We know everyone thinks their college campus is beautiful, but we had to pick 25.
By Chloe Pantazi
No matter how much colleges try to sell themselves with fancy academic rankings, resort-style amenities, and the lure of intramural ultimate Frisbee (!!), it almost always boils down to the campus visit. And also, parties. But mostly, the campus visit.
And since not every one of America’s roughly 3,000 four-year colleges and universities can be beautiful (even if their moms think they are — sorry, UMass Dartmouth), we took into consideration factors like architecture, location, landscape, and historic structures, and narrowed it down to the nation’s most picturesque 25:
Augustana College — Rock Island, Illinois
Credit: Augustana Photo Bureau
A stone’s throw from the Mississippi River (where River Readings are sometimes held with visiting scholars and poets), Augustana College was founded primarily as an institution for Swedish immigrants. So it makes sense that the school’s central landmark, Old Main, was inspired by an Abba song (that’s not true) and a building at Sweden’s University of Uppsala (much more likely). Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, its European influence is evident in the stained glass windows and dome.
Related: Our Top 10 College Towns
UC Berkeley — Berkeley, California
At an impressive 307-foot-tall, Berkeley’s Campanile (or the Sather Tower) is the world’s third-tallest clock-tower. So, they’ve got that going for them. But, refusing to stop at a single record-breaking tower, UC Berkeley’s 1,232-acre campus also houses Hearst Memorial Mining Building, a traditional European-style structure designed by architect John Galen Howard in 1907, and a reflecting pool in front that makes for an even more glorious view. Another show-stopper, Berkeley’s Greek Theater is modeled after Epidaurus’ ancient Greek amphitheater.
Berry College — Mt. Berry, Georgia
Set on a sprawling 27,000 acres of Georgia mountains, woods, and forest, Berry College maintains horse, bicycle, and foot trails, and even offers archery deer hunts in the fall. Of the buildings on campus, Ford Auditorium, an English gothic-inspired building with a clock tower and reflecting pool, is the most eye-catching.
Brown University — Providence, Rhode Island
Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University
Founded in 1764, Brown University moved to its current College Hill location in 1770. An architectural tour de force, the campus is loaded with buildings that represent seemingly every type of design styles: Georgian, Beaux-Arts, Venetian Gothic, Ruskinian Gothic (really all kinds of Gothic), and Greek Revival. Don’t miss Robinson Hall, by the way. Built out of red brick and sandstone, it’s crowned with a rotunda framed by scalloped balconies.
University of Chicago — Chicago, Illinois
Located on Chicago’s South Side, this ivy-covered urban oasis — a designated botanical garden — is heavy on the Gothic and gargoyles. While there are plenty of stone archways and lush quads to nod approvingly at, Rockefeller Memorial Chapel is your must-hit; not only is it the university’s tallest building, but it features stained glass windows and a 72-bell carillon tower.
Columbia University — New York City
Another gem tucked away amid the bustle of urban chaos, Columbia’s northern Manhattan campus is all about manicured lawns, famous sculptures, and classical buildings with bookish, Greco-Roman exteriors. The signature spot, though, has to be Butler Library. Erected in 1934 in a Neoclassical style (which means it has columns, right?), it’s part of the eighth-largest library in the entire country.
Emory University — Atlanta, Georgia
Credit: Flickr/Basheer Tome (Edited)
This Southern oasis in one of Atlanta’s oldest neighborhoods is all marble and magnolia. Heavy on the green space, Emory’s campus includes Lullwater Park (complete with lake, creek, and running paths) and a quad flanked by historic buildings — like the ornate Pitts Theology Library — which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Related: Thursday Night: Atlanta
Flagler College — St. Augustine, Florida
Credit: Zach Thomas/Flagler College
Well, it definitely doesn’t hurt to offer students glorious ocean views, palm trees, and an outdoor swimming pool. Not only that, but one of Flagler’s residence halls is housed in the historic Ponce de Leon building, a Spanish Renaissance Revival structure that opened as a hotel in 1888 and boasts a marble staircase, castle-like turrets, and a Rotunda. Also, we mentioned the ocean, right?
Hamilton College — Clinton, New York
Credit: James Scherzi
Often dubbed “College on the Hill” for, unsurprisingly, its idyllic hilltop location, this liberal arts school in Upstate New York is an oft-overlooked gem. Hamilton’s most famous landmark, the College Chapel, was designed/built by architect Philip Hooker and trustee John Lothrop in 1827, and is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. To be honest, that’s pretty much all we know about Hamilton. Other than the fact that 50 percent of accepted students scored between 680-750 on the math section of the SAT, so that’s good.
Harvard University — Cambridge, Massachusetts
Founded in 1636, not only is Harvard one of the country’s most prestigious universities, but it’s also the oldest. While the school technically sprawls across the Charles into Allston, the fortress-like main campus in Harvard Square sits behind stone walls and iron gates. Much of the architecture dates back to the 18th century and ranges from standard Collegiate Gothic, to Neo-Gothic, to not-at-all Gothic. Expect to see as many tourists as you do students, and almost all of them will be touching the foot of the John Harvard statue for good luck. Please let our kid get in someday!
Kenyon College — Gambier, Ohio
Credit: Kenyon College
This small liberal arts college in rural Ohio not only boasts such notable alumni as Paul Newman and President Rutherford B. Hayes, but also a campus loaded with European-inspired, Gothic buildings. Also, a weirdly named school song that’s surprisingly not about marathon runners, entitled “I Want a Kenyon Man”. But back to the architecture; your must-hit is Old Kenyon, a stone dorm built in 1829 whose spire towers above the campus’ treetops.
Lewis & Clark College — Portland, Oregon
Credit: Lewis & Clark/Robert Reynolds
Thanks to over 600 acres of wooded trails, an outdoor swimming pool, and a prime hilltop location that looks out onto Mount Hood, this Oregon spot lands squarely on our list. Apparently the students are also really attractive, which can only makes the campus more beautiful, right?
University of Michigan — Ann Arbor, Michigan
Assuming that The Big House isn’t enough to make the case, Michigan’s campus also offers plenty of Gothic architecture, as well as a handful of buildings designed by renowned 20th-century architect Albert Kahn. One of Kahn’s greatest, the 212-foot-tall Burton Hill Memorial Tower, rocks a 55-bell carillon that ties it for the fourth-heaviest carillon ON THE PLANET. So there, Spartans. On the flip side, the 1980s-designed Allan F. and Alene Smith Library with its glass facade offers gorgeous reflective views from both outside and in.
The University of Mississippi — Oxford, Mississippi
Ole Miss began in 1848 with one building, the Lyceum. Its Greek Revival architecture (and oldest college bell in America) landed it on the National Register of Historic Places and influenced nearly every other building that followed. From Ventress to the Cochran Center, the campus is dominated by clean lines, brown brick, and gleaming white plaster accents.
If classic architecture’s not your thing (and that’s cool, nobody’s judging), the lush foliage of The Grove provides a welcome contrast. The beating heart of the entire campus, it’s home to some epic tailgating on Saturdays in the fall.
University of Montana — Missoula, Montana
Credit: Todd Goodrich
Sitting in the shadow of Mount Sentinel on the Clark Fork River, the University of Montana’s campus showcases no fewer than 60 different architectural styles, from the Art Deco of the Student Union to the Queen Anne-inspired Prescott House. This eclectic mix is anchored by the Main Hall’s stately, green-capped clock tower, whose 47 carillon bells ring out across the campus at precisely high noon.
Mount Holyoke — South Hadley, Massachusetts
Credit: Michael Malyszko
One of the nation’s first and most prominent all-women schools, Mount Holyoke’s leafy campus in the heart of Western Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley screams quintessential New England college (especially in the Fall). Mary Lyon Hall — named for the school’s founder — looks more like a castle than a college building, the library resembles something from Hogwarts, and the campus is designated a botanical garden complete with green house & arboretum, outdoor amphitheatre, and two lakes, one of which rocks a waterfall and wooded running path.
University of Notre Dame — South Bend, Indiana
Credit: Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame
In the words of esteemed ND alum, Erik Christensen: “From the lush green quads to the top of the golden dome, every square inch of campus is meticulously buffed with a fine chamois.” And speaking of said golden dome, it was added to the Main Building’s façade in 1882 and is topped by a 19-foot-tall statue of the Virgin Mary. Between it and the steeple of Sacred Heart Basilica, you’ll know when your exit is close on I-80/90.
University of Oklahoma — Norman, Oklahoma
Credit: Robert H. Taylor
Red brick Gothic buildings and an impeccably manicured quad adorned with flowers in the school’s colors (crimson and cream) highlight OU’s campus. The centerpiece, a National Historic Landmark, is Bizzell Memorial Library, which was built in 1929 and resembles a grand English court far more than it does a building you wouldn’t think Brian Bosworth spent a lot of time in but apparently did, graduating with a 3.2 GPA. Love the Boz!
Pepperdine — Malibu, California
Credit: Ron Hall/Pepperdine University
Green space, an oceanfront view, and terracotta-roofed buildings tiered across tumbling hilltops; everything on Pepperdine University’s Malibu campus looks like it’s been treated through the Lo-Fi filter. Alumni Park is especially impressive since the Pacific Ocean – literally on Pepperdine’s doorstep – serves as a dramatic, blue backdrop.
Princeton University — Princeton, New Jersey
Credit: Princeton University, Office of Communications
You know its basketball offense involves a lot of back-door cuts and off-the-ball pics. You vaguely remember that the movie “A Beautiful Mind“ was shot/set there. But did you know this Garden State gem has a stunning campus highlighted by the Cleveland Tower (which stands 173 feet tall at the gates of the university’s Graduate College) and Nassau Hall, which was America’s biggest stone building when it was built in 1756 and has since survived two fires? Now you do.
St. Olaf College — Northfield, Minnesota
Credit: St. Olaf College
Established in 1874, this eco-friendly liberal arts college — whose school song is based on a Norwegian folk tune and is entitled ”Um Ya Ya” — boasts two buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, including The Old Main, a turret-topped, Gothic structure erected in 1877, and the domed, Greek Revival-designed Steensland Hall.
Another fun fact not related to “Um Ya Ya”: the school maintains its own wind turbine — which supplies more than a third of the campus’ electricity — on nearby prairie land.
University of Virginia — Charlottesville, Virginia
Credit: Sanjay Suchak
The only university in the nation to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, UVA’s 1,682-acre campus in Charlottesville was originally designed by Thomas Jefferson himself. The school’s most iconic structure, the Rotunda (a stately Neoclassical building with a white pillar facade crowned with a dome), was modeled after the Pantheon in Rome. Also, it was destroyed in a fire in 1895, so you’re actually looking at a replica.
Wake Forest University — Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Credit: WFU/Ken Bennet
Think of Wake Forest as 340 acres of picturesque woodland and Neo-Georgian architecture. While the school’s Wait Chapel and ZSR library are impressive in their own right, the true stars of this North Carolina campus are the trees. With its full compliment of Maples, Magnolias, Oaks, and Cedars (to name only a handful), Wake Forest bursts forth with the kind of deep reds and yellows that the Martha Stewart Harvest Collection can only dream about.
University of Washington — Seattle, Washington
As if the gorgeous views of Mount Rainier and Lake Washington from inside Husky Stadium weren’t enough to put UW’s campus on the list, the fact that you can both tailgate on a boat and appreciate the spring cherry blossoms on the quad most certainly do.The school also rocks plenty of exemplary architecture, including the stunning Suzzallo Library and impressive, glass-fronted Paccar Hall.
Yale University — New Haven, Connecticut
Credit: Michael Marsland/Yale University
Regardless of how crappy a city New Haven is, Yale’s little “don’t-stray-too-far-off-it” oasis of a campus boasts more than 300 years of architecture and includes buildings from prominent architects like Frank Gehry and Philip Johnson, as well as gardens landscaped by James Gamble Rogers. Assuming you’re not in a rush to get to IKEA, you can also appreciate the 15-floor cathedral-styled Sterling Memorial Library, two art galleries stocked with masterpieces by Monet and Picasso, and the 216-foot-tall Harkness Tower, pictured above.
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