Best Urban Colleges In America

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by Staff Writers
Published on August 31, 2020 is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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For many students — including first-generation college students and learners returning to school — rural and suburban colleges and universities are not always the best fit in terms of scheduling and cost. If this describes you, an urban school might better match your needs.

The following page compiles 15 schools located in the best college cities in the nation, along with a primer on what to expect from urban schools in general.

The schools listed here generally focus on meeting the needs of first-generation and low-income students. Many of them rank highly on a national scale; however, this list also factors in the utility of more affordable urban schools that have a reputation for helping graduates achieve social mobility.

Top Urban Colleges in America

University of California - Los Angeles View School Profile Los Angeles, CA

Located in LA's Westwood neighborhood, UCLA offers students a picturesque urban/coastal setting. The university enrolls more than 31,000 learners, making it the largest campus in the University of California System.

UCLA offers strong programs in engineering, law, and medicine. Despite its status as one of California's largest schools, UCLA maintains relatively small class sizes and a student-to-faculty ratio of 17-to-1.

Approximately 55% of full-time undergraduate students at UCLA receive need-based grants and scholarships, with the average annual financial award amounting to $18,000. Around 95% of first-year students live in university housing, with 39% of all students residing on campus. The school guarantees on-campus housing for up to three years.

University of Chicago View School Profile Chicago, IL

Based in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, UChicago is a well-respected urban school. A private university with a student body of more than 14,000 learners, UChicago boasts a 5-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. The university's programs in business, law, and public policy stand out as some of the best in the country.

In 2007, UChicago began offering its Odyssey Scholarship to low-income and first-generation students. The program guarantees all awardees a research experience or internship. The university requires first-year students to live on campus, a practice that encourages around 50% of returning students to remain on campus.

University of Washington View School Profile Seattle, WA

Founded in 1861 and situated in Seattle, UW has earned a reputation as one of the best public universities in the nation. The university houses one of the most respected medical schools in the world, along with highly regarded engineering and business programs. This innovative "public Ivy" has also built a reputation as a commuter school that fosters sustainable practices among its students.

About 75% of UW graduates choose to remain in Washington after graduating. UW also maintains two satellite campuses in Bothell and Tacoma, both of which award undergraduate and graduate degrees.

The Ohio State University View School Profile Columbus, OH

Founded in 1870 as an agricultural college, Ohio State now serves more than 60,000 students and is one of the best public research universities in the nation. Ohio State's campus is located two miles from downtown Columbus -- a city known for architectural works by Harry Reese, Kevin Roche, and many others.

Ohio State's most popular majors include psychology, finance, speech communication and rhetoric, and biology. The university keeps class sizes relatively small with a 19-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.

Approximately 74% of students at Ohio State live in the surrounding area. Learners can choose from over 1,000 on-campus organizations and clubs.

University of Minnesota Twin Cities View School Profile Minneapolis, MN

The largest and oldest four-year institution in Minnesota, UMN operates two campuses in St. Paul and Minneapolis, which are separated by about five miles. Over 51,000 students currently attend UMN. The university maintains a stellar reputation for student involvement, offering over 600 societies and student groups.

Although 77% of students at UMN choose to reside outside of the traditional residence halls, most off-campus students live at one of the university's Living Learning communities, which are located just off campus. UMN has partnered with RaiseMe to offer two mini-scholarship programs, which target high school students from the Twin Cities area and first-year students enrolling in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resources Sciences.

City College of New York View School Profile New York, NY

Based in Hamilton Heights overlooking Harlem, CCNY has forged a reputation for providing affordable education to all while prioritizing racial and social equality. CCNY was the first school to recognize an official student government and the first to feature a degree-granting evening program.

With a total student enrollment of more than 16,000 learners, CCNY keeps classes small, with 33% of its classes featuring 20 or fewer students and a schoolwide student-to-faculty ratio of 16-to-1.

About 84% of first-year students at CCNY receive need-based financial aid. Additionally, CCNY's Dominican Studies Institute is the nation's only research college dedicated to the history of the Dominican Republic and the worldwide Dominican diaspora.

University of Texas at Austin View School Profile Austin, TX

The flagship campus of the University of Texas System, UT Austin spans 437 acres in the heart of a culturally diverse city with a vibrant tech scene. UT Austin serves nearly 52,000 students, making it one of the largest universities in the nation.

UT Austin's College of Liberal Arts draws most of its undergraduates. Many learners major in Middle Eastern studies, global studies, and foreign languages. The school's graduate programs in business, engineering, and nursing also stand out as some of the best in the nation.

The average UT Austin student receives nearly $10,000 in need-based aid. Additionally, the college's Hutchison Scholarship helps first-generation college students pay for study abroad programs.

San Diego State University View School Profile San Diego, CA

The third-oldest school in the California State University System, SDSU is a good value when it comes to providing academic rigor at a relatively affordable price tag. SDSU serves nearly 35,000 students from around the world. Approximately 63% of first-year students live in on-campus housing.

SDSU offers over 850 scholarships, including the renewable Presidential Scholars program, which awards up to $10,000 annually. Approximately 55% of full-time undergraduates at SDSU receive need-based financial aid.

North Carolina State University View School Profile Raleigh, NC

Founded in Raleigh in 1887, NC State is a member of the Research Triangle, along with the UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke. This research university serves nearly 36,000 students through over 100 programs.

NC State may be best known for its engineering school, which features programs in nuclear and biological engineering. However, the university also attracts students from around the world to its education, management, and agriculture programs.

Despite its large size, NC State boasts relatively small class sizes and a student-to-faculty ratio of 17-to-1. The university also offers competitive scholarships -- including the Park Scholarship Program, the Goodnight Scholars Program, and the Chancellor's Leadership Scholarship. Approximately 48% of full-time, first-year students at NC State receive need-based financial aid.

University of Pittsburgh View School Profile Pittsburgh, PA

Established in 1787 in the historic Oakland neighborhood, Pitt serves a student body of nearly 29,000. The university offers strong programs in education, medicine, and engineering and is respected for its research. The School of Medicine's close relationship with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center offers plentiful opportunities for internships in a practical environment.

Over 40% of Pitt's classes have fewer than 20 students. Pitt has also forged a reputation for encouraging sustainable practices; this reputation has been earned in part through research conducted at the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation.

Georgia State University View School Profile Atlanta, GA

Established in 1913 in Atlanta as an evening school offering technical education, Georgia State has grown into one of the largest public schools in the nation. The university offers approximately 250 programs to nearly 35,000 students. The most popular majors at Georgia State include law, education, and psychology.

After the 1996 Summer Olympics -- hosted in Atlanta -- Georgia State converted the athletic housing complex into student housing. About 17% of students at Georgia State reside there. The school's proximity to downtown Atlanta's thriving tech scene, which houses about 13,000 tech companies, make it a top destination for students interested in business and engineering.

Despite its large size, Georgia State maintains a 22-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.

University of South Florida View School Profile Tampa, FL

USF serves a student body of nearly 44,000 learners, many of whom pursue their education online. The university's most popular undergraduate majors include finance, criminology, and medical microbiology.

Although only 24% of USF students live on campus, many live in nearby neighborhoods like Park Place and Sweetwater Oaks. Additionally, USF's Tampa campus offers a Commuter Student Network and bus services for students who would like to commute to school.

Portland State University View School Profile Portland, OR

Nestled in the heart of downtown Portland, PSU has earned a reputation as a provider of affordable, quality education. The school's forward-thinking practices include an optional contract for full-time students called the Four-Year Degree Guarantee: if you cannot complete your degree within four years, you may finish all remaining credits for free.

Most students commute to PSU, and many take online courses in topics like advanced crime analysis and curriculum and instruction. Approximately 69% of full-time, first-year students at PSU receive financial aid.

University of New Orleans View School Profile New Orleans, LA

Situated on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain, UNO was founded in 1958 and remains the sole public research university in New Orleans. UNO has built a reputation as an affordable provider of undergraduate and graduate programs, including degrees in business and management, engineering, and visual and performing arts.

UNO offers a weekly course that helps first-year students adjust to college life and meet new people. Outside of the classroom, the campus features over 100 student organizations and clubs. Around 66% of students elect to stay at UNO after completing their first year.

North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University View School Profile Greensboro, NC

Established in 1891 in Greensboro, N.C. A&T is the largest Historically Black College and University in the U.S by enrollment. The university's top undergraduate majors include engineering, business and management, and psychology.

About 44% of students choose to live on campus. The rest generally live off campus in private housing in Greensboro. GPA is the main factor that the admissions department considers when deciding which students to admit.

What Are the Benefits of an Urban School?

Urban schools provide many practical benefits. For some students, it may be convenient to attend an urban school near their home, allowing them to commute by bus, subway, or car.

Urban learning environments often present ample job opportunities before and after graduation. For example, students who move to New York City to attend a school in the City University of New York System may find it easier to network or get a job while enrolled.

What Are the Disadvantages of an Urban School?

Urban schools also have a few drawbacks. For example, many urban schools focus on serving commuter students who do not live on campus.

Additionally, an urban college campus may span a wide area within a city, which can make it difficult for incoming students who live on campus to meet new people or become part of student culture. Ultimately, students may find themselves lost in this environment.

Fortunately, many urban schools provide resources to help cultivate student involvement in campus culture.

What Are Things to Consider With Urban Schools?

Before researching urban schools, you should carefully weigh the various factors that can influence your return on investment.

Attending regionally accredited schools is typically best, and you should consider the cost of tuition, along with your likelihood of receiving financial aid. Also, carefully look into the area surrounding your prospective school. For example, how much does student and private housing in the surrounding area cost?

Furthermore, you are more likely to experience a positive learning environment at a school in a city that appeals to you culturally.

Who May Want to Attend an Urban School?

Urban schools appeal to many students. Some learners may want to attend an urban school because they want to move to a large city that will present them with professional and personal opportunities. Other students apply to urban schools because they may offer high social mobility, often in the form of financial aid incentives for first-generation and/or low-income students.

Many students gravitate towards urban schools because the commuter student culture fits their needs.

Ultimately, you may find that the unique culture of an urban school can make your learning experience more interesting, fulfilling, and inspiring.

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