Best big college towns in America
It’s the time of year when students across the country are making the age-old agonizing decision: where to go to college. The choices are endless: big university or small private school, close to home or far away, urban life or tiny town. Even for those committed to the idea of city life, there is an array of choices.
Using WalletHub’s latest study, which rated the best college towns and cities using a number of metrics including “wallet friendliness” and “social environment,” Stacker compared the 50 biggest cities on the list. Every city has at least 300,000 residents, and the data team limited the selection to those with a university or college population of at least 7,500 students. Some locations have a number of schools to choose from, others have one flagship university.
Read on to learn of the best big college towns in America.
#50. El Paso, TX
Total score: 46.17
Wallet friendliness rank: #16
Social environment rank: #145
Academic and economic opportunities rank: #382
Nestled between the U.S. border with Mexico and the eastern border of New Mexico, El Paso, Texas, is home to several large public universities, including the prestigious University of Texas at El Paso, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at El Paso, and the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine. Close proximity to Las Cruces means New Mexico State University is another option, and the school offers in-state tuition to those coming from El Paso. The city boasts a wide array of cultural and outdoor activities, including the El Paso Museum of Archeology, the Franklin Mountains State Park, and the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens.
#49. Oklahoma City, OK
Total score: 46.19
Wallet friendliness rank: #128
Social environment rank: #158
Academic and economic opportunities rank: #306
Home to the public University of Oklahoma, University of Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University — Oklahoma City, and Langston University (part of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities or HBCU), as well as the private Oklahoma City University and Oklahoma Christian University, there is something for everybody. In addition to its institutions of higher learning, the city also boasts the Oklahoma City Thunder professional basketball team, Oklahoma City Museum of Art, and National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. The Bricktown neighborhood is a popular nightlife destination, where students can find everything from live banjo music to hip wine bars.
#48. Fresno, CA
Total score: 46.21
Wallet friendliness rank: #108
Social environment rank: #190
Academic and economic opportunities rank: #291
California State University Fresno and the University of California Merced both call this Central Valley city home, as well as the smaller, private California Christian College and Fresno Pacific University. Located 60 miles from Yosemite National Park and Kings Canyon National Park, the city is an easygoing and affordable home base for exploring some of California's best outdoor offerings. The historic Tower District is a popular nightlife destination for residents of all ages, who come for everything from the Tower Theatre to the gay dance bars.
#47. Albuquerque, NM
Total score: 46.39
Wallet friendliness rank: #147
Social environment rank: #115
Academic and economic opportunities rank: #320
Educational opportunities in Albuquerque include the University of New Mexico, Central New Mexico Community College, Trinity Southwest University, and the University of St. Francis College of Nursing. The city's Old Town, the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway, and the Albuquerque Biological Park offer recreational opportunities, and Albuquerque is home to a vibrant restaurant scene and the world famous International Balloon Fiesta every October.
#46. Lexington-Fayette, KY
Total score: 46.53
Wallet friendliness rank: #172
Social environment rank: #128
Academic and economic opportunities rank: #286
Known for its lively college athletic scene, the Lexington-Fayette region is home to the massive University of Kentucky, which also happens to be the city's largest employer. Transylvania University, one of the nation's oldest colleges, is also located in the region, along with Sullivan University and Commonwealth Baptist College. Students also flood the area for its low cost of living and variety of corporate job opportunities, including Xerox, Lockheed Martin, and IBM.
#45. Baltimore, MD
Total score: 46.58
Wallet friendliness rank: #263
Social environment rank: #122
Academic and economic opportunities rank: #224
Baltimore has long been a popular urban destination for college students, who flock here to attend the prestigious Johns Hopkins University, as well as Loyola University Maryland, the Maryland Institute College of Art, and the public University of Maryland, Baltimore, and University of Baltimore. The city's distinct neighborhoods and cultural enclaves contribute to a vibrant city life that features local breweries, numerous sports franchises, and well-connected bus and light-rail services.
#44. St. Paul, MN
Total score: 46.89
Wallet friendliness rank: #255
Social environment rank: #100
Academic and economic opportunities rank: #235
Usually associated with nearby Minneapolis, St. Paul makes up one half of the famous Twin Cities and is home to several highly ranked colleges and universities. Among them are Macalester College, Concordia University, St. Paul, Saint Catherine University, and Metropolitan State University. Known for their diverse population of immigrants and refugees, the Twin Cities provide students with a vibrant cultural backdrop in which pursue their studies, and together are ranked the best in the country for public park access and quality.
#43. Anaheim, CA
Total score: 46.94
Wallet friendliness rank: #346
Social environment rank: #92
Academic and economic opportunities rank: #85
More than just the home of Disneyland, Anaheim serves as host to the private Anaheim University (which caters to graduate degrees) and the Southern California Institute of Technology, as well as two local community college districts. The city's location in the greater Los Angeles area means access to other major universities as well, including the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Southern California. Disneyland is a popular job choice among students, and the Anaheim Packing District, anchored by historic Packing Hall, is a popular weekend hangout for locals and tourists alike.
#42. San Jose, CA
Total score: 46.95
Wallet friendliness rank: #371
Social environment rank: #34
Academic and economic opportunities rank: #131
Arguably Silicon Valley's tech epicenter, San Jose is a popular destination among college students seeking degrees in the tech field, as well as those who want to escape to nearby San Francisco for entertainment. San Jose State University and the California University of Management and Technology call this city home, and prestigious Santa Clara University and world-renowned Stanford University are both nearby. The city is served by multiple light rail and train systems, and the high concentration of tech companies means a wide selection of jobs and internships for students.
#41. Aurora, CO
Total score: 47.12
Wallet friendliness rank: #274
Social environment rank: #293
Academic and economic opportunities rank: #52
A suburb of Denver, Aurora's higher education institutions focus on non-traditional students and include Columbia College—Aurora, the Community College of Aurora, and Pickens Technical College. Nearby Denver is also home to the University of Colorado—Denver and the University of Denver, among others. The area is known for its year-round outdoor activities, including hiking, skiing, and mountain biking. Several annual festivals draw residents of all ages, including the Great American Beer Festival and the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival.2018 All rights reserved.