The 20 Best College Towns In America

Ithaca cornellMary Robnett/Business InsiderCornell’s campus overlooking Lake Cayuga, in Ithaca, NY

When picking a college, a school’s location can sometimes be just as important as its academics.

The American Institute of Economic Research has released its latest College Destination Index, which compared college towns around the country based on their academic environment, quality of life, and professional opportunity.

The index separated the destinations by population size. Here we’ve rounded up the best of the small college towns, all with a population under 250,000.

We’ve included select statistics about each town; click here to see the full report.

#20 Logan, UT

This mountain town, site of Utah State University, has the lowest average rent of all of the college towns on this list. Its 3.6% unemployment rate is also one of America's lowest.

Student concentration: 153.6 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $637

Median earnings:$19,389

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#19 Mankato, MN

Minnesota State University Mankato is the second-largest public university in the state, and the surrounding town has a high number of new residents with college degrees.

Student concentration: 197.6 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $704

Median earnings:$24,737

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#18 Binghamton, NY

The upstate New York home of Binghamton University is a new addition to this list this year, and has a high number of international students.

Student concentration: 102.8 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $692

Median earnings:$26,188

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#17 Grand Forks, ND

The home of the University of North Dakota is one of the few college towns with a net gain in entrepreneurial activity.

Student concentration: 162.8 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $725

Median earnings:$25,865

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#16 Morgantown, WV

West Virginia University's main campus is here, which means there's plenty of educated people around -- as well as a high number of places to explore the arts.

Student concentration: 196.1 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $752

Median earnings:$21,550

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#15 Bloomington, IN

Indiana University's flagship campus and its more than 32,000 undergrads are located here, and the town has the third-highest percentage of workers in innovative fields.

Student concentration: 231.4 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $779

Median earnings:$18,016

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#14 Fairbanks, AK

The University of Alaska Fairbanks is the oldest college in the state and Alaska's flagship public university. Fairbanks has the highest 'brain gain' of any college town, taking in the most new residents with college degrees.

Student concentration: 119.1 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $1,326

Median earnings:$32,255

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#13 Lawrence, KS

Nearly 20,000 students attend the University of Kansas in Lawrence, which may explain why 48% of the city's population has at least a bachelor's degree.

Student concentration: 239.6 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $779

Median earnings:$21,137

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#12 Lafayette, IN

West Lafayette, located just across the river from its sister city, is home to the Purdue University Boilermakers. In addition to being one of the most affordable cities for college students, it's also the most diverse on this list -- 18.2% of students come from another country.

Student concentration: 213.2 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $780

Median earnings:$21,403

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#11 Charlottesville, VA

This city of 202,000 is where the prestigious University of Virginia is located, and its residents have the second-highest earning potential of all of the college towns on this list.

Student concentration: 135.1 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $1,008

Median earnings:$31,421

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#10 College Station, TX

College Station, home of the Texas A&M Aggies, ranked third in terms of research capacity -- the National Science Foundation found that $US14,112 was spent on academic research and development in this city in 2012.

Student concentration: 122.1 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $845

Median earnings: $US20,047

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#9 Missoula, MT

This mountain town is home to the University of Montana and has the highest concentration of arts, entertainment, and recreation establishments of any college town.

Student concentration: 122.1 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $845

Median earnings:$23,758

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#7 Champaign-Urbana, IL

32,000 undergrads attend class at the University of Illinois here. These sister cities ranked second in terms of student diversity (16.6% of students are non-U.S. residents) and fifth in city accessibility (15.1% of workers commute by public transportation, bike, or walk).

Student concentration: 216.9 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $862

Median earnings:$23,615

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#6 Fargo, ND

Graduates of North Dakota State University can enjoy a shockingly low unemployment rate (3.2%) and cheap rent ($639) in this northern plains city.

Student concentration: 126.8 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $684

Median earnings: $30,104

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#5 State College, PA

Penn State's hometown earned high points for having a high research capacity ($18,986 was spent on research and development in 2012), accessible transportation (16.5% of workers use public transit or walk), and the third highest concentration of college students.

Student concentration: 270.8 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $914

Median earnings: $21,953

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#4 Iowa City, IA

Graduates of the University of Iowa have a good chance of getting a job in their college town -- Iowa City's 3.3% unemployment rate is the second-lowest of the bunch.

Student concentration: 197.0 students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $851

Median earnings: $26,740

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#3 Corvallis, OR

Oregon State University is located in this relatively small town of 85,000. Corvallis is the second-most accessible city on this list, with 18.4% of workers commuting by public transportation, biking, or walking.

Student concentration: 229.5 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $824

Median earnings: $19,949

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#2 Ames, IA

As the small-town home of Iowa State University, Ames has the highest student concentration of any of the college towns on this list. It also has the second-lowest unemployment rate, an incredibly low 3.2%.

Student concentration: 299.0 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $717

Median earnings: $18,654

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

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