5 coolest college towns in New England

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UMass Amherst
UMass Amherst


By Emily Smith

Campus News

Searching for that perfect college or university? Look no further! New England is known for its small town life, so what better place to find a tight knit college community? The following New England towns rank as the top in the region, and it’s no mystery why. While two of the coolest college towns rank in New Hampshire, the others are situated in Massachusetts and Vermont.

Manchester, NH
Manchester is home to the largest undergraduate population in the greater Boston area and is composed of five major colleges and universities. Much like the Five College Consortium in Amherst, Massachusetts, students who attend New Hampshire Institute of Art and University of New Hampshire have the ability to attend classes at both schools, both of which are known for their Master of Fine Arts programs. Manchester is also home to Southern New Hampshire University. The city is known by locals as “ManchVegas” for its endless strip of bars, which makes Friday night in this New England town wicked fun.

Manchester recently began allowing Uber to drive through the city, which has improved its already high walkability rating. You can often see students walking down Elm St., the main stretch of downtown Manchester, since all three universities have an urban campus. In other words, the city is their school.

CNNMoney.com ranked Manchester as one of the best cities to live and launch a business in, and Fast Company ranked the city as one of the Top 10 cities in America for technology-related jobs. Locally owned coffee shops, vintage thrift stores and a strong tie to the arts community make Manchester a city of opportunity in any field. So, it’s no wonder that students are sticking around the city after graduation.

Cambridge, MA
Cambridge is the perfect little city for the intellectual hipster. It’s home to some of smartest schools in the country like Harvard and MIT – and it better be, since it was named after the University of Cambridge in England. Bookish types are drawn to the academic celebrities at the Harvard Coop Bookstore and the Boston Book Festival in the fall. Artists and activists populate Inman Square, a Cambridge neighborhood with a reputation for supporting experimental and avant-garde work.

Cambridge is also known for leading in technology and innovation. Brands like Google, IBM Research, Microsoft Research and Amazon.com are currently in the process of opening offices there. Some have even called the area the technology capital of Massachusetts, especially for startups – a type of business led by young adults and recent graduates.

Boston, Cambridge’s sister city, is only one stop away on the subway, or “the T” as locals call it. The greater Boston area is known for its Irish heritage, which means a Friday night in Cambridge is soaked in Guinness. Try River Gods, a quirky Irish pub, for a quintessentially Cambridge experience.

Amherst, MA
Amherst is home to the famous 5 college consortium, which includes Smith, Mount Holyoke, Hampshire, Amherst and UMass Amherst. According to urban legends, the five colleges each represent a character from “Scooby-Doo:” Velma, Daphne, Shaggy, Fred and Scooby respectively. Students who attend one of these schools are lucky enough to participate in classes at all five schools – a program that is almost unlike any other set of schools in the country. The schools also offer transportation between each campus.

Amherst is rich in literary history, as it was home to poet Emily Dickinson – today, you can still visit her home. Smith is known as the school where Sylvia Plath attended and which inspired portions of “The Bell Jar,” a book often cited as a coming of age novel for college students. This quintessential college town is smart and innovative, which is why many of the campuses offer charge stations for electric cars. For a fun Saturday nearby, students often buy a ticket to Six Flags New England.

The liberal arts colleges in Amherst are consistently ranked as some of the best, if not the best, in the entire country. UMass Amherst’s ranking is especially impressive, since it is a public university. Mount Holyoke is also unique, in that it’s one of the only schools in the country that still exclude men from applying.

Burlington, VT
Burlington regularly shows up at the top rankings for college towns. Liberal and creative students are attracted to the town for its famous residents like Ben and Jerry and Phish, a band. While Burlington offers the typical college town fare, like coffee shops and bike paths, it also caters to a higher end of clientele like professors and generous parents. Visitors can shop for anything from artisanal food to designer clothing. The town is populated by students at Champlain College, Burlington College and The University of Vermont.

Burlington has been rated by AARP as “a town to watch” for its new urbanism, shown growth and simple living standards. The student population makes up an impressive quarter of the Burlington residency. Burlington is also ranked as one of the safest towns in Vermont, despite being the largest city in the state. According to police, a strong sense of community in Burlington keeps crime in the town unusually low.

Hanover, NH
Hanover’s existence primarily depends on the Appalachian Trail and Dartmouth College, an Ivy League school. Dartmouth has an incredible Greek life and almost 75% of its students are involved in some kind of sport. Some of its fraternities are even gender inclusive – at Dartmouth, students make a point to promote inclusivity. In fact, the town of Hanover is built around Dartmouth’s quad. Expect everything in this tiny New England town to feel and look like a scene out of “Gilmore Girls.”

Cross the short bridge that connects New Hampshire to Norwich, Vermont, to taste New England’s best apple cider donuts. Recently, Hanover got its first celebrity chef. In this New Hampshire town, you’ll doubtlessly be dining in some impressive company. As a note, Hanover is home to one of the most impressive Starbucks shops in the country – it’s got cathedral ceilings!

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