Admissions

New Rankings Reveal Best College Locations

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This is the week for many major Early Action (EA) and Early Decision (ED) college application outcomes, which will arrive in email inboxes and maybe even a few physical mailboxes. Some early applicants already have received their decisions, so those high school seniors and their parents are now pondering the consequences, both good and not so good, about the news. For the others, that news is on the way.

One of the most important aspects of making an enrollment decision concerns cost. The costs of a particular college are known. Tuition, room and board, student fees -- plus textbook and travel estimates -- are available on schools’ websites. What is lesser (or completely) unknown is the cost of living for a particular college town or city.


Granted, if you’re going to be going to college in New York City, San Francisco, Paris or Hong Kong, you already know that it’s exceedingly expensive to live in those cities. But what if, come spring, after you’ve received all of your admission decisions, you need to find out living costs for a less-well-known area? That can be more difficult.

However, thanks to a new report from WalletHub, you can get quick a look at college town and city costs, along with some other helpful information. I received this data just today, so it’s as fresh as can be. The report, 2019’s Best College Towns & Cities in America, includes overall rankings, rankings by city size and expert answers to common questions, as well as other features.

Check the Highlights

To give you a taste of what you can find there, I want to detail some highlights for you. Obviously, not everyone will find all the answers s/he is looking for, but there’s enough information to give a majority of seniors who will be making enrollment decisions some key economic data that could be a factor when choosing among multiple choices.

First, let’s take a look at WalletHub’s methodology. There’s an extensive explanation about how they (the byline for this report cites Adam McCann, financial writer) arrived at their findings. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

In order to determine the best college towns and cities in America, WalletHub examined 415 cities of varying sizes across three key dimensions: 1) Wallet Friendliness, 2) Social Environment and 3) Academic & Economic Opportunities.

We evaluated those three key dimensions using 30 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with 100 representing the most favorable conditions for college students. For metrics marked with an asterisk (*), we used the square root of the population to calculate the population size in order to avoid overcompensating for minor differences across cities. 

Finally, we determined each town and city’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.

In this report, including the above tables, “cities” refers to both cities and towns for simplicity. We limited our selection of cities to those with a university or college population of at least 7,500 students. Some cities that met the college-population criterion were excluded from the analysis due to lack of available data. The cities were categorized based on the following population-size guidelines:

- Large Cities: More than 300,000 people

- Midsize Cities: 125,000 to 300,000 people

- Small Cities: Fewer than 125,000 people

Please note that we considered only the city proper in each case and excluded any cities in the surrounding metro area.

As McCann states in his introduction regarding the importance of location cost considerations, “One of the most important steps in the process is the campus visit, which often includes a tour of the city or town that will serve as the student’s home for the next several years. Experts have argued that a school’s geographical location is just as important as a strong curriculum and supportive school environment to a student’s academic success and personal development. As student living expenses can reach up to $26,200 for a 12-month period, students should try to find the most bang for their buck.”

Austin Ranks High

So, with that background information in mind, let’s take a look at some rankings. Here are the Top 10:

1. Austin, Texas

2. Orlando, Fla.

3. Ann Arbor, Mich.

4. Provo, Utah

5. Rexburg, Idaho

6. Stevens Point, Wis.

7. Tampa, Fla.

8. West Lafayette, Ind.

9. Scottsdale, Ariz.

10. Las Vegas, Nev.

The rankings continue down to no. 415, which is rather amazing in my view. There’s a decent chance that your prospective college town or city could be listed.

Next, there is a “Ranking by City Size,” comparing large, midsize and small cities. Here’s an example of that:

Large: Austin ranked first, followed by Tampa and then Las Vegas.

Midsize: Orlando came in first, then Scottsdale and Gainesville, Fla.

Small: Ann Arbor ranked highest, with Provo and Rexburg rounding out the top three.

And so on.

There’s also a “Best Cities vs. Worst Cities” comparing lowest vs. highest for “Cost of Living for Young People,” “Share of Rental Units,” “Cost of Higher Education,” “Share of Part-Time Jobs,” “Brain Drain,” “Quality of Higher Education” and, finally, most vs. fewest for “Students per Capita” and “Nightlife Options per Capita.” That final comparison may be the most important criterion for some seniors.

Last of all, you can find some expert answers to the following questions, some of which you may also be asking:

- In deciding which college to attend, how important is the surrounding city/town?

- What are the benefits non-students get by living in a college city/town?

- Are college cities/towns a good option for retirees? What about families?

- How can parents prepare their children for managing finances in college (e.g., student loans, credit cards, etc.)?

- What are the advantages and disadvantages of going to college in-state versus out-of-state?

- How can local authorities make their cities/towns more appealing to both new students and other potential residents?

Information can be the best contributor to intelligent decisions. This WalletHub information provides an outstanding survey of how college locations compare. Study up!