The 20 best college towns in America

These towns have great bar scenes, microbreweries, and educated populations.

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These towns have great bar scenes, microbreweries, and educated populations.
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Shutterstock

  • A list from the American Institute for Economic Research ranked top college towns.
  • It looked to economic, demographic, and quality-of-life factors.
  • Boulder, Colorado was the top-ranked town.

Boulder, Colorado, is the top-ranked college town in the US, according to a list from the American Institute for Economic Research.

The city of roughly 200,000 (for its metro area population) earned the top spot thanks to its accessibility – more than 20% of commuters take public transportation or cycle around Boulder Creek Corridor – and diverse and educated population. Boulder also has an active bar-and-restaurant scene, with plenty of coffee shops and microbreweries.

AIER compiled its list using nine economic, demographic, and quality-of-life factors. It defines college towns as having fewer than 250,000 residents.

Aside from the overall ranking, we included cities’ individual scores for noteworthy metrics including rent, earnings, and bars and restaurants. We chose the one metric where the city scored the highest out of the nine.

Scroll through to find out the 20 best college towns.


20. Bellingham, Washington — home of Western Washington University

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Curtis Cronn / Flickr

Metro area population: 208,832

College student population in the metro area: 24,926

No. 4 in arts and entertainment


19. La Crosse, Wisconsin — home of the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse

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Flickr / David Wilson

Metro area population: 136,824

College student population in the metro area: 16,081

No. 1 in youth unemployment


18. Jacksonville, North Carolina — home of the University of Mount Olive

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Jimmy Emerson, DVM / Flickr

Metro area population: 186,684

College student population in the metro area: 15,297

No. 3 in rent


17. Blacksburg, Virginia — home of Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech)

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Mohaas05 via Wikipedia

Metro area population: 180,649

College student population in the metro area: 41,438

No. 3 in bars and restaurants


16. Rochester, Minnesota — home of the University of Minnesota at Rochester

source
Facebook/Visit Rochester, Minnesota

Metro area population: 170,519

College student population in the metro area: 11,363

No. 4 in rent


15. State College, Pennsylvania — home of Pennsylvania State University

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Flickr / Amir Nejad

Metro area population: 159,341

College student population in the metro area: 39,577

No. 5 in bars and restaurants


14. Athens, Georgia — home of the University of Georgia

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Richardelainechambers via Wikimedia Commons

Metro area population: 159,341

College student population in the metro area: 39,577

No. 5 in bars and restaurants


13. Fargo, North Dakota — home of North Dakota State University

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Omar David Sandoval Sida via Wikipedia

Metro area population: 167,166

College student population in the metro area: 21,346

No. 1 in rent


12. Lafayette, Indiana — the metropolitan area is home to Purdue University

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Qsthomson via Wiki

Metro area population: 212,704

College student population in the metro area: 44,252

No. 2 in innovation


11. Charlottesville, Virginia — home of the University of Virginia

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Experience Charlottesville/Facebook

Metro area population: 227,179

College student population in the metro area: 26,327

No. 3 in youth unemployment


10. Bloomington, Illinois — home of Illinois State University

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Todd Ryburn via Wikimedia Commons

Metro area population: 189,628

College student population in the metro area: 25,689

No. 2 in arts and entertainment


9. Columbia, Missouri — home of the University of Missouri

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Amanda Macias/Business Insider

Metro area population: 172,738

College student population in the metro area: 32,287

No. 4 in labor force


8. Manhattan, Kansas — home of Kansas State University

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Wikipedia

Metro area population: 98,643

College student population in the metro area: 17,537

No. 5 in labor force


7. College Station, Texas — home of Texas A&M University

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Pmelton87

Metro area population: 242,453

College student population in the metro area: 58,018

No. 1 in bars and restaurants


6. Bloomington, Indiana — home of Indiana University at Bloomington

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Yahala via Wikipedia

Metro area population: 163,726

College student population in the metro area: 41,211

No. 2 bars and restaurants


5. Iowa City, Iowa — home of the University of Iowa

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University of Iowa/Facebook

Metro area population: 164,043

College student population in the metro area: 33,358

No. 3 in college educated


4. Ithaca, New York — home of Cornell University and Ithaca College

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Mary Robnett/Business Insider

Metro area population: 104,592

College student population in the metro area: 28,164

No. 2 in college educated


3. Flagstaff, Arizona — home of Northern Arizona University

source
Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau

Metro area population: 138,039

College student population in the metro area: 24,832

No. 1 in diversity


2. Champaign-Urbana, Illinois — home of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Metro area population: 207,584

College student population in the metro area: 47,895

No. 1 in city access


1. Boulder, Colorado

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Flickr / Let Ideas Compete

Metro area population: 199,129

College student population in the metro area: 31,958

No. 1 in innovation