There are several considerations when picking a college or university, such as its ranking and available scholarship opportunities. Equally important, however, is the town it is in. Choosing an enjoyable and hospitable location with plenty of nature and places to relax in which to spend the next four years can stoke excitement and make all the difference during a stressful finals week. To help you decide, these are Arkansas's best college towns that prospective students will want to check out.
The town of Conway is home to three different colleges, its largest being the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), with roughly 11,000 students. The town’s population was just above 65,000 in 2021. The town has many amenities, including 11 public parks and a nature reserve on the UCA campus. This is a huge bonus for nature lovers looking to relax and unwind after long days spent crammed in lecture halls. Petit Jean State Park is a short drive from the city and an excellent place to watch the sunset. There is no shortage of delicious eateries and cafes in town, either. Further, Conway is roughly 30 miles from the capital of Arkansas, Little Rock. Any students missing fast-paced big-city living will find the amenities of the state’s capital close at hand.
A consistent mention on any list of top US college towns, Fayetteville has students, residents, and writers alike raving about the cool atmosphere and vibrant social scene on tap in one of Arkansas’ largest cities. US News once called Fayetteville the third best place to live in the country, and it is easy to see why 27,000 students have enrolled in the state’s largest university, the University of Arkansas. A bicyclist’s paradise, Fayetteville is home to countless bike paths, including the 40-mile Razorback Greenway connecting the city to Lake Bella Vista north of Bentonville. Visit the local mall for everyday items or the historic town square for bespoke, boutique shopping. The square also hosts a farmers market on Saturdays. Every student will become familiar with Dickson Street during their stay in Fayetteville as it is home to famed watering holes and cafes perfect for finishing those last-minute turn papers with a hot latte in hand.
Called "Russ Vegas" by residents and students in on the joke, the town of Russellville could not have less in common with the ostentatious LED glow of the Las Vegas strip. Russellville is surrounded by the Arkansas River Valley, nestled between the Ouachita and Ozark Mountains. The town’s population is small at roughly 30,000, but census numbers seem to miss the surrounding area's gobsmacking beauty. Lake Dardanelle, the Arkansas River, and Mount Nebo are all nearby for viewing. After a day spent fishing or biking the many trails, head to the town’s quaint main street for movies screened in the local park or for the summer concert series. Russellville is in a dry county, however, so students at nearby Arkansas Tech University will need to order up at a nearby restaurant.
Found in northeast Arkansas, the city of Jonesboro has a robust population of over 80,000. Arkansas State, ASUN Technical Center - Jonesboro, and other institutions call the city home. The Arkansas State Red Wolves football team is a major draw in Jonesboro, so be sure to see at least one game and participate in all the game-day revelry that goes with it. Outdoorsy students will undoubtedly spend lots of time in Craighead National Forest, where hiking and biking opportunities abound, or lounge at Lake Frierson in the warmer months. The nearby Turtle Creek Mall is ready to satisfy all of one’s shopping needs and features Best Buy, Sephora, and Bed Bath & Beyond. Swing by The Edge Coffeehouse for group project study sessions or dine at various Asian and Mexican dining establishments to fuel up between classes.
Nightlife, shopping, and outdoor activities. Choosing the largest city in the state to study in certainly has its perks beyond academia. Verizon Arena hosts concerts by marquee names throughout the year and, as a Division I school, there are always plenty of sporting events to watch on the University of Arkansas at Little Rock campus. Head outdoors to Big Dam Bridge, climb Pinnacle Mountain, and traipse through the River Trail. So many parks are waiting to discover, as a natural antidote to burnout. Little Rock has all the amenities a college student away from home will need. Several malls, shopping centers, and boutiques are there to satisfy any demand that may arise. The bustling downtown core is also packed with cafes, restaurants, and bars for cutting loose on a Friday (especially after finals).
Henderson State University and Ouachita Baptist University both call Arkadelphia home, along with the 11,000 or so residents. These two Division II football schools are fierce competitors and champing at the bit to meet on the gridiron every football season, much to the enjoyment of the fans. The hiking in Arkadelphia is phenomenal. The DeSoto Bluff Trail is top-notch, as is the nearby Caddo River and Lake DeGray. Arkadelphia keeps its small-town charm without feeling remote. The town is near to Hot Springs and Little Rock as well, allowing students to do any shopping they can not do in town in the larger cities close by. Sing karaoke at The Clubhouse in Turtle Pointe, eat at the Little Penguin Taco Truck, and leave your worries about that test at coat check.
Affordable and safe are two words every parent looks for when sending their child away to live. Walnut Ridge is home to the Williams Baptist University and has consistently ranked low on the cost of living and crime analysis of cities in Arkansas. As for things to do, this quaint town has a 7-mile mixed walking and biking trail to the nearby town of Hoxie. This charming small town has "good clean fun" written all over it. Walnut Ridge hosts the free Beatles at the Ridge music festival every year. Perfect for students on a budget. Dive into the surrounding nature, with fishing at Digman Lake nearby.
Look no farther than Clarksville to hear the heartbeat of the Arkansas River Valley. This college town is near some of the state’s most sought-after parks and wilderness areas. Outdoorsy students at the University of the Ozarks, hunters, and fishers all flock to the area for its breathtaking natural beauty. Eat farm-to-table after picking berries, apples, and pumpkins in the valley’s rich soil. Stop by the Ozark National Forest to get away from it all and decompress among the white oak and shortleaf pine. The Ozone Recreation Area nearby is also a wonderful place to pitch a tent between semesters. Or, visit the aquatic center as a way to beat the heat in summer and stay fit in the winter. Clarksville also has cafes to study and get caffeinated at during crunch time. Want to get away? There are four escape rooms in and around the town for an out-of-the-box experience.
Choosing a college is a big decision, and choosing a place to live while doing so can be equally as big. Arkansas has several wonderful college towns to choose from, ranging from big-city living with a bustling nightlife and bursting with urban amenities to the quaint, small-town farming community charm. Whether fishing holes or hole-in-the-wall bars are the deciding factor, Arkansas does not disappoint either way.