America’s Best College Towns: Which Ones Make the Grade?


Whether you’re a college student or the parent of one, the slew of educational expenses seems endless. The barrage of bills includes everything from tuition and books to food, transportation and, oh yeah, a place to live.

So where are the most affordable college towns that also offer plenty of fun things to do and academic and employment opportunities, for those who choose to stick around after graduation? Well, it depends on whether those young scholars prefer small towns, medium-size urban areas, or all-out big-city life.

Live-music hot spot Austin, TX, took the top spot for large college cities, according to a recent ranking from WalletHub. (The personal finance website analyzed more than 400 U.S. cities to calculate affordability, social activity, and academic and economic opportunities. Small towns were defined as fewer than 125,000 residents; midsize cities 125,000 to 300,000 residents; and big cities more than 300,000 residents.)

Austin’s unemployment rate “is the lowest in the country, just 2.9%, and earning opportunities draw more and more highly educated people to the city each year,” says Jill Gonzalez, a WalletHub analyst.

It’s also a famously fun place to be—and easy on the bank account compared with more expensive big cities.

“When people [compare it] to L.A. or New York, they think it’s a fire sale,” says Jason Dorsey, a writer and researcher on millennial and Generation Z issues . He touted the city’s vibrant social scene, including many large concert venues, funky shops and boutiques, and great restaurants. “It’s not cheap, but it’s a really good deal for everything you get.”

The median home price in the Austin city limits is $410,000, compared with $939,000 in Los Angeles and $1,395,000 in New York City’s borough of Manhattan, according to® data.

Meanwhile, Orlando, FL, was named the best midsize college town and Ann Arbor, MI, about 45 minutes west of Detroit, was rated the best small college town in the nation.

Gonzalez notes that Orlando’s strong economy and Ann Arbor’s low unemployment rate of 3% helped them to earn top honors. And Orlando is significantly more affordable: The median home price there was $254,950, compared with $415,000 in Ann Arbor.

Plus, the University of Central Florida plans to open a campus in downtown Orlando next year.

“You can live, learn, and work all in the same area,” says Rose Kemp, a Realtor® at Re/Max Town Centre in Orlando, pointing out that this also cuts costs.

Other factors—including short commutes, low property taxes, close proximity to Orlando International Airport, the tech boom downtown, and a “huge explosion” in the performing arts scene—have also made the city a desirable place to live, says Kemp.

“This is all helping our students really make a life here in Orlando, so we don’t lose them when they graduate,” she says. “We want them to stay.”

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Source: Housing Trends Feed