The Best College Towns in Texas
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- Some of the best colleges in Texas are located in small college towns.
- The best college towns offer affordability, student-centered attractions, and walkability.
- Over 1.6 million students attend Texas' colleges and universities.
More than 140 colleges and universities call Texas home, and over 1.6 million students attended these institutions in the 2020 academic year. But what draws these students to the second-largest state in the U.S.? One reason is the relatively low cost of living (and studying) in Texas. Among U.S. states, Texas had the 15th lowest cost of living in 2021.
Some other reasons to study in Texas include its great food, live music, and opportunities for outdoor adventures. Additionally, in 2019, Forbes ranked Texas the top state for growth prospects. When choosing a college, students may be attracted to Texas' low cost of living, positive projected job growth, and high-quality academic programs. For more information about going to college in the Lone Star State, check out our Resources for Students in Texas page.
10 Best College Towns in Texas
To come up with this list of the best college towns in Texas, we considered a handful of variables. These towns are close to a college campus — with downtown areas typically within walking distance. They offer fun, student-centered attractions; affordability; a good education; and a safe place to call home. Some also made our list of the best cities to work in Texas. While you won't find many of Texas' biggest cities on this list, the towns described below still offer lots for college students to do.
- Population (U.S. Census Bureau Estimate, 2020): 120,511
- Colleges: Texas A&M University
Texas A&M's enrollments in 2021 totaled more than 73,000 students, making Aggies a large percentage of College Station's population. It's a town filled with youthful energy and one that takes college football seriously. On fall Saturdays, fans head to Kyle Field — the biggest stadium in the Southeastern Conference.
College Station is located in the heart of Brazos Valley: a tech- and research-based area with easy access to Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. It offers a lower cost of living than the average U.S. city and affordable housing. The town also boasts more than 50 public parks, which provide swimming pools, hiking trails, and tennis and basketball courts.
Students flock to the many bars, restaurants, and music venues that cater to the younger crowd. For a fun winter activity, consider hitting the ice at the Spirit Ice Arena.
- Population (U.S. Census Bureau Estimate, 2020): 257,141
- Colleges: Lubbock Christian University, South Plains College, Texas Tech University, Wayland Baptist University
Lubbock offers one of the lowest cost of living cities on our list; as of November 2021, the average monthly for a one-bedroom apartment was $747. In addition to affordability, Lubbock's students also enjoy local craft breweries and a multitude of casual dining options.
It's no wonder that over 52,000 college students make this city — located in the northwestern part of Texas — their home. In addition to great beer and affordability, Lubbock's Depot District boasts a diverse entertainment scene that includes the local theater, numerous art galleries, and frequent live music.
- Population (U.S. Census Bureau Estimate, 2020): 14,836
- Colleges: West Texas A&M University
This small, suburban-like town is a mix of quiet neighborhoods and a downtown district featuring a growing number of restaurants and shopping options. With about 10,000 students, West Texas A&M's student body makes up a significant part of the town.
Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy easy access to Palo Duro Canyon State Park — the second-largest canyon in the U.S. College students who make the 14-mile journey to the park enjoy camping, hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking.
For over two months in the summer, the canyon's natural Pioneer Amphitheater hosts the TEXAS Outdoor Musical, the longest-running outdoor musical drama in the nation. Canyon also lays claim to over 20 historical sites and the largest historical museum in Texas.
- Population (U.S. Census Bureau Estimate, 2020): 139,869
- Colleges: Texas Woman's University, University of North Texas
Denton is the 12th-largest city in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Known for its vibrant music scene, students in the area can enjoy numerous concert venues, music festivals, and clubs, as well as UNT's Murchison Performing Arts Center. Rooftop bars, restaurants, shops, and event venues line the historic downtown square.
The North Texas Fair and Rodeo holds court in Denton for nine days each year. The area also offers one of the largest concentrations of horse farms in the country. Those who love the great outdoors can head to one of the city's 20-plus trails or the Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center.
For a fun fall college activity, Denton offers one of the best Day of the Dead celebrations in Texas. About 55,000 college students make Denton their home.
- Population (U.S. Census Bureau Estimate, 2020): 138,486
- Colleges: Baylor University, McLennan Community College, Texas State Technical College in Waco
This bustling college town sits along the shores of the Brazos River in central Texas. The city offers several outdoor recreational sites, including Indian Spring Park, which features live concerts, and Cameron Park, which boasts hiking and mountain biking trails. The 37,000-plus college students who live in Waco can also head to Lake Waco for swimming, hiking, boating, and fishing.
Other popular spots include the Magnolia Market at the Silos and the Instagram-worthy murals found throughout the Waco Downtown Cultural District. Additionally, Waco boasts a dynamic dining scene.
Many students in the town embrace a strong sense of community. For example, Baylor hosts a Habitat for Humanity chapter and a one-day community event called Steppin' Out.
- Population (U.S. Census Bureau Estimate, 2020): 132,524
- Colleges: Midland College
As of 2021, Residents of Midland boast one of the nation's highest personal incomes per capita, thanks to the city's success in the oil industry. Nicknamed the "Tall City" for its downtown skyline, residents can access many activities.
Students can experience live country music, a nature center, wildlife preserves, a drive-in theater, and the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum. Established in 2011, the state-of-the-art Wagner Noel Performing Arts Center puts on over 150 shows a year, including country music, symphony orchestras, ballet, and Broadway shows.
Over 4,700 students enrolled at Midland College in 2020.
- Population (U.S. Census Bureau Estimate, 2020): 394,266
- Colleges: Arlington Baptist University, Tarrant County College, University of Texas at Arlington
The largest city on our list, Arlington offers several benefits for college students who enjoy outdoor activities and sporting events. Home to sports teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers, and Dallas Wings, Arlington also contains AT&T Stadium — the largest enclosed stadium in the NFL.
Residents can head to the original Six Flags, Hurricane Harbor water park, or one of the area's more than 100 trails covering almost 500 miles.
Sandwiched between Dallas and Fort Worth, Arlington provides access to all the culture, entertainment, and opportunities these two big cities have to offer. Students can enjoy Arlington's thriving arts and music scene in the downtown Cultural District.
- Population (U.S. Census Bureau Estimate, 2020): 67,553
- Colleges: Texas State University
San Marcos — named after the river that wanders through the heart of town — is located between Austin and San Antonio. Tubers, kayakers, snorkelers, paddle boarders, and swimmers enjoy the river's water on hot Texas days. TSU's unique commencement day celebration involves graduates jumping into the river dressed in their caps and gowns.
In 2021, TSU experienced a record-setting enrollment of first-year students. Its total enrollment sits at almost 38,000, which means that the college student body outnumbers the general population. Students can hike in the Purgatory Creek Natural Area and enjoy open mic nights and live music at various venues across town.
Considered part of the "innovation corridor" of the state, the area attracts entrepreneurs and companies like Amazon, Visionary Fiber Technologies, and Urban Mining.
- Population (U.S. Census Bureau Estimate, 2020): 20,897
- Colleges: Ranger College, Tarleton State University
Stephenville is a rural town on the Bosque River about an hour southwest of Fort Worth. The Stephenville Chamber of Commerce claims to have more professional rodeo cowboys and cowgirls within its boundaries than any other town in the world.
College students often visit the Splashville Water Park and the Stephenville Disc Golf Course. For a bit of exercise, residents can jog or bike along the 1.5-mile Bosque River Trail. About 60,000 music fans head to the town for the Larry Joe Taylor Music Festival in the spring. This five-day event features live music and camping under the stars.
Students seeking jobs can find opportunities with the major manufacturing companies, small businesses, and retail shops located throughout the community and surrounding areas.
- Population (U.S. Census Bureau Estimate, 2020): 125,182
- Colleges: Abilene Christian University, Cisco College, Hardin-Simmons University, McMurry University, Texas State Technical College - West Texas, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center - Abilene Campus
Located in the heart of Texas, Abilene boasts a small-town feel with some big town benefits. Residents can visit over 100 restaurants and numerous annual music festivals, including live performances at the Historic Paramount Theater and the Abilene Philharmonic. The monthly downtown Art Walk lets local artists display their work while musicians and performers fill the streets.
Known as the "Storybook Capital of Texas," Abilene also offers the most extensive public collection of storybook character sculptures in the state. The area is mainly supported by agriculture and provides a home to more than 4,000 military and civilian personnel who make up the nearby Dyess Air Force Base.
Additionally, Abilene offers a low cost of living. As of March 2022, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment was around $650.
Frequently Asked Questions About College Towns in Texas
What is considered a college town?
A college town is a city or town where the students and colleges found within its borders shape the population, activities, and even industries. In some cases, the student population outnumbers the locals. In others, the institution may employ a large percentage of the general population.
However, just because a college or university exists within a town does not make it a "college town." The college(s) must create a strong identity and presence within the region. For example, you may find an active social scene with businesses that cater to the student body.
Is Texas a good place to go to college?
Everyone has a different definition of what makes a college location "good." But with a low cost of living and a wide variety of academic programs across numerous cities, Texas has something for nearly every student.
Some of the leading institutions in Texas include Texas A&M University, the University of Texas at Austin, and prestigious research institutions like Rice University. Students can choose from the bigger cities like Austin and Houston or smaller college towns like College Station. Six state university systems offer campuses across Texas.
What are the best colleges in Texas?
A student's academic goals, a college's size and campus culture, and the cost and financial aid opportunities all help determine the best college for each prospective student. Additionally, some students thrive in big cities, while others benefit from the comforts of a small town.
Some of the top institutions to make BestColleges' list of the best colleges in Texas include Rice University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Texas A&M University. These represent some of the world's leading universities, each of which is recognized for its contributions to research and leadership in higher education.
Is Austin a college town?
With over 1 million people, Austin is a large city, making it difficult to fit into the typical definition of a college town. However, many aspects of college culture, like Texas Longhorns football games, do greatly influence the city.
Additionally, Austin is home to many institutions. Some of the best colleges in Austin include the University of Texas at Austin, St. Edward's University, Huston-Tillotson University, and Concordia University. In addition to the high quality of education, students can access live music venues, a diverse culinary scene, and top-notch outdoor activities.
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