Students consider several factors when deciding where to go to college, including the quality of academics, cost, extracurricular activities, housing, networking opportunities, and social scene. The look and feel of a campus represents another important consideration for many learners, as students' surroundings can significantly affect their ability to learn and experience life as young adults.
This guide features a ranking of the most beautiful college campuses in America, including both private and public institutions.
In determining this list, we examined each school's location, architecture, landscaping, public spaces, and access to nature. We placed more emphasis on campuses that allow students to experience nature and beautiful scenery on a daily basis. This list also includes several campuses with historic buildings.
Most Beautiful College Campuses in America
Most Beautiful College Campuses
A women's liberal arts college that was founded in 1885, Bryn Mawr College's campus boasts striking Collegiate Gothic architecture, open spaces, and an arboretum. The campus's stone buildings frame an ornate statue of Athena.
Bryn Mawr's campus features 40 buildings on 135 acres located about 11 miles west of Philadelphia. It features The Cloisters -- an open courtyard modeled after Old World architecture and designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Additionally, the Sunken Garden features a covered trellis that offers a tranquil place to read, reflect, and enjoy nature. It also hosts theater performances, weddings, and other special events throughout the year.
Thanks in large part to its Classic Gothic architecture, the University of Chicago's campus rates among the prettiest campuses in America. The campus includes buildings designed by many of the world's top architects, including Henry Ives Cobb, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright.
In addition to its historic structures, the campus houses the modern Charles M. Harper Center. This building -- completed in 2004 -- features an enormous steel and glass skylight.
Located on 211 acres on the shores of Lake Michigan, the South Side campus gives students many opportunities to take in nature while still living in a vibrant urban setting. The campus borders Jackson Park, which features bird trails and gardens. It will also serve as the site of the Barack Obama Presidential Center and Library.
Located in the hills of northwest Georgia, Berry College features the world's largest campus, which covers roughly 27,000 acres.
Its location gives students many opportunities to bike, hike, camp, and kayak. The school provides rental gear, guides, and maps for students to use. More than 88 miles of trails wind around lakes, streams, meadows, and forest.
The design of the campus also incorporates nature into the learning experience, as students can take in the surrounding beauty when simply walking to class. Students never need to stray far to find a quiet space to read, reflect, and enjoy nature.
The school's architecture includes a variety of styles. Most notably, the Ford Dining Hall features an English Gothic design.
University of Colorado Boulder
The University of Colorado's flagship campus features beautiful sandstone, limestone, and red tile buildings that play off the natural hues of the surrounding Flatiron Mountains. Students can enjoy breathtaking views throughout the campus.
The nearby Boulder Creek Path allows students to engage with nature by walking, biking, or running -- all while taking in the views. Old Main, the oldest building on campus, includes a heritage center that details the school's rich history.
CU Boulder's campus includes the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre, which is nestled on a sprawling lawn among several historic structures; each year, the theater hosts the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. The campus is also adjacent to historic downtown Boulder, which offers quaint shops and walkable streets.
North Carolina's Elon University features a sprawling 636-acre campus with woodlands, lakes, and fountains. The school's landscaping seamlessly integrates nature, and the entire campus is designated as a botanical garden.
The 56-acre Elon University Forest offers a protected natural area that serves as a teaching and learning resource for classes and research opportunities. Students can also walk along trails and enjoy quiet settings for reading, learning, and reflecting. Additionally, the Elon Environmental Center at Loy Farm -- complete with a solar farm -- offers a place for environmental research and sustainability efforts.
The campus architecture uses a mostly Collegiate Georgian style, with burgundy brick that mimics the university's colors. Students walk on custom clay pavers on the sidewalks and paths leading up to historic buildings.
Located near the shores of Lake Washington in Seattle, the University of Washington boasts one of the most stunning campuses in the nation. Throughout the 703-acre grounds, students can take in picturesque views of the Cascade Mountains, including the towering Mount Rainier.
Many of the school's historic buildings feature Collegiate Gothic architecture. Perhaps most notable is Suzzallo Library, with its enormous stained-glass windows and 65-foot vaulted ceilings. One of the most iconic spots on campus, Drumheller Fountain, dates back to the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.
Each spring, the campus's 30 cherry blossom trees -- running along paths between UW's liberal arts buildings in the Quad -- attract visitors from around the world. The trees bloom with vibrant pink petals that contrast beautifully with the brick buildings behind them.
University of Virginia
The University of Virginia, founded in 1819, features a campus that reflects the aesthetic principles of Thomas Jefferson. The Rotunda sits at the center of campus -- its design based on the Roman Pantheon.
Jefferson also conceived the UVA Academical Village, which sits adjacent to the Rotunda and enables students and faculty members to come together, enjoy the outdoors, and take in the views of the nearby Southwest and Blue Ridge Mountains.
Architecturally, the campus showcases striking brick buildings surrounded by lush foliage and gardens. The university blends new and renovated buildings into Jefferson's vision for the campus. Located in Charlottesville, UVA's campus sprawls over 1,682 acres. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for more than three decades.
Located just outside Boston, Wellesley College sits on the banks of Lake Waban and educates about 2,500 learners each year. Students can enjoy open meadows and groves of hardwoods and conifers on the nearly 500-acre campus. They can also stroll amongst historic buildings, wooded hillsides, botanical gardens, and an arboretum house.
The Houghton Chapel, dedicated in 1899, sits at the center of the campus. This structure features a classic Latin cross design with a beautiful gray stone exterior. Wellesley's true beauty comes in the fall, when its thousands of trees change colors and provide an entirely new look and feel to the campus.
Located just north of Chicago in Evanston, Northwestern University benefits from the beauty of Lake Michigan and its on-campus beaches. Students never need to walk more than a few minutes to take in the fresh air and cool breezes by the lake.
The 240-acre campus features numerous tree-lined walkways and public spaces, and students learn in both historic and modern facilities. One of the most iconic buildings, Deering Library, dates back to the 1930s and features architecture based on Cambridge's King's College Chapel.
A more recent addition, the Kellogg Global Hub houses the university's world-renowned business school. The hub centers on a three-story atrium where students and faculty can collaborate and enjoy a beautiful open space.
Tucked away in the hills of southwest Portland, Oregon, Lewis and Clark College features incredible views of snow-capped Mount Hood and the nearby Willamette River. The grounds feel more like a wooded park than a college, and students can easily access the forest and a creek that runs through the center of campus.
Directly adjacent to the 137-acre campus is Tryon Creek State Natural Area, which features dozens of hiking trails. Students can also easily take a day or weekend trip to the Pacific Coast or Columbia River Gorge.
Lewis & Clark's mission aligns with the natural beauty of its surroundings. Known as one of the greenest postsecondary institutions in the United States, the college powers its facilities with sustainable wind power.
With its Spanish Renaissance-inspired architecture and views of Mission Bay, the University of San Diego is among the most beautiful college campuses in America.
Founded in 1949, the university calls its 180-acre campus Alcalá Park after the University of Alcalá in Spain. USD's students enjoy sunny weather throughout the year while walking amongst palm trees, fountains, and welcoming public spaces.
In 2003, the university completed the Donald P. Shiley Center for Science and Technology -- a state-of-the-art space with an exterior that blends seamlessly with the other historic buildings on campus.
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Students from around the world attend the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, benefitting from its natural beauty and unique architecture.
The 320-acre campus, situated in the beautiful Mānoa Valley, features the Lyon Arboretum -- the nation's only university tropical arboretum. In it, students can enjoy and learn about bromeliads, gingers, palms, and various other trees and plant life found in Hawai'i. In total, the campus features more than 4,000 trees.
The grounds also provide picturesque views of the city of Honolulu, the lush landscapes of the surrounding area, and the expansive Pacific Ocean. Students can also take in the campus's Thai open pavilion and find serenity in the Japanese garden, which includes a teahouse and koi pond.
Founded in 1869 as a women's college, Vassar College features a 1,000-acre campus with a variety of historical architecture.
The campus itself serves as a large arboretum with hundreds of types of trees, including beeches, elms, maples, oaks, and willows. Students regularly find themselves underneath a lush canopy of trees while simply walking to class. They can also enjoy immaculate landscaping and well-maintained lawns.
Vassar's Main Building, listed as a National Historic Landmark, features a slate dome with bluestone window trim and horizontal banding. The Thompson Memorial Library, meanwhile, displays iconic Gothic architecture complete with a stained glass window depicting the first-ever woman to receive a doctoral degree.
Based in Poughkeepsie, New York, the campus is located near the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains.
With its sprawling 830-acre campus overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Malibu, California, few postsecondary institutions offer the beauty and experience of Pepperdine University. The school originally opened in Los Angeles in the late 1930s, but moved to its current location in 1972.
Although less than 40 miles from the country's second-largest city, Pepperdine seems like a world all its own. Its buildings feature a Mediterranean-style architecture that provide a historic look and feel, even though its facilities deliver a modern educational experience to students.
Most Pepperdine structures display white stucco exteriors, tile roofing, and lightly tinted windows. These colors provide the perfect contrast to the views of the nearby hills and coastline. Pepperdine students venture frequently to the adjacent Malibu Bluffs Park and Amarillo Beach.
An Ivy League institution located in Ithaca, New York, Cornell University surrounds the rushing waters of Fall Creek and the shores of Lake Cayuga.
The 745-acre campus features numerous trails and bridges, where students regularly find themselves crossing scenic gorges. Students can easily take some time to go hiking, biking, climbing, and kayaking without venturing far off campus.
Cornell features 10 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Bailey Hall -- a 1,300-seat performance venue opened in 1913 -- features prominent columns on its front exterior, along with a towering domed ceiling that contributes to the hall's distinct acoustics.
In addition to its broad selection of works, the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art provides panoramic views of the Finger Lakes.
Modern Amenities and Historical Charm
A beautiful college campus can have a big impact on students and their learning experiences.
Students living on campus expect dorm rooms that are modern and up-to-date, providing necessary wiring for computers and other technology. The key for many colleges with older campus buildings is to implement needed updates while maintaining the look and feel of tradition.
Additionally, as environmental issues become more important to students, colleges are reshaping their campuses to be less damaging towards the environment. For example, Rice University is redesigning its campus by creating more green space for students and installing more efficient lighting and power sources.
Other schools are making classrooms more student-friendly with better seating and lighting. Gone are old desks and hard chairs, replaced with tables for groups and padded seating. Many colleges are also limiting class sizes, leading to less crowded classrooms that emphasize personal instruction.
A Productive Learning Environment
Students say they like a combination of old and new when it comes to campuses. Campuses with ample outdoor areas for students to congregate tend to be rated highly, as are those with modern facilities for lab work and research. Modern research buildings that give students the best tools to work with make a big impression on learners and how they view their learning experience.
New buildings and cutting-edge technology have their appeal, but location also matters when it comes to deciding which campuses are the most beautiful. Schools in warm states and those that provide scenic views often rate favorably.
Where Do You Fit In?
When prospective students are deciding which schools to visit, they should consider several factors, including the type of environment they want to study in.
Do they prefer a warmer climate like Florida or California or a colder one like Minnesota or Maine? Do they want a campus with lots of open fields or wooded areas or do they prefer access to the beach? Do they like the hustle and bustle of a big city or would they prefer a more rural location?
The answers to these questions come into play when deciding on a college.
When on a campus visit, spend the day walking around and getting a feel for it. Visit classrooms, labs, research facilities, athletics stadiums, and other places. Look at the dorms set aside for new students. And go into the buildings that house classrooms dedicated to your major; this can give you an idea of how important the college views that department.
Take your time, look around, and ask a lot of questions. Your first impressions of a college can have a big impact on whether you decide to enroll, and it's important that those impressions are well-informed.