A perennial favorite destination for students and researchers worldwide, the United States is home to numerous degree-granting institutions. An ideal college town offers the perfect amalgamation of academic and professional opportunities, besides access to magnificent surroundings and the chance to participate in various recreational activities. Known for its distinctive topographical features, fascinating history, and loads of Southern charm, the State of Mississippi, located in the country’s Gulf Coast region, hosts many remarkable college towns. Embark on a journey to explore these amazing college towns in the Magnolia State.
Our journey begins in Oxford, the county seat of Lafayette County, situated in the state’s North Central Hills region, approximately 75 miles south-southeast of Memphis. Named after the university city of Oxford in England, this charming college town is partially home to the principal campus of the University of Mississippi, a significant portion of which is in University, Mississippi, an unincorporated enclave of Oxford. Commonly referred to as “Ole Miss,” the University of Mississippi, established on February 24, 1844, is the state’s oldest public higher education institution and its largest, with a total enrollment of 22,967 students. Located at the heart of the university’s historic campus is the Lyceum – The Circle Historic District, comprising eight academic buildings and many monuments arranged on University Circle, encompassing an interior common area known as “The Circle.” Located close to the Circle is a 10-acre tailgating area known as “The Grove,” which houses over 100,000 tailgaters during the home games.
In addition to the iconic Lafayette County Courthouse, the Downtown Square is known for its various specialty shops, independent bookstores, art galleries, and museums like the J.E. Nielson Co., Square Books, Lyric Theater, the Gertrude Castellow Ford Center for the Performing Arts, the University of Mississippi Museum, and the Burns-Belfry Museum. History enthusiasts would love to visit the city’s many historic landmarks, including the Barnard Observatory, Rowan Oak Mansion, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Ammadelle House, etc. Oxford is also well-known for its culinary scene featuring an array of diverse eateries like Big Bad Breakfast, Snackbar, Boure, City Grocery, Bottletree Bakery, Ajax Diner, and Taylor Grocery & Restaurant.
Next, we travel to Hattiesburg, the state’s fifth-largest city and the county seat and biggest city of Forrest County, situated in the Pine Belt region, about 90 miles southeast of Jackson and 74 miles north of Biloxi. This bustling town is home to the main campuses of reputed higher learning institutions: the University of Southern Mississippi and William Carey University, as well as the Pearl River Community College’s Forrest County Center. Colloquially known as Southern Miss, the University of Southern Mississippi, founded on March 30, 1910, offers about 189 programs leading to bachelor’s, master’s, specialist, and doctoral degrees.
Renowned for its art and cultural scenes, Hattiesburg houses numerous galleries, museums, theaters, and performance spaces, including the Sanger Theatre, William Carey Center and Dinner Theater, Lucile Parker Art Gallery, Hattiesburg Arts Council Gallery, African American Military History Museum, Mississippi Armed Forces Museum, and Hattiesburg Area Historical Society Museum. Nature lovers can enjoy various outdoor recreational activities at the scenic Longleaf Trace, Hattiesburg Zoo, Paul B. Johnson State Park, and a portion of DeSoto National Forest, located a few miles to the south.
From Hattiesburg, we move on to Cleveland, one of the administrative seats of Bolivar County, which occupies the heart of the Mississippi Delta region about midway between Memphis and Vicksburg. This vibrant college town is home to the 332-acre campus of Delta State University. Established in 1924 as the Delta State Teachers College by the State of Mississippi, this public university currently offers 12 baccalaureate degrees in 42 majors, along with graduate programs for eight master’s degrees.
Cleveland is renowned for its rich musical heritage, primarily due to its connection to the Blues. The city houses four Mississippi Blues Trail markers and performing venues like the Bologna Performing Arts Center and Ellis Theater. Cleveland’s other noteworthy attractions include the Grammy Museum Mississippi, Railroad Heritage Museum, Dockery Farms, Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum, Boo Ferriss Baseball Museum, and the Amzie Moore House.
Continuing our exploration, we arrive at Clinton, the state’s 10th-largest city, forming part of the Jackson Metropolitan Statistical Area in Hinds County. Initially named “Mount Salus,” this quaint town houses the picturesque campus of Mississippi College, a private Baptist University which established on January 24, 1826, is the nation’s second-oldest Baptist-affiliated college or university. Some notable buildings in the university’s Clinton campus include the historic Provine Chapel, Alumni Hall, Nelson Hall, Aven Hall, A.E. Wood Coliseum, etc.
The brick-lined streets of Clinton’s well-preserved downtown area feature countless locally-owned shops, boutiques, and cafes. History lovers would want to explore the many historic sites, including the Clinton Visitor Center, and learn more about the country’s past. Outdoor enthusiasts would love to visit the town’s several parks and trails for recreational activities and spend some quality time in the lap of nature.
From Clinton, we travel to Starkville, located in Mississippi’s east-central portion and the most populous city of the state’s Golden Triangle region. This thriving college town is partially home to the primary campus of Mississippi State University, a significant portion of which is in Mississippi State, Mississippi, an adjoining unincorporated area. Established on February 28, 1878, as The Agricultural and Mechanical College of the State of Mississippi, this public land-grant research university offers over 180 bachelor’s, graduate, and professional degree programs to approximately 22,649 students via its 12 colleges and schools. Home to the state’s only accredited architecture and veterinary degree programs, the university has a total research and development budget of about $239.4 million, the biggest in the state.
Starkville’s pulsating downtown area has various locally-owned retail stores, eateries, and entertainment venues. Located almost midway between the Mississippi State University campus and downtown Starkville is the Cotton District, a thriving student ghetto and entertainment district, as well as the oldest new urbanist community in North America. The college students and faculties serve as a ready audience for the many art and entertainment events like the Cotton District Arts Festival, Bulldog Bash, and Super Bulldog Weekend held annually here. Starkville is also widely known for its active sports scenes, with the Mississippi State Bulldogs attracting massive crowds to their football and baseball games held at the Davis Wade Stadium and Dudy Noble Field at Polk-Dement Stadium.
The county seat of Lowndes County, Columbus, is placed on the banks of the Tombigbee River on the state’s eastern boundary, about 92 miles north of Meridian. The principal city of the Columbus Micropolitan Statistical Area houses the Mississippi University for Women. Also known as “The W,” the Mississippi University for Women was established in 1884 as the Industrial Institute and College for the Education of White Girls. Although initially a women’s institution, the Mississippi University for Women became a coeducational university in 1982, and currently, men make up about 20% of the university’s student body.
This lively small town is renowned as a distinctive tourist destination for its Southern hospitality and aptly lives up to its motto: “The Friendly City.” Columbus boasts numerous well-preserved antebellum buildings that can be visited during the yearly spring pilgrimage. Tourists can take a guided tour of the Tennessee Williams Home and Welcome Center to learn more about the noted playwright Tennessee Williams who lived here. Moreover, tourists can spend some time at the Columbus Riverwalk – a 4.4-mile walking/biking trail that starts at Main Street and winds along the Tombigbee River, offering spectacular photo ops. Some other interesting attractions include Lake Lowndes State Park, Friendship Cemetery, Columbus Arts Council, Stennis East Bank Recreation Area, and the Columbus Propst Park.
Our journey exploring Mississippi’s best college towns concludes at the state capital and the most populous city, Jackson, situated primarily in the northeastern portion of Hinds County, along with small parts in Madison and Rankin counties. Nicknamed “Crossroads of the South,” Jackson contains several prestigious higher learning institutions, including Jackson State University, Tougaloo College, Millsaps College, Belhaven University, and the Mississippi College School of Law. Established on October 23, 1877, Jackson State University is one of the country’s largest Historically Black Colleges And Universities and the state’s fourth-largest university in terms of student enrollment. It is also the region’s sole doctoral-granting research institution.
Tourists can visit the city’s many cultural and artistic attractions, including the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, the Mississippi Museum of Arts, the Museum of Mississippi History, the Old Capitol Museum, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the Light and Glass Studio, the Smith Robertson Museum, Mississippi Children’s Museum, Russell C. Davis Planetarium, and Municipal Art Gallery. In addition, the city hosts the Mississippi State Fair at the Mississippi Fairground Complex every October, attracting thousands of merrymakers to participate and enjoy the different local music, dance, games, and tasty foods.
From the serene town of Oxford to the buzzing streets of the state capital Jackson, the best college towns in Mississippi offer a perfect blend of academic opportunities, rich history, unique cultures, and ample recreational activities for students and residents alike. So, whether you are a future student looking for a top-tier higher educational institute to pursue your career goals, or someone searching for a place to settle in, the college towns in the Magnolia State will surely provide you with some unforgettable experiences.