Top 10 College Towns with a Social Side

Written by College Cliffs Team At, our team, comprising seasoned educators and counselors, is committed to supporting students on their journey through graduate studies. Our advisors, holding advanced degrees in diverse fields, provide tailored guidance, current program details, and pragmatic tips on navigating application procedures.

Reviewed by Linda Weems I got started researching colleges and universities about 10 years ago while exploring a second career. While my second career ended up being exactly what I’m doing now, and I didn’t end up going to college, I try to put myself in your shoes every step of the way as I build out College Cliffs as a user-friendly resource for prospective students.

Updated: February 26, 2024, Reading time: 10 minutes

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What ARE college towns? When can a place be called a “college town”?

A certain location doesn’t get to be labeled a “college town” merely because it has a university within its limits. Rather, a real college town is one where an academic institution becomes a distinctive feature of the city culture.

Many college towns and cities across the United States strive to retain their alumni; that is, their graduates prefer not to leave town. Characterized by a thriving economy and culture, these locations are ideal for a long-term stay, even for a graduate who typically would turn a new leaf, starting with the decision to leave.

College towns also offer unique benefits like low-cost living and a thriving social scene. It is always a pleasure to witness (and experience!) the hustle and bustle of student living. This is why most people, students or otherwise love living in a college town.

A lively community with top-notch universities and friendly neighborhoods define the perfect place for many–and college towns are a fit in these departments.

College Cliffs is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Why Students Choose College Towns Big on Social Life

Many alumni can attest that college is about more than just classes. One of the most crucial components is a vibrant social life in which students can develop personally.

An exclusive concentration on academics ignores one of the most significant aspects of the college experience: the ability to engage with students from diverse backgrounds.

Because humans are fundamentally social beings, they need to engage with others in their daily lives. We have a natural need to communicate with, talk to, and love other people to feel fulfilled. We profit not only from having friends who are there for us, but we also benefit from assisting others.

Friends and close family members help us in dealing with the stresses of daily life.

When anything is going on in our lives, we may find it difficult to think correctly, and talking to a friend can be really beneficial. This is why, after a long day at work, many men and women will come home and chat about it with their spouses.

We also call on our friends for assistance in resolving problems or issues. It is critical not to ignore your emotions. A life of work and no recreation is not a healthy way of life.

Allowing yourself time to have fun and relax provides a respite for your brain and enriches your life. Making friends and interacting with others in college is just as important as achieving good marks.

For many college students, being away from home for the first time carries with it a greater sense of independence. You no longer have to answer your parents or follow curfews. You can remain out till 3 a.m. without worrying about your parents or having to respond to them. 

Going to parties and nightclubs is an essential aspect of the college experience. It will assist you in breaking out of your shell while also providing you with the opportunity to meet new and fascinating individuals.

Many students love smoking hookah at a social gathering or a party to help them stay calm and relaxed. A hookah is used to smoke tobacco that has been sweetened and flavored.

There is a lot more to college than just sitting in a classroom or studying for a test. There are numerous ways to get to know your institution, create a professional network, and meet friends on campus. You can join or engage in a variety of:

Some of the most essential principles you may and should learn in college are time management and self-discipline. To have a successful life in college, you must carefully balance your class time, study time, social life, and even time for yourself to live a well-balanced existence. 

The time management skills listed are the same ones you’ll need to succeed in life after graduation when you have to balance a career, a social life, and a family.

It is not easy to build effective time management skills, but there are certain things you can do to help. Try making and sticking to a study schedule that includes specific days and times for studying and days and times for other activities such as social contacts.

INTERESTING READ: 30 Best College Town Pubs In The Northeast

#10 – Savannah, Georgia

Savannah, Georgia

Savannah is one of the most famous and beautiful cities in the South as well as the home of several colleges, most notably, the Savannah College of Art and Design. A degree from SCAD is highly respected in the arts community.

The city lies on the central east coast of Georgia, close to Tybee Island, and is known for the beautiful historic district and the famous Forsyth Park area.

Savannah also has a wonderful array of boutique shopping and local restaurants. If you live and study in a place lush with emerald canopies, cobblestone roads, and outstanding architecture, you’ll surely be enamored and have second thoughts about leaving!

#9 – Manhattan, Kansas

Manhattan, Kansas

Known locally as “The Little Apple”, thanks to its association with Manhattan in New York, Manhattan in the state of Kansas is a serious college town and the site of Kansas State University, one of the largest college campuses in Kansas with a wealth of student life activities.

It is also one of the largest research universities in the country that offers the best degree programs, including engineering and business.

While it excels in terms of academic competence, Manhattan is home to a wide range of bars, restaurants, and several other recreational options that are popular among residents and college students alike.

#8 – Malibu, California

Malibu, California

A favorite among Hollywood stars and with several songs pointing to its beauty, Malibu is one of California’s best must-visit spots. You can just imagine how much fun students of Pepperdine University are having with the irresistible beautiful waters and carpet-like sand of Malibu!

Its beachside community is world-famous for its “27 miles of scenic beauty,” as signs surrounding the area read.

That’s only icing on the cake because this popular spot is also home to several state parks and arts alliances. The hospitality and tourism industries are the biggest employers for college graduates.

#7 – Logan, Utah

Logan, Utah

A picturesque city located in Utah sits at the foot of an expanse of the magnificent Rocky Mountain range. The City of Logan boasts 40 miles of community Parks and the 18-mile Long Bear Lake.

You can hike, bike, ski, golf, fish, or stroll around one of Utah’s tourist spots any day of the week.

Its flagship college, Utah State University, offers excellent curricular and extracurricular options for students. There’s a lot in Logan for anyone considering making this city their beautiful home for the rest of their lives!

#6 – Ithaca, New York

Ithaca, New York

With more than a hundred gorges and waterfalls lying in its outskirts, Ithaca undoubtedly has one of the most beautiful landscapes not only in New York but in the whole country.

The town is also known for its amazing wineries. In fact, its wine trail includes 15 different wineries, a few distilleries, and a mead plant. Ithaca is home to Cornell University, ranked in the top 20 colleges in the country.

It offers the most academic variety among the Ivy League colleges, with over 93 different programs with a focus on Business, Engineering, Law, Medicine, and English. If you like a progressive yet laid-back area, it doesn’t get any better than Ithaca!

#5 – Gainesville, Florida

Gainesville, Florida

If Florida makes you think only of Disney World, think again. The world-famous theme park is not the only point of interest in the state. Located in the northern part of Florida, Gainesville holds the 8th largest campus in the country based on the number of enrollees.

It is also home to Santa Fe College and the birthplace of the popular sports drink Gatorade. Gainesville has been named a Tree City USA by the National Arbor Day Foundation, and this beautiful college town was ranked the number one place to live in all of North America.

#4 – Flagstaff, Arizona

Flagstaff, Arizona

Flagstaff in Arizona was voted the number 5 best spot for family vacations by Travel and Leisure Magazine, thanks to its kid-friendly atmosphere.

The city doesn’t only have the most family-friendly communities in the country but also the most incredible view of the night sky. And there’s no better place for stargazing than the Lowell Observatory!

Academically, Flagstaff is a standout as well. Northern Arizona University has one of the fastest-growing student populations in the state and is best known for programs in the health sciences and education.

#3 – Boulder, Colorado

Boulder, Colorado

Boulder is not only popular for its scenic mountain views; it is also the site of the University of Colorado. Best known for its programs in business and engineering, the University of Colorado is home to the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and the Hill District.

Boulder is one of the most liberal cities in the West, being a popular hippie destination in the 1960s.

The city is also a favorite among nature enthusiasts and outdoor activists who enjoy the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains areas.

The Pear Street Mall serves as the social center of Boulder, including its array of restaurants, specialty shops, and major department stores.

#2 – Burlington, Vermont

Burlington, Vermont

Burlington is where Jerry’s Ice Cream and the band Phish originated. Being the largest city in the state, Burlington proudly houses a number of famous landmarks, such as the Emily Post Institute.

The city is located on the beautiful Lake Champlain, and much of it is a resort area. It is home to the University of Vermont which boasts one of the highest job placement rates in the country.

Statistically, 85% of UVM graduates successfully land jobs in their field of study. The university is best known for its programs in Education, Psychology, and Physical Therapy.

#1 – Athens, Georgia

Athens, Georgia

Founded in 1785, the University of Georgia is the state’s first-ever university located in Athens. Athens is a small college town with an excellent cultural community, evidencing the residents’ love for the arts, theater, and music.

In fact, the city is called “Live Music Central” for its many music venues and music focus. Athens is also home to several nationally recognized artists and actors. Athens hosts a fun annual summer festival.


Livability, the presence of top-rated universities, student-to-resident ratio, cultural offerings, and large companies as employers can be your top college degree search considerations.

Apart from the town being an academic center, the palpable vibe of the city and the sense of economic security that entices you to stay after graduation make it a truly great college town.