Prettiest College Campuses – My Top Ten

Something, something about this place.”  — Lady Gaga

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I love college campuses.  LOVE them.  I could spend all day, every day exploring them.  There’s just something about the design, the buildings, the landscaping, that is so unique, setting each one apart from the rest.

In the past six years I’ve had a chance to visit dozens of them, with a count upwards of 30.  I’ve still got a lot to see, but for today, in honor of a few recent articles on the most beautiful campuses in the country, I thought I’d post my own top ten from where I’ve been so far.  This post is also in honor of the ten-year anniversary this past weekend, of the first time I set my sights on the campus of my dream school.

Forgive my descriptions — I’m no architecture buff — but I’ve included links to websites if you want to see more.

The List:

#10: University of California – San Diego: Location isn’t key to this list, but it sure helps.  The cliffs and beaches of La Jolla, California are breathtaking, and when you add in some beautiful buildings and palm trees you’ve got yourself a pretty nice place to spend four years.

#9: Columbia University – NYC:  If you like unique architecture with big city surroundings then this is the place for you.  Personally, I prefer a college town atmosphere, but really enjoyed my short two days at this university.

#8: University of Wisconsin – Madison: I really wish this school would pick a more distinct architectural style, but you can’t beat a student union on the lake (even when that lake is frozen).  There’s also not a lot of campus spots prettier than Bascom Hill.

#7: University of Wisconsin – Lacrosse: Surprise, not all the schools on my list are Division I.  When I visited this campus in high-school for a band competition I came home and told my mom that if she forced me to stay in state, I’d go here.  Luckily, I had the country to choose from, but I still love this campus.  The bluffs, the red brick buildings, and it’s got that small, homey feel to it.

#6: Duke University:  This is not a list of my favorite teams, but this campus has grown on me.  The architecture is hard to argue with, in particular the famed chapel, and the forest and other landscaping is awesome.

Top 5 (My Standouts)

#5: University of Iowa:  I never thought I’d find the twin campus to my dream school in Iowa City, Iowa, but it literally is, the buildings are just gray stone instead of red brick.  I love the gold domes, the hill (yes, there is at least one hill in Iowa) the football stadium flanking one side and the pedestrian mall flanking the other.

#4: Davidson College:  It’s smaller than my high-school, but this campus right outside of Charlotte is a gem.  Red brick buildings with beige columns (yes, I’m partial to the Southern style architecture), and just a cozy feel in general.  My favorite story from my aunt who went there is how they call it the “sophomore year abroad” due to the fact that the 2nd year dorms are just a little longer walk to classes than the ten feet connecting all of the other buildings.

#3: University of Maryland: Much of today’s blog post was inspired by my run through this campus this morning.  I’ll admit, I’m a bit partial to campuses I visit in the fall versus the dead of winter, yet I think I’d be in love with this one during any season.  Again, I’m a sucker for those red bricks and beige columns.

#2: Stanford University: If you haven’t been to “the farm” in Palo Alto, CA yet, I highly suggest you take a trip, whether it’s to pay tribute to the late Steve Jobs or check out the other amazing scenery within an hour or two drive (my colleagues joke about my affection for Half Moon Bay).  There’s no red bricks here, instead the California white stucco and clay roofs.  Add in some mountains in the background, along with sprawling horse farms, and it’s hard to beat.

#1: I’m going to guess most people, like me, would put their Alma Mater at #1, and the thing is, that’s what makes college so great.  You get to choose the place that fits YOU, the campus that catches YOUR eye, whether it’s 10 minutes or 1000 miles from home.  What was mine?  Well, since the book comes out in less than a month, I’m not going to ruin that now!

Top 5 campuses I want to see (in no particular order):

  1. Harvard
  2. Notre Dame
  3. University of Virginia
  4. University of Tennessee
  5. University of Texas

What are your favorite campuses?  The prettiest?  (either your Alma Mater or otherwise)?  What campus do you want to visit?

In case you’re interested, here’s the list of 30 or so I’ve spent more than an hour on.  Please don’t take offense if I didn’t include yours’ on my list of the prettiest, though I’d love to hear why you think it should be on it!

Columbia University (NYC)

Davidson College

Duke University

Georgetown University

Georgia State

Georgia Tech

Iowa State University

Northern Michigan University

Ohio State University

San Diego State University

Southern Methodist University

Stanford University

Syracuse University

UNC – Wilmington

University of California – San Diego

University of Chicago

University of Illinois – Champaign/Urbana

University of Iowa

University of Maryland

University of Minnesota

University of Minnesota – Duluth

University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

University of Pittsburgh

University of Wisconsin – Madison

UW – Green Bay

UW – La Crosse

UW – Oshkosh

UW – Whitewater

Vanderbilt University

West Virginia University


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