While they may not be the first places that come to mind in a refined discussion about culture, college campuses are, without a doubt, one of the major hubs of traditions in the country.
From Cornell University’s colorful Dragon Day March to Stanford’s infamous Full Moon on the Quad, you will be hard-pressed to find other locations that feature as many communal merriments as a typical U.S. campus.
However, while the social scene on the ground does feature prominently in influencing where aspiring students choose to go to college, another primary consideration for many applicants is the scenery. After all, if you are going to spend the next four years of your life in the same environment, you are best off taking your time selecting one that is aesthetic and soothing to your nerves, of which there will be many.
With a beautiful campus comes an appealing backdrop to your school life, providing inspiration when you are on the grind and creating the perfect scene winding down during relaxation and fun.
Thankfully, there is no shortage of elegant universities around the country that will sufficiently fulfill your academic and aesthetic needs at the same time. From vintage, multi-century old buildings, to contemporary structures set against everything from leafy woodlands, to snowy mountains, to bright city lights, there is undoubtedly something for everyone.
Here are the top 20 most beautiful college campuses in the country that are guaranteed to skew every student’s love-hate relationship with school more to the love side of things.
20 Most Beautiful College Campuses
The United States is home to some of the most aesthetic and prestigious universities in the world.
Consequently, these colleges attract students from around the world who favor them for both the quality of education, the eye-catching architecture, and the serene landscaping that they get to experience for the duration of their programs.
In the 2020 edition of the Princeton Review of the Best 385 Colleges, the publication produced a list of the top 20 most beautiful college campuses, based on a survey of 140,000 students around the country.
Backed by popular demand, here are the top 20 most beautiful college campuses in America.
If you are looking for a serene college space near the country’s seat of power, the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma is, without a doubt, your best bet. While the campus size is only a meager 97 acres, it is still one of the top choices in the country for students who prioritize the environmental setting of their college campus.
Since the college launched in 1888, the Puget Sound campus mainly contains brick buildings in the Tudor Gothic architectural style of that era. The mildly Gothic structures give the University a unique persona that is an instant hit for people who favor a nod to the past.
Despite several renovations to many of the campus buildings, the University has made it their mission to ensure the University preserves its distinctive Gothic design, even applying the same layout to their newer buildings.
Nevertheless, the university setting is quite urban, with the campus divided into quads and featuring many straight streets, with plenty of green to complete a genuinely tranquil scene. This urban setup blends nicely into the surrounding city. The campus is only a few minutes away from the Sixth Avenue District and downtown Proctor, perfect for the students who are an outdoorsy lot.
Furthermore, the school is also close to popular outdoor spots like the Puget Sound Waterfront and the Olympic Peninsula, which make for excellent weekend trips for activities like kayaking and hiking.
Hanover College is a private liberal arts college based in Indiana that offers a scenic environment and picturesque views from multiple locations on the campus. The college’s site is a 650-acre patch of land overlooking the Ohio River, and featuring a mildly rugged terrain that makes for one pleasing aesthetic.
Design-wise, the main character of the campus comes from its massive buildings that all follow the Georgian style of architecture. The school management subscribes to this design language entirely, and everywhere you go on campus, you are sure to appreciate the seamless continuity in the structures.
Hanover College takes full advantage of the beauty of its physical terrain, preserving its eye-catching wooded areas and creating serene grassy fields that complement them for a truly inviting scene.
All over this picturesque landscape, you will find several cliffs and climbing paths that make for perfect hiking trains for students with a taste for adventure. From any of these high points on campus, you can see the three bends in the Ohio River.
One of the South’s finest, High Point University is a school in North Carolina that students love for its calm, inviting scenery and its laid back social scene to match.
It is not common to find people relaxing in hammocks and having picnics around campus at all times of the day.
At its launch in 1924, the school was designed by R.E Mitchell and Herbert Hunter in the classic English Renaissance style, giving the campus a timeless, classy design that is sure to impress.
Many students already have a stressful relationship with their schoolwork, and your campus should not add to this stress. This role is one that Christopher Newport University plays exceptionally well.
Based in Southeastern Virginia, the University sits at the heart of one of the most beautiful and historic regions in the country. Everywhere you turn going off-campus, you meet some pleasing locations that are guaranteed to leave a positive impression.
At convenient walking distances from the school, you can find excellent chillout locations like Busch Gardens, Chesapeake Bay, and Virginia Beach. The college campus is also only a stone throw away from Williamsburg, three airports, and an Amtrak station. If you are about that high-spirited urban life, Christopher Newport is a perfect choice.
The campus itself has a playful vibe with exciting features that evokes a Disney World-esque feel.
If ancient Hogwarts-esque buildings are more your style, nothing beats the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Established in 1693, William & Mary predates the creation of the United States and is the second oldest higher institution in the country second only to Harvard.
Consequently, the college has a rich history of traditional architecture to match. The buildings and other structures on campus reflect the far-reaching school history of constructions and renovations. Furthermore, the William & Mary house some of the oldest educational buildings in the country, including the Wren Building, America’s oldest college building, and a national historic landmark.
In addition to the Wren Building, the campus houses several other 18th century buildings that feature matching Georgian and Anglo-Dutch architecture that is characteristic of the historic Williamsburg, Virginia area
The college also features a series of newer buildings known colloquially as the “New Campus.” Here, you will find more contemporary architecture, albeit in the same brick design, as the older buildings for continuity.
Thanks to its perfect blend of rich history and modern structures, the College of William & Mary has a truly unique feel and one of the most scenic setups of any campus in the country. Hence, it is no surprise that Travel+Leisure named the school as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country.
Consequently, the college is a popular stop for tourists visiting the historic Williamsburg area. The College of William & Mary sits atop a 1,200-acre tract that mostly consists of woodlands and an artificial lake, Lake Matoaka, all accessible via the multiple trails that run throughout the campus.
Mount Holyoke College is a private, women-only liberal arts college in South Hadley, Massachusetts. First founded as a female seminary, the buildings on the campus feature characteristic red bricks help it retain the serene seminary vibe.
Another feature you will immediately notice on Mount Holyoke’s campus is the school’s commitment to sustainability and nature. The college is often credited as the pioneer of the green initiative among top colleges in America, and they have the campus to back this title.
The 2000-acre campus is home to several waterfalls, two lakes, woodlands with riding trails, a student-run organic garden, and a botanical garden that includes an arboretum and a greenhouse. Thanks to their keen focus on sustainable living, the college keeps the natural environment around it, including the Connecticut River, in prime condition, creating a perfect scenery for hiking, jogging, or biking.
Mount Holyoke College consistently features in most beautiful college campuses lists, including those from the Princeton Review, Huffington Post, and Architectural Digest.
A sister school to Mount Holyoke College, Wellesley College is another member of the Seven Sisters Colleges that focus on sustainable living and a love for nature. Wellesley College comes complete with loads of charm and one of the most picturesque scenes you will find on any campus.
Determined to create a truly unique experience, the college designer, prominent Boston architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., ditched the traditional quad design of American campuses for a more fluid layout that fully integrates the topography of the environment.
Consequently, Wellesley College feels less like a rigid grid of soulless buildings, and more like a place where nature educates you while providing constant comfort. Students love this design too and often rave about how the beauty of the campus helps to spark happiness and ease the pain of even the most stressful classes.
Around the campus, you will find open wooded areas and meadows as well as the edge of the spectacular Lake Waban.
Located on the westside of Los Angeles, Loyola Marymount University is on prime L.A. land, sitting less than 10 minutes from the beach. Furthermore, the University has a classy view as its position atop the bluffs gives it scenic access to the city. The school is also directly overlooking Playa Vista.
On the campus, the school is pretty laid back with serene open areas and forgiving architecture. Students also subscribe to the easy-going theme, and you will find many of them relaxing on hammocks or having fun at the on-campus sand volleyball court.
Since the school is in L.A., it is no surprise that you get access to a vibrant social scene that includes sports, beaches, malls, restaurants, museums, and mountain trails.
Lehigh University is famous for its ornate structures with superior detailing that attract attention from everyone that sees them. The campus also has an abundance of trees surround each building to complete the charming scenery that impresses in every season.
At only 2350 acres, the beautiful college campus is quite compact, with almost every building within walking distances of each other. In every season, you will find students walking around, enjoying the view, or congregating around the many recreational and sports fields.
Despite its location in the heart of the vibrant city of Houston, Rice University is one of the greenest schools in the country, and they wear it like a badge of honor. The college prides itself on the number of green areas it has available on its premises, and it currently has over 4000 trees.
On the school campus, the buildings are spread out few and far between heavily wooded areas, open green spaces, and an abundance of parking lots giving the school a fresh, airy feel.
Rice University’s 300-acre campus also features stunning administrative and academic structures in a distinctive Byzantine style with Romanesque elements, featuring sand-colored bricks and massive archways and columns.
Virtually every building on campus subscribes to this design language, creating a seamless yet striking aesthetic.
Bucknell University’s characteristic feature is its massive brick-clad buildings and trees, lots of trees. The campus’s location is in the heart of central Pennsylvania, a picturesque region with nature and morphology that looks good in every season.
Consequently, the campus has an abundance of trees and green areas that contrast nicely with the brick structures to create a soft, graceful scene.
The University also features a breezy min forest called The Grove in the stark middle of the campus, connecting the two halves of the college and serving as the perfect relaxation spot.
Washington University in St. Louis’s aesthetic is one that is defined by picture-perfect buildings and immaculate greenspaces. The university campus draws inspiration for its design from U.K. universities Oxford and Cambridge.
This University consistently ranks high on any beautiful campuses lists thanks to the excellent maintenance of its plant life and green spaces. All around the campus, you will find impeccable lawns and pruned trees in perfectly straight lines.
Furthermore, the college builds too continue this theme of scenic design with superior detailing. You will find an eye-catching mix of ornate modern and historic structures that combine with the abundance of green to give the campus a serene, idyllic vibe.
If what you seek is an authentic taste of southern living, The University of the South, Sewanee, should be at the top of your list. This University offers the ultimate experience in southern style from the campus buildings to the social scene.
All structures on the campus feature construction from local stone and adhere to a distinct Gothic architectural style that exudes southern charm with every wall. Some of the campus buildings like the All Saints Chapel and Tennessee Williams Center are country-famous for how well they capture the aesthetic of the region.
These striking buildings dot the campus’s massive 13000-acre landscape that is also home to expansive woodlands and vast open spaces.
The University of the South, Sewanee, often features in publications around the country as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the U.S.
Florida Southern College is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country, thanks in part to its massive collection of exquisite buildings, each with its own distinct eye-catching architectural design.
Many of the original campus structures are the work of prominent American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, making Florida Southern College the most extensive single-site collection of his architecture.
Consequently, many consider the entire University akin to a work of art and as one of our most unique historical locations. Hence, it is no surprise that the University features in the National Register of Historic Places. In 2012, it officially became one of the National Historic Landmarks of the United States. Furthermore, the World Monument Fund currently lists the college as an endangered cultural site.
The collection of breathtaking structures on campus earned Florida Southern College the number one spot on The Princeton Review’s most beautiful college campuses in the United States for 2011 and 2012.
At Florida Southern College, a mix of superior campus aesthetics and the lively social scene in Lakeland makes for a memorable experience for every student.
For the sworn nature and outdoor enthusiast, no school will serve your preferences like Berry College in Georgia. With a picturesque scenery of endless greenery, beautiful English-style Gothic structures, and an expansive landscape that continues for miles, few college campuses can hold a candle to Berry College when it comes to painting that perfect picture.
The campus has an outstanding 27,000 acres of green land with lush forests and smooth flowing fields, several hiking trails, horseback riding trails, and running paths dotting the landscape, a pair of pristine lakes, a sizable deer population, and even a mountain.
Structure-wise, the dreamlike gothic building, and several fountains and decorative fools form an aesthetic focal point that is significantly enhanced and complemented by the ethereal natural backdrop.
If you are outdoorsy, you will fit right in here, as few locations around the country can match the scenery that Berry College provides. The surreal landscape has even gotten a nod of approval from Hollywood, featuring in movies like Sweet Home Alabama, and Remember the Titans.
The University of Richmond layers an eye-catching scenic landscape on the basic university structure, creating a homely college setting that is a joy to behold. The University is a traditional American university that has stayed true to its roots with a quad setup, open lawns, and detailed collegiate gothic buildings that are sure to impress.
All structures on campus stay true to the original design by established institutional Architect Ralph Adams Cram in 1910: dull red gothic buildings against a backdrop of massive lawns, rolling hills, and woodland. The landscape also includes a clear lake, Westhampton Lake, that further reinforces the intimate and tranquil vibe.
Despite its dreamy scenery, the University’s suburban setting blends nicely with neighboring downtown Richmond, a growing area that offers provides an enhanced social life to students with bars, festivals, boutiques, and restaurants.
All elements of the University’s landscape combine smoothly to create one truly splendid sight. Hence, it is no surprise that the University of Richmond was number one on The Princeton Review’s most beautiful college campuses list for the year 2000.
Furthermore, the college campus made its film debut in the pilot of ABC TV series Commander in Chief.
When choosing a university based on the scenery they provide, students often have to choose between nature-loving park-like options or a more urban setting. Vanderbilt University in Nashville is proof that you can get the best of both worlds in the same school.
Set in the heart of downtown Nashville, this University gives you access to all of the fun you can expect from the surrounding vibrant cityscape: exciting events, live music, and food aplenty. However, the campus itself is a classic soul-healing nature-filled set with beautiful detailed Victorian-style buildings to match.
The college campus is a massive 300-acre expanse filled with trees and greenery that proves a stark contrast to the surrounding urban area. Most of the landscape is green, and on campus, you will find almost 200 different tree species, including one famous tree, the Bicentennial Oak, certified to be older than the American Revolution.
Consequently, Vanderbilt University Campus received the designation of a national arboretum in 1988 from the Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta.
This unique mix of a calm floral setting set in an urban area is a hit with students on campus as the college campus ranked number one for both “Their Students Love These Colleges” and “Best Quality of Life” on the Princeton Review rankings for 2020.
The University of San Diego should feature under the dictionary entry for scenic. The university campus looks like something straight out of a Hollywood classic showcasing the best of 16th century Spain. Without a doubt, this school was designed by people with the belief can beautiful scenery can significantly accentuate the students’ educational experience.
The main attraction on campus the ornate architecture on each building, all of which follow the design language of Spanish Renaissance Architecture. The epitome of this attention to detail, is the campus’ crown jewel, the spectacular Immaculata Church with its mosaicked dome, the red-tiled tilted roofs, and eye-catching bronze detailing.
When you finish enjoying the impressive magnificence of the small 180-acre campus, you can turn outside for some more. Set atop a mesa that overlooks Mission Bay, you can get stunning views from most corners of the University, including views of the Pacific Ocean, San Diego Harbor, La Jolla, and the Coronado Islands.
The beautiful environment and structures and the near-perfect San Diego weather make the University of San Diego a perfect choice for outdoorsy people who enjoy reveling in beauty.
As another member of the Seven Sisters College, Bryn Mawr College is everything you will expect from a school with a focus on sustainable living and glorifying nature. The historic college campus is famous for its Collegiate Gothic stone structures and an abundance of plant life.
The campus features many colorful trees with bright cherry blossoms in abundance, giving the landscape a lush, dreamy feel. Furthermore, plenty of greenery here has earned the Bryn Mawr College campus an arboretum designation.
In 2011, Travel+Leisure named the campus as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country.
The Princeton Review’s Most Beautiful Campus in America for 2020, Elon University campus is a mix of elegant structures and abundant lush greenery that is sure to impress.
The buildings on campus are exquisite red-brick buildings with superior detailing that outclasses most of what you will find at other colleges around the country. Further accentuating the campus landscape is the abundance of colorful trees that dot almost every free space on campus.
Consequently, the campus is a designated botanical garden, and you immediately see why as soon as you step on the grounds.
The university campus often features at the top of many beautiful campus rankings, including those by the Princeton Review.