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Colleges with the best student life in America

  • Colleges with the best student life in America
    1/ Alton // Wikimedia Commons

    Colleges with the best student life in America

    College isn’t just about getting a degree. It’s about making lifelong friends, going to house parties, and buying really lame posters to put on your dorm room walls. The ultimate lesson that any college student learns upon graduation is that the knowledge they picked up outside the classroom is just as important as anything they learned in class.

    That’s why it’s vital to go to a school that’s known for its student life. The location of the campus, the party scene, the football games: these are the elements that matter just as much as the academics a school can offer.

    School ranking site Niche knows that many different factors influence the quality of student life at universities across America. That’s why they created a ranking system based on weighted criteria like how well a school did in student surveys (30%), how diverse a campus is (7.5%), and the quality of the campus (10%)—which takes into account factors like cafeteria food and on-campus housing. Based on the Niche algorithm, we took the best schools that earned an A+ on student life and compiled a list of the top universities for 2018. Did your school make the list?

  • #50. Tulane University
    2/ Tulane Public Relations // Wikimedia Commons

    #50. Tulane University

    Location: New Orleans, LA

    Acceptance rate: 26%

    Net price: $32,515

    Student body size: 12,002 students

    It’s hard to beat New Orleans as a college town. Tulane students take advantage of the city’s amazing party culture in the French Quarter and the world-class live music scene just a mile from campus in Carrollton. From their first time touching the Victory Bell at Convocation to their last Green Wave football game, Tulane students are always having a good time.

  • #49. Barnard College
    3/ Beyond My Ken // Wikimedia Commons

    #49. Barnard College

    Location: New York, NY

    Acceptance rate: 15%

    Net price: $22,815

    Student body size: 2,562 students

    Long thought of as the “women’s college” at Columbia University, Barnard is actually its own autonomous college situated on the Upper West Side of New York City—although there’s a long-running partnership between the schools that allows students to use the facilities of both institutions. Its proud tradition of serving women in search of an elite higher education is the main draw, but living in Manhattan scores major points among students, too.


  • #48. Columbia University
    4/ Alex Proimos // Wikimedia Commons

    #48. Columbia University

    Location: New York, NY

    Acceptance rate: 7%

    Net price: $22,973

    Student body size: 2,562 students

    As the only Ivy League school in New York City, Columbia draws students from around the world seeking the finest education, while surrounded by the world’s most famous metropolis. Since 1894, Columbia students have been writing and performing in “The Varsity Show,” a satirical musical that has featured the work of such luminaries as Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, and I.A.L. Diamond.

  • #47. University of Maryland - College Park
    5/ Bgervais // Wikimedia Commons

    #47. University of Maryland - College Park

    Location: College Park, MD

    Acceptance rate: 48%

    Net price: $15,757

    Student body size: 9,811 students

    Just four miles outside of D.C., the University of Maryland–College Park garnered an A+ on athletics, value, and the party scene from Niche’s rankings. The school recently changed athletic conferences from the ACC to the Big Ten, and student fans are still unfurling giant state flags during big games to cheer on their teams.

  • #46. Brown University
    6/ Apavlo // Wikimedia Commons

    #46. Brown University

    Location: Providence, RI

    Acceptance rate: 9%

    Net price: $25,264

    Student body size: 9,283 students

    Grades are basically optional at Brown, where students can take an unlimited number of classes pass/fail and the open curriculum allows Brownies to take pretty much any class they choose. Brown’s location in Providence gives students the college town experience with the benefits of being in a small major city, as well.

  • #45. University of Miami
    7/ Harrier233 // Wikimedia Commons

    #45. University of Miami

    Location: Coral Gables, FL

    Acceptance rate: 38%

    Net price: $37,424

    Student body size: 16,213 students

    The sun shines nearly 365 days a year at this Miami institution (with a few hurricanes mixed in for the Hurricanes). Miami’s gorgeous Coral Gables campus is enough to make any student happy, but the presence of a legendary college football team helps, too.


  • #44. University of Alabama
    8/ Ttownfeen // Wikimedia Commons

    #44. University of Alabama

    Location: Tuscaloosa, AL

    Acceptance rate: 53%

    Net price: $20,133

    Student body size: 65,510 students

    The University of Alabama is all about football. With 17 National Championships to its name, including the most recent one in 2018, it’s hard to think of another word to associate with the Crimson Tide.

  • #43. Independence University
    9/ Chanilim714 // Wikipedia

    #43. Independence University

    Location: Salt Lake City, UT

    Acceptance rate: 100%

    Net price: $26,240

    Student body size: 6,047 students

    With a 100% acceptance rate, it’s guaranteed that any student that wants to go to Independence University will get in. “In” is a tricky word here, however, because Independence operates entirely online. Campus life may be non-existent, but at least the commute from home to school takes no time at all.


  • #42. Clemson University
    10/ hager.angie // Wikimedia Commons

    #42. Clemson University

    Location: Clemson, SC

    Acceptance rate: 51%

    Net price: $17,797

    Student body size: 22,865 students

    Clemson University has a long and storied history in South Carolina, thanks to years of athletic success and a near-monopoly on the color orange. Clemson itself is a small college town; the university sits on 17,000 acres, which is plenty of room for college students to enjoy themselves.

  • #41. Brigham Young University
    11/ Jules Coswig // Wikimedia Commons

    #41. Brigham Young University

    Location: Provo, UT

    Acceptance rate: 51%

    Net price: $12,864

    Student body size: 28,012 students

    Surrounded by the mountains of Provo, BYU is perfect for outdoorsy students and anyone who loves nature. While it’s far from being a party school (due mostly to an honor code that prohibits sex, alcohol, and drugs) the students who attend are well-aware of the code, and enjoy the wholesome atmosphere.

  • #40. University of California - Santa Barbara
    12/ Carl Jantzen // Wikimedia Commons

    #40. University of California - Santa Barbara

    Location: Santa Barbara, CA

    Acceptance rate: 36%

    Net price: $15,149

    Student body size: 23,960 students

    It’s hard to beat going to school next to the Pacific Ocean, and UCSB students take full advantage of their proximity with tons of parties on Del Playa in Isla Vista. At the end of every quarter, the Gauchos celebrate by stripping down to their skivvies for the Undie Run.

  • #39. Northwestern University
    13/ Rdsmith4 // Wikimedia Commons

    #39. Northwestern University

    Location: Evanston, IL

    Acceptance rate: 11%

    Net price: $29,326

    Student body size: 18,357 students

    Although Northwestern is constantly ranked as one of the top academic universities in the world, don’t call it the Harvard of the Midwest. Famous alumni like Seth Meyers, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Charlton Heston all sport purple pride—and on any given night, you can watch student groups painting The Rock in honor of whatever the cause of the day may be.

  • #38. Reed College
    14/ Visitor7 // Wikimedia Commons

    #38. Reed College

    Location: Portland, OR

    Acceptance rate: 31%

    Net price: $27,805

    Student body size: 1,397 students

    With a hippie vibe and "anything goes" atmosphere, Reed College students are known to be free-thinkers. The annual “Renn Fayre” festival started as an actual renaissance fair, but over time turned into a drug-taking free-for-all.

  • #37. Kansas State University
    15/ Paperraven // Wikimedia Commons

    #37. Kansas State University

    Location: Manhattan, KS

    Acceptance rate: 94%

    Net price: $16,431

    Student body size: 20,898 students

    When Kansas State Wildcats say they’re going to Manhattan, they don’t mean the big city in New York. They’re talking about the mid-sized town in Kansas that’s home to their beloved school, perennially good football teams, and an adorable shopping district called Aggieville.

  • #36. Princeton University
    16/ Jon Niola // Flickr

    #36. Princeton University

    Location: Princeton, NJ

    Acceptance rate: 7%

    Net price: $17,732

    Student body size: 8,069 students

    Princeton students are known more for their academic rigor than party prowess, but history and reputation are likely the main draw for students to head to this New Jersey Ivy League school. Back in 1783, the campus actually served as the nation’s capital when the Continental Congress held meetings there.

  • #35. Spelman College
    17/ Thomson200 // Wikimedia Commons

    #35. Spelman College

    Location: Atlanta, GA

    Acceptance rate: 36%

    Net price: $32,399

    Student body size: 2,086 students

    This historically black college has been teaching female students in the South since 1881. Located in Atlanta, Spelman students give low marks for the dorms and food, but everyone loves the tradition of wearing all-white on important campus occasions.

  • #34. Harvard University
    18/ Gunnar Klack // Wikipedia

    #34. Harvard University

    Location: Cambridge, MA

    Acceptance rate: 5%

    Net price: $16,205

    Student body size: 23,666 students

    The Hasty Pudding show, the Harvard Lampoon, and the Primal Scream are just a few reasons why kids love going to Harvard. Its Boston location and history of producing some of the most influential people in America (Teddy Roosevelt, J.F.K., Conan O’Brien) may have something to do with it, too.

  • #33. Carleton College
    19/ Dogs1337 // Wikimedia Commons

    #33. Carleton College

    Location: Northfield, MN

    Acceptance rate: 23%

    Net price: $28,587

    Student body size: 2,045 students

    Carleton’s relatively small size is a big draw for students looking for a liberal arts college with personal attention. The other enticement is the “Carleton Merit Scholars” program, which aims to enroll the nation’s largest contingent of National Merit Scholars—and awards them a $2,000 annual scholarship for choosing to attend Carleton.

  • #32. Full Sail University
    20/ Fourbuttons // Wikimedia Commons

    #32. Full Sail University

    Location: Winter Park, FL

    Acceptance rate: 100%

    Net price: $27,840

    Student body size: 17,564 students

    Full Sail operates both online and at their campus outside of Orlando. Students attend for the specific focus in the entertainment, media, arts, and technology industries—and while there may not be a football team, the faculty once included Oprah's longtime beau Stedman Graham as an adjunct professor.

  • #31. Pomona College
    21/ Nostalgicwisdom // Wikimedia Commons

    #31. Pomona College

    Location: Claremont, CA

    Acceptance rate: 9%

    Net price: $18,140

    Student body size: 1,640 students

    Part of the Claremont Colleges consortium, Pomona consistently ranks as one of the top liberal arts schools in the country. Niche also recently named it the 2018 most diverse college in America.

  • #30. Tufts University
    22/ Daderot // Wikimedia Commons

    #30. Tufts University

    Location: Medford, MA

    Acceptance rate: 14%

    Net price: $28,076

    Student body size: 11,017 students

    Tufts gets great scores from Niche on value and academics (both A+), but the Massachusetts school also had the pleasure of hosting Jumbo, a full-size stuffed elephant that was a gift from circus impresario P.T. Barnum (until a fire tragically destroyed him in 1975).

  • #29. Georgia Institute of Technology
    23/ Daderot // Wikimedia Commons

    #29. Georgia Institute of Technology

    Location: Atlanta, GA

    Acceptance rate: 26%

    Net price: $13,340

    Student body size: 25,666 students

    More commonly known as Georgia Tech, this scientific-minded university lies just north of downtown Atlanta and gives students plenty to talk about—like its robust engineering program and top-caliber athletics. And just for fun, Georgia Tech’s campus has a steam whistle that blows to end classes.

  • #28. Indiana University - Bloomington
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    #28. Indiana University - Bloomington

    Location: Bloomington, IN

    Acceptance rate: 79%

    Net price: $12,621

    Student body size: 85,422 students

    Indiana University is known as ground zero for college basketball fans, especially after former head coach Bobby Knight made his name here with some all-time great teams. Students look forward to participating in the biggest collegiate bike race in the country, the “Little 500,” which was featured in the hit 1979 movie “Breaking Away."

  • #27. Penn State
    25/ shidairyproduct // Flickr

    #27. Penn State

    Location: University Park, PA

    Acceptance rate: 56%

    Net price: $25,055

    Student body size: 87,980 students

    With one of the largest student bodies in the country, Penn State became synonymous with college football when the late Joe Paterno was at the helm. Before every football home game, Penn State students camp out in “Nittanyville” for the chance to snag the best seats in Happy Valley.

  • #26. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    26/ Aries Liang // Wikimedia Commons

    #26. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    Location: Champaign, IL

    Acceptance rate: 60%

    Net price: $16,683

    Student body size: 81,499 students

    The twin towns of Champaign and Urbana are entirely focused around the U of I, where a controversy about the Chief Illiniwek mascot has raged for years. Feelings on mascots notwithstanding, if you ever hear someone chant “I-L-L” in Champaign, you’re obligated to respond with an “I-N-I."

  • #25. Bowdoin College
    27/ Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble // Flickr

    #25. Bowdoin College

    Location: Brunswick, ME

    Acceptance rate: 15%

    Net price: $24,888

    Student body size: 1,806 students

    Bowdoin represents the platonic ideal of the New England liberal arts college, with a beautiful tree-lined campus in Maine. Both the dorms and the campus food got the highest marks from Niche’s rankings, so students can be sure that they’ll be going to bed comfortably full.

  • #24. University of California - Berkeley
    28/ Charlie Nguyen // Wikimedia Commons

    #24. University of California - Berkeley

    Location: Berkeley, CA

    Acceptance rate: 17%

    Net price: $17,160

    Student body size: 40,173 students

    Berkeley has long been known as a bastion for liberal thinking, and students love the school’s close proximity to San Francisco, public school pricing, perpetually high-rated academics, and deep-seated rivalry with Stanford.

  • #23. Florida State University
    29/ Jackson Myers // Flickr

    #23. Florida State University

    Location: Tallahassee, FL

    Acceptance rate: 58%

    Net price: $16,506

    Student body size: 37,276 students

    Florida State gets a lot of credit for its top-notch athletic programs (like the 2014 BCS College Football Champions featuring Jameis Winston). Outside of football, Tallahassee offers the ideal college town environment for students with plenty of restaurants, stores, and, of course, bars.

  • #22. The Ohio State University
    30/ Robert Chriss // Wikimedia Commons

    #22. The Ohio State University

    Location: Columbus, OH

    Acceptance rate: 54%

    Net price: $17,971

    Student body size: 60,237 students

    One of the largest schools in the country, Ohio State offers something for everyone with its 200 different majors and 97 masters programs. Columbus is Buckeye central—top-rated football and basketball teams play in front of sell-out crowds—even for the intrasquad Spring Game scrimmage.

  • #21. Scripps College
    31/ Lure Photography // Wikimedia Commons

    #21. Scripps College

    Location: Claremont, CA

    Acceptance rate: 30%

    Net price: $37,860

    Student body size: 1,028 students

    Another member of the Claremont Colleges consortium, Scripps is a women’s institution founded by newspaper publisher Ellen Browning Scripps. With nearly 100% of the students living on campus, Scripps was ranked #1 in college dorms according to the Princeton Review.

  • #20. Michigan State University
    32/ Ken Lund // Flickr

    #20. Michigan State University

    Location: East Lansing, MI

    Acceptance rate: 66%

    Net price: $14,970

    Student body size: 45,911 students

    The Spartans of MSU regularly find themselves in the top 25 rankings for both college football and basketball, but the East Lansing campus also attracts students with its 5,000+ acres of land and more than 900 registered student groups.

  • #19. Texas A&M University
    33/ Michael Barera // Wikimedia Commons

    #19. Texas A&M University

    Location: College Station, TX

    Acceptance rate: 67%

    Net price: $15,455

    Student body size: 118,905 students

    The A&M stands for “agriculture and mechanical,” although the university has grown far past its agrarian roots. Texas A&M has the distinction of having the second-largest student body in America.

  • #18. University of Florida
    34/ Spohpatuf // Wikimedia Commons

    #18. University of Florida

    Location: Gainesville, FL

    Acceptance rate: 46%

    Net price: $14,761

    Student body size: 50,321 students

    For those desiring a classic state school experience, the University of Florida provides it in spades. With a thriving Greek system and a robust off-campus community in Gainesville, Gator students gave Florida an A+ for its party scene.

  • #17. University of Notre Dame
    35/ Matthew Rice // Wikimedia Commons

    #17. University of Notre Dame

    Location: Notre Dame, IN

    Acceptance rate: 19%

    Net price: $26,683

    Student body size: 12,266 students

    Mention Notre Dame to just about anyone and they’ll bring up the legendary football team—but this mid-sized Catholic school is also one of America’s best academic institutions.

  • #16. Vanderbilt University
    36/ Jbaker08 // Wikimedia Commons

    #16. Vanderbilt University

    Location: Nashville, TN

    Acceptance rate: 11%

    Net price: $23,150

    Student body size: 12,090 students

    The only private school in the SEC, Vanderbilt competes with the big boys in football and basketball and finds itself ranked at the top of the “Happiest Students” listings as well. Being in Nashville has its charms, too, from the amazing live music scene, to serving as the home of hot chicken.

  • #15. Yale University
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    #15. Yale University

    Location: New Haven, CT

    Acceptance rate: 6%

    Net price: $18,319

    Student body size: 12,402 students

    Yale is internationally known as one of the finest academic institutions in the world, and a litany of famous alumni helps to bolster that claim. One of the most popular activities on campus is hating their closest Ivy League rival, Harvard.

  • #14. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    38/ Brisam // Wikimedia Commons

    #14. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    Location: Chapel Hill, NC

    Acceptance rate: 27%

    Net price: $10,077

    Student body size: 27,521 students

    Michael Jordan. That’s the answer to the question “Who’s the most famous Tar Heel?” Outside of the top-flight ACC sports programs, UNC has a stunning historic Southern campus, and the thriving Chapel Hill area exists as a baby-blue haven for UNC students.

  • #13. University of Georgia
    39/ Coxonian // Wikipedia

    #13. University of Georgia

    Location: Athens, GA

    Acceptance rate: 54%

    Net price: $14,956

    Student body size: 36,574 students

    Another school that defines the quintessential large state school experience, UGA offers a long legacy of traditions since its founding in 1785—including walking through The Arch and ringing the Chapel Bell.

  • #12. University of Pennsylvania
    40/ InSapphoWeTrust // Flickr

    #12. University of Pennsylvania

    Location: Philadelphia, PA

    Acceptance rate: 9%

    Net price: $22,944

    Student body size: 22,559 students

    Philadelphia has been home to our nation’s finest scholars since before the days of the American Revolution, and UPenn has been around just as long—with 1740 credited as its founding year. UPenn students love the university’s urban setting, and juniors celebrate their upcoming senior year with “Hey Day,” a chance to walk around in red shirts with canes and straw hats.

  • #11. Virginia Tech
    41/ Jayron32 // Wikimedia Commons

    #11. Virginia Tech

    Location: Blacksburg, VA

    Acceptance rate: 71%

    Net price: $17,190

    Student body size: 31,263 students

    Virginia Tech began as a technical university, but now caters to students of 70 different majors across a variety of departments (although engineering is still its best-known program). The school earned an A+ for student life from Niche, and there’s a large number of cadets on campus preparing for careers in the Armed Forces. 

  • #10. University of Southern California
    42/ Padsquad19 // Wikipedia

    #10. University of Southern California

    Location: Los Angeles, CA

    Acceptance rate: 17%

    Net price: $32,932

    Student body size: 40,188 students

    Year-round sunshine and decades of good football teams are big reasons students love USC, but they also come for the rigorous academics, strong Greek life, and proximity to the entertainment industry for budding filmmakers.

  • #9. University of Wisconsin
    43/ OehlerLaura // Wikimedia Commons

    #9. University of Wisconsin

    Location: Madison, WI

    Acceptance rate: 53%

    Net price: $15,874

    Student body size: 43,336 students

    Some students come to the University of Wisconsin just to celebrate Halloween and enjoy the atmosphere of State Street. Others like watching the football team rack up victories. For food-lovers, students in Madison have an entire world’s worth of food to choose from at the food carts on the Library Mall.

  • #8. University of Virginia
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    #8. University of Virginia

    Location: Charlottesville, VA

    Acceptance rate: 30%

    Net price: $15,945

    Student body size: 23,012 students

    Student life, academics, party scene, and professors all got an A+ from Niche—and despite recent hiccups, Charlottesville is a great college town. Its brick-paved Downtown Mall welcomes students with restaurants, shopping, and entertainment.

  • #7. University of California - Los Angeles
    45/ Alton // Wikimedia Commons

    #7. University of California - Los Angeles

    Location: Los Angeles, CA

    Acceptance rate: 18%

    Net price: $14,236

    Student body size: 23,012 students

    Westwood is like its own little suburb on the Los Angeles’s Westside, and everything is catered to UCLA students: from the bars and restaurants of Westwood Village to the cute single-screen movies theaters. It’s a bit of a pain to get all the way to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena for football games, but it’s worth it to participate in the Eight Clap in person.

  • #6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    46/ Gunnar Klack // Wikimedia Commons

    #6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    Location: Cambridge, MA

    Acceptance rate: 8%

    Net price: $21,576

    Student body size: 11,376 students

    Some of the greatest minds in the world come to Boston to study at MIT. The location is hard to beat—and despite a heavy emphasis on academic rigor, MIT students love the experience for hacking competitions and a chance to become a certified pirate.

  • #5. Washington University in St. Louis
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    #5. Washington University in St. Louis

    Location: Saint Louis, MO

    Acceptance rate: 17%

    Net price: $28,824

    Student body size: 13,968 students

    Washington University in St. Louis (not to be confused with the University of Washington) hits the sweet spot between high-ranking academic powerhouse and fun place to go to school. Ranked the 14th best college in the U.S., Wash U is well-situated in St. Louis—right next to “The Loop,” a shopping and dining district named one of the top ten streets in America.  

  • #4. University of Texas - Austin
    48/ Guðsþegn // Wikimedia Commons

    #4. University of Texas - Austin

    Location: Austin, TX

    Acceptance rate: 40%

    Net price: $16,010

    Student body size: 179,686 students

    The citizens of Austin implore residents and visitors alike to “keep Austin weird,” and having the massive student body from one of the country’s largest schools helps with that. UT is football-crazy (“Hook ‘em, Horns!”), major festivals take place near campus every year (like SXSW and Austin City Limits), and nearby 6th Street and South Congress give students the chance to hear amazing live music on a regular basis.

  • #3. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
    49/ Dwight Burdette // Wikimedia Commons

    #3. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

    Location: Ann Arbor, MI

    Acceptance rate: 29%

    Net price: $16,107

    Student body size: 55,497 students

    Students in Ann Arbor swear by two things: football games at The Big House and sandwiches from Zingerman’s Deli. With a thriving Greek life and myriad student groups to get involved with, the University of Michigan is a haven for college kids.

  • #2. Stanford University
    50/ BrokenSphere // Wikimedia Commons

    #2. Stanford University

    Location: Stanford, CA

    Acceptance rate: 5%

    Net price: $16,695

    Student body size: 16,082 students

    World-class academics, nationally respected athletics, a tradition of freshman kissing each other on a massive scale—at Stanford, there are a number of reasons to get students excited. Number one, though, is getting to attend college at “The Farm,” a beautiful 8,000-acre campus built in the Mission revival style where the weather is nice year-round.

  • #1. Rice University
    51/ Daderot // Wikimedia Commons

    #1. Rice University

    Location: Houston, TX

    Acceptance rate: 15%

    Net price: $22,061

    Student body size: 6,662 students

    Rice functions as a tiny enclave inside of the massive shadow of Houston. Students have access to all that the big Texas city offers, but still get that intimate college experience. Instead of choosing dorms, students get sorted into residential colleges Harry Potter-style, and the college someone belongs to becomes a big part of their identity on campus.

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