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When Niche’s data team developed our Best Towns in America ranking they quickly noticed that a lot of the Best Towns were also college towns. We were curious if “college towns” as a whole are outperforming non-college towns and if the quality of the college in that town impacts that town’s quality of life. For the purposes of this study, we defined a college town as a town with at least one traditional college where the full time undergraduate population is at least 20% of the town’s population. 

We started by looking at the overall score distribution for college towns and non-college towns from our Best Towns ranking calculation. Our overall scores are based on livability factors like safety, schools, jobs and housing. Higher town scores indicate a higher quality of life for the town’s residents. Here’s what we found: 

Next we looked at the Education Score Distributions for College Towns and Non-College Towns. These education scores, based on our K12 ranking and analysis, inform our ranking “Towns with the Best Public Schools in America” A high education score indicates that a town has great local schools with invested teachers and positive student outcomes. You can see how our Best Public Schools ranking is calculated here. Here’s what we found:


Finally, we were curious if the quality of the college in the college town had any correlation to the livability of that town. To see if there was a correlation we created a scatter plot of College Overall Score and College Town Overall Score.


Exactly what factors are driving this mild correlation are not clear.  However, it is clear that a few towns stand out as homes to great public schools, colleges, and are great places to live. you can view our full list of “Best College Towns in America” here.

Outstanding College Towns that stood out in this study:

hanover-NHHanover, NHHanover is midsize town in New Hampshire with 8,546 residents and is home to Dartmouth College. While Hanover is an outstanding town overall and offers a college that we rank as #27 for overall best colleges, it did not make our list of the Top 25 College Towns in America because we are lacking safety data for the town.
state-college-PAState College, PAState College is a little larger at about 41,948 residents but has very low unemployment and a very educated population. State College is home of Penn State, a technologically advanced research university that also boasts an exciting social scene that centers around Nittany Lion football. Penn State may be known as a party-school to some, but the town of State College provides a wonderful balance of quiet relaxation, very low-crime, and exceptional K-12 public schools.
Chapel-Hill-NCChapel Hill, NCChapel Hill has about 58,058 residents and is home of UNC–Chapel Hill. This impressive and diverse town has low unemployment and low crime rates and is well known for great places to eat and a solid sense of community. Chapel Hill has many options for top K12 public and private schools and UNC–Chapel Hill ranks as #14 for our best overall colleges.