When choosing a college, many students overlook one of the most important factors: quality of life. At The Best Colleges one of our goals is to emphasize to students the importance of the context and learning environment in which they choose to get educated. In polling that we’ve conducted of recent college graduates, there is one thing in particular that stands out as playing a vital role in how a student perceives her last four years of education. The campus setting. And beautiful college campuses rule the day.
Because students who graduate from beautiful campuses typically report higher overall satisfaction with their college experience, we decided to put together these rankings of the 50 prettiest college campuses of 2017 in the United States.
50. University of Minnesota
Not only is the main campus of the University of Minnesota located in the “Happiest City in America” it also starts our list of the prettiest college campuses in the country. Ranked as a Public Ivy school for its excellence in academic standards, this campus boasts great facilities like the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, and the oldest building on campus, Pillsbury Hall. Students will enjoy the view between the East and West sides of campus as they cross the Mississippi river via the Washington Avenue Bridge.
49. Wake Forest University
Consistently ranked among the Top 25 universities in the country, Wake Forest boasts the T.K. Hearn Plaza (the Quad) as a hub for student life. This feature allow for plenty of social gathering opportunities and is also the site of the infamous “Rolling the Quad” after major sports victories for the Demon Deacons. The Reynolda Campus area hosts all of the Undergrad programs as well as a few of the Graduate programs, in buildings that pull from regional architectural influences. The Z. Smith Reynolds Library, named after the foundation for which major funding was dispersed during the early 1900s, features views of the 350 acres designated in the Carolina hills for the campus.
48. University of Colorado-Boulder
Among the top public universities in the country, the University of Colorado also features great facilities to round-out student life and benefit social experiences. The main campus west end features The Hill which includes lots of shopping, bars, restaurants and some prime residential spots for students wishing to not live in a dormitory setting. One of the most well-known buildings on the sprawling campus is the Mackey Auditorium. The building houses most performing arts programs for the University and was fashioned with a Neo-Gothic style. Most buildings on campus incorporate local products like sandstone and multi-leveled roofs that feature red tiles. Campus also features the Center for Community AKA the C4C a state-of-the-art facility for students which features commonly used student facilities as well as a 25% more energy efficient dining hall for the students. It’s not just the views that are great from the C4C, you can also eat there 24 hours a day.
47. Northwestern University
While everyone loves a good weekend in Chi-town, students attending the suburban campus of Northwester in the Evanston, Illinois area will tell you that the historical importance of their campus adds to its charm. Located on the edge of Lake Michigan, the campus offers great spring and summer breezes but may also see a few feet of lake-effect snow in the winter! Students will be greeted by “The Arch” as they walk onto the main campus, introducing you to the late 1800’s architecture. University Hall is the second building constructed on campus (1869) and the oldest building still standing. In a vast difference from the “historical” side of campus don’t miss the University Library, built in 1970, which features a Brutalist style.
46. Scripps College
Ranked as one of the top private college’s exclusively for women in the country, the gorgeous California campus features mostly Mission Revival-inspired architecture including the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery and the Margaret Fowler Garden area. The campus, which prides itself on sustainability, also features lush landscaping throughout the campus, that features tulip trees, sycamores, almond and orange trees. The Claremont campus has been featured in The Princeton Review for accolades such as “Dorms Like Palaces” (#4), “Most Beautiful Campus” (#17), and “Best Campus Food” (#19).
45. Bryn Mawr College
Named for the town it’s located in (itself named for a Welsh word meaning “big hill”), this Pennsylvania campus features beautiful buildings such as the M. Carey Thomas Library which is surrounded by the Cloisters area, an open area of the campus that includes a fountain and green space. Much of the campus was designed by noted landscape designers Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted. Some of the women’s college’s other notable buildings include the beautiful Great Hall building and the Marjorie Walter Goodhart Theater, full of ornamental ironwork designs by Samuel Yellin in the Gothic Revival style.
44. Texas A&M University
Texas A&M boasts one of the largest campuses in America at 5200 acres. When you think of Texas A&M you think about the 12th man and Kyle Field. Steeped in tradition, the crowds at Aggie Football games are some of the best in the land. Spread out on the vast campus is the library of former President of the United States, George H. W. Bush, as well as the Corps Arches in the Quadrangle, an area featured to honor and welcome Cadets to the campus.
43. Florida State University
The Tallahassee chop has a long history in college football but exploring the gorgeous campus is as good a way to spend a Saturday as taking in a Florida State football game. The Florida State campus features several historical “Southern Style” dorms and buildings as well as the stoic Heritage Tower and the signature Spanish moss sprawling over the campus. The Heritage Grove is one of the most noteworthy areas of Florida State, featuring several interesting buildings and sports complexes as well the Westcott building, one of the most prominent on campus.
42. Rice University
Located in downtown Houston’s Museum District, Rice University has still found a way to provide plenty of green space for its students. Priding itself as an environmentally responsible campus, Duncan Hall, the Math and Science Center, is one of the favorite buildings on campus. Two newer residential dorms, McMurtry College and Duncan College, are LEED Gold certified. Based on the request of the University’s first president’s watchful eye, nearly every building on campus was crafted in Byzantine style featuring sand and pink-colored bricks, large archways, and columns.
41. Sweet Briar College
Located at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Sweet Briar College is another women’s college on our list of beautiful campuses. Most of the campus buildings feature the architecture of Ralph Adams Cram. One of the highlights of the campus is the Equestrian center (situated on approximately 130 acres) which hosts the schools 7-riding teams. 21 of the 30 campus buildings have been designated by the National Historic Registrar’s office as historic buildings.
40. University of California-Santa Cruz
When you compile a lists of the most beautiful campuses in the country, you could in theory list dozens of schools up and down the Pacific Coast that get a huge boost for their beautiful settings but for our list we’re only including the best of the best. The campus of UC Santa Cruz certainly fits. It’s nestled near Monterrey Bay and boasts natural wonders like Porter Caves, a hiking trails and open space reserve called Pogonip, and multiple views of California’s trademark Redwoods.
39. University of San Diego
The small private University of San Diego features stunning Pacific Ocean views from the Alcala Park corner of campus but of course, with the campus being in San Diego it’s all gorgeous. If the Alcala views aren’t enough for you, stroll around campus and you’ll be able to take in breath-taking views of the San Diego Harbor, the Coronado Islands, and La Jolla. Nearly every building located on the campus features a 16th-century Spanish Renaissance architectural style, of course keeping close to the founders Catholic roots.
38. Wellesley College
Located just 12 miles west of downtown Boston, one of the top women’s institutions in the country has loads of charm. The 500 acre campus offers elite female students opportunities with over 50 bachelor degrees as well as the opportunity to compete in NCAA Division III sports. The campus was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., who hailed from Boston, and was determined that the look of the campus would not be average but far superior to any other campus. Some favorite spots on campus designed by Olmstead and his team include the wooded areas surrounding Lake Waban and the open meadows contained within the limits of campus. The designers made sure to design the campus so that it was well integrated into the topography of the area, instead of following the typical quad surrounded by buildings set up that was popular and ubiquitous at the time.
37. Rollins College
Nestled just outside of Orlando, Florida, Rollins College sits along the banks of Lake Virginia. This small private college boasts great year-round weather and keeping with the Florida lifestyle, even offers something called “Fox Day” every year, a time when all students are encouraged to miss class and enjoy the local community (i.e. Disney!). In 2000, the New York Times did a feature on a campus standout, a memorial called the Peace Monument, which was constructed of a German artillery shell surrendered by Germany at the end of the First World War.
36. Whitman College
While you may have heard of Whitman College, you may not realize that it is located in Wall Walla, Washington. The campus, built around the natural beauty of Walla Walla, features miles of trails, streams, ponds, and numerous outdoor sculptures. Many of the buildings on campus cling to a Victorian design scheme, but several of the new facilities have been erected with more modern designs. One of the largest areas of the campus is known as Ankeny Field, which is the main quad area. The campus also holds the deed to a local nature preserve, the Johnston Wilderness Campus, which is used for social events and research purposes.
35. Duke University
While Duke is commonly recognized as a top institution of learning, it can also claim beautiful grounds. The 8600 acre campus features highlights like the Duke Chapel and the Perkins Library. Nearly every building on the west side of campus was constructed with Collegiate Gothic architecture in mind. Some of the east side campus buildings, including several dormitories, have been designed Georgian-style, including the famous Baldwin Auditorium. For the nature lovers, the Duke Forest is a must see. The over 700 acre-wood contains a variety of trees and is an active area for science research. The Sarah P. Duke Memorial Gardens is also a must visit.
34. Sonoma State University
One of the top “green” campuses in the country, nearly every building on the Sonoma State campus has set the standard for small universities to give their students the best overall experience. The nearly 59,000 square foot student center has been a model for colleges around the country, as it was built with sustainability in mind. The facility was constructed using UV ray reflective roofing, recycled rubber indoor track, recycled glass reinforced structural brick, recycled seat belts to upholster seating, and reclaimed water plumbing non-potable water systems. The campus is not just environmentally friendly with it’s buildings, it also has a wonderfully close relationship to local nature, with miles of walking trails and fantastic access to Redwood trees.
33. University of Alabama
The 1800 acre Alabama campus features many Greek Revival buildings. Several buildings (4) on the campus, including the President’s home, were all built pre-Civil War, survived the conflict, and are still used today. The center of the campus is the Quad, fronted by a campanile equipped with a 25-bell carillon. The campus includes many cultural centers, including an art museum, a Natural History museum, the Allen Bales Theater, Marion Gallaway Theater, Morgan Auditorium, and the Frank M. Moody Music Building. The University also runs an arboretum.
32. United States Military Academy (West Point)
A campus filled with Neo-Gothic inspired buildings, all constructed from gray and black granite, must be the home of a prestigious campus. About 50 miles north of New York City you will find the United States Military Academy. The campus, which educates and trains some of our armed forces bravest, is considered a national landmark. The 15,000 acre campus offers stunning views of the famous Hudson River and Highland Falls. The famous cemetery on grounds is the final resting place for some of the most prominent members of our country’s military including George Armstrong Custer, Winfield Scott, William Westmoreland and many Medal of Honor recipients.
31. University of the Pacific
Originally founded as California Wesleyan College, the now named University of the Pacific not only operates as a top institution in California but also a make-shift movie set. High Time, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and The Sure Thing are just a few of the films that have used the picturesque campus for a backdrop. One of the most commonly recognized symbols of the campus is the Burns Tower. The bell tower can be seen all over the campus area and hovers over common student gathering places.
30. Washington University in St. Louis
Located in one of the quintessential “All-American” towns, St. Louis, Missouri, Washington University is one of the most prestigious research universities in the country. While the campus is divided into multiple locations, the total 11 million square feet of buildings include many notable and beautiful buildings, including Seigle Hall, Francis Field (site of much of the 1904 Olympic Games), and Danforth University Center.
29. University of Wisconsin-Madison
With a main campus located in the center of two massive lakes, Mendota and Monona, it’s no wonder that Wisconsin-Madison can offer 4 seasons of extra-curricular activities for the student body. With a little over 900 acres to offer, Wisconsin is proud to host 4 national landmarks, including Bascom Hall, which is a hub for student life. The campus, which is located just a mile from the capitol building, operates like a small city, offering students countless outdoor activities to round-out the student experience. The views from campus overlooking the lakes are some of the greatest in the nation.
28. University of Mississippi (Ole Miss)
Ole Miss is the quintessential southern university, with beautiful classic buildings and a campus steeped in tradition. Football Saturdays here are a religious experience, and tailgating before a game in the Grove is one of the coolest college football experiences one can have. The Grove is populated with oak, elm and magnolia trees, and tents are added on fall Saturdays. Notable buildings include the Lycecum, which is the oldest building on campus (1848). It is pictured on the school’s official crest. Another interesting building, and piece of history, is the School of Medicine, which was used as a Civil War hospital for both Union and Confederate soldiers.
27. University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
When we think of UNC we all think of the Dean Dome, the baby blue jerseys, and of course Michael Jordan but there’s much more to Chapel Hill than basketball. The 700+ acre campus is divided into two sections, Polk Place and McCorkle Place. Some of the most famous spots on campus are the gorgeous Old Well, a rotunda based on the Temple of Love in the Gardens of Versailles, which nurtures gorgeous landscaping and is the spot of many romantic moments for students.
26. Cornell University
The small town of Ithaca is the site of Ivy League school Cornell. The quaint New York town overlooks the picturesque Cayuga Lake. The campus features 6 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places and access to local gorges, Fall Creek Gorge and Cascadilla Gorge, both of which provide spots for hiking and swimming. The University also owns a 2,800 acre botanical garden, Cornell Plantations.
25. Amherst College
Ranked consistently as one of the top three institutions for higher learning in the country, Amherst College is also among the most beautiful. College Row is the centerpiece at Amherst, consisting of multiple halls and Johnson Chapel. The Quad is beautiful and a popular hangout spot in nice weather. Students at Amherst are also eligible to attend other beautiful colleges, including Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Hampshire College, and the University of Massachusetts without any addition charge as they are all members of the Pioneer Valley institutions.
24. Yale University
Yale is of course at the top of the Ivy League, but there’s just as much to say about the campus nestled in the town of New Haven, Connecticut as there is the education offered. Many of the buildings are built in the Collegiate Gothic architecture style but a key building on campus, Connecticut Hall (built in 1750), is in the Georgian style. The campus has a decidedly Middle Ages feel to it. While the campus is gorgeous, Yale has even made inroads towards putting it’s stamp on the community also, by purchasing several mansions in the surrounding area, especially on Hillhouse Avenue. Yale is moving steadily towards an environmentally sustainable campus with eleven campus buildings as candidates for LEED design and certification.
23. Gettysburg College
Located adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg College is a highly selective institution that pays homage to one of the most important battles in our nation’s history. The quaint campus is often referred to as one of most gorgeous in the country. The quad area of campus which sees a great deal of student social interaction is called Stine Lake. It is not actually a lake, but the campus regularly experienced drainage issues in the early 1900s, often causing the quad and library to flood, hence the “lake” moniker. Something of a confusing situation for freshman.
22. Occidental College
With gorgeous Mediterranean style buildings, Occidental College in Los Angeles, consistently ranks as one of the most gorgeous campuses in the country. The campus features gorgeous tree lines and superb social gathering areas also ranks as one of the top universities in California. Several original buildings built in the early 1900s are still used today. One of the most notable campus buildings is the Johnson Student Center, built in 1914. The designer of Occidental’s original buildings, Myron Hunt, was also the designer of the Rose Bowl.
21. Princeton University
The “Gray Stone” of Princeton is renowned. The campus is one of the oldest in America, and the oldest building on campus, Nassau Hall, was built in 1754. The southern edge of the campus faces Lake Carnegie, and as you’d guess from the name, was donated by Andrew Carnegie. The lake was originally was designated for rowing but has since been transformed to a campus gathering point. Another famous building located on campus is the Princeton University Chapel, the third largest college chapel in the world.
20. University of Washington-Seattle
The University of Washington at Seattle has easily one of the most stunning natural settings of any campus in America. The campus boasts great views of Mount Rainier, the Cascade Range, and the Olympic Mountains. One of the favorite spots for students is the blooming cherry trees on the campus quad. The oldest building on campus is the French-inspired Denny Hall built in 1895.
19. Stanford University
The 8000 acre campus nestled in the San Francisco Peninsula features stunning views of the San Francisco Bay. Most of the campus was destroyed in the powerful 1906 San Francisco earthquake but was originally designed in a Spanish-colonial style, commonly known as Mission Revival, featuring red tile roofs and sandstone masonry. Some buildings survived the 1906 earthquake such as the Quad, the old Chemistry building, and Encina Hall. The 1989 earthquake inflicted further damage to the campus, and the next two decades saw the school spend over a billion dollars to renovate and update the campus for better earthquake protection.
18. United States Naval Academy
The US Naval Academy is a small campus, but packs a lot of beauty into a small space. The Chapel is breathtaking, and Bancroft Hall is the largest dormitory in the world. The campus features many memorials and monuments, including a Pearl Harbor memorial and Battle Ensigns from famous ships that are displayed all over the campus.
17. University of Virginia
The beautiful grounds of the University of Virginia has always been admired for its unique Jeffersonian architecture, which includes the famous Rotunda. The campus draws thousands of visitors every year. The American Institute of Architects called the rolling landscape and gorgeous buildings, “the proudest achievement of American architecture in the past 200 years.”
16. University of Notre Dame
Believe it or not there’s more to Notre Dame than Touchdown Jesus and Rudy. The campus is quite beautiful, and includes many interesting areas and buildings. The statue of the Virgin Mary can be seen blessing the Grotto, and was built in 1896 as a replica of the original in Lourdes, France. The 1250 acre campus is divided into the “Old Campus” area and new. Old Campus is now controlled by the two seminaries connected through the Catholic church, the Congregation of Holy Cross and current Basilica of the Sacred Heart. The Golden Dome sits atop the main building, and is the inspiration for the famous golden Notre Dame football helmets.
15. Indiana University-Bloomington
The town of Bloomington, Indiana is the ultimate college town. A campus filed with over 1,200 miles of bike and running trails, this quaint town not only encourages students to embark on a sense of community it nearly demands it. Student can visit “off” campus stores, restaurants and coffee shops just a few steps from the limestone buildings in which they will live and learn. The student building on the IU campus is listed on the National Historical Registrar. The Sample Gates welcome students onto campus. Most of the campus is made of Indiana limestone sourced locally, and was built during the Great Depression by the WPA.
14. University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is an urban campus located in the Hyde Park area of Chicago, seven miles south of downtown. The campus features the Rockefeller Chapel, donated by the “Rockefeller” family, as well as some of the best architecture you’ll find in a college campus. Most of the older buildings feature Collegiate Gothic architecture that mimics their English rival Oxford. With several buildings landing on the National Registrar of Historic Places, you can enjoy the history of Chicgao with a short stroll around campus.
13. Mount Holyoke College
Mount Holyoke is widely credited with leading the “green” initiative among elite college campuses. With five buildings LEED certified, the Holyoke campus is not only providing sustainability for the region but protecting the natural environment and the Connecticut river. Most of the campus is located within the Skinner State Park, providing amazing opportunities for students to hike, jog and bike.
12. Furman University
With a campus full of Georgian-style architecture, Furman University ranks among the top campuses in the country. Several buildings on the campus surround a gorgeous lake, and iconic views of the campus Bell Tower are a must see. Amongst the standout buildings, the James B. Duke Library encourages study, research and community. The lush South Carolina campus has been named several times as one of the most beautiful places in the USA (Campus or Not) by the American Society of Landscape Architects.
11. Harvard University
Established in 1636, this campus is the oldest in America. The campus might be surprisingly urban to some, located just a few miles northwest of downtown Boston. Students live in one of twelve residential houses, and each house is basically self containing, with a dining hall, space for tutors, undergrads, and grad students, and a library and other student facilities. Notable buildings include Sever Hall, built in Richardsonian Romanesque style, and University Hall, built from 1813-15 of white Chelmsford granite.
10. University of Hawai at Manoa
Hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to the Hawaiian islands annually to embark on the vacation of a lifetime but what many people might not realize is that Hawaii contains a prestigious university with a long waiting list. The campus features views of the famous volcano Diamond Head and is located just a few steps from the famous Waikiki Beach. This campus location is one of the most beautiful places in the United States. Students are treated to extraordinary experiences studying at the campus run Lyon Arboretum and have unbridled access to the Polynesian Cultural Center, a hub for the history of the Hawaiian islands. Good luck getting any studying done living here!
9. Dartmouth College
The history of Dartmouth (founded in 1769) will make all of the history buffs very excited to check out Wentworth and Thorton Halls. Two of the original campus buildings, these facilities were constructed in 1820. While Dartmouth has continued to offer extraordinary educational opportunities, they also work to complete the student-life experience by offering amazing access to the arts at “the Hop” the Hopkins center for the Arts. The technology available to student in the Baker-Berry Library will make even students at MIT jealous. And for those students who need to step outside and enjoy some fresh air, walking and hiking trails in the Upper Valley along the Connecticut River offer great year-round views.
8. College of William & Mary
The College of William & Mary may be considered an “old” campus but they are leading the way for elite East Coast schools in the global sustainability field. The campus has over 1200 acres full of cozy wooded areas such as the Crim Dell pond. Most buildings on campus consist of Georgian and Anglo-Dutch architecture, and the highlight is the Christopher Wren building, the oldest collegiate building in the United States. The campus also profits from tourists flocking to the historic Williamsburg, Virginia area every year.
7. Loyola Marymount University
Sitting on top of a bluff in the Del Rey Hills, Loyola Marymount offers one of the top campus locations in the country. This classic California school boasts picturesque views of both Playa del Rey and the Pacific Ocean. Loyola’s campus is covered in architectural and art-inspired sittings including the Sculpture Gardens and even walk-ways between educational buildings offer students glimpses to amazing artwork.
6. Emory University
With an awe inspiring classically gorgeous southern campus, Emory is easily one of our top campuses in the country. This gem in the heart of Atlanta can offer students both an exceptional education as well as countless opportunities to expand their horizons. The Michael C. Carlos Museum on campus houses the most extensive art collection in the Southeast, with pieces from around the world. For the adventurous student, you can spend countless hours at Lullwater Park, comprising over 100 acres on campus that is dedicated to preserving the south and its natural environment. Lullwater features walking and hiking trails as well as a view of the president of the University’s home.
5. Lewis & Clark College
There are many excellent universities in the Pacific Northwest but none can claims the title of “prettiest campus” like Lewis & Clark College can. With extraordinary view of Mt. Hood, Lewis & Clark’s campus will inspire its students to get outside. The 130+ acre campus sits at the top of Palatine Hill, in Portland, Oregon. Attached to the campus is the Tryon Creek State Natural Area, an area which has inspired the college to continue “green” efforts working to make buildings on campus LEED certified. The unique architecture of the campus has been named the best by design experts as well as one of the prettiest campuses by the Princeton Review.
4. Pepperdine University
Many visitors flock to the Catalina Islands every year for the views of the Pacific ocean but students attending Pepperdine University can wake up to those views everyday. Pepperdine has some of the best student dorms in the country, and you can’t beat living right on the Pacific ocean. True to the spirit of the Pacific, several buildings on campus, including the Keck Science Center, feature Mediterranean architecture. One of the most recognizable buildings on campus is the Phillips Theme Tower, surrounded by lush landscaping that provides a welcoming environment for students.
3. Sewanee: The University of the South
Sewanee: The University of the South is the ultimate experience in southern living and education. With nearly every building paying homage to classic Goth-style architecture, the campus oozes southern charm. One of the most notable buildings is All Saints and of course, the Tennessee Williams Center. The Williams attraction on campus provides funding for many student experiences, through royalties from the family endowment. Sewanee has been featured in countless magazines as one of the most beautiful campuses in the country.
2. Kenyon College
Kenyon College has been recognized for its superior swimming and diving teams but many people around the country may not realize this college in Ohio is one of the most picturesque in the nation. Known for its Gothic Revival architecture the campus features several buildings that have inspired designers around the country. Ascension Hall is an imposing and impressive structure and Old Kenyon Hall, built in 1827, is believed to be the oldest Gothic Revival building in America. The setting for Kenyon is wonderfully rustic and the college was named one of the most beautiful in the country by Forbes.
1. Elon University
The wooded grounds of Elon were designated as a botanical garden in 2005, making the beauty of the campus a contributor to the educational experience, as the landscaping is used as both an aesthetic and educational resource. Located in the heart of North Carolina, this campus not only offers an exceptional education but has been the site of several films, including Spike Lee’s He Got Game. Elon has been named the prettiest campus in the country on multiple occasions, including landing at the top spot in rankings by the Princeton Review and the New York Times. We can’t argue, and Elon takes the top spot in our list of the prettiest college campuses.