The United States of America is home to some of the best and most prestigious colleges in the entire world. These colleges regularly top the global rankings in such fields as technological innovation, quality of education, professor-student ratio, distinguished alumni, especially for the performing arts, research publications, college with best campus lists, diversity indices, and lists of notable alumni.
All these factors combine to make the USA one of the best places in the world to go to college. The best colleges in the US make up the bulk of the top 100 ranked universities worldwide!
However, there is one other factor that, while it often gets overlooked, is, in my opinion, as important as the rest, maybe even more so. Even more important than the performance of the college football team (!). And that is the quality and aesthetic appeal of the campuses in America themselves.
A beautiful campus goes a long way towards raising student happiness, differentiating the college from others in the student’s mind, enhancing the university’s prestige, and increasing quality of life, both for students as well as professors. So which is the college with the best campus design?
A Brief Overview of American College Campuses
Since the United States of America is home to many venerable institutions that often date back to the 19th or even the 18th century, there is certainly no shortage of architectural heritage on their campuses in America. Many of them feature collections of buildings in a unified New England or Collegiate Gothic Revival design (with touches of Federal, Romanesque, and Neoclassical styles), with neatly manicured lawns, shrubbery, and sculptures strategically placed throughout.
Walking through some of these campuses often gives you the same or a similar timeless wonder that walking around Washington DC (with its numerous famous monuments such as the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, Capitol Hill or the White House) often gives you. You often get neck cramps from craning your neck back and admiring the tall steeples, brilliant design, and vast hallways on display. These campuses drew their inspiration from historical English building styles that were the ‘in-thing’ when these places were constructed.
In contrast, some other colleges, often the more newly constructed ones, may also feature more modern or avant-garde design, designed by star architects of the 20th or 21st century. These might feature Dadaist, Brutalist, or Abstract architectural wonders, with numerous water bodies, wide paths, and plenty of greenery to provide a Zen-like emotion.
Many of these campuses bring to mind the architectural-artistic legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright upon sight. These colleges are often more representative of the global and modern world, incorporating international influences and cutting edge building materials, design and technologies.
Importance of a Beautiful College Campus
While most high school students, when deciding their choice of college, often concentrate on factors like tuition fees, job prospects, catalog of courses offered, the alumni, national and international prestige, quality of research, financial assistance in the form of loans and scholarships and location, the aesthetic appeal of the campus also makes a huge difference. Whether conscious or subconscious, the visual design of a college makes a huge difference in your impression of it and often affects your choice of graduate college.
Education and innovation all need inspiration, and what better inspiration for budding young minds and professors alike, than architecture and landscaping, which has been called the ‘mother art of a civilization’ or ‘poetry in stone’! Louis Sullivan once rightly said that ‘form follows function,’ and where the function is to fire the imaginations of an entire generation, the form must surely be not just eye-catching and impressive, but also free-flowing, imaginative and memorable.
Not to mention the fact that it’s simply easier to relax and unwind when you’re surrounded by airy stonework, serene lakes, elegant artwork, and lush green areas. And it is an excellent thing that there is no shortage of such colleges in the United States, whether they are set among rolling mountains, leafy woodlands or bright city lights. This is a big reason for the success of American universities, as where the mind is at ease, more learning can be done.
So today, in this blog post, we will celebrate those American universities that have worked hard to create a rich visual and architectural legacy, by listing the most beautiful college campuses in the country. Whether you are a high school graduate preparing for your first day of college or have completed your tertiary education, you will surely find this list interesting and thought-provoking. Read on to know if your alma mater, or future alma mater, made this list!
By the way, getting into college is the easy part. If after joining, the academic pressure is grinding you down, be sure to check out this blog on the Top 10 Study Tips for College Students.
This list was collated using a variety of sources, including both primary and secondary sources, not to mention subjective opinion! The main primary sources included surveys of colleagues, professors, students, and alumni about their favorite campuses.
The secondary sources mainly consisted of a literature review of comparable “college with the best campus” articles found by trawling the Web. In particular, distinguished publications such as Times Higher Education and the Princeton Review were given a higher weightage, as well as campuses appearing in multiple “college with best campus” lists.
However, as in any other subject where aesthetics is involved, there is a large amount of subjectivity in picking and choosing the list. In our ordinal ranking, certain picturesque man-made and natural features were given a lot of importance.
Natural features given weightage include green lawns or parks, water bodies such as ponds, lakes, streams, fountains or decorative pools, arboretums, wooded areas, and gardens.
Whereas among man-made features, the stress was on elegant and luminous architecture, facilities of student and teacher convenience such as gyms, libraries, theaters, etc., the layout and overall happiness quotient of the college campus’s physical infrastructure.
So, now that we have cleared up the methodology and criteria, let us begin, without further ado, our list of the ten colleges with best campuses, in alphabetic order!
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The Best College for Nature Lovers – Berry College, Mount Berry, Georgia
With over 27,000 acres of land, Berry College has the distinction of having the largest contiguous college grounds in the world. This district’s worth of campus has fields, forests, meadows, streams, and even a whole mountain (Lavender Mountain!). It possesses some of the best outdoor recreation facilities, supporting hiking, biking, horseback riding, two golf courses, and camping!
The large wooded area of the campus even has deer – as many as 2500 of them! Situated near Rome in Georgia, around 72 miles northwest of Atlanta, Georgia, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources oversees 16,000 acres of the campus, conducting managed hunts and recreational opportunities. At the same time, the land surrounding the academic and public spaces is a protected wildlife refuge, where hunting is prohibited.
Meanwhile, the English-Gothic style architecture gives it’s buildings an elegant European luster, with the buildings being beautifully reflected in decorative pools. This makes for some fantastic photo opportunities! Some of the landmarks include the Mountain Campus Mirror Lake, Swan Lake, and Possum Trot Church.
For those interested in nature or outdoorsy stuff, there is no match in the world for Berry University. Film directors seem to agree, which is why many films have been shot at this location, such as Remember the Titans and Sweet Home Alabama!
The Women’s College With the Best Campus – Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
Founded in 1885 as a Quaker institution, and the first women’s college to offer Phds, Bryn Mawr is a liberal arts college for women and a member of the distinguished Seven Sisters colleges and the Tri-College Consortium. It has had Katherine Hepburn as an alumnus, and Woodrow Wilson as a member of its faculty!
Designed partly by the famous landscapers Calvert Vaux and Frederick Olmsted, the Bryn Mawr campus has been designated as an arboretum and is widely considered as the most beautiful women’s college in the nation. One major cause of it is the vaunted architecture, mostly Collegiate Gothic architecture, and the numerous varieties of beautiful trees, such as Japanese Cherry Blossoms. Undoubtedly an excellent inspiration for Liberal Arts students!
The university campus is also reputed for several buildings designed by star architects. For example, Blanca Noel Taft Memorial Garden, which, in its current form, is a cozy, serene garden with two wall fountains, a reflecting pool, and Syrian tiles designed by John Olmsted. Several residence halls designed by Cope and Stewardson, Erdman Hall by Louis Kahn, Marjorie Walter Goodhart Theater designed by Arthur Ingersoll Meigs and Samuel Yellin and the Great Hall by Walter Cope are other examples in this vein.
The latter is now a public space for performances, readings, lectures, public gatherings, and other cultural activities. The Old Library contains a large open courtyard called ‘The Cloisters,’ which hosts the traditional Lantern Night ceremony. This building is a National Historic Landmark and was once the home of a statue of Athena (the Greek God of Knowledge, and the modern patron of the Liberal Arts!), that has now been moved to the Rhys Carpenter Art and Archaeology Library. It is a tradition for students to leave offerings in front of the statue in the hope of her intervention in exam season, and during performing arts displays!
The Most Beautiful Campus – Elon University, Elon, North Carolina
With a 656-acre suburban college campus, which is located between the cities of Rayleigh and Greensboro, Elon University was founded as Elon College in 1889. It regularly ranks among the most beautiful campuses, along with offering an exceptional education. Its wooded areas were classified as a botanic garden in 2005, and it has been the site of several film shoots, most notably Spike Lee’s “He Got Game.”
This beautiful campus has landed the top spot on college campuses by both the Princeton Review and the New York Times. There is not only an abundance of stunning plant life, flowers, and trees, but also some lovely buildings like Alamance Building and Fonville Fountain.
Located just an hour’s drive away from several other famous institutes like Duke and NC State, this massive campus has 46 residential buildings and 20 academic buildings divided into seven zones: The Historic Campus, Central Campus, Global Neighbourhood, The Oaks, the Station at Mill Point, Daniely Center, East Neighbourhood, the Colonnades, and South Campus. The Historic Campus and Johnston Hall have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Campus With the Best Architectural Wonders – Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina
Furman Uni is a private college, the oldest higher education institute in all of South Carolina. Its campus is notably beautiful, with several old and unique buildings that carry a lot of cultural weight, not just of American culture, but other civilizations as well.
With the Blue Ridge Mountains providing a stunning backdrop to the 750-acre campus, this beautiful campus is undoubtedly filled to the brim with natural scenery. Major highlights are a 40-acre lake and Paris Mountain State Park (which overlooks the lake and campus). Most of the academic and residential buildings surround the Lake and are in Georgian style construction. All this led to the campus being designated among the 362 most beautiful places in America, chosen by the American Society of Landscape Architects.
Some of the notable buildings include the 128,000-square-foot James B Duke Library, the innovatively sustainable Greenbelt housing cabins and Cliffs Cottage, the Vinings apartment complex, Timmons Arena (a 4000 seater multi-purpose arena), the famous Bell Tower, Lakeside Housing Complex, Charles Ezra Daniel Memorial Chapel (which contains the renowned Hartness Organ), and Cherrydale Alumni House.
The campus is filled with serene natural vistas, ornamented by things like a rose garden (the Janie Earle Furman Rose Garden), a replica of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin where he wrote his masterpiece ‘On Walden Pond,’ and even an Asian Garden! The centerpiece of the Asian Garden is the Place of Peace, which is a Buddhist temple that was relocated directly from Japan and reconstructed by traditional carpenters! How many schools do you know which have campuses containing an original Japanese Buddhist Temple?
The Best Tropical Campus – University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii
Located in the Manoa neighborhood of Honolulu, The University of Hawaii at Manoa is a public research college that serves as the flagship campus of the University of Hawaii ecosystem. It is quite different from the others on this list due to its tropical climate and a heavy influence from non-American cultures such as Japanese and Pacific Islanders.
This university is instantly recognizable by its lush valley of palm trees, tropical flowers, and the close proximity to the famous Hawaiian beaches! This unique geography facilitates research in marine biology, oceanography, underwater robotics, astronomy, geology, geophysics, agriculture, aquaculture, and tropical medicine; it even has its own tropical coral reef! That is the kind of thing you can only dream about on your college’s campus!
The campus, along with being known for research, is also quite beautiful as well state-of-the-art. It contains a $150 million biomedical research complex. For the students, there are numerous coeducational residence halls such as the Hale Aloha Complex, Johnson Hall, Hale Laulima, Hale Kahawai, Frear Hall, Gateway House, Hale Noelani, and Hale Wainani.
It also has one of the largest academic research libraries in the US, providing access to more than 3.4 million volumes, 50,000 journals, and a plethora of digitized documents to boot! Some other places of interest include the Newman Center for the Catholic Campus Ministry, the Lyon Arboretum, which is the only tropical arboretum owned by any US University (containing over 15,000 species of palms and tropical flowers!), the Waikiki Aquarium located next to a living coral reef, and several sports complexes.
Not just these, there are more exotic cultural venues such as a Japanese Garden with teahouse and koi pond, a Thai Pavilion, a reproduction of 3rd-century Japanese burial mound, as well as several museums and famous works of art!
This institute’s beautiful campus truly does live up to the cachet of its name and serves as a Hawaiian tropical wonderland for its students and faculty.
The Best Campus for Sports Enthusiasts – University of Notre Dame DU Lac, Notre Dame, Indiana
The University of Notre Dame, or Notre Dame for short, founded in 1843, lies on 1250 acres of land, including around 170 buildings, two lakes, and seven quadrangles. Known for its football team, Notre Dame is one of the best research universities in the world.
The campus is widely admired as one of the most aesthetically appealing campuses in the world. It is home to several famous landmarks, such as the Golden Dome, the Basilica with its stained glass windows, the Grotto, Touchdown Jesus, and various statues and museums. It is a significant tourist attraction in its own right. In fact, for the academic year 2015-2016, this beautiful campus was visited by more than 1.8 million tourists, more than most countries get every year!
One of the principal attractions is its plethora of religious sites, such as the Old College Building, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart (built in the French revivalist style, with the world’s most extensive collection of 19th century French stained glass, Italian interior paintings, and famous bell tower), and the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes (which is a replica of the original in Lourdes, and a popular site of meditation for students and alumni). Famously, the most recognizable landmark, the Golden Dome, was built near the Washington Hall theater after the original main building burned down in 1879 and was topped with a 19-foot gilded statue of the Virgin Mary, to reflect the college’s Catholic identity.
Some of the world-class facilities offered include the LaFortune Student Center, the Theodore Hesburgh Library (with almost 4 million books), the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, 31 Residence Halls, The Guglielmino Complex, the Jordan Hall of Science, the Campus Crossroads Project (which includes such things as an indoor gym, recreation center, career center, ballroom, digital media center), Legends of Notre Dame (a music venue, public house, restaurant, nightclub, and alehouse), Alumni Senior Club (an all-age students hangout), as well as an entire historic district.
Befitting a university with such a famous sports team, there are several top-of-the-line sporting facilities available, such as a hockey arena, Notre Dame Stadium (which can seat more than 80,000!), the Edmund P Joyce Center for indoor basketball and volleyball, Compton Family Ice Skating Rink and Frank Eck Baseball Stadium.
Notre Dame is particularly suited to face the 21st-century challenges of climate change and globalism with a strong environmental commitment and global gateway centers in London, Beijing, Dublin, Jerusalem, and Rome. Thus we can see that Notre Dame truly deserves its distinguished reputation!
The Campus With the Best Research Facilities- Stanford University, Stanford, California
Stanford University, one of the most prestigious universities in the world, also has one of the largest campuses in the country, 8180 acres of land, located approximately 37 miles southeast of San Francisco. This university has some truly jaw-dropping facilities on its campus.
For example, it has a 1200 acre nature reserve, the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, which is used by wildlife biologists for research! Not to mention the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, which is the longest linear particle accelerator in the world, spanning more than 2 miles! In addition to this, it has a golf course, a seasonal lake, a marine biology research center, several overseas campuses for its study-abroad program, a research center at Peking University, Beijing, China, a shopping center, and a ‘Faculty Ghetto’!
Along with this truly astonishing plethora of facilities, there are several contemporary campus landmarks such as the Main Quad, Memorial Church, Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Bing Concert Hall, Stanford Mausoleum, Rodin sculpture garden, Arizona Cactus Garden, Stanford Arboretum, Green Library, the Hanna-Honeycomb house and 1919 Lou Henry Hoover House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and White Memorial Fountain, which is the starting point for the ‘fountain hopping’ tradition.
Certainly, whole countries do not have the facilities offered by this university! This place is any college student or a researcher’s dream come true!
The Campus With the Best Cultural Facilities – Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York
Vassar University, one of the historic Seven Sisters, has a genuinely enormous campus of over 1000 acres and more than a 100 buildings, which range from Collegiate Gothic Style to International Modernist Style. The National Register of Historic Places lists three Vassar structures – Main Building, Vassar College Observatory, and Rombout House. In fact, Main Building, which is an epitome of Second Empire architecture in the US, was the largest building in the nation in terms of floor space at the time of its opening!
The campus is also a designated arboretum, in addition to being home to one of the largest library collections in the nation. The library collection, which encompasses eight whole library buildings (!), contains more than a million volumes, 7500+ periodicals, and special and extensive collections of microfilms and microfiches. The library is truly amazing, being a Federal Depository since 1943, a part of the New York State Reference Center, even having some selected United Nations documents!
But that is not all! Vassar was also the first college in the country to be founded with a full-scale museum! The founder, Matthew Vassar declared that “art should stand boldly forth as an educational force,” and the art collection at Vassar has one of the best art collections in the country, containing works by Picasso and Jackson Pollock, among others!
And, this amazing and cultured campus is set to get even better, as Vassar has embarked on a $120 million project of renovation and construction of science facilities, as well as a general modernization program! Honestly, not many colleges in the USA can go head-to-head with Vassar’s facilities and historical heritage!
The Most Historically Significant Campus – College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia
Founded way back in 1693 by letters patent issued by King William III and Queen Mary II, the College of William and Mary, also known as William Mary, is the second-oldest higher education institution in the USA, after Harvard University. The college has a rich and illustrious history, counting among its alumni such luminaries such as George Washington (first President), Thomas Jefferson (third President), James Monroe (fifth President), John Tyler (tenth president), Edmund Randolph (first Attorney-General), John Marshall (fourth Supreme Court Chief Justice), Henry Clay (Speaker of the House of Representatives), sixteen members of the Continental Congress, four signers of the Declaration of Independence – which has earned it the nickname ‘the Alma Mater of the Nation’! It also had the first Greek-letter fraternity in America, and was the first school of higher education to install an honor code of conduct for students!
The William Mary campus is itself a 1200 acre ground in Williamsburg. It has several sections, with the oldest being known as the ‘Ancient Campus.’ It consists of the Sir Christopher Wren Building (a National Historic Landmark and the oldest college building in the US, dating back to 1716), the Brafferton Building, and the President’s House, all of which were built before American independence! In addition to the 18th century Ancient Campus, there is also the ‘Old Campus,’ and the ‘New Campus.’
The Old Campus contains academic buildings and dormitories built in the Georgian and Anglo-Dutch style architecture, the majority of which was constructed in the 1920s and ’30s, and it is mostly dominated by the Sunken Building and the Zable Stadium (the college’s football stadium). It also has the Sorority Court, most of the upperclassmen dormitories and the classrooms and offices of various departments such as History, Economics, Government, Philosophy, Religion, Music, Modern Language, and English.
Beside the Old Campus lies the New Campus, which was built mostly between 1950 and 1980, which, while having a similar brick construction to the Old Campus, is more influenced by the idioms of modern architecture, and contains architectural marvels like the William and Mary Hall, Earl Gregg Swem Library, Alan B Miller Hall, Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall, majority of the freshman dormitories, the fraternity complex, most of the athletic fields, and the departments of Math, Physics, Psychology, Biology, and Chemistry.
To match its architectural heritage, the college also has a load of natural heritage, filled with woodlands and an artificial lake which was created by colonists in the early 18th century, called Lake Matoaka, all of which are accessible by trails from the campus.
In addition to the main campus, the college also has several non-contiguous properties such as the William and Mary School of Law, the McCormack-Nagelsen Tennis Center, the Dillard Office Complex, and Plumeri Park, which is the college’s official baseball stadium.
THE CAMPUS WITH THE BEST QUALITY OF LIFE – WILLIAM MARSH RICE UNIVERSITY, HOUSTON, TEXAS
One of the most prominent private research universities in the States, Rice University, was established in 1912 on a 300-acre ground adjoining the Houston Museum District and Texas Medical Center. It is particularly known for its applied science research in the fields of artificial hearts, signal processing, space science, nanotechnology, structural chemical analysis, and is ranked first worldwide for material science research by Times Higher Education.
It has produced some incredibly successful and famous alumni, including Marshall Scholars, Rhodes Scholars, astronauts and space scientists (owing to its close ties with NASA), founders and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, members of Congress, cabinet secretaries, judges, mayors, and even two Nobel laureates! Princeton Review ranked it #1 for Quality of Life and Happiness of Students.
The campus itself is a green and leafy 285-acre oasis in the midst of America’s fourth-largest city. It contains such amenities as a coffeehouse, a pub, and a bike shop. This doesn’t take into account its proximity to the comforts of Houston, such as Texas Medical Center, Rice Village Commercial Center, the whole of Houston’s Museum District, NRG Stadium, the Astrodome, and its very own station in the Houston METRORail System. Across the road lies Hermann Park, which contains the Houston Zoo, Miller Outdoor Theatre, an 18-Hole Municipal Golf Park, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
The amount of green spaces on the campus is a point of pride for the school, with only about 50 buildings on the grounds. There are more than 4000 trees and shrubs in the Lynn R Lowrey Arboretum, which has given rise to the campus legend that Rice has a tree for every student.
Not just the natural beauty, the buildings themselves provide some very photogenic vistas too! There was purposely a uniform architectural style on almost all the buildings to give a sense of harmony and focus. To that end, virtually every building on campus is in a Byzantine style of construction, with large archways and columns, and sandy and pinkish brickwork. A few notable exceptions to this style are the Brutalist-style Lovett College Hall, Duncan Hall with its clash of eclectic worldwide cultural forms, and the glass-walled Brochstein Pavilion.
Dotted among the academic and residential buildings are a large number of quadrangles, amphitheaters, libraries, halls, laboratories, and statuary. Sporting facilities include the Rec Center with an outdoor pool and training facilities, Tudor Fieldhouse for athletics and basketball, Rice Soccer Stadium, Jake Hess Tennis Stadium, and of course, the famous Rice Football Stadium, which can seat 70,000 and was the site of Super Bowl VII and John F Kennedy’s famous 1962 speech which launched the Space Race between the USA and the Soviet Union!
As we can see, there is no shortage of photogenic universities in America, which often come with a storied history, star-studded designers, lush natural vistas, a veritable arsenal of artistic works, and of course, some of the best educational and research facilities in the world!
Which College Has the Most Beautiful Campus?
Elon University is the most beautiful campus in the nation, according to the Most Beautiful College Campuses Princeton Review.
Which College Has the Largest Campus?
As mentioned above, Berry College has the largest contiguous college campus, not just in America, but in the whole world, at 27,000 acres!
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Which Is the Happiest University?
According to Times Higher Education, Rice University ranks #1 for the happiness of students due to its facilities, scenery, atmosphere, and location.
If you are a student, Buy Online Class is the best way to help you get straight A;s and make the most out of your college life; great academics to complement a great campus! We hope you enjoyed this article and found it informative! Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below, on what you think is the college with the best campus.