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 Waterloo, IA

This small town, home to Allen College and Hawkeye Community College, has a remarkably low cost of living, and new businesses are cropping up all of the time. The much larger University of Northern Iowa, enrollment 13,000, is located in neighbouring Cedar Falls.

Student concentration: 118.4 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $635

Income per capita: $36,605

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#18 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: 145 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $631

Income per capita: $26,872

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#17 Manhattan, KS

Kansas State Wildcats can expect to make a fair amount of money once they graduate. With an average income of $US41,208, Manhattan residents have some of the highest earnings of the small towns on this list.

Student concentration: 194.2 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $US830

Income per capita: $41,208

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#16 Burlington, VT

The state's biggest city may have a higher cost of living than some of these other towns, but students at the University of Vermont can take advantage of a thriving arts scene -- there are 57.6 arts and leisure establishments for every 100,000 people, and 42.8% of the workforce are employed in creative-class jobs.

Student concentration: 118.8 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $1,280

Income per capita: $41,770

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#14 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 $US3,424 was spent on academic research and development in this city in 2011.

Student concentration: 261.9 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $837

Income per capita: $28,943

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#13 Morgantown, WV

West Virginia University's main campus is here, which means there's plenty of educated people around. In fact, nearly half of the city's young people have a bachelor's degree or higher.

Student concentration: 183.5 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $742

Income per capita: $33,452

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#12 Columbia, MO

The home of the University of Missouri ranked in the top five in a number of categories: cost of living, entrepreneurial growth, and percentage of population with at least a bachelor's degree.

Student concentration: 205.5 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $704

Income per capita: $35,947

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#11 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: 211.3 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $749

Income per capita: $30,002

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#9 Charlottesville, VA

This city of 202,000 is where the prestigious University of Virginia is located, and its residents have the highest average income of all of the college towns on this list. Charlottesville also has the highest percentage of people working in creative jobs, with 49.5% of the workforce employed in education, art, design, entertainment, science, and engineering.

Student concentration: 145.6 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $1,099

Income per capita: $42,558

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#8 Blacksburg, VA

There's no brain drain in Blacksburg, home of Virginia Tech. Of all of the college towns in the country, Blacksburg has the highest year-to-year increase in the percentage of residents who hold an advanced degree.

Student concentration: 247.5 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $765

Income per capita: $28,788

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#5 Iowa City, IA

Graduates of the University of Iowa have a good chance of getting a job in their college town -- Iowa City's 3.1% unemployment rate is the lowest of the bunch.

Student concentration: 200.6 students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $853

Income per capita: $38,556

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#4 Crestview, FL

This city may not have one huge college campus, but Embry-Riddle and Northwest Florida State College both have branch locations nearby. Crestview and its neighbouring cities Fort Walton Beach and Destin ranked high for college students because of its residents' high average income, and new businesses are being started often (543.4 net increase in total # of businesses per 100,000 people).

Student concentration: 82.3 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $902

Income per capita: $41,852

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#3 State College, PA

Penn State's hometown earned high points for having a high research capacity ($5,137 was spent on research and development in 2011), accessible transportation (17.4% of workers use public transit or walk), and the third highest concentration of college students.

Student concentration: 272.8 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $964

Income per capita: $33,473

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: 302.8 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $720

Income per capita: $35,053

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

#1 Ithaca, NY

Home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, this city in upstate New York ranked first for a number of reasons. It had the highest research capacity ($7,694 spent on research and development in 2011), the highest percentage of residents with at least a bachelor's degree (63.3%), the highest percentage of creative-class workers (49.5%), and the highest percentage of workers travelling by public transportation or on foot (21.3%).

Student concentration: 279.7 college students per 1,000 people

Average rent for 2-bedroom apartment: $US1,001

Income per capita: $34,643

Source: American Institute for Economic Research

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