Sakura Cherry blossoms on the University of Washington, Seattle, campus.

Best big college towns in America

April 3, 2023
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Best big college towns in America

It's the time of year when many 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 a tiny town. Even for those committed to the idea of city life, choices abound.

College towns of all shapes and sizes often make a major impact on their surroundings. Rent is typically more expensive in college towns (and unfortunately, it's only going up further). But that doesn't deter people from moving in—many college towns have seen significant population growth in recent years, which has in turn affected everything from local income equality to state politics.

Many of those developments are most apparent in big-city college towns. Stacker identified the 50 best big-city college towns using WalletHub's study for 2023, published in November 2022, which rated towns and cities using a number of metrics including "wallet friendliness" and "social environment." Every city in the rankings has at least 300,000 residents and a university or college population of at least 7,500 students. Some locations have a number of schools that fit the criteria, while others have one flagship university.

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

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#50. Fresno, CA

- Total score: 47.95
- Wallet friendliness rank: 160
- Social environment rank: 162
- 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 LGBTQ dance bars.

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#49. Kansas City, MO

- Total score: 48.06
- Wallet friendliness rank: 139
- Social environment rank: 233
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 253

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. Many companies and organizations have operations here, including Ford, Dairy Farmers of America, Honeywell, and Hallmark.

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#48. Washington, D.C.

- Total score: 48.11
- Wallet friendliness rank: 399
- Social environment rank: 20
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 130

The nation's capital can be heaven for any student, but especially for those majoring in history, politics, or journalism. The district's international community is second to none, and many cultural, educational, and political activities orbit around it. Nineteen of the 21 museums that make up the Smithsonian Institution are located in the city, as are 19 colleges and universities, including five centered on research and ten special-focus post-secondary schools.

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#47. New Orleans, LA

- Total score: 48.28
- Wallet friendliness rank: 266
- Social environment rank: 58
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 266

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.

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#46. Honolulu, HI

- Total score: 48.39
- Wallet friendliness rank: 382
- Social environment rank: 1
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 239

Who wouldn't want to live in a tropical paradise with some of the best beaches in the world? Thanks to its vast natural, ethnic, and cultural diversity, Honolulu will be a memorable setting for college students, especially for those studying marine biology and geology. Surfing, diving, hiking, and biking are only some of the outdoor activities that students can enjoy in their time away from the classrooms of Honolulu's higher education institutions.

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#45. Boston, MA

- Total score: 48.42
- Wallet friendliness rank: 396
- Social environment rank: 19
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 127

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.

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#44. San Antonio, TX

- Total score: 48.49
- Wallet friendliness rank: 91
- Social environment rank: 91
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 358

A couple of Texas' major public universities have campuses in San Antonio, including the University of Texas at San Antonio and Texas A&M. There is 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 for people within Texas and across the country, with a major sports franchise (NBA's San Antonio Spurs), a 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.

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#43. Chicago, IL

- Total score: 48.78
- Wallet friendliness rank: 293
- Social environment rank: 64
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 217

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 the 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.

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#42. Henderson, NV

- Total score: 48.81
- Wallet friendliness rank: 268
- Social environment rank: 338
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 43

A new and thriving suburb—located a few miles southeast of the Las Vegas strip—is an ideal setting for college students. With mild winters and 310 sunny days per year, Henderson has become a desirable city in Nevada. It is also attracting college students who enjoy outdoor activities all year and an "open 24 hours" lifestyle without the frenzy of its world-famous neighboring city. There are several colleges in Henderson, and many others less than 10 miles away.

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#41. Fort Worth, TX

- Total score: 48.84
- Wallet friendliness rank: 242
- Social environment rank: 149
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 201

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 much to offer to those looking to work in the business—American Airlines, GM Financial, and XTO Energy are headquartered here.

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#40. Oklahoma City, OK

- Total score: 48.89
- Wallet friendliness rank: 102
- Social environment rank: 213
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 263

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, Oklahoma City has something for everybody. In addition to its higher learning institutions, the city is home to the Oklahoma City Thunder professional basketball team, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, and the 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.

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#39. Anaheim, CA

- Total score: 49.13
- Wallet friendliness rank: 336
- Social environment rank: 126
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 74

More than just the home of Disneyland, Anaheim serves as host to the private Anaheim University (which caters to graduate students) and the Southern California Institute of Technology. The city's location in the greater Los Angeles area means students have 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 the historic Packing Hall, is a popular weekend hangout for locals and tourists alike.

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#38. Portland, OR

- Total score: 49.22
- Wallet friendliness rank: 309
- Social environment rank: 18
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 246

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, 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.

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#37. Tulsa, OK

- Total score: 49.44
- Wallet friendliness rank: 133
- Social environment rank: 175
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 250

Once known as the "oil capital of the world," Tulsa is a medium-sized city with both small-town and big-metropolis vibes. How is that possible? Well, it is an all-American city that has hosted college students for over a hundred years and has managed to preserve the best of its past. In the Deco District, pop-up stores in art deco buildings delight locals and visitors, while foodies can explore unique gastronomic creations in the Cherry Street District. Several technology, manufacturing, energy, and aerospace companies are headquartered in Tulsa, which makes it an optimal place to find internships, mentors, and corporate job opportunities.

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#36. Indianapolis, IN

- Total score: 49.55
- Wallet friendliness rank: 176
- Social environment rank: 138
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 249

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 offer 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.

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#35. Los Angeles, CA

- Total score: 49.61
- Wallet friendliness rank: 343
- Social environment rank: 89
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 114

Really more 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 the 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 to 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.

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#34. San Jose, CA

- Total score: 49.64
- Wallet friendliness rank: 379
- Social environment rank: 35
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 107

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.

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#33. Albuquerque, NM

- Total score: 49.74
- Wallet friendliness rank: 131
- Social environment rank: 79
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 317

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.

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#32. Denver, CO

- Total score: 49.8
- Wallet friendliness rank: 303
- Social environment rank: 16
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 242

Colorado's Mile High City is home to students attending the University of Colorado Denver, the 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.

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#31. San Francisco, CA

- Total score: 50.06
- Wallet friendliness rank: 388
- Social environment rank: 10
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 120

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 the 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 one of the nation's worst housing shortages, making it impossible for some students to reside within city limits.

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#30. Dallas, TX

- Total score: 50.51
- Wallet friendliness rank: 226
- Social environment rank: 147
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 168

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.

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#29. Louisville, KY

- Total score: 50.55
- Wallet friendliness rank: 173
- Social environment rank: 104
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 245

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, but 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.

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#28. Philadelphia, PA

- Total score: 50.59
- Wallet friendliness rank: 295
- Social environment rank: 93
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 142

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 with companies centered here include health care, financial services, and biotech.

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#27. Lexington-Fayette, KY

- Total score: 50.79
- Wallet friendliness rank: 125
- Social environment rank: 116
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 254

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.

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#26. Virginia Beach, VA

- Total score: 50.87
- Wallet friendliness rank: 224
- Social environment rank: 113
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 182

A three-mile oceanfront boardwalk is the main attraction of the city near where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean: Virginia Beach. In recent years, the already pleasant coastal lifestyle of VB has been spruced up by a bustling food and art scene, a perfect complement to its centuries-old maritime history. Over 50,000 post-secondary students attend school in the Virginia Beach area, with Regent University being the best ranked within the city limits.

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#25. Jacksonville, FL

- Total score: 51.24
- Wallet friendliness rank: 118
- Social environment rank: 121
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 237

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.

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#24. Mesa, AZ

- Total score: 51.29
- Wallet friendliness rank: 213
- Social environment rank: 260
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 59

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 than in nearby cities, but Mesa lacks as many entertainment and nightlife options compared to its neighbor.

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#23. Nashville, TN

- Total score: 51.43
- Wallet friendliness rank: 288
- Social environment rank: 98
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 128

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 (HBCUs) 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.

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#22. Sacramento, CA

- Total score: 51.43
- Wallet friendliness rank: 281
- Social environment rank: 21
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 206

Though it's California's fastest-growing city, Sacramento's educational offerings are surprisingly limited: The California State University system's Sacramento State is the only traditional four-year college in the city. Other institutions with satellite campuses in the area include the University of San Francisco, University of the Pacific, and the 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.

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#21. Omaha, NE

- Total score: 51.79
- Wallet friendliness rank: 201
- Social environment rank: 128
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 160

Omaha is a 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 urban and suburban. Its Old Market neighborhood is home to everything from wine bars and art galleries to live music venues and old pubs.

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#20. Bakersfield, CA

- Total score: 51.85
- Wallet friendliness rank: 177
- Social environment rank: 199
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 92

Agriculture, energy, and oil industries are strong and prosperous in Bakersfield, the Californian city located on the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley and west of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The breathtaking outdoor scenery of the eastern edge of the Golden State cannot go unnoticed. Students attending the local branches of CSU, UEI College, or Bakersfield College are presented with diverse leisure options, including a brewery trail, colorful farmer's markets, and unique nature exploration.

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#19. Minneapolis, MN

- Total score: 51.87
- Wallet friendliness rank: 249
- Social environment rank: 41
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 193

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 major sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS) have teams here. Light rail and commuter lines link the city's neighborhoods with nearby suburbs.

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#18. Tucson, AZ

- Total score: 51.89
- Wallet friendliness rank: 75
- Social environment rank: 38
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 323

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 second 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.

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#17. Charlotte, NC

- Total score: 52.1
- Wallet friendliness rank: 206
- Social environment rank: 50
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 213

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.

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#16. Houston, TX

- Total score: 52.4
- Wallet friendliness rank: 99
- Social environment rank: 122
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 211

The University of Houston's flagship campus, as well as its Clear Lake and Downtown campuses, are based here, along with 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, one of the country's largest cities, is also home to diverse arts, culinary, and professional sports teams.

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#15. Long Beach, CA

- Total score: 52.71
- Wallet friendliness rank: 280
- Social environment rank: 60
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 116

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 art 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.

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#14. Cincinnati, OH

- Total score: 53.19
- Wallet friendliness rank: 77
- Social environment rank: 25
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 298

Cincinnati has managed to live up to its nickname: Queen City. With rich architectural, historical, and cultural traditions, the largest city in Ohio is a flourishing metropolis meticulously designed to balance urban infrastructure with over 50 parks and reserves. Artisanal brewing is popular in the city, and the Over-the-Rhine district is famous for its 19th-century buildings. The University of Cincinnati stands out as one of the best schools in the area, but other institutions—particularly those focused on nursing and careers in health care—are also praiseworthy.

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#13. Las Vegas, NV

- Total score: 53.73
- Wallet friendliness rank: 155
- Social environment rank: 7
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 279

The University of Nevada Las Vegas is the main contributor of students to 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 isn't much parkland within the city limits, but what the city lacks in public infrastructure it makes up for in recreational and cultural offerings.

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#12. El Paso, TX

- Total score: 54.4
- Wallet friendliness rank: 98
- Social environment rank: 57
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 195

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. 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.

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#11. Columbus, OH

- Total score: 54.94
- Wallet friendliness rank: 112
- Social environment rank: 73
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 164

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 almost everyone in town, student or not.

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#10. St. Louis, MO

- Total score: 54.99
- Wallet friendliness rank: 128
- Social environment rank: 90
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 140

St. Louis is an old city with a compelling history as the "Gateway to the West." It sits right along the Mississippi River, a few miles south of the confluence with the Missouri River. It is a relatively small town, ideal for walking since you can cross the city from side to side in about two hours. Baseball is huge, and there is a whole culture created around it. The nightlife—with affordable beer and live music—attracts college students from the many higher education institutions in the area. Washington University is the most prestigious, especially for design students.

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#9. Colorado Springs, CO

- Total score: 55.23
- Wallet friendliness rank: 208
- Social environment rank: 53
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 95

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.

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#8. San Diego, CA

- Total score: 55.25
- Wallet friendliness rank: 355
- Social environment rank: 4
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 70

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 the 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 on 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.

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#7. Pittsburgh, PA

- Total score: 55.75
- Wallet friendliness rank: 187
- Social environment rank: 6
- 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.

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#6. Seattle, WA

- Total score: 55.89
- Wallet friendliness rank: 372
- Social environment rank: 5
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 40

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, with 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 proximity to outdoor recreation of all types, the city draws students of all interests—or at least those who can handle the winter rains.

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#5. Atlanta, GA

- Total score: 56.61
- Wallet friendliness rank: 263
- Social environment rank: 8
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 94

While home to highly ranked Emory University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Georgia State University, Atlanta also has a significant concentration of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), including Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta University. The city is known for its nightlife, and a relatively affordable cost of living.

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#4. Raleigh, NC

- Total score: 57.61
- Wallet friendliness rank: 166
- Social environment rank: 24
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 117

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 the 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.

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#3. Miami, FL

- Total score: 57.71
- Wallet friendliness rank: 210
- Social environment rank: 3
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 151

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 decisions easy for thousands of students.

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#2. Tampa, FL

- Total score: 59.65
- Wallet friendliness rank: 172
- Social environment rank: 9
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 83

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.

50 / 50
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#1. Austin, TX

- Total score: 63.27
- Wallet friendliness rank: 204
- Social environment rank: 12
- Academic and economic opportunities rank: 21

It's 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. And college students have taken notice: The 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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