39
    Wallet friendliness rank: #268
    Social environment rank: #56
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #89

    The largest and most highly ranked college in Nashville is Vanderbilt University, home to around 12,000 undergrad and graduate students. There are also a number of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in the area, including Tennessee State University and Fisk University. Nashville's reputation as a lively tourist destination extends to its status as a college town, where students can enjoy a wide selection of live music, an active nightlife scene, and affordable Southern cooking.    


     

  • #14. Minneapolis, MN
    38/ CKFoto // Shutterstock

    #14. Minneapolis, MN

    Total score: 52.74
    Wallet friendliness rank: #240
    Social environment rank: #36
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #125

    Along with its sister city St. Paul, Minneapolis is a cultural center of the Midwest and home to a number of colleges and universities, including the massive University of Minnesota, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and North Central University. The city has a celebrated parks system that encourages activity among residents, and all three major sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB) have teams here. Light rail and commuter lines link the city's various neighborhoods with nearby suburbs.   

  • #13. Tucson, AZ
    39/ Lucky-Photographer // Shutterstock

    #13. Tucson, AZ

    Total score: 52.78
    Wallet friendliness rank: #90
    Social environment rank: #41
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #201

    Arizona's second-largest city is home to the University of Arizona, one of the largest schools in the state and the southern Arizona city's biggest employer. Though Tucson is popular with older visitors, its low cost of living, proximity to nature getaways and large parks, and trendy bars and restaurants make it a popular choice for the nearly 45,000 students at UA.

  • #12. Raleigh, NC
    40/ EQRoy // Shutterstock

    #12. Raleigh, NC

    Total score: 53.21
    Wallet friendliness rank: #222
    Social environment rank: #79
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #92

    North Carolina's quaint, but vibrant capital beckons students to its small handful of schools, including North Carolina State University, William Peace University, and St. Augustine's University. Nearby Duke University and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill complete the so-called “Research Triangle Park“ with NCSU. The Fayetteville Street and Glenwood South neighborhoods in Raleigh are popular among locals for their bars and coffee shops, and a free bus service links NCSU with other parts of the city.

  • #11. Pittsburgh, PA
    41/ SeanPavone // Shutterstock

    #11. Pittsburgh, PA

    Total score: 53.52
    Wallet friendliness rank: #187
    Social environment rank: #17
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #202

    One of the Rust Belt's anchor cities, Pittsburgh is home to a number of large universities, including highly ranked Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. The city is often listed as one of the nation's most liveable, and a growing number of biotech, health care, and financial services companies are based here.  

  • #10. St. Louis, MO
    42/ JamesRoblee // Shutterstock

    #10. St. Louis, MO

    Total score: 53.84
    Wallet friendliness rank: #216
    Social environment rank: #29
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #129

    The Gateway City holds three large research universities: University of Missouri St. Louis, Saint Louis University, and Washington University in St. Louis. Though it has one of the highest murder rates in the United States, the city has become increasingly popular with young people, who flock to the Delmar Loop (or “The Loop") neighborhood to enjoy bars, music venues, and events like the annual Loop Ice Carnival.

  • #9. Columbus, OH
    43/ Aceshot1 // Shutterstock

    #9. Columbus, OH

    Total score: 54.09
    Wallet friendliness rank: #105
    Social environment rank: #58
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #123

    With one of the largest college campuses in the country, Ohio State University's massive sprawl over Columbus is just one of the city's educational centers. Columbus State Community College and the Columbus College of Art and Design are also based here. Bustling neighborhoods like the Short North host annual street parades and festivals, and college football is a huge draw for most everyone in town, student or not.

  • #8. San Diego, CA
    44/ AnjaIvanovic//Shutterstock

    #8. San Diego, CA

    Total score: 54.95
    Wallet friendliness rank: #339
    Social environment rank: #2
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #118

    Sunny San Diego may not be known for its status as a college town, but it should be: around a dozen colleges and universities are located in the city, including University of California San Diego, San Diego State University, and the private University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University. Beach culture has a strong pull with students, who can be found surfing between classes or roller skating along the Embarcadero. But there is also a significant military presence here, with Naval Base San Diego, the U.S. Navy's largest West Coast base, and the principal homeport of the Pacific Fleet.

  • #7. Miami, FL
    45/ Mia2you // Shutterstock

    #7. Miami, FL

    Total score: 55.23
    Wallet friendliness rank: #184
    Social environment rank: #10
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #213

    Buzzing Miami has one of the most populous metropolitan regions in the United States, which includes students at several local colleges and universities. The University of Miami, Barry University, Miami International University of Art & Design, and Johnson & Wales University of North Miami all use the city as their backdrop for teaching everything from drawing to accounting. The lure to attending school in one of America's most famous nightlife destinations is obvious, and the warm weather and diverse cuisine make decision easy for thousands of students.

  • #6. Atlanta, GA
    46/ SeanPavone // Shutterstock

    #6. Atlanta, GA

    Total score: 55.37
    Wallet friendliness rank: #275
    Social environment rank: #8
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #142

    While home to highly ranked Emory University, as well as the Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia State University, Atlanta also has a significant concentration of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), including Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta University. The city is known for its nightlife, and a relatively low cost of living and robust public transit system make it easy for students to explore urban life while also working toward their degrees.

  • #5. Los Angeles, CA
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    #5. Los Angeles, CA

    Total score: 55.61
    Wallet friendliness rank: #344
    Social environment rank: #15
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #44

    Really more of a series of areas or neighborhoods than one distinct college town, Los Angeles has a number of institutions of higher education in its city limits, from massive University of California Los Angeles and the two California State University branches at Los Angeles and Northridge, to private Loyola Marymount, Mount St. Mary's, and Occidental College. There are also a number of film schools in the area due to the proximity of Hollywood. The city is so large that urban cohesion is somewhat hard to come by, but across the region cultural and recreational opportunities are plenty, from easy beach access to cheap taco stands to world-renowned museums.

  • #4. Seattle, WA
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    #4. Seattle, WA

    Total score: 55.99
    Wallet friendliness rank: #377
    Social environment rank: #5
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #34

    Seattle's biggest educational institution is the University of Washington, which is so large it takes up an entire neighborhood. Other schools in the area include Seattle University and Seattle Pacific University. Like its counterparts in Silicon Valley, Seattle draws students interested in the tech and business sectors, three of its major profit centers being Microsoft, Boeing, and Starbucks. But thanks to its history as a breeding ground for alternative music and its close proximity to outdoor recreation of all types, the city draws students of all interests—or at least those who can handle the winter rains.

     

  • #3. Las Vegas, NV
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    #3. Las Vegas, NV

    Total score: 56.89
    Wallet friendliness rank: #76
    Social environment rank: #4
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #258

    The University of Nevada Las Vegas is the main contributor of students into the Strip's orbit. With a never-ending nightlife scene, affordable housing, and plenty of jobs in the hospitality industry, the city attracts those looking for a somewhat alternative urban experience. Public transit isn't robust and there's not much park land within the city limits, but what the city lacks in public infrastructure it makes up for in recreational and cultural offerings.

  • #2. Tampa, FL
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    #2. Tampa, FL

    Total score: 58.41
    Wallet friendliness rank: #165
    Social environment rank: #16
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #88

    Tampa's two biggest attractions for college students are the main campus of the massive, public University of South Florida and the smaller, private University of Tampa. Warm weather year-round, a relatively low cost of living, and a number of corporate offices, including Capital One and T-Mobile, make this a popular destination to attend school. The city is also a major cruise port and tourist destination, providing ample opportunities for those looking to enter the hospitality industry.

  • #1. Austin, TX
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    #1. Austin, TX

    Total score: 61.93
    Wallet friendliness rank: #188
    Social environment rank: #9
    Academic and economic opportunities rank: #32

    It's really no surprise that Austin, with its distinct counterculture, vibrant nightlife, hot culinary scene, and many music venues ranks as the best college town in the United States. Not to mention, the state capital has a lot of students: University of Texas at Austin has over 40,000 undergrads alone. Add in grad students and those attending other schools in the region—including St. Edward's University, the Art Institute of Austin, and Huston-Tillotson University—and it's clear that at its heart, Austin is a major college town.

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