College application season is in full swing, and prospective students are busy figuring out which schools to apply to and where to call home for the next several years. When picking a school, it’s important to consider how the surrounding community can contribute to a successful and enjoyable higher education experience, and a new report by the personal-finance website WalletHub compared more than 400 U.S. cities based on 31 key indicators across three dimensions: wallet friendliness, social environment, and academic/economic opportunities.

Texas is Tops

WalletHub’s report found that Austin, TX is the best college city in America. Ann Arbor, MI, Orlando, FL, Tampa, FL, and Scottsdale, AZ rounded out the rest of the top five.

“Austin, TX, home of the University of Texas at Austin, is the best college town for 2024, in part because it offers both a high quality of education and lots of activities,” said Cassandra Happe, WalletHub analyst. “When students in Austin aren’t busy studying or tailgating for games at Memorial Stadium, they’ll find plenty of ways to stay entertained. Austin has a ton of nightlife options – the city is known as the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ and it’s famous for its Tex-Mex cuisine, plus students can enjoy recreation at Lake Travis or attend the city’s abundant stand-up comedy sets.”

Best vs. Worst

  • Charleston, Illinois, has the lowest cost of a two-bedroom apartment rental, $848 per month, which is 4.8 times lower than in Santa Cruz, California, the city with the highest at $4,054 per month.
  • Brownsville, Texas, has the lowest cost-of-living index for young people, 77.62, which is 2.9 times lower than Stanford, California, the city with the highest at 223.44.
  • Savannah, Georgia, has the lowest cost of higher education, $17,414 per year, which is 4.8 times lower than in Evanston, Illinois, the city with the highest at $83,838 per year.
  • Stony Brook University, New York, has the most enrolled students (per 1,000 residents), 957, which is 22.3 times more than Cape Coral, Florida, the city with the fewest at 43.


Best Large College Towns*
1. Austin, TX
2. Orlando, FL
3. Tampa, FL
4. Las Vegas, NV
5. Raleigh, NC
6. Atlanta, GA
7. Miami, FL
8. Pittsburgh, PA
9. Columbus, OH
10. Seattle, WA


Best Midsize College Towns*
1. Scottsdale, AZ
2. Gainesville, FL
3. Boise, ID
4. Tempe, AZ
5. Charleston, SC
6. Salt Lake City, UT
7. St. Petersburg, FL
8. Tallahassee, FL
9. Cary, NC
10. Irvine, CA


Best Small College Towns*
1. Ann Arbor, MI
2. Charlottesville, VA
3. West Lafayette, IN
4. College Station, TX
5. Provo, UT
6. Laramie, WY
7. Wilmington, NC
8. Santa Barbara, CA
9. Oxford, OH
10. Boca Raton, FL

*For simplicity, the term “Towns” refers to both cities and towns.

More to Choose From

Some people may not be a fan of the hot climate of Austin and the other top-ranked large college cities, but there are plenty of good college towns throughout the country while the top college city is toward the extreme south of the country under-upper e way to the north. “The second best college town of 2023 in Ann Arbor, MI, boosted by high-ranking schools and affordable tuition costs. Ann Arbor is known for its scenic trails and art scene, so it’s great for students who want to explore and create,” said Happe.

“Coming in third place among the top college cities is Orlando, FL. Orlando boasts a ton of attractions for students to see during their breaks from studying, from its iconic Disney World to beautiful waterways and botanical gardens,” said Happe. “In-state tuition, room and board, and other college expenses are among the lowest in the country in Orlando. Plus, Orlando has the highest job growth rate of any city, at 8.69%, so it’s a good place for students to stay even after they’ve graduated.”

While these cities all have desirable features for college students, the best city for you will be one that combines all of the qualities that you find most important. “A big part of picking your ideal college is finding a town you can truly love being in during your school years,” Happe stated. “The best college towns blend great academics with low costs, abundant activities, a high degree of, safety, and plenty of job opportunities.”

Tips for Finding a Great College Town

Check out school rankings: Looking at college rankings and finding some schools that offer good programs in your major can provide a starting point for you to research the areas they’re in and see which city would also be a good fit for you.

Don’t focus only on academics: While you’ll be spending a lot of time studying during college, being able to have fun during your free time is key to minimizing stress and staying happy. That’s why you should also consider whether a city offers activities that you’ll enjoy, from tourist attractions to good food to sports programs.

Consider the costs: College is expensive enough even before you consider the cost of living. Finding a city with a low cost of living can help minimize the need for student loans. Certain cities will provide you with better part-time work opportunities as well if you plan to have a job while you’re in school.

Talk to alumni: College graduates can give you a lot of skintight into not just the college they went to but also the surrounding area, including its attractions, food, cost of, living, and more. They can help you get a better idea of whether the general environment of the town or city will be a good fit for you.

Source: WalletHub