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These Are The 10 Best College Towns In America

Where do civic pride and school spirit collide? In these spots, the best college towns in the country.

David Cross

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Colleges and universities dot the United States. Often communities, both small and large, spring up around these educational institutions, and there’s a reason why: colleges and universities bring a level of culture to an area, a level of excitement that’s attractive to many people. But if you want to call a college town home, which location is the best? Movoto Real Estate found the answer, and it’s Hanover, NH, the home of Dartmouth College. Yet Hanover, while the best, isn’t the only college town people should consider calling home. Here are the 10 best college towns in America:

1. Hanover, NH
2. Bryn Mawr, PA
3. Charlottesville, VA
4. Ann Arbor, MI
5. Blacksburg, VA
6. Princeton, NJ
7. Swarthmore, PA
8. Iowa City, IA
9. Waltham, MA
10. Burlington, VT

Don’t see your favorite college town on our list? Want to know why Hanover was crowned over Bryn Mawr? Pull out your college ruled notebooks and get ready to take some notes. Before that, however, we’ll educate you on the method behind our ranking.

How We Ranked The College Towns

big deal score distribution for college towns
To create our ranking, we first looked at the 100 top-ranked liberal arts colleges and universities according to U.S. News, ties included, marking down the location of each institute of higher education. After this, we combined locations in which there were multiple colleges or universities. Finally, we ranked each location based on set of criteria, detailed below. Unfortunately, we were unable to find data for all the locations on our initial list. In the end, we were left with 167 diverse locations across the country, both large and small.

What were the criteria we used to judge the best college towns in America? We looked at seven unique criteria which we believe make a great place to live. The criteria we used were:

  • Total amenities
  • Quality of life (cost of living, median home price, median rent, median household income, and student-to-teacher ratio)
  • Total crimes
  • Tax rates (sales tax and income tax)
  • Unemployment
  • Commute time
  • Weather (temperature and air quality)

Once we filled our spreadsheets with numbers, we ranked each place on our list from one to 167 for each criteria. We then took the aggregate rank across our criteria. The place with the lowest overall score, in this case Hanover, was named the best college town in America.

Below you’ll find a detailed explanation for why these 10 places earned high marks. If your city or town didn’t make the top 10, there’s still hope. You can hop down to the bottom of the post for an extended list of the 50 best college towns in America.

1. Hanover, NH

Best College Towns In America

Source: Flickr user pescatello

Hanover, home of Dartmouth College, easily (and we really mean easily) took the No. 1 spot on our list, beating out the next place place by about 12 points. In terms of our Big Deal Score, the method via which we judge each place, this was a drubbing.

What caused Hanover to toss its hypothetical graduation cap above the rest? This New Hampshire city had three top 10 finishes across our criteria: unemployment, taxes, and commute time. The criterion Hanover did best in was unemployment rate. Just 3.9 percent the city’s population is without work, low enough to earn a No. 3 rank for this criterion.

2. Bryn Mawr, PA

Best College Towns In America

Source: Flickr user celebdu

Bryn Mawr, a Census Designated Place in Pennsylvania, is home to Bryn Mawr College, a liberal arts institute with fewer than 2,000 students. Fortunately for Bryn Mawr, size didn’t matter in this analysis.

Bryn Mawr earned its second place spot thanks to two top 10 finishes among our criteria. These were for crime and taxes; in both cases this CDP took the No. 1 spot. According to the most recent data, there were just 609 crimes per 100,000 people in this locale. As for taxes, Bryn Mawr has a 6 percent sales tax and 3.07 percent income tax.

3. Charlottesville, VA

Best College Towns In America

Source: Flickr user BobMical

This Virginian city had no top 10 finishes across our criteria, though it did have respectable finishes across the majority of our metrics. This means that while Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia, isn’t a top achiever in any one area, it is a solid location.

The criterion the city fared the best in was unemployment rate. According to our data, 5.2 percent of people in this independent city are unemployed, low enough to earn the No. 18 spot. What kept Charlottesville from climbing higher? The area’s crime rate isn’t stellar. There were 3,751 crimes per 100,000 people at last count. In other words, Charlottesville is the 92nd least-safe place on our list.

4. Ann Arbor, MI

Best College Towns In America

Source: Flickr user ellenm1

Ann Arbor’s tax rates were low enough to help this Michigan city earn the No. 10 spot for this criterion. This, however, was the only top 10 finish Ann Arbor earned. Still, this didn’t mean Ann Arbor skipped class to play hackysack. The city is the 18th best place when it came to unemployment and the 32rd best place for it quality of life. Remember, these scores are out of 167. So, they actually are good, just not out of this world.

There was one area in which Ann Arbor could improve: its weather. In fact, you’ll be shivering out of your Wolverine attire during football season. The average summertime temperature in Ann Arbor is 75 degrees, while its air quality scored a 35 (the lower the better). When these two sub-criteria were combined, Ann Arbor dropped to the bottom of list for its overall weather score, No. 158.

5. Blacksburg, VA

Best College Towns In America

Source: Flickr user Daniel Lin – Photojournalist

What makes Blacksburg one of the best college towns in America? The location had above average scores in most of our criteria, but no top 10 finishes. Blacksburg’s best rank came from its commute time. It takes area residents just 16 minutes to get to work, the 16th shortest time on our list. For comparison, it takes New Yorkers an average of 44 minutes to make it to work.

In addition to a low commute time, Blacksburg’s was among the safest places on our list. Our data indicates there were 1,426 crimes per 100,000 people, good enough to make the locale the 19th safest place on our list.

6. Princeton, NJ

Best College Towns In America

Source: Flickr user Nouhailler

Most people won’t argue that Princeton University’s education is top notch, and now we’re pleased to say that Princeton (the municipality) has also garnered some praise. Princeton’s quality of life (No. 8) and and weather (No. 16) contributed to this locale’s high rank.

As we mentioned above, our Quality of Life Rank is divided into multiple sub-criteria. The sub-criteria that contributed to Princeton’s success were its median household income, median home price, and median rent. Of these, Princeton’s median household income ($104,234) was a major contributor, being the seventh best income across the locations on our list.

7. Swarthmore, PA

Best College Towns In America

Source: Flickr user EAWB

Two criteria pushed Swarthmore onto our top 10 list: its low taxes and high quality of life. The area’s combined income and sales tax sub-rankings were good enough to bring home a No. 1 rank for our tax criterion. As for the Swarthmore’s Quality of Life, it was the 11th best on our list, mostly because of a high median household income ($119,342).

8. Iowa City

Best College Towns In America

Source: Flickr user Phil Roeder

Iowa City is filled with hard workers and sunshine—according to our data, at least. The city’s low unemployment rate (No. 2) and weather (No. 8) propelled the home of the University of Iowa up our list. Our data indicated just 3.7 percent of this city’s residents are unemployed. What about weather? Iowa City’s air quality score buoyed this criterion; the area brought home a score of 9 (the lower the better).

9. Waltham

Best College Towns In America

Source: Flickr user BillDamon

Waltham, home of Brandeis University, had no top 10 finishes, though it did rank in the top 30 for a number of criteria, those being unemployment rate, tax rate, and crime rate. Of these three, Waltham’s best showing was for its unemployment rate: 5.1 percent, or 13th best on our list.

What kept this college town from climbing higher on our list? Its weather, mostly. The average summertime temperature in Waltham is 68 degrees, while its air quality scored a 39 (one is the lowest). When combined this was good enough for 128th place in weather.

10. Burlington

Best College Towns In America

Source: Flickr user redjar

The final place on our top 10 list, Burlington ranked exceptionally well in one of our criteria. The area’s unemployment rank was 3.6 percent, the lowest among the areas we analyzed. Other than this, Burlington had two top 50 ranks, for crime and taxes (49th and 45th, respectively).

Where Burlington slipped was in its weather rank. The average summertime temperature in Burlington is 67 degrees, while its air quality score was 34 (the lower the better). When combined, the city’s weather rank came out at No. 107, better than 60 other places, but nowhere near the top of our list.

These Next Towns Could Learn A Thing Or Two

At the bottom of our list, the worst college town in America, was St. Louis, MO, home to Washington University. This city ranked poorly across our criteria, though its lowest rank came in crime. In this instance, St. Louis came in last, making it the least safe city on our list. According to our data, there were 9,857 crimes per 100,000 people in this city for the period we looked at.

Editor’s Note: The following places were excluded from our ranking due to insufficient data: Piscataway (Rutgers), Amherst (University of Massachusetts, Amherst College), Chestnut Hill (Boston College), Colchester (St. Michael’s College), Collegeville (St. John’s University), Haverford (Haverford College), Notre Dame (University of Notre Dame, St. Mary’s College), Norton (Wheaton College), South Hadley (Mount Holyoke College), St. Mary’s City (St. Mary’s College of Maryland)

(click to enlarge table)

Best College Towns In America

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posted on: March 12, 2014
70,757 views, 6 comments

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6 Comments

  1. Gregory Garber

    I’ve lived in Princeton and Waltham. Spent a good amount of time in Hanover, Charlottesville and Burlington. Your metrics are seriously flawed. Medford ahead of Chapel Hill? What a joke…..

  2. Luke

    No Athens, Georgia? This list is laughable.

    • Gregory Garber in response to Luke

      here, here, Luke! shall we continue to debunk this list?

  3. Wichep Bazdor

    Im a student from Charlottesville. Nice to see our town in top #3

  4. Jack Hatfield

    The list isn’t a measure of where’s the best town for a random 20-year old Ass-Clown to party for four years. It measures where is the best town to live if you’re an adult who wants buy a home and raise a family in close proximity to a college or university.

    • Gregory Garber in response to Jack Hatfield

      agreed. and that is precisely why Waltham shouldn’t even be within shouting distance of the top ten. and why Medford is overrated.

 

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