While academics stand out as the most important part of a college experience, you shouldn't overlook student life and community service. While you will never forget those late-night cram sessions before a final exam, you will also look back fondly on your interaction with fellow students and community members. Students choose a college for various reasons: cost, location, accreditation, and admission requirements. Choosing a college is as much about academics as it is experience.
We have compiled a list of 25 of the nicest colleges in America. These colleges go above and beyond when it comes to volunteerism, stewardship, and fostering a sense of community outside the campus. The schools included in this list also boast high retention rates for freshman students and diverse student bodies that include individuals from the LGBTQ+ community and students of various religious, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. From the University of Michigan to Arizona State University, below is a list of some of the nicest colleges with the kindest student bodies.
University of Michigan
|Ann Arbor, MI||
Located in Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan emphasizes giving back locally and globally. UM has the fourth-largest body of Peace Corps volunteers across large universities. The college also offers a Connect to Community portal run through the Edward Ginsberg Center to help students get involved in local and global communities.
Additionally, the university's Michigan Medicine Volunteer Services connects college students, high school teens, and community members with volunteer positions at American Red Cross, Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels, and Food Gatherers. Michigan Medicine has received the Partner for Change award for 15 consecutive years as a result of reducing medical waste and eliminating mercury.
From volunteerism to environmental stewardship, the University of Michigan strives to promote goodwill on and off campus. With 28,761 undergraduate students, the university boasts a 97% retention rate among freshman students, according to the ED, which exceeds the national average of 69%.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
|Chapel Hill, NC||
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a four-year research university, features a lively campus life with ample opportunities for students who are dedicated to community service.
Students can choose from many opportunities for community engagement in diverse settings in North Carolina and abroad. The American Indian Center allows students to find internships and community service at the NC Native Leadership Institute and Healthy Native North Carolinians. Students can discover more volunteerism options at the student organization Carolina Rejuvenating Our Community Through Service, which organizes community projects and the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
UNC departments also work to make a difference. The UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health provides low-income individuals with access to healthy food through its Good Bowls project. The school also provides initiatives for local farmers.
UNC students make an impact outside of North Carolina. UNC was the seventh-highest on the Peace Corps' 2017 list of colleges that produced the most volunteers.
University of California
|Los Angeles, CA||
Located in Westwood, the University of California, Los Angeles, serves as a leader in bringing sustainability to the city. More than 1,000 students work on campus in environmental research and education.
The UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge aims to make the city run on renewable energy and use local water by 2050. With more than 25 research centers dedicated to sustainability, UCLA offers a unique opportunity for students to solve the city's environmental challenges. Students can get their hands dirty by helping at the campus garden, DigUCLA.
A range of student organizations focus on environmentalism, including the research program Sustainable Action Research, where students help UCLA realize its sustainability goals.
Much like the city of Los Angeles, UCLA offers a diverse socioeconomic and cultural setting. According to the ED, the undergraduate student population of 30,859 is made up of 29% Asian, 27% Caucasian, 22% Hispanic, and 3% African American.
University of Virginia
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia draws on principles dear to its founder, Thomas Jefferson, by providing an affordable education based on virtue and merit.
This public university in Charlottesville accepts students on merit basis and fully covers the cost of college for those who demonstrate financial need through scholarships, need-based loans, work-study programs, and grants. The school boasts 15,963 undergraduates, and 12% qualify to receive Pell Grant funds, according to the ED.
With 12 schools, the college also encourages cross-disciplinary collaboration. The School of Medicine aims to end childhood diabetes by partnering with the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Data Science Institute, and Center for Diabetes Technology.
Public service remains an integral part of the college's mission. Students can find volunteer opportunities through Learning in Action at Madison House, which partners with more than 60 organizations. Students can participate in service projects, such as organizing a carnival at a local school or volunteering at Adopt-A-Grandparent.
University of Florida
Located in Gainesville on a 2,000-acre campus, the University of Florida offers more than 1,000 student organizations that provide entertainment, community engagement opportunities, social interaction, and the chance for students to make a difference.
This public college, founded in 1853, boasts 33,309 undergraduate students and a robust campus life. From helping homeless people to raising awareness about sustainability, students can explore numerous opportunities through Gator Connect, the university's student organization directory.
Standout student-run organizations include A Reason to Give, which helps the homeless in Gainesville, and the Ability Service Training Responsibility Achievement, which organizes students to complete service projects through the Ronald McDonald House and March of Dimes. Another outstanding organization, Gators for Environmental Community Outreach helps university students educate children in grade school about environmental sustainability.
With 58 volunteers, University of Florida ranks fifth among colleges and universities that contribute Peace Corps volunteers.
University of Maryland, College Park
|College Park, MD||
The University of Maryland, a four-year public research institution, is located in College Park, outside of Washington, DC. This flagship campus boasts a reputation as the "Do Good" campus thanks to its devotion to social entrepreneurship.
The school aims to transform idealism into impact by encouraging graduates to continue to give back to their communities throughout their lives. Launched in UMD's School of Public Policy department, the initiative has spread throughout the entire campus. The university's Do Good Institute offers several programs to inspire students to create social impact through advocacy work, fundraising, and volunteerism. Students can also win the $20,000 Do Good Challenge prize with a project proposal.
This "Do Good" campus also produces happy students. With 27,864 undergraduate students, UMD boasts a 96% retention rate for freshman students.
University of Wisconsin
With more than 43,000 students, the University of Wisconsin ranks as the top college for Peace Corps volunteers. A total of 87 alumni undergraduate Peace Corps volunteers hail from UW.
Students enjoy numerous opportunities on and off campus to volunteer their time. To get involved, UW students can explore categories such as activism or volunteer work in the Wisconsin Involvement Network. The directory features more than 900 student organizations. Options for service work include joining the Advocates for Alzheimer's club, which helps raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer's. Students can also join the university's chapter of the American Red Cross Club and volunteer at local blood drives.
In addition to service work, the college prides itself on welcoming a diverse student body. Students can find additional resources and support at the Multicultural Student Center, LGBT Campus Center, and McBurney Disability Resource Center.
University of Texas at Austin
The University of Texas located in the heart of Austin lives up to its saying, "what starts here changes the world." The UT Austin campus sits on 437 acres and boasts an undergraduate student body of 40,492.
In addition to attending a world-renowned research institution, students can meet new friends and make a difference through more than 1,300 student organizations and three legislative student groups. HornsLink, the student organization directory, connects students with community service opportunities. Learners can also access civic engagement opportunities through the Longhorn Center for Community Engagement, which organized donations in 2017 for people impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
The center also posts events on its Give Pulse website to help students find upcoming events and service opportunities, including working in a Mexican healing herbs garden and setting up booths at a children's fair.
University of Washington
The University of Washington, a respected public research college in Seattle, maintains a reputation for its social sciences, business, engineering, and medical departments. This flagship campus is also a leader in raising awareness and taking sustainability initiatives.
University of Washington, which boasts more than 4,500 laboratories on campus, established the Climate Action Plan initiative in 2009 to reduce its carbon emissions by implementing measures, such as ridesharing and reducing landfill waste. The college encourages faculty and students to get certified through the Green Laboratory Program and the Green Office Certification program. Students can also promise to reduce their carbon footprint by taking the sustainability pledge.
Additionally, faculty, staff, and students can join green teams and make contributions such as organizing composting programs and recycling bottle caps. The college also hosts an annual Sustainability Fair to showcase the campus' green projects.
Ohio State University
Founded in 1870, Ohio State University's campus in Columbus is a leader in technology and research. The campus, set on 1,665 acres, earns distinction as the third largest in the nation.
For decades, Ohio State University has devoted millions in research funds to solving the state's environmental issues. In 2017, the college received $50 million from Ohio's energy supplier, Engie and Axium Infrastructure, to build the Energy Advancement and Innovation Center, which will focus on renewable energy.
Undergraduates serve as role models, engaging in community and international service work. Ohio State University ranks as the ninth top producer of Peace Corps volunteers. Alumni, students, and community members find additional volunteer opportunities through the Office of Volunteer Relations.
According to the ED, freshman students have a 94% retention rate, exceeding the national average of 69%.
University of Minnesota
|Twin Cities, MN||
The University of Minnesota, founded in 1851, stretches across St. Paul and Minneapolis. Minnesota ranks second in volunteerism, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, and UMN follows this tradition.
UMN encourages students to volunteer while enrolled in college by giving credit for service-learning courses. Classes like family work field study and social change organization give students college credit and experience working in the community.
Aside from offering service-learning courses, the college also strives to increase community engagement through its Ten-Point Plan for Advancing and Institutionalizing Public Engagement initiative. Students can find ample opportunities to volunteer through the Community Service-Learning Center and the Office of Public Engagement. These centers conduct research in urban environments and provide programs such as the Witness Creative Writing Project, which encourages participants to explore justice through their writing.
Considering its devotion to service, it should not be a surprise that UMN ranks third in producing Peace Corps volunteers.
Penn State University
|University Park, PA||
Founded in 1855, Penn State University sits on a 7,958-acre campus in University Park. This four-year college may be known for its lively Greek life, but Penn State University also offers many opportunities to get involved on and off campus with more than 1,000 student organizations.
Penn State University is home to the world's largest student-run philanthropy organization. Students created IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, or THON, in 1973. Learners hold the dance marathon to raise money for children fighting cancer. THON typically draws more than 16,000 volunteers.
Students can explore more volunteer opportunities on campus. Volunteers work in the arboretum garden or provide tours at the Childhood's Gate Children's Garden. Individuals also help with bird-banding surveys for the Avian Education program.
With 40,891 undergraduate students, Penn State University also boasts a happy campus. The university maintains a freshman retention rate of 93%.
University of California, Davis
Established in 1905 as a farm school, the University of California at Davis serves as a world-renowned research institute that welcomes diversity. UC Davis' main campus sits in Northern California, outside of Sacramento.
Approximately 40% of UC Davis students qualify for the low-income guidelines to receive Pell Grant funding, according to the ED. To increase campus diversity and reduce its reliance on state funding, UC Davis set its 2020 Initiative which will increase its national and international student population by 5,000.
According to Forbes, UC Davis ranks first in launching women into STEM professions. The college takes numerous initiatives to promote diversity in science, technology, engineering, and math. In 2012, UC Davis created ADVANCE with the help of a grant from the National Science Foundation ADVANCE program to increase the number of women in STEM. The program also monitors the distribution of STEM faculty by race and gender.
Mentorship remains a core value of faculty at UC Davis. Through the Million Women Mentors-California program, approximately 50,000 STEM women mentors will pair up with girls.
North Carolina State University
Located in Raleigh on a 2,112-acre campus, North Carolina State University aims to open education to the masses. Founded in 1887, this public, four-year college boasts a diverse socioeconomic student body with 21% of learners receiving Pell Grant funds, according to the ED.
With more than 34,000 undergraduate students, NC State University prides itself on opening its doors and offering an affordable education. Students pay an annual average cost of $14,682 for college, which is below the national average of $16,424.
Students enjoy a happy experience on campus. NC State University boasts a 93% retention rate for freshman students.
NC State University has more than 700 student organizations, where students can have fun and give back. Many student-run organizations focus on helping communities in the Raleigh area and broader North Carolina regions, including the famous Krispy Kreme Challenge, which in 14 years has raised more than $1.3 million for charity.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, founded in 1867, is located in Urbana and Champaign on a 1,783-acre campus. This land-grant college maintains a reputation for its research and public engagement.
Outreach work remains a core element of the U of I's mission. The Public Engagement Portal posts upcoming events where faculty and students can attend workshops and lectures. U of I experts in STEM departments also give free demonstrations at the Science at the Market booth at Urbana's Farmers Market. The college offers more than 1,600 student-run organizations.
Additionally, the Asian-American Cultural Center, Bruce D. Nesbitt African-American Cultural Center, La Casa Cultural Latina, Native American House, Women's Resources Center, and LGBT Resource Center provide resources to the diverse student body. Of the 32,752 undergraduate students, 21% receive Pell Grant funds.
Michigan State University
|East Landing, MI||
The Michigan State University campus, located in the suburbs of East Lansing, was founded in 1855 as the nation's first land-grant institution. This public, four-year university has gained a reputation for raising awareness about sustainability through its environmental journalism and science departments.
Through hands-on experience, journalism students learn about reporting on environmental news at the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. As a result of excellent student journalism on the infrastructure collapse in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, the Knight Center won a $404,873 grant from the National Science Foundation.
The college also shares its resources and knowledge with the local farming community. The C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems offers various programs for farmers, including Michigan's Emerging Farmers, which trains local farmers in sustainability techniques.
James Madison University
With a campus set in the city of Harrisonburg and 19,262 undergraduates, James Madison University, strives to remain a leader in community engagement. JMU encourages students to engage with the community and pursue purposeful careers.
Engagement on JMU's campus consists of engaged learning, community engagement, and civic engagement. Engagement learning means students and faculty share their knowledge and research within Virginia and internationally through JMU's study-abroad programs. While community engagement allows students to experience working directly with people in the surrounding areas through programs such as the Muhlenberg Brass Festival and UREC's kids camps. Students can also get involved in state and national politics through many civil engagement opportunities, including joining the Dukes Vote.
JMU emphasizes enjoying college life and making lifelong friends. The student-run University Program Board holds recurring movie nights and student concerts.
University of California - Santa Barbara
|Santa Barbara, CA||
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the University of California, Santa Barbara, is a prime location for environmentalists. UCSB ranks as the 22nd greenest school, according to the Princeton Review. The campus contains numerous LEED-certified buildings.
Considering its location, it should not be a surprise that UCSB earns recognition for its contributions to ecology through the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. Additionally, researchers at the Institute for Energy Efficiency continually develop innovative ideas to create energy-saving technology.
Students enjoy a lively campus setting with about 10% involved in Greek life and more than 400 student organizations. According to the ED, UCSB also enjoys a 93% retention rate for its freshman students, higher than the national average.
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Founded in 1863, the University of Massachusetts Amherst offers courses on its main campus and classes at four of its other campuses under the Five College Interchange.
Students at UMass Amherst enjoy some of the tastiest, healthiest, and most sustainable campus cuisine in the nation. The dining hall serves about 45,000 meals a day, more than any other location. The college prepares the best campus food, according to the Princeton Review. UMass Amherst also boasts a higher than average freshman retention rate of 91%, according to data from the ED.
Another part of UMass Amherst's history has been ensuring that its campus promotes inclusion and diversity. When the campus' LGBTQ+ center, the Stonewall Center, was established in 1985, it was one of only three in the nation. Today the center provides education and outreach work through Queer-e.
Indiana University Bloomington
Established in 1820, Bloomington serves as the main campus for the Indiana University system. Students can also attend six other satellite campuses.
Home of the Hoosiers, IU Bloomington students, faculty, and community maintain a fierce loyalty to the collegiate sports teams. The campus offers more than 750 student organizations, and more than 70 fraternities and sororities. IU Bloomington boasts an undergraduate population of 32,924. Approximately 15% of students meet the low-income requirements to receive Pell Grant money, according to data from the ED.
Giving back is a Hoosier tradition. IU Bloomington Little 500 bike race, which draws about 25,000 fans, raises money for college scholarships. The IU Student Foundation awards around $80,000 in scholarships every year.
IU Bloomington also serves as a leader in helping communities cope with climate change. The Environmental Resilience Institute released an online toolkit to help governments within Indiana and beyond implement green infrastructure initiatives as climate change continues to impact farmers.
University of South Florida
Located in Tampa, the University of South Florida boasts two smaller campuses in Sarasota and St. Petersburg. This public college offers a lively campus that emphasizes inclusivity and public engagement.
BullSync connects students with more than 600 organizations. Students can help raise funds and awareness about social issues, such as human trafficking and homelessness through the Bulls Service Breaks and the Bulls For Kids dance marathon run through the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement office. Notable service trips in the past brought students to work in areas of Puerto Rico devastated by Hurricane Maria.
The college also strives to create a safe haven for diversity. In 2015, Campus Pride named the university one of the top three friendliest campuses. Numerous centers provide resources to students through the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs, including the African American Arts Institute, LGBTQ+ Culture Center, and Asian Culture Center.
University of Oregon
The University of Oregon, a public college set in the city of Eugene, offers many career advancement opportunities to its undergraduate population of 19,775 students.
The college gives students a wider course selection through its dual enrollment program, which allows students to take some classes at a community college. Through the Professional Distinctions Program students can also build their resume while in college by taking career workshops, internships, and concentrated studies.
To foster diversity and inclusion on campus, UO offers many programs through the Division of Equity and Inclusion. Students can participate in activism work through the Center on Diversity and Community, Multicultural Center, and Center for Multicultural Academic Excellence.
Community outreach work is also a cornerstone of UO's mission. The college hosts the Summer Academy to offer free one-week summer college programs to low-income middle school and high school students. To find more leadership opportunities, students can visit OrgSync and browse more than 160 student organizations.
Colorado State University
|Fort Collins, CO||
Based in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado State University, a public college founded in 1870, serves as a leading research institution dedicated to interdisciplinary collaborative work.
CSU's departments work together to find solutions for health and environmental issues. This collaborative spirit also extends to students. The Student Leadership, Involvement & Community Engagement, or SLiCE, organizes students to get involved in communities through several programs such as Rams Against Hunger, which feeds undergraduates in need, and Project Homeless Connect, a one-day event that gives the homeless community access to medical exams and legal help.
With an 86% freshman retention rate, according to ED data, CSU undergraduates remain serious about their studies; however, this does not mean campus life is dull. More than 400 clubs get students involved in activities, such as pre-law meetings and singing groups.
Arizona State University
Founded in 1885, Arizona State University boasts 42,224 undergraduate students, making it one of the largest undergraduate populations in the nation. The school demonstrates a steadfast commitment to a healthy student body.
ASU received the Healthy Campus Award from the nonprofit Active Minds for its campus-wide efforts to support students' physical, emotional, and mental health. Numerous programs promote a healthy lifestyle on campus, including Sun Devil Fitness, which allows students to access fitness programs and facilities. ASU Counseling Services and ASU Health Services provide health resources to students, and sexual wellness groups and peer education programs provide additional support to students.
ASU offers more than 300 undergraduate programs, but students also have ample opportunities for fun and friendship with more than 1,000 students clubs. Students at ASU also show a commitment to giving back. The college ranks as the fourth producer of Teach For America recruits and 13th for Peace Corps volunteers.
University of Colorado Boulder
The University of Colorado Boulder, a public institution, is the only member in the Rocky Mountain region of the Association of American Universities. UC Boulder strives to positively impact Colorado communities and the world through collaborative research, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
UC Boulder offers many outreach programs. More than 1,400 middle school, high school, and first-generation college students have benefited from the Pre-Collegiate Development Program.
UC Boulder students also live by the Colorado Creed of honor, integrity, and respect. The Colorado Creed program and its affiliated organizations, such as the Gay-Straight Alliance and the CU Gold leadership council, work together to create a safe and inclusive campus. Students also have many opportunities to volunteer through the Volunteer Resource Center, the Be Involved Fair, and the Alternative Breaks program, which sends student teams to other communities on college breaks.
Public service extends to CU Boulder's Colorado Law School where students commit to 50 hours of law-related work pro bono.
To determine which schools have the kindest student bodies, we analyzed rankings and data on the nation's largest universities and colleges. The students at these campuses maintain a positive reputation for fundraisers, outreach efforts, and environmental sustainability work. From the North Carolina State University's Krispy Kreme Challenge to the Little 500 bike race at Indiana University, these colleges have students who make a difference both on and off campus. Using data provided by the Peace Corps, Princeton Review, and the United States Department of Education (ED), we found 25 of the top schools that emphasize volunteerism, maintain the highest retention rates, practice sustainability, and boast the most engaged student populations.