10 Best “Hidden Gem” College Towns in the U.S.

7. Binghamton, New York

SUNY Binghamton
Greynol1, School of Management, Binghamton University, public domain, details on Wikimedia Commons

Binghamton University ranks No. 31 on U.S. News & World Report’s list of top public schools, making it the No. 1 public university in New York state.

Not only is a solid institution, the town itself offers students plenty of opportunities to learn outside the classroom, with major employers including Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, IBM, and Maines Paper and Food Service. It’s also centrally located to other big cities: a one-hour drive to Ithaca, New York; a three-hour drive to New York City; and a three-and-a-half-hour drive to Philadelphia.

The town itself is also a creative hub. It hosts a number of festivals and houses a number of art galleries and museums.

There’s plenty for students to do when they need a break from studying. They can shop Antique Row, escape on a hiking trail, or even take a tour of the town’s mosaic displays.

Home to: Binghamton University (also known as SUNY Binghamton)

6. Middlebury, Vermont

Recently ranked No. 7 on U.S. News & World Report’s list of top national liberal arts colleges, Middlebury College offers plenty of open green spaces for students to mill about. The school itself is just a short walk from Middlebury’s historic downtown area, which sits along Otter Creek.

The town itself is small, but it gives students just what they need: a locally owned bookstore, a sporting goods store, a bundle of restaurants, and even a board game shop. In addition, it features the Vermont Folklife Center, the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, and the Middlebury College of Art.

Each year, Middlebury hosts the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival, which features works from around the world, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the oldest writers’ conference in the country.

If students are looking to escape for the day, they can get outside and go skiing, kayaking, fly-fishing, golfing, biking, or hiking. In fact, there are several hiking trails that start in downtown Middlebury.

According to the postmodern architect Robert Venturi, “Middlebury looks like what everyone things an American campus should be but seldom is.”

Home to: Middlebury College

5. San Luis Obispo, California

San Luis Obispo
Gregg Erickson, Cal-Poly-performing-arts-center, public domain, details on Wikimedia Commons

San Luis Obispo (also known as SLO) is one of the oldest cities in California and is located between Los Angeles and San Francisco, exposing students to plenty of internship and job opportunities.

The city itself has a lively arts and culture scene with a number of museums, art galleries, and theaters. Additionally, there’s the annual SLO Film Festival, Festival Mazaic, and Cal Poly Rodeo.

San Luis Obispo has also become quite a foodie destination, with plenty farm-to-table eateries, local breweries and wineries, and top chefs.

If students are looking to get outside for some fresh air, the town boasts 315 sunny days a year. Because of its location — tucked between the beaches and mountains — students enjoy a variety of activities, like surfing, hiking, cycling, and camping.

Oh, and don’t forget to stop by the town’s unofficial landmark, Bubblegum Alley. Leave your mark with a chewed piece of gum; there are an estimated two million pieces already there.

Home to: California Polytechnic State University, Cuesta College

4. Fairbanks, Alaska

Fairbanks, Alaska
FairbanksMike, Downtown Fairbanks, Alaska, CC BY 2.0

It’s not that Fairbanks, Alaska, is a lesser known city. It’s actually probably one of the more well-known cities in Alaska. But when it comes to college towns, you wouldn’t traditionally think Alaska has the best, and that’s what makes Fairbanks such a hidden gem.

The school itself has more than 8,000 students, and it’s a tight-knit community. That sense of community bleeds into the town, too, where with just a short drive or bus trip, students have access to bookstores, coffeeshops, parks, and restaurants.

If students want to get outside, there’s plenty to do — even in the winter. They can visit a nearby reindeer ranch, enjoy the Northern Lights, or even check out natuaral hot springs.

Here’s a fun school tradition: When temperatures drop to 40 degrees below zero, UAF students line up at the school’s entrance sign where the temperature glows on display and pose for photos in swimsuits. It’s called the “40 Below Club,” and there’s even a Facebook page for it.

Home to: University of Alaska Fairbanks

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