By Sarah

If you don’t know much about me, I’m in a very transitional phase in my life right now. I recently quit one job and I am about to start another [major] one. So during this two month hiatus, I have some serious free time on my hands. It’s a strange feeling, and it’s fun for about three days. Then, stir-crazy starts to set in and I gotta pick something to fill up my time. So what do I do?

Duh. Travel. Visit people who like to have fun and will let me stay for free. Who could that be…?  Oh yes. College students. Good thing I know /am related to lots of those.

I recently got back from a pretty awesome weekend visiting my younger brother who is finishing up his undergrad at Indiana University in Bloomington. And I will be taking off the next two consecutive weekends to visit more family at schools in Mairetta Ohio and Lexington Kentucky. (We grew up smack-dab in the middle of the Midwest if you didn’t pick up on that).

At any rate, with all this college visiting underway, I got to thinking about college towns and what makes one great. And it’s okay for everyone to have their biases, because they are often one’s own alma mater. (GO ARIZONAWILDCATS! )

Ahem.  *putting my bias aside*

First things first. Large cities cannot be deemed “college towns” in the traditional sense. A college town, by my definition, is an area that mostly revolves around the student population and academia. Which means: New York, Chicago, Dallas, etc cannot be a contender. As much as I love those places, they are not eligible.

College of Charleston sits right on the Carolina coast, and yes I stole this picture from a real estate website because it was just that pretty.

Next, a great college town has a distinctive identity that is unique to the school. For example, the town where I just spent the weekend; Bloomington Indiana. Upon stepping foot on that campus I could feel the Hoosier spirit. (A Hoosier is a “native of the state of Indiana”. D- for creativity but they make up for it in other areas). The amount of pride in that town is palpable and resonates from every student, townie and bartender alike. Perhaps it is their futile support of their football team, or their unwavering hatred of Perdue. But the town of Bloomington knows how to sustain a school.

Another factor to amazing college towns: proximity. Proximity to what you ask? Anything interesting that makes for good local flavor. I tend to favor towns near major bodies of water, which ups a town’s “sunshine-index.” A schools proximity to other rivaling schools also makes for interesting conflict. For example: Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill are within a scant 12 miles of each other and the resulting rivalry is seriously one for the record books.  And finally, let’s not forget universities that are close to the borders of other countries. Mexican influences (or Canadian for that matter) makes for great local food and an easy getaway for Spring Break.

Campus of Ole Miss, aka University of Mississippi, has one of the highest rates of Greek life participation in the country.

Finally, a great college town must have an amazing nightlife. I know everyone defines ‘partying’ a little differently but it was a large part of my undergraduate experience, so therefore is a factor taken into serious consideration. (Sorry BYU. I won’t be visiting any time soon). Whether a school centers around its Greek Community, or the bar scene, or house parties, the nightlife says a lot about a college and its town. And when I arrive somewhere new, I like to make a beeline for the epicenter of the bar scene and find the place with the most locals and the most school-related memorabilia on the walls. A wide selection of microbrews and TVs for game-watching don’t hurt either.

Still, I think a combination of bars, Greek life, and traditional house parties creates the best atmosphere and is the most conducive to a diverse nightlife.

So there you have it. There are so many amazing college towns all across this country. I wish I could visit and experience them all. And perhaps, in time, I will. But for now here is my personal top five, just for kicks. See if you agree.

  1. Tucson, Arizona. Home of the University of Arizona Wildcats. Because, obviously.
  2. Berkeley, California. UC Berkeley.
  3. Gainesville, Florida. University of Florida Gators.
  4. Austin, Texas. UT Austin (I know I said “no big cities” but Austin is just an amazing place to be in college).
  5. Bloomington Indiana. For the sports-obsessed Hoosiers who showed me a pretty good time last weekend.
    Berkeley California is the total package; nightlife, culture, and tons of political activism to boot.