College towns thrive in a world all their own. Every single one — from Pullman, Washington to Coral Gables, Florida — is unique and offers different cultural tastes depending on where you find yourself. The nightlife in Germantown, Maryland might not be as exciting as Morgantown, West Virginia, but there is so much more to living in one of America’s best college towns than drinking with local fraternity bros.
From cost of living to finding your new favorite restaurant, each town is different in how it operates and draws prospective college students year after year. Perhaps no metric is more important, however, than the performance of each college and university’s athletic programs. Sports drive local businesses and, obviously, student applications every year, and plenty of schools spare no expense to make sure its sports teams perform at a high level.
In 2019, Sports Illustrated ranked what it believed to be the 10 best college towns in America to honor college football’s 150th season. From local culture to the music scenes, SI backed up its rankings with sound reasoning for every city and town. But there was one overarching theme, which is that the South reigns supreme once again.
Best College Towns in America
1. Madison, WI (University of Wisconsin)
2. Athens, GA (The University of Georgia)
3. Austin, TX (University of Texas)
4. Ann Arbor, MI (University of Michigan)
5. Columbia, MO (University of Missouri)
6. Boulder, CO (University of Colorado)
7. Oxford, MS (University of Mississippi)
8. Knoxville, TN (University of Tennessee)
9. College Station, TX (Texas A&M University)
10. Charlottesville, VA (University of Virginia)
Six Southern cities, five of which play football in the Southeastern Conference, made the cut. While Athens (home of the Georgia Bulldogs) and Columbia (where the Missouri Tigers play ball) landed in the top five, it’s going to ruffle a few feathers that major SEC cities like Tuscaloosa (University of Alabama) and Gainesville (University of Florida) weren’t included despite historic athletics programs and incredible on-campus environments.
Texas was the only state with multiple representatives, and both cities more than earned their ranking. SI called out Austin’s “hippie, college-town vibe” despite being one of America’s fastest-growing cities, and they also applauded College Station’s incredible Kyle Field, as well as Dixie Chicken for their fried food and beer.
Compare this list that has an athletics-first feel to a similar one created by BestCollegeReviews.org, however, and you’ll find a different take on what’s considered a great college town.
1. Boulder, CO
2. Ann Arbor, MI
3. Madison, WI
4. Ithaca, NY (Cornell University and Ithaca College)
5. Ames, IA (Iowa State University)
6. Berkeley, CA (University of California, Berkeley)
7. Chapel Hill, NC (University of North Carolina)
8. State College, PA (Penn State University)
9. Iowa City, IA (University of Iowa)
10. Corvallis, OR (Oregon State University)
I’ve never been to Iowa in my life, so if anyone can tell me how two small towns in the Midwest beat out some of the largest cities in the United States, I’d be happy to hear why.
Historic places steeped in tradition seems like the common theme of SI’s picks, and no where in the country are those values more important than in the South.