Nicest Colleges in America

portrait of Staff Writers
by Staff Writers

Published October 29, 2020

Share this Article

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.

www.bestcolleges.com 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.

Ready to start your journey?

What Are The Nicest Colleges in America?

Nicest Colleges in America

  1. University of Michigan
    Location

    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%.

  2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    Location

    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.

  3. University of California
    Location

    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.

  4. University of Virginia
    Location

    Charlottesville, VA

    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.

  5. University of Florida
    Location

    Gainesville, FL

    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.

  6. University of Maryland, College Park
    Location

    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.

  7. University of Wisconsin
    Location

    Madison, WI

    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.

  8. University of Texas at Austin
    Location

    Austin, TX

    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.

  9. University of Washington
    Location

    Seattle, WA

    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.

  10. Ohio State University
    Location

    Columbus, OH

    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%.

Methodology

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.

BestColleges.com 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.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.