College in the United States is expensive, in no small part because American students often choose to move away from home and live on, or near, campus.
These costs of living can contribute to the financial struggles college students face. One study found that 36% of college students are considered food and housing insecure, meaning they do not get enough to eat or struggle to find stable housing.
Unsurprisingly, when students are forced to worry about when their next meal will be or where they will sleep at night, their academic performances suffer. But a great college town has the potential to offer students a safe and affordable place to study and live.
In a recent report, WalletHub examined 415 cities of varying sizes across the country to rank the best college towns in America. WalletHub considered 31 different variables of cities with at least 7,500 college students across three catagories: wallet friendliness (which weighted factors like housing costs, food costs and average student debt totals), social environment and academic and economic opportunities.
Here are the 10 best college towns of 2019, according to WalletHub:
Total score: 66.49
Wallet friendliness ranking: 196
Social environment ranking: 2
Academic and economic opportunity ranking: 54
Total score: 65.67
Wallet friendliness ranking: 73
Social environment ranking: 3
Academic and economic opportunity ranking: 91
Total score: 63.13
Wallet friendliness ranking: 309
Social environment ranking: 42
Academic and economic opportunity ranking: 2
Total score: 63.02
Wallet friendliness ranking: 179
Social environment ranking: 5
Academic and economic opportunity ranking: 103
Total score: 62.64
Wallet friendliness ranking: 245
Social environment ranking: 49
Academic and economic opportunity ranking: 25
Total score: 60.55
Wallet friendliness ranking: 376
Social environment ranking: 7
Academic and economic opportunity ranking: 24
Total score: 60.2
Wallet friendliness ranking: 341
Social environment ranking: 1
Academic and economic opportunity ranking: 85
Total score: 60.03
Wallet friendliness ranking: 94
Social environment ranking: 4
Academic and economic opportunity ranking: 249
Total score: 59.93
Wallet friendliness ranking: 136
Social environment ranking: 43
Academic and economic opportunity ranking: 105
Total score: 59.75
Wallet friendliness ranking: 10
Social environment ranking: 112
Academic and economic opportunity ranking: 121
Since each student is looking for something different, WalletHub also broke their results down by size, categorizing large cities as those with more than 300,000 people, mid-sized cities as those with between 300,000 and 125,000 people and small cities as those with fewer than 125,000 people.
Here are the 10 best large college towns:
1. Austin, Texas
2. Tampa, Florida
3. Seattle, Washington
4. San Diego, California
5. Las Vegas, Nevada
6. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
7. Raleigh, North Carolina
8. Minneapolis, Minnesota
9. Atlanta, Georgia
10. Denver, Colorado
Here are the 10 best mid-sized college towns:
1. Orlando, Florida
2. Scottsdale, Arizona
3. Salt Lake City, Utah
4. Reno, Nevada
5. Gainesville, Florida
6. Cincinnati, Ohio
7. Henderson, Nevada
8. Madison, Wisconsin
9. Tempe, Arizona
10. Durham, North Carolina
Here are the 10 best small college towns:
1. Ann Arbor, Michigan
2. Provo, Utah
3. Rexburg, Idaho
4. Charleston, Illinois
5. Stevens Point, Wisconsin
6. West Lafayette, Indiana
7. Charlottesville, Virginia
8. Orem, Utah
9. Cambridge, Massachusetts
10. Santa Barbara, California
According to WalletHub, the number one college town of 2019 is Austin, Texas. Home to the University of Texas at Austin, this town scored second in the country for social environment but also had a strong ranking for academic and economic opportunities.
Several cities such as Seattle, Washington, performed well on WalletHub's ranking by striking a similar balance.
They beat more expensive, but still popular, college towns. For example, WalletHub found that Stanford, California, had the highest cost of living for college students.
Robert J. Birgeneau, professor of Physics, Materials Science and Engineering, and Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, says college students should consider where a school is located during their application process.
"In my opinion, it is an important factor since it plays an essential role in the students' lives beyond the university," he tells WalletHub.
And while cities like these may be attractive places for students, David Labaree, professor emeritus of Education at Stanford University, tells WalletHub that college towns can also offer benefits to residents who aren't currently in school themselves.
"It's got a lot of advantages," he says. "The key is that a college turns a town into a cultural center, which means you can have the cultural attractions of a big city without big city hassles and housing prices. It also supports local schools by motivating students to think that college is doable and worth doing."
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