The Top 10 College Towns? Depends When You Ask

What would you rather read on an August Friday than a 10-best list, right? So here’s a ranking of the 10 best American college towns, as chosen by, a site that produces a seemingly endless stream of 10-best lists—“Top 10 Best BBQ Cities” (with Lexington, N.C., in the lead), “Top 10 Haunted Houses” (except there are only six, led by the Cedarhurst Mansion, in Huntsville, Ala.), and “Top 10 Summer Festivals” (No. 1 is Cheyenne Frontier Days, a celebration of cowboy culture in Cheyenne, Wyo.).

But enough of that. You don’t really care about the “Top 10 Romantic Cities” or the “Top 10 Spring Break Getaways for Families,” do you? Here are this year’s best college towns:

  1. Boulder, Colo.
  2. Ann Arbor, Mich.
  3. Gainesville, Fla.
  4. Columbia, Mo.
  5. Lexington, Ky.
  6. Iowa City, Iowa
  7. Missoula, Mont.
  8. Madison, Wis.
  9. Fayetteville, Ark.
  10. College Station, Tex.

How did the folks come up with that ranking? They say they “narrowed their search to cities with a high quality of life based on a range of factors from cost of living and walkability to cultural amenities and pollution levels.”

“They then focused on those cities where a university is the top employer and key economic driver. And finally, they considered student-to-resident ratios, educational attainment, college-led community-outreach programs and the percentage of 21- to 34-year-olds (to show that people stick around or move in after graduation).”

Such lists are bound to disappoint those who didn’t make the cutoff, but never fear: Apparently Livability emphasizes different criteria every year, because 2012′s list was markedly different:

  1. College Station, Tex.
  2. Oxford, Miss.
  3. Logan, Utah
  4. Champaign, Ill.
  5. Lawrence, Kan.
  6. Corvallis, Ore.
  7. Bloomington, Ind.
  8. Athens, Ga.
  9. Ann Arbor, Mich.
  10. Blacksburg, Va.

For that list, the site’s editors started with the Princeton Review’s ranking of best colleges and factored in students as a proportion of total population. “We also looked for towns where it’s clear the college is a big economic player in terms of jobs, as well as impacting the strength and diversity of the city’s retail sector. In our picks, the college is not only a major employer, but also the reason for more plentiful shops, restaurants, and entertainment businesses, most geared to younger people and academics. We also factored in cost of living and walkability.”

Sounds so scientific, doesn’t it? But wouldn’t a completely subjective list be just as much fun? Feel free to create you own in the comments below—and since doesn’t feel compelled to have 10 whatevers on a top-10 list, you shouldn’t either. Pick however many you like.

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