Colleges with the best student life in America

Written by:
May 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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