A college town is where the presence of one or more universities greatly influences that community's economic and cultural activities. These vibrant towns offer tons of exciting amenities for those looking for a suitable place to live or for those searching for institutions providing excellent educational opportunities. Known for its expansive landscapes and impressive natural features, the Lone Star State – the nation’s second-biggest state, is home to many prestigious higher educational institutions. It is believed that the state’s positive projected job growth, affordability, high-quality academic programs, safety, outdoor recreational opportunities, and downtown areas with student-centered attractions are what draw numerous students to Texas’s college towns. The following article lists some of the best college towns in the Lone Star State.
College Station is a small city situated at the center of the Brazos Valley, close to the eastern edge of the Texas Triangle in the state’s east-central portion. Placed approximately 83 miles northwest of Houston and 87 miles east-northeast of Austin, College Station, along with its neighboring city Bryan, makes up the Bryan-College Station Metropolitan Area. College Station is best known for being the home of the main campus of Texas A&M University, the presence of which plays a significant role in the city’s economy. Established in 1876 and initially named the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, the University was the state’s first public institution of higher learning. Currently, a research-intensive flagship university, the main campus, spread over 5,500 acres, caters to more than 69,000 students.
In addition to being home to Texas A&M University, the city’s vibrant social scene, friendly atmosphere, and unfaltering Aggie pride makes College Station an ideal place for students and locals alike. The George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the Texas A&M University campus exemplify the city's dedication to fostering education and preserving history. The city’s Northgate district, with its varied bars, restaurants, and live music venues, serves as a well-known nightlife and entertainment destination. Besides this, College Station also hosts the Post Oak Mall, Wolf Pen Creek Park, and several sports facilities.
The county seat of Randall County, this quaint city, is located approximately 16 miles south of Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle. Initially a major regional shipping center for cattle and agricultural produce, the city’s economy is presently significantly influenced by West Texas A&M University. Established as West Texas State Normal College on September 20, 1910, West Texas A&M University offers two doctoral programs, 38 master’s programs, and 60 undergraduate programs via its six colleges and graduate school. The Buffalo Sports Park of the university contains the nation’s biggest group of synthetic athletic fields.
The city’s downtown features an array of retail stores, restaurants, art galleries, and a 47 ft tall Tex Randall statue, an official local landmark. Besides this, Canyon is also home to the renowned Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum and the outdoor musical drama “Texas.” For outdoor lovers, the city serves as the gateway to the spectacular Palo Duro Canyon, the country’s second-largest canyon that is situated in the Palo Duro Canyon State Park, approximately 12 miles east of Canyon. Both students and locals can explore the canyon’s breathtaking natural beauty through hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking.
The county seat of Denton County, Denton, is placed on the far northern edge of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Named in honor of the Texas frontiersman John B. Denton, the city is an educational, research, and cultural center. Denton is home to reputed higher educational institutions like the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University. The flagship university of the University of North Texas System, the University of North Texas is currently the state’s fifth-largest university. With an enrollment of over 42,000 students, the university offers 37 doctoral degrees, 113 bachelor’s, and 94 master’s degree programs. The growth and services of these educational institutions play a vital role in Denton’s economy.
In addition to its higher learning centers, Denton is well-known for its various annual art and cultural events that draw residents and tourists alike. The Denton Arts and Jazz Festival, Thin Line Fest, North Texas State Fair and Rodeo, Redbud Festival, the Fiesta on the Square, and Denton Airshow attract thousands of people to Denton annually. The city’s cultural and political hub –Denton Square, with its historic buildings, museums, shops, breweries, music venues, and restaurants, also attracts many tourists. The adjoining lakes, state parks, and hiking trails offer visitors exciting outdoor recreational opportunities.
The county seat of Hays County, San Marcos, is situated along the banks of the San Marcos River, approximately 30 miles southwest of Austin and 51 miles northeast of San Antonio. This picturesque city is home to many higher educational institutions, including the Texas State University. Established in 1899, the Texas State University is the state’s 5th largest and the country’s 28th-largest university. The higher learning institutions of San Marcos play a vital role in the city’s economy, besides providing a continuous source of talent for the workforce of the entire region.
The charming downtown of San Marcos hosts an array of boutiques, shops, restaurants, bars, art galleries, studios, music venues, and mermaid statues. Sewell Park along the San Marcos River is a well-known destination for university students, offering several outdoor recreational activities like swimming/tubing, canoeing, picnicking, playing volleyball, etc. San Marcos is also home to several historical landmarks, such as the Lyndon Baines Johnson Museum of San Marcos, Calaboose African American History Museum, First United Methodist Church, Fort Street Presbyterian Church, etc.
The state’s 7th most populous city, Arlington, forms a portion of the Mid-Cities suburban region of the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metroplex. Located about 20 miles west of downtown Dallas and 12 miles east of downtown Fort Worth, Arlington provides easy access to all the amenities these two big cities have to offer. The city houses many public and private higher learning institutions, such as the University of Texas at Arlington, the Southeast campus of Tarrant County College, and Arlington Baptist University. All these educational institutes play a vital role in the city’s economy.
Home to different professional sports teams like the Texas Rangers baseball team, the Dallas Cowboys football team, the Dallas Wings, the Arlington Renegades, and the North Texas SC, Arlington houses the AT&T Stadium, which hosts many high-profile sporting events. In addition, the city also has several attractions like the Six Flags Over Texas, Six Flags Hurricane Harbor, International Bowling Campus, Parks Mall, Arlington Museum of Art, and Theatre Arlington.
The county seat of Erath County and the main city of the Stephenville Micropolitan Statistical Area, Stephenville is located along the North Bosque River about 70 miles southwest of Fort Worth. Often called the “Cowboy Capital of the World,” Stephenville is home to many notable higher learning centers, including Ranger College and Tarleton State University. Established in 1899 as John Tarleton Agricultural College, Tarleton State University currently offers two doctoral, 28 master’s, two associate degrees, and 68 undergraduate programs, via its seven colleges.
Stephenville allows students to gain high-quality education while living in an area that gives a homey feeling having the ideal combination of small-town living and proximity to big-city amenities. The city’s historic downtown hosts many shops, restaurants, and live music venues. Stephenville is also home to various recreational areas, including public parks, movie theaters, golf courses, youth centers, tennis courts, etc.
The county seat of Travis County, Austin, is a big city located in the state’s south-central portion at a point where the Balcones Escarpment is crossed by the Colorado River. Austin currently serves as the state capital and is also the nation’s 11th-most populous and Texas’s fourth-most populous city. The city is home to several reputed educational institutions, including the University of Texas at Austin, Austin Community College, St. Edward’s University, Concordia University, Huston-Tillotson University, Texas Health and Science University, etc. Downtown Austin houses the headquarters of the Texas State University System and the University of Texas System.
Founded in 1883, the University of Texas at Austin, with more than 11,000 graduate and 40,000 undergraduate students, is the flagship institution of the University of Texas System. The engineering and computer science graduates from this University are a steady source of employees that help run the city’s defense and technology sectors. Austin’s South Congress neighborhood, renowned nationwide as a shopping and cultural district, features a variety of retail stores, food trucks, restaurants, art and music venues, etc. The city has also been nicknamed “Silicon Hills” due to the presence of many startups and tech companies. In addition, Austin is also home to many museums like the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, Texas Memorial Museum, Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, Blanton Museum of Art, South Austin Museum of Popular Culture, etc.
Abilene Metropolitan Statistical Area’s principal city, Abilene, is placed in the state’s west-central portion about 150 miles west of Fort Worth. This midsize city has many reputed higher learning centers, including Abilene Christian University, Cisco College, Hardin-Simmons University, McMurry University, and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at Abilene. Founded in the fall of 1906 as the Childers Classical Institute, Abilene Christian University is one of the Southwestern United States’ most prominent private universities. It is one of Abilene's top employers, along with Hardin-Simmons University, Abilene Independent School District, and Wylie Independent School District.
The presence of the college and university campuses, the surrounding agricultural community, and the vibrant nightlife of the downtown area significantly influence the city’s cultural aspects. Abilene also houses the Historic Paramount Theatre, Grace Museum, National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, Taylor County History Center, the Dyess Air Force base, and several other tourist attractions.
The county seat of McLennan County, Waco, is located along the Brazos River, almost midway between Austin and Dallas. At present, Waco is home to three higher learning institutions: Baylor University, McLennan Community College, and Texas State Technical College. Baylor University, along with McLennan Community College, Waco Independent School District, and Midway Independent School District, are some of Waco’s top employers.
Both students and locals can enjoy the scenic 7-mile riverwalk along the western and eastern shores of the Brazos River that stretches from the Baylor University campus to the Cameron Park Zoo. One can also enjoy the peaceful charm of the river by using the multi-use walking and jogging trail that passes beneath the Waco Suspension Bridge. In addition, Waco also houses the Magnolia Market, Armstrong Browning Library, Waco Mammoth National Monument, Hawaiian Falls Water Park, etc.
The county seat of Lubbock County and Texas’s 10th most populous city, Lubbock, is located in the Llano Estacado region in the state’s northwestern portion. Considered to be the educational, economic, and medical care hub of the South Plains region, Lubbock has rightly been nicknamed the “Hub City.” Lubbock contains many reputed higher educational institutions like Texas Tech University, Lubbock Christian University, South Plains College, and Wayland Baptist University. Founded as Texas Technological College in 1923, Texas Tech University, with the state’s 7th biggest enrollment, is one of the prominent institutions under the Texas Tech University System.
Lubbock has many notable tourist attractions like National Ranching Heritage Center, Southwest Collection, Silent Wings Museum, Lubbock Lake Landmark, etc. The city hosts many annual events like the Independence Day Festival, South Plains Fair, and the National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration, all attracting numerous visitors to the city every year.
Although Texas is known for its natural landmarks, country music, rodeos, and barbecues, it also has a fair share of the country’s top educational institutions. As per the latest Center for World University Rankings report, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University are Texas’s two most popular flagship universities, ranked 21st and 41st best universities in the nation. In addition to colorful downtowns filled with bars, restaurants, boutiques, and many entertainment venues hosting music and sporting events, the affordable college towns of Texas appeal to students and tourists from all over the world.