The 30 Best Rural Colleges in America

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Incredible Small College Towns

Some people love small town living. There’s a lot to be said for this kind of lifestyle. People tend to be friendlier. The pace of life is more relaxed. And accessing the wonders of the countryside is much easier. If you’re this kind of person, then you’ve got plenty of options for your college years. America is replete with colleges that are secluded from the hustle and bustle of the big city. In fact, there are so many colleges that are based in idyllic, rural locations that picking one to attend is a very difficult task.

What makes locating the right college more difficult is that”rural” has a loose definition, especially in a country as geographically diverse as the USA. Do you want to live among the picturesque vistas of New England? Perhaps the heat of the southwest is more your thing? Or could the Rocky Mountains be your idea of a rural paradise?

Luckily, this article has been created to make choosing a small town college easier. It will highlight to you which colleges are truly rural while ensuring that they offer concrete graduate job opportunities and connections that span the globe. It does this by analyzing a range of aspects that each rural college shares, such as town lifestyle, student happiness, activities on offer, employability statistics and more. Also, the list looks at the things that make each rural college unique and stand out from all the others. It then sorts these into dedicated rankings, which you can use in a number of ways. The 30 colleges below are all fine options. But if they aren’t right, then you can look at the things that they have in place and their locations. These may provide insights into what it is that you’re looking for in a college. And these insights can shape your search so that you ultimately have a set of college choices that have all that you want in small town living.

Methodology

Our rankings come from dedicated research into what a range of sources name as the best rural colleges. All of our methodology sources are from respected publications that either specialize in college research or convey this information to mainstream audiences. We’ve also analyzed the small town colleges on an international scale, to see how they are considered outside of their town, state, and country. The sources are below:

College Raptor, Top 25 Best Rural Colleges: 2017 Rankings: https://www.collegeraptor.com/find-colleges/articles/college-comparisons/top-25-best-rural-colleges-2017-rankings/

Conde Nast Traveler, The Best College Towns in the U.S.: https://www.cntraveler.com/galleries/2014-10-07/best-college-towns-for-people-who-aren-t-in-college

Business Insider, The 20 Best College towns in America: https://www.businessinsider.com/best-college-towns-in-america-2017-7

The Edvocate, 2018 Best Small-Town Colleges and Universities in America: https://www.theedadvocate.org/2018-best-small-town-colleges-universities-america/

Schools.com, The 25 Best Small College Towns: https://www.schools.com/articles/25-best-small-college-towns

Top Universities/QS, Worldwide Rankings: https://www.topuniversities.com/

To qualify as a small rural college on our list, a city must have a population of 200,000 or less.

The advantage of our article compared the methodology sources is that we’ve worked out the consistent top performers so that you don’t have to. The colleges in small towns that multiple lists agree to be great are therefore the highest ranked on our list. However, another advantage of this list over the methodology sources is that we’ve conducted our own unique research and highlighted why the colleges and their towns are so well regarded.

Our rankings are below:

Rank School Location
1 University of Colorado, Boulder Boulder, CO
2 University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, MI
3 Cornell University Ithaca, NY
4 Indiana University Bloomington Bloomington, IN
5 University of Florida Gainesville, FL
6 North Dakota State University Fargo, ND
7 Miami University Oxford, OH
8 University of Iowa Iowa City, IA
9 Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, AZ
10 Gustavus Adolphus College Saint Peter, MN
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  1. University of Colorado, Boulder
    Location

    Boulder, CO

    The city of Boulder, Colorado performs incredibly well on most methodology lists. Business Insider considers it to be the top college town in America. Conde Nast Traveler features it in its unnumbered list. Schools.com names it the 21st best small college town in America. And Wallethub considers it to be the 95th best small college city in America. The University of Colorado, Boulder itself is a well-regarded college, with Top Universities/QS ranking it at 190th for best college in the world. It's not hard to see why so many students find it an appealing place to study. It has more than 300 days of sunshine a year, over 300 miles of bike lanes and an amazing public transportation system. Nearby are more than 42 state parks, and the big city of Denver is just 30 miles away.

  2. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
    Location

    Ann Arbor, MI

    Ann Arbor doesn't just top WalletHub's best small college cities list, but it also tops the site's consolidated list of the best big, medium and small college cities. Schools.com considers Ann Arbor to be the 16th best college town in America. Conde Nast Traveler features Ann Arbor in its unnumbered best college town list. Top Universities/QS names the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor as the 20th best college in the world. And the University of Michigan is doing many great things for Ann Arbor. One in every three Ann Arbor residents were serviced by the college's medicine department in 2017, and the college has partnerships with the Ann Arbor police department, public schools, transit authority and other local groups.

  3. Cornell University
    Location

    Ithaca, NY

    Ithaca, New York is home to two colleges, Cornell University and Ithaca College. However, Cornell is the only one of the two to make this list, as it is the only one to make QS/Top Universities list of the world's best colleges. The town of Ithaca itself is fourth place on Business Insider's list of the best college towns. It also makes 39th on WalletHub's list of the best small college cities in America. Lastly, it is on Conde Nast Traveler's unnumbered list. And Cornell University is quick to point out that Ithaca is an incredible town. It notes that Ithaca has won countless awards for being one of the best places to live in America. It also notes that Ithaca has buses that take students on day trips to New York City if they wish to experience the big city now and then.

  4. Indiana University Bloomington
    Location

    Bloomington, IN

    The city of Bloomington is sixth on Business Insider's list of best college towns. It's also featured in Conde Nast Traveler's best college towns list, 25th on Schools.com's best small college towns list and 43rd on WalletHub's best small college cities list. And Indiana University, Bloomington is the world's 323rd best college on Top Universities/QS‘s list. Overall, that means this college and its town feature on five different methodology lists! In fact, students love living in Bloomington so much that many end up living there permanently. Bloomington is the number one city for work-life balance, according to Forbes, and the sixth best college town to live in forever, according to College Ranker.

  5. University of Florida
    Location

    Gainesville, FL

    Gainesville is counted as a mid-size city on WalletHub, where it is named as the third best in the country. However, its population is only slightly more than 130,000. Conde Nast Traveler also states that Gainesville is one of the best college towns in America. And Top Universities/QS also ranks the University of Florida as the joint 180th best in the world. The University of Florida makes the most out of its incredible location. For instance, the college has two lakes, which are both utilized for academic and leisure activities.

  6. North Dakota State University
    Location

    Fargo, ND

    Fargo, North Dakota places on three methodology lists. WalletHub considers it to be the 84th best small college city in America. Business Insider names it the 13th best college town. Most impressively, Schools.com names it the top small college town in America. And while Fargo is a fairly small city, with a population of just over 167,000, that's still enough people to make it the most populous place in the entire state of North Dakota. In fact, the closest big city to Fargo is Winnipeg, Canada. Fortunately, North Dakota State University has been able to forge strong bonds with its local community. For instance, the college recently worked with the Fargo Park district to bring an art installation to the city's downtown area.

  7. Miami University
    Location

    Oxford, OH

    This may sound like a college located in a big city in Florida, but it's actually in Oxford, Ohio, which has a population of 21,371. College Raptor names Miami University the seventh best rural college in America. The Edvocate has the same opinion, also placing it at seventh for small college towns. WalletHub names it the 15th best small college town in America. Lastly, Top Universities/QS places Miami University at between 800th and 1000th on a global scale. And the visuals that surround this college couldn't be any more breathtaking. The poet Robert Frost even called it, "the most beautiful campus that there ever was." However, the college does have strong ties with other areas, being only 35 miles north of the city of Cincinnati. It also has a center in the European country of Luxembourg.

  8. University of Iowa
    Location

    Iowa City, IA

    Business Insider ranks Iowa City at fifth place for best college towns. It notes that it has a population of just over 164,000, meaning that it's small but not tiny. WalletHub names Iowa City as the 44th best small college city. University of Iowa itself is Top Universities/QS's joint 435th best college in the world. And the college is quick to point out that its home city has won a range of awards from other sources. For example, Livability.com named it the fourth best place to live in America.

  9. Northern Arizona University
    Location

    Flagstaff, AZ

    Business Insider is highly impressed with Flagstaff Arizona, home to Northern Arizona University, and places it at third on its list. WalletHub names it the 62nd best small college city. What sets Flagstaff apart is that it's located in the largest pine forest in the world. If you love exploring forests and the outdoors in a warm climate, then Northern Arizona University should be your number one choice of college. But Flagstaff has much more going for it than just a forest. It also has a ski resort, a creek canyon, an urban trail system, monthly art exhibits, an observatory and a bustling town square.

  10. Gustavus Adolphus College
    Location

    Saint Peter, MN

    Gustavus Adolphus is College Raptor's eighth-best rural college. It's also just over 12 miles away from Mankato, Minnesota, which is WalletHub's 63rd best small college city. Gustavus Adolphus College is a Lutheran institution, and this identity is strongly entwined with its educational approach. In fact, the college has five daily church services. But regardless of religious values, anyone can appreciate the beauty of its location. It is spread across 340 acres of land, which is all exquisitely landscaped. For travel to larger surrounding cities, students can take advantage of the Greyhound bus service in the local area.

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