The Ivy Coach Daily

October 31, 2023

The Best College Towns and Cities in the U.S.

Students walk in front of Robinson Hall, covered in yellow leaves from a tree out front, at Dartmouth College.
Dartmouth College, situated in Hanover, New Hampshire is a quintessential college town.

Any list of the best college towns and cities in the United States is, by nature, subjective. And it will inevitably leave out some deserving contenders. But if you’re asking Ivy Coach to list our favorite college towns and cities, well, here goes:

The 9 Best College Towns in the U.S.

1. Cambridge, Massachusetts

Both Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are situated in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT’s campus, which even features a nuclear reactor, is about a mile long, divided in half by Massachusetts Avenue. A highlight is the MIT Museum, with its incredible collection of STEM-based exhibitions. Not to be outdone, Harvard’s beautiful campus is nestled alongside Harvard Square, complete with buskers, block parties, and markets. We’re fans of grabbing a coffee and enjoying the people-watching on display. Both schools are a stone’s throw from Boston, where you can take in a Red Sox game and then get fresh seafood in the harbor.

2. Hanover, New Hampshire

Hanover is home to Dartmouth College. A college with access to both nature and culture? Yes, please. Canoe down the Connecticut River – which runs alongside Dartmouth’s campus – hike the Appalachian Trail, and then go full-on culturista at the Hopkins Center for the Arts and the Hood Museum. Who says you can’t have it all?

3. Durham, North Carolina

Durham, home to Duke University, buzzes with excitement without the stress of a sprawling metropolis. Duke’s campus is home to highlights like a neo-Gothic chapel and the Duke Lemur Center, the largest collection of these primates outside of Madagascar. The Tobacco Trail, once a crucial rail line, is now a beloved public recreation area.

4. New York, New York

For a maximalist college experience, New York, home to Columbia University, is the place to be. Stay close to campus and enjoy the MET Cloisters and Central Park. Or hop on the subway to take in a Broadway show, cheer for one of the city’s two baseball teams, and enjoy the best restaurants on earth.

5. Princeton, New Jersey

With battle monuments and even Battlefield State Park, Princeton, New Jersey, home of Princeton University, is proudly past meets present. The beautiful campus echoes this theme, with a mix of architecture ranging from neo-Gothic dorms to glassy science labs. Bonus: it’s equidistant from both NYC and Philly. Enjoy their cultural offerings but return home to somewhere chill.

6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, which is home to the University of Pennsylvania, is a city of contradictions. Historic, yet modern. Artsy, yet sporty. With iconic locales like Rittenhouse Square, a great food scene, and sprawling Fairmount Park – the University of Pennsylvania’s student body is spoilt for things to do. We’re fans of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, whose collection includes Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.

7. Providence, Rhode Island

Brown University, situated in Providence, Rhode Island, was built at the same time as the neighborhoods surrounding it, making it tightly integrated into the city’s urban fabric. The hipster-friendly Fox Point neighborhood is walkable from campus. Top tip: Providence’s Federal Hill neighborhood is known for having some of the best Italian food in the nation.

8. Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., home to Georgetown University, is inarguably an epicenter of world affairs. With views of the Potomac from Georgetown’s campus, Hoyas enjoy an incredible concentration of museums, historical landmarks, top tier restaurants, and even the world-famous cherry blossoms that happen in the Tidal Basin each spring. Casual.

9. Stanford, California

For those wanting their college experience to involve winters that stay above freezing, Stanford, California, home of the eponymous Stanford University, is the winner. Hike near the Dish –  a still-in-use radio antenna – and marvel at the works in the Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden. Vibrant San Francisco is only a short trip away.

Applicants Shouldn’t Restrict Their College List Based on Geography

The location of your child’s college probably isn’t going to make or break their education, but it can certainly enhance their experience. So, whether they’re a city mouse, country mouse, or California mouse, we encourage them to not restrict their choices with nonsensical lines like, “There’s nothing for me to do there” or “It’s in the middle of nowhere.” Because, notice, we didn’t include New York University, which is located in New York City but doesn’t have the campus that Columbia boasts. A city, in itself, does not a college experience make.


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