The 30 Top Urban Colleges

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Are you ready to find your fit?

Like people, you can divide colleges into two types: city and rural. One isn’t better than the other, and either comes down to personal taste. If you’re a big city person (or want to be one) who is looking to enter college, then this is the right article for you.

Every big city in America is unique. From the compact metropolis of New York City to the sprawling mass of Los Angeles, there is so much choice. But every sizable US city has certain things in common that people desire. There’s the mix of cultures, the greater variety of activities, the unexpected encounters and the camaraderie that comes with belonging to a place that has its own identity. Perhaps most importantly, all big cities offer significantly more jobs than smaller cities/rural locations, so you will be in an environment where you can find more opportunities. If this is what you’re looking for, then you’re probably wondering what the best college options and what the best city options for you are.

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This article will point the way forward. It will highlight both the best urban colleges and the best cities surrounding these urban colleges. This list allows you to know the best possible college options in America’s finest cities, but it also has other uses. If none of the cities or none of the colleges on this list appeal to you, then you can take the information given below and use it to inform your ultimate choice. The entries below will give you a feel of the cities and colleges and the things that they have on offer for prospective students. You can look for similar opportunities in your city and college options and ensure that you make the right choice. At the end of the day, choosing the right environment is a huge factor in achieving educational and career success.

Top 10 Ranking Urban Colleges

Rank School Location
1 New York University New York, NY
2 Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN
3 Tulane University New Orleans, LA
4 University of Texas, Austin Austin, TX
5 University of San Francisco San Francisco, CA
6 Columbia University New York, NY
7 University of Chicago Chicago, IL
8 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
9 CUNY Baruch College New York, NY
10 University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA

Methodology

To compile this unique list, we’ve consulted a range of sources. These sources come in several forms. Some are lists of the best cities for students, and some are lists of the best city-based colleges. Ultimately, our rankings combine both to give what most sources agree to be the top options.

Our sources are as follows:

WalletHub, 2018’s Best College Towns & Cities in America: https://wallethub.com/edu/best-worst-college-cities-and-towns-in-america/8974/

College Magazine, Top 10 Universities with The Best City Life: https://www.collegemagazine.com/top-10-universities-best-city-life/

Princeton Review, College City Gets High Marks: https://www.princetonreview.com/college-rankings?rankings=college-city-gets-high-marks

Thrillist, America’s Best Big Cities for College Students: https://www.thrillist.com/travel/nation/best-college-cities-for-students

Time Money, 10 Commuter Colleges That Give You a World-Class Education: http://time.com/money/4048777/best-commuter-colleges/

Times Higher Education, The best university cities of 2018: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/student/best-universities/best-university-cities

The Edvocate, 2018 America’s Best Urban Colleges and Universities: https://www.theedadvocate.org/2018-americas-best-urban-colleges-universities/

Niche.com, 2018 Best College Locations in America: https://www.niche.com/colleges/search/best-college-locations/

To be considered a college in an urban environment, the college must have its main campus in a big city’s metropolitan area. That means that while University of California, Berkeley, for example, is not within the heart of San Francisco, it still counts as a big urban college, because Berkeley, its home city, is in the San Francisco metropolitan Bay Area. And to be considered a big city, the city’s metropolitan area has to have a population of one million people or more.

The ranking criteria of our methodology sources are diverse. For example, WalletHub combines 28 different factors, including the cost of living, quality of education and crime rate. Other sources, such as Niche.com and Princeton Review use student reviews and ratings as a primary source to indicate the quality of an urban college. Our list combines the range of sources above and sorts it into a list that prioritizes the colleges and cities that are most frequently cited as the best across the articles. We’ve also conducted our own research into the cities and colleges, to ensure that the article’s statements are factual and give a genuine opinion on quality.

Our results, from 30 to one, are below:

  1. New York University
    Location

    New York, NY

    Located in the middle of the most famous city in the world is New York University. New York City needs no introduction, and its rankings on the methodology lists confirm that its reputation is well deserved. Times Higher Education ranks it as the joint fourth best university city in the world. And WalletHub names it the 29th best large college city in America, noting that it is also the most expensive. When it comes to the college itself, four out of five college focused methodology lists feature it, all within the top 10. College Magazine places it at third. Princeton Review places it at fifth. The Edvocate places it at eighth. And Niche.com also places it at eighth. New York University is primarily located in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, and Downtown Brooklyn, two of the busiest, diverse and interesting areas of NYC.

  2. Vanderbilt University
    Location

    Nashville, TN

    Nashville is the home of country music. That means that it's filled with fun bars and musical venues. And on our methodology lists, the city ranks at 10th on Thrillist and 27th on Wallet Hub for best large college cities. Vanderbilt is praised by almost every college specific methodology list. Niche.com ranks it at 76th for best college locations. College Magazine ranks it at 10th for best college city life. Princeton Review ranks it at fourth for best college in a big city. And The Edvocate ranks it at first for urban colleges. Vanderbilt is located just over a mile from Downtown Nashville, and students are quick to praise how much they enjoy a small college town feel in a large city with many great things to do.

  3. Tulane University
    Location

    New Orleans, LA

    New Orleans is known as being one of the most fun places in America. While this article's methodology lists rank much more than just fun, that must be an important factor for anyone looking to live for four years in one place. In fact, New Orleans only makes one methodology list, WalletHub, where it's ranked at 37th. However, Tulane University makes four out of five college specific methodology lists. Niche.com states that it's in the 16th best college location in America. The Edvocate places it at ninth for best urban colleges. College Magazine places it at eighth for best city life. And most impressively it tops Princeton Review's student-generated list. Tulane is based in Downton New Orleans, meaning that your studies will be at the center of all that makes the city amazing! The college even has its own shuttle and transportation system to help students get around safely and easily.

  4. University of Texas, Austin
    Location

    Austin, TX

    With Austin and the University of Texas, Austin, all of the feedback is positive. The city of Austin tops two methodology lists. Thrillist names it the best college city for students. WalletHub names it the best large college city in America. And The Edvocate names University of Texas, Austin thethird best urban college. Similarly, Niche.com names it the fifth best college location in America. The college certainly is proud of its home city and involvement with all aspects of its growth. It notes that due to the high quality of talent that the college is producing every year, Dell, IBM, Intel, Apple, Samsung and National Instruments have opened offices and conduct major activities in the city.

  5. University of San Francisco
    Location

    San Francisco, CA

    As far as Niche.com's student reviews are concerned, you can't get a better college location than University of San Francisco's campus, with them placing it at first. Additionally, Princeton Review's student ratings place the college at seventh. And there is little doubt that San Francisco itself is a one of a kind location. WalletHub names it as the 11th best large city in America for students. Times Higher Education names it the joint fifth best university city in the world. However, the big catch with San Francisco is that it's one of the most expensive places in America. Wallet Hub states that it is the city with the second highest cost of living for young people in America. But for those who can afford it, University of San Francisco is definitely an incredible choice, giving you the opportunity to be immersed in The Golden City. As the college's website states, "Only USF puts you in the heart of the city that invents tomorrow."

  6. Columbia University
    Location

    New York, NY

    Three methodology lists rank Columbia University highly. Princeton Review's student-led rankings place it as the second best city college in America. The Edvocate has a similar opinion, ranking it at fourth for urban colleges. And Niche.com's student rankings place it at 54th for college locations. NYC itself ranks at joint third on Times Higher Education's list of the best university cities in the world, and the source names Columbia as a reason for that. It also ranks at 29th on WalletHub's best large college cities in America list. Columbia University's main campus is located near the top of Manhattan, just above The Upper West Side and Central Park. And Columbia takes part in civic engagement partnerships with New York City's government, allowing the graduates to fully experience the range of cultures in the city.

  7. University of Chicago
    Location

    Chicago, IL

    While most of the methodology lists agree that Chicago is an incredible big city for students, most disagree on what the top college in this city is. Thrillist names Chicago the third best big city for college students in America. WalletHub places it at 10th for best large college cities in America. And Time Higher Education places it at joint fifth for best university cities in the world. It notes that the University of Chicago is one of two Chicago based top 200 ranking colleges on its world's top universities list. The Edvocate and College Magazine are also convinced that the University of Chicago is the top place that you can attend in the city, if not America; The Edvocate places it at second, and College Magazine places it at first. But the only other college methodology list that the University of Chicago appears on is Niche.com's, where it ranks at 381st. However, the college is certainly doing much to make its city incredible. It is investing in Chicago's Mid-South Side in its health, education, arts and economic growth, for example.

  8. University of Southern California
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    The University of Southern California gets its strongest ranking on College Magazine. That publication names it the second best college for city life. Additionally, The Edvocate ranks it at sixth for America's best urban colleges. Los Angeles itself is joint third on Times Higher Education's list of the best university cities, with the publication noting that USC also makes its top 200 worldwide colleges. Additionally, WalletHub names Los Angeles as the 21st best large college city in America. And the college's residential village is one of the greatest places to live in the world. It is the biggest mixed-use development in the history of South Los Angeles and provides students with at 15 acre base of operations for their time studying in LA.

  9. CUNY Baruch College
    Location

    New York, NY

    City University of New York, Baruch College manages to place on four of five college specific methodology lists. Princeton Review's student-led rankings name it the eighth best city college in America. The Edvocate names it the 12th best urban college in America. Time Money lists it in its unnumbered rankings. Lastly, Niche.com places it at 88th for best college locations. New York City itself is Times Higher Education's joint fourth best university city in the world and WalletHub's 29th best large college city in America (with the expense of the city dragging it down.) Baruch College itself is located in Midtown East, near the heart of the busiest part of NYC. As Baruch college's website states, "Our campus is within easy reach of Wall Street, Midtown, and the global headquarters of major companies and non-profit and cultural organizations."

  10. University of California, Los Angeles
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    The Edvocate places the University of California, Los Angeles in its top 10 urban colleges list at seventh. Time Money also lists it in its unnumbered rankings. Lastly, Niche.com places it at 34th for best college locations. UCLA is located at the western edge of Los Angeles, which is Times Higher Education's third best university city in the world and WalletHub's 21st best large city for student life. And UCLA connects students to its city through community engagement, by "allowing students to earn credit for service learning - benefiting both students and the local community."

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