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Ready to Move? Best College Towns 2013

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It’s generally recommended that high school students take a school’s size into consideration when planning for college, but its location is just as important. Adjusting to big city life after growing up in a small town is exhilarating for some yet traumatic for others, and the opposite is also true.

From the scenery and weather to the bar and restaurant options—among other things— multiple factors contribute to great college towns. The American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) used data from the Census Bureau, Department of Housing and Urban Development and other federal agencies to its create the AIER College Destinations Index, a list of the best college towns.

Some of the 12 criteria used to create the best college towns lists include the following:

  • Number of students per 1,000 population
  • Percentage of students that are non-U.S. residents
  • Percentage of young adults and percentage of total population with college degrees
  • Average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment
  • Per capita income

The top three best college towns by total residential population are included below:

Best College Towns (Less than 250,000 residents)

1. Ithaca, NY | Home to Cornell University and Ithaca College

Cornell University

2. Ames, IA | Home to Iowa State University of Science and Technology

3. State College, PA | Home to Pennsylvania State University, University Park

Major Metropolitan Areas (Over 2.5 million residents)

1. Boston, MA | Home to Boston University, Northeastern University, Suffolk University, Boston College, the University of Massachusetts Boston and others

Northeastern University

2. Washington, DC | Home to American University, Catholic University of America, Gallaudet University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Howard University and others

3. New York City, NY | Home to Barnard College, Columbia University, New York University, The New School, Fordham University, The Julliard School and others

Mid-sized Metropolitan Areas (1 to 2.5 million residents)

1. San Jose, CA | Home to San Jose State University, National Hispanic University, California University of Management and Technology and others

San Jose State University

2. Austin, TX | Home to University of Texas at Austin, St. Edward’s University, Austin Community College, Concordia University and others

3. Oklahoma City, OK | Home to Oklahoma City University, University of Oklahoma and others

Small Metropolitan Areas (250,000 to 1 million residents)

1. Ann Arbor, MI | Home to University of Michigan, Concordia University Ann Arbor and others

University of Michigan

2. Madison, WI | Home to University of Wisconsin—Madison, Edgewood College and others

3. Boulder, CO | Home to University of Colorado at Boulder and Naropa University

College towns are popular with families and retirees, too—large universities commonly have thousands of employees and the cost of living is often lower thanks to the influx of students and their spending dollars during the school year.

While a school’s academic offerings and affordability are critical factors to consider, its location will most likely also play a role in your decision making. Some students are willing to go to college just about anywhere as long as it’s a long drive from home. Others wish to stay closer to their families and hometowns. Be sure to research a school’s crime statistics and safety, too!

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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.


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