Special Report

25 Best College Towns in America

Detailed Findings

Some of the country’s largest and most productive research institutions dominate the economies of many of these cities. For example, in Middlesex County, which contains Cambridge, there are close to 50 colleges and universities that employ thousands of area workers.

Of the 25 cities on this list only five had unemployment rates that exceeded the national average rate of 4.4% in 2017.

Like Cambridge, higher education institutions in Ann Arbor, Michigan, contribute to a healthy economy. An average of just 3% of the city’s labor force was unemployed in 2017, one of the lowest unemployment rates of all U.S. cities.

The city also has the third highest share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree — more than 75% of the adult population has a college degree. In general, college towns tend to have higher college attainment rates than the nation as a whole. Of the cities on this list, all but two have a higher percentage of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree than the national rate of 31.3%.

Ann Arbor also has an expansive choice of restaurants, bodegas, and cafes, as well as quite a few recreational centers. This is the case in most of the best college towns. We also looked at bars specifically — a college town would not be complete without a healthy selection of drinking establishments. Nationwide, there are just over 12 for every 100,000 Americans. In 19 of the 25 cities on this list, the concentration of bars exceeds that national proportion.

A low or at least reasonable cost of living is helpful to any resident — perhaps especially so to college students who may not have reliable income. The average cost of living in all but five of the 25 cities is lower than the national average, though there are some notable exceptions. The cost of housing, for example, in the Los Angeles, Boston, Dallas, and Boulder, Colorado, areas is substantially higher than across the nation.


To identify the best college towns in America, 24/7 Wall St., 24/7 Wall St. considered the roughly 550 cities that the U.S. Census Bureau reported as having populations of more than 65,000 residents in 2016. Based on our analysis of the nation’s best cities to live in (click here to see full methodology), we reviewed the 250 top cities. Of those areas, we identified the 25 cities with the highest postsecondary enrollment as a percentage of the population. The percentages of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree in each city came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey and are 5-year estimates. The number of college and universities in each city came from the U.S. Department of Education. Annual unemployment for 2017 was obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of bars per 100,000 city residents came from the U.S. Census Bureau. All data is as of the most recent period for which data is available.

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