When you’re looking for a school, location should be important. It might even rank in the top five important factors, because really, there are going to be nights when you want to leave the cafeteria behind. On-campus life is a huge factor in making your decision, but off-campus life should be as well. Researching this article I found the key. A great college town has big city options with a small town feel. You’ll have choices on Friday night without missing the comforts of home. Sounds like what you’re looking for? It’s what the following have in common:
1. Nashville, TN
School: Lipscomb University, Belmont University, Trevecca Nazarene University
Even if you don’t watch the show, you know Nashville is a cool place to be. I mean, Taylor Swift has an apartment there. Just 15 minutes from downtown, Lipscomb University boasts of a strong campus community and strong spiritual community. And when you’re on your way to line dancing downtown you can stop off and pick up your friends from Belmont. Belmont University is another Nashville option, with a great on-campus life in a great off-campus setting.
2. Grand Rapids, MI
School: Calvin College, Cornerstone University, Grace Bible College, Northpoint Bible Colege
Calvin College does a good job of expanding beyond campus life and investing in community life. That’s unique for a college. Exploring their website, it’s clear that they’re involved in all that Grand Rapids has to offer, and they want you to be too. Whether it’s the legendary local hot dog spot, or partnering with the community to clean up polluted watersheds, Calvin College is willing to go outside of their own four walls. Or better yet, in their case, a beautiful 400-acre campus.
3. Wheaton, IL
School: Wheaton College
Wheaton, IL, 25 miles outside of Chicago, is home to 45 churches, which means you have no excuses. They’ve also got a great downtown area. Spend the afternoon shopping, visiting landmarks like the Little Popcorn Store, or checking out the Grand Theater, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (though it’s currently undergoing renovations). It’s full of quirks and tradition, the perfect city to explore for four years. The city website sums it up perfectly as a “blend of big-city comforts and small-town charm,” though they’re understandably biased.
4. Phoenix, AZ
School: Grand Canyon University, Arizona Christian University
If you listen to Christian radio or spend anytime on Relevant.com, chances are you’ve heard of Grand Canyon University. It’s been around since 1949 and recently became hard to ignore. They have a great on-campus life filled with can’t miss events, like concerts with artists David Crowder and Chris Tomlin. Of course, living in Phoenix isn’t for the faint of heart. It gets hot, really hot. Luckily, the summer break visits home will spare you the worst months. Still, it’s a beautiful location with all of the benefits of a large city—great food, sports teams to root for and more.
5. Orange City, IA
School: Northwestern College, Dordt College
Most of the colleges that made this list are big cities with small town charms. Let me be clear: Orange City is a small town with small town charms. With 6,000 residents, the 1,000 or so at the college are a strongly felt presence. It’s very Dutch, very clean and very safe. Students walk to the movies, to the coffee shop, and to Pizza Ranch—whose menu is inspiring me to book a trip. It’s a community rooted in family, which helps make it feel like home.
6. San Diego, CA
School: Point Loma Nazarene University, San Diego Christian College
The next two schools on the list don’t even have to be located in a cool city, mostly because their campuses are pretty enough to standalone. Point Loma University might be your only chance to have a room with a beach view—until you’re rich and retired, of course. This campus is beautiful, and that’s an understatement. Life on the beach has its perks. Whether you spend the weekend lounging in the sun, shopping downtown or rooting for the Chargers—you’ll never run out of options.
7. Malibu, CA
School: Pepperdine University
If you’re interested in a life at the beach, you’ve got choices. Pepperdine University, just like PLNU, has a great view of the Pacific Ocean. It’s also where they filmed Zoey 101. So if you were ever jealous of Zoey and her friends posh boarding school set-up, this is your chance! And if you get bored of the stunning views and Malibu hiking spots, you can drive the hour to Los Angeles and spend your days exploring the city.
8. Seattle, WA
School: Seattle Pacific University
You’ll need a good umbrella, and maybe a sturdy pair of rain boots, but life in Seattle is worth it. Warning: you’ll most definitely become a coffee snob, or at least a coffee addict. The city is filled with unique coffee shops and bookstores, and a historic waterfront that’s worth visiting. Twice. It’s also got great public transportation. You won’t be far from the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Plan weekend trips to go hiking and whale watching. It’s the best of both worlds—opportunities both urban and rural.
9. Virginia Beach, VA
School: Regent University
This nationally recognized institution is just minutes from the Atlantic. If you love Georgian architecture and historic designs, but want to be close to a thriving city and the ocean–this could be the college town for you. Not far from Norfolk or DC, there’s a lot to explore in this little corner of the east coast.
10. La Mirada, CA
School: Biola University
Okay, this is a stretch. Biola being my alma mater, I’m more than a little biased. La Mirada itself isn’t a college town. Biola though, is like a city of it’s own. Plus, it’s close to so much! You’re just a short drive from Disneyland, the beach and Los Angeles. Be a tourist and explore Southern California. And then there’s local fun—like Monday night swing dancing and the dollar theatre walking distance from campus. Even though La Mirada might not be a city name you recognize, and you’ll have to explain to everyone where it is exactly, it’s still a great experience.
Really, that’s true of all colleges. No matter where you end up, cool or not, you’ll make it into a second home. Chances are a weekend adventure will result in you stumbling into a Thai Restaurant that nobody knows about. Then you and your friends will find a new tradition, and maybe pass it on to the younger crowd. Who knows? In ten years it could be the Thai restaurant. Whatever the case, wherever you end up, the experience is what you make it.