I’m about to brag. Ithaca, New York was recently chosen Best College Town in the U.S.A.
Ranked by the American Institute for Economic Research, Ithaca (home to Cornell University and Ithaca College) was followed by Ames, Iowa (Iowa State University), and State College, PA (Penn State University).
I went to Cornell. My best friend Stephanie went to Ithaca College. The schools sit atop two hills that rise above the town of Ithaca – Cornell to the east and Ithaca to the south. When we arrived, much to our delight, we realized we could see each others’ dorm on the opposite hill. So, in a communications experiment of sorts, we tried blinking the lights in our rooms – as much message to say, “Hello, can you see me?” as “I can’t believe we’re in Ithaca. Isn’t this going to be great?!”
And Ithaca was great. While the schools provide a diverse student population, it’s the town that’s the star. Over the years, Ithaca has managed to maintain a true sense of self. It’s relaxed, bohemian, and green. It overflows with farmers’ markets and food co-ops, theaters, restaurants, a no-cars-permitted Commons, and the ever-present opportunity to walk, hike, bike, sail, climb, and otherwise just inhale the joyous beauty of the Finger Lakes.
About 200 miles northwest of New York City lies Ithaca, home to Cornell University, Ithaca College and what Taylor Long calls “Idealistic Bohemians.”
“There’s a lot of culture and a lot of hip energy, but also this really earnest, small-town vibe,” said Long, who is a senior at Ithaca College. “People fall in love with this city. It’s the sort of place where your weird projects can thrive.”
The city is home to intellects, a Burlesque dance troupe, a newspaper that reports only positive news, an extensive farmers’ market and thousands of ambitious students. In fact, because of the town’s unique energy, The Dalai Lama and other Tibetan monks are frequent visitors.
Despite the eclectic mix of residents, the city’s party scene is fairly tame, another reason Long thinks the college town is unique.
“When I think of college towns, I do kind of think of Penn State or something like that where there’s a row of bars and a row of frats, and everyone is running around naked with their chests painted,” Long said. “I think [Ithaca] may be No. 1 because it is very unique and kind of is actually a college town, not just like a town dominated by one particular college.”
Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut.
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