If You Like College Towns, But Don’t Like Large Colleges: Part 2

by Stuart Nachbar, Daytripper University Contributor *

In my last post, I wrote about four college towns where smaller colleges—fewer than 3,000 students—share the community with a larger university. But what if you want to go to college where one school has a vibrant college town all to itself? 

Daytripper University’s correspondents have reported from a few, including these three:



Skidmore College is outside my favorite small college town, Saratoga Springs, New York, also home to the oldest thoroughbred horse racetrack in America as well as a world-class performing arts center featuring a Live Nation calendar of events with performers such as Dave Matthews Band, John Fogerty, Chicago and REO Speedwagon. It’s about a mile from campus to downtown, but students rarely think twice before venturing out to eat, shop or catch a movie. First founded as a women’s college in 1911, Skidmore took the unusual step of relocating its entire campus from downtown Saratoga Springs, onto 850 acres of woods at the edge of town that extends all the way to the Adirondack Mountains.  



Gettysburg College (PA) is at the heart of what could legitimately be called “America’s Town.” The site is home to one of the most famous battles of the Civil War, the only one that took place in the North. Gettysburg has always been a center of American history and tourism, and downtown Gettysburg has its unique charms and countless dining opportunities for parents and students. The college has spearheaded redevelopment, including management and ownership of the Gettysburg Hotel, directly across the street from the Wills House, where Abraham Lincoln wrote his famous address. 



Oberlin College, located in Oberlin, Ohio, was once a hub on the Underground Railroad as well as a center of intellectual thought for the Abolitionist Movement before and during the Civil War. Today, the school blends seamlessly with downtown Oberlin, less than an hour from Cleveland, around cultural assets such as the Allen Memorial Art Museum, considered one of the finest in a college town, the Apollo Theatre, the Oberlin Conservatory and the Arboretum. While a very selective liberal arts college, Oberlin was the first to truly practice diversity in admissions, admitting African Americans beginning in 1835, and welcoming women in 1837. In 1970, it became one of the first colleges in our country to open co-ed residence halls.

I’d like to add five more small colleges and their college towns to this mix. Only one, the very first, Stevens Institute of Technology, accepts slightly less than half—most recently 44 percent—of the students who apply. The rest offer achievable admissions as well as the opportunity to go to college in an excellent college town. 



Stevens Institute of Technology, with 3,100 undergraduates, is in Hoboken, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City. While easy access to New York via mass transit, and the rigorous Computer Science and Engineering programs, among others, make Stevens a highly sought school, Hoboken is an eclectic community of its own. Washington Street has many coffee shops, and dining and drinking places, much like you’d find in the neighborhoods of Greenwich Village or Brooklyn, the larger city just across the Hudson. The Hoboken Hudson River Walkway links green spaces and the Stevens campus with the downtown. Hoboken also has many local events, including an annual Frank Sinatra Idol Contest, in honor of the city’s favorite son. 



Merrimack College, a growing, mid-sized school with 4,100 students, is located in North Andover, Massachusetts, with a downtown with many student and family oriented shops, restaurants and gathering places that could be featured in a Norman Rockwell painting. About 90 minutes from Boston by train, North Andover is also home to Phillips Academy, one of the oldest preparatory schools in the country, the alma mater of both Presidents Bush, longtime New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, actors Humphrey Bogart and Jack Lemmon, and many more. While Merrimack is a mid-sized school, it is one of the most popular targets for Massachusetts college seniors. One out of nine college-bound seniors in the Bay State applies to Merrimack each year. This past school year, the Merrimack Warriors won the NCAA Division II National Championship in Men’s Lacrosse. 



Salve Regina University, in Newport, Rhode Island, a liberal arts school with 2,200 undergraduates, not only has a picturesque waterfront campus; it also has 21 historic buildings, including seven mansions that date back to the late 19th century, America’s Gilded Age. The university’s Morton Arboretum has been designed as a ‘Tree Campus USA’ property by the Arbor Day Foundation, the only one so designated in Rhode Island. Thames Street, Newport’s downtown waterfront district, runs 1.5 miles from beginning to end, longer than the downtowns of many larger college towns, but with similar gathering places, restaurants and shops. The university offers over 40 majors, mainly in the liberal arts, but also programs in the health professions as well as a unique major in Historic Preservation.  



The University of Mary Washington (UMW), is a public four-year college in Fredericksburg, Virginia with just over 4,000 students, located in one of the few places in America where Revolutionary War and Civil War battles were fought. It’s a short drive, or mile walk to reach Fredericksburg’s Main Street District, but it’s well worth it. Downtown eateries feature cuisine prepared by award-winning local chefs, one a former contestant on Top Chef! Have a sweet tooth, and plan to come in warmer weather? Check out Carl’s Frozen Custard just outside of the downtown for cones, malts, and shakes—but be prepared to wait in line and eat your treats outside! Founded as the women’s college of the University of Virginia, but co-ed for nearly 50 years, UMW has a beautiful colonial style campus and is one of the best buys among public liberal arts schools in the country. Like Salve Regina, UMW also offers a major in Historic Preservation. 



Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, is only 30 miles from Green Bay, designated ‘Title Town’ by the loyal fans of the NFL’s Packers. The university’s Downtown Deals Plus program encourages students to shop in Appleton’s College Avenue district featuring nearly 30 pubs, clubs and live music hot spots and a variety of student-oriented coffee shops and gathering places. Appleton’s 2,100-seat Fox Cities Performing Arts Center hosted the Wisconsin premiers for The Lion King and Wicked. One of the Colleges That Change Lives, Lawrence is one of the few liberal arts colleges in America—Oberlin and Gettysburg are two as well—that also has its own music conservatory. 

These are not the only small colleges that have a lively college town of their own, but they provide some of the best examples as you and your child consider where to complete their education. While the work one does in the classroom, and the opportunities a university provides to lead, work and volunteer, are all important towards future success, graduates are more likely to have fond memories of a college when the surrounding community also offered them much to do. 


* As founder of Educated Quest, Stuart Nachbar provides personalized college, transfer and graduate/professional school admissions advisory services to help students and parents make the best-informed decisions their future education. Having worked around higher education for over three decades as an admissions advisor, author, urban economic development professional and senior-level software marketing executive, he knows the “inside baseball” about how colleges do business. Stuart holds a BA and MBA from Rutgers University, a Master of Urban Planning for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a Certificate in College Admissions Counseling (with Distinction) from UCLA. He and his wife, Carol, live in Central New Jersey.