A good-looking university does much more than attract potential students. Handsome quads, manicured footpaths, and photo-worthy architecture are often utilized (and appreciated) by everyone in town, including tourists. Even if you finished your degree decades ago—or have no interest in academia—the beautiful college campuses scattered across the United States are worthwhile destinations for travelers.
Some states, like California, have impossible riches of eye-catching schools; others, not so much. But every state has at least one collegiate gemstone. From small liberal arts colleges to huge state universities, Ivy League classics and relatively new institutions, this list highlights the diversity of America’s most attractive campuses.
When selecting the most enchanting school in every state, we considered the setting and scenery; the design of the buildings (it’s no surprise that many of these colleges also appear on our list of schools with the best architecture); and the upkeep of the campus grounds. And we took plenty of other details into account, too, including knowledge from campus visits, in-depth virtual tours, first-person references and word of mouth, extensive general research, and hours upon hours of examining campuses from images shot at just about every imaginable angle.
Sure, picking the most beautiful college in every state of the union isn’t an exact science. And some states have so many absurdly gorgeous schools that the final decision almost felt like a toss-up. But for travelers seeking an all-around positive experience—whether you’re on a college tour with the kids or looking for a place to wander on a balmy afternoon—these scholarly institutes all get top marks for good looks.
University of Alabama
A classic southern belle, Alabama’s campus features plenty of green space, manicured landscaping, and an amazing variety of architecture. Highlights include the Greek Revival-style President’s Mansion and the Beaux-Arts museum of natural history. Sure, this large state university has a powerhouse athletic program (and a state-of-the-art stadium to boot) but there’s nothing lacking about its Southern charm.
University of Alaska Fairbanks
With such a small population, Alaska has a limited number of colleges, and the majority of the buildings seem built for function. But the Fairbanks campus of University of Alaska has a new museum building, designed by architect Joan Soranno in 2005, with a gleaming, white aluminum exterior and swooping angles meant to evoke glaciers and alpine ridges.
University of Arizona
This Tucson school scores the top spot in Arizona by virtue of a palm tree-lined mall, incredible views of the Santa Catalina Mountains, and plenty of red brick (and red-roofed) halls.
Hendrix College in Arkansas
Several buildings belonging to this suburban Arkansas college are on the National Register of Historic Places. There’s also a charming gazebo, and an abundance of varying tree types for enthusiastic arboriss.
Pepperdine University in California
You’d be forgiven for mistaking Pepperdine’s Malibu campus for a luxury seaside resort. The school moved to its current location in 1972, and it’s not hard to see why: the tiered landscape along the Pacific Coast Highway offers expansive views on the ocean.
University of Colorado Boulder
Nestled in a bustling college town in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, this university’s location made it a no-brainer for the list. Views of the Flatiron rock formations and unique, Tuscan-inspired architecture don’t hurt either.
Yale University in Connecticut
Connecticut has a number of contenders, but the towering and intricate Collegiate Gothic architecture of Yale University, in New Haven, can’t be ignored. And that’s to say nothing of the school’s Georgian-style hall or glass-and-pink-marble library.
University of Delaware
If you want to visit the prettiest college in the state of of Delaware, you can find it less than an hour from Philadelphia, an hour from Baltimore, a little more than an hour from the Delaware beaches, and just over two hours from New York City. But that’s not what’s important here. UD’s campus is green and manicured, with red brick buildings that evoke though not on the same level the stunning University of Virginia (more on that later).
Flagler College in Florida
Founded just 48 years ago, Flagler eagerly inserted itself into the compendium of America’s most breathtaking college campus. Its architecture is about as unique as it gets among colleges, largely because it operates out of the former Ponce de León Hotel (a Spanish Renaissance masterpiece built in 1888 by Standard Oil co-founder, Henry Flagler). And neither students nor visitors can complain about its location in equally-attractive St. Augustine.
Berry College in Georgia
If you’re looking for a college that could double as the setting of Downton Abbey, Berry College runs away with the award—and the campus actually has been used as a filming site for movies including Remember the Titans and Sweet Home Alabama. Though the student body is quite small, Berry boasts 27,000 acres of hills, streams, meadows, and beautiful architecture, making it the largest contiguous campus on Earth.
University of Hawaii at Mānoa
Granted, it shouldn’t be too difficult to create a beautiful campus in Hawaii, but the state university’s campus at Mānoa still stands out. Its campus offers volcano views, sits near Waikiki Beach, and plays host to frequent rainbows.
University of Idaho
The University of Idaho features an arboretum, a grove of trees planted by various figures including Teddy Roosevelt, a golf course, and more trees. Lovely views and gorgeous architecture make UI our pick for Idaho.
University of Chicago in Illinois
Illinois had several contenders (especially Northwestern), but we gave the top spot to the University of Chicago. Its largely Gothic campus played host to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition—a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus landing in the Americas—and today features many modern design elements alongside its classic halls.
Indiana University Bloomington
The state university beat out the likes of Notre Dame with its impressive landscaping and bright limestone halls. The Sample Gates entryway in the Old Crescent, also hewn from Indiana limestone, are particularly stunning.
Iowa State University
The iconic Campanile bell tower and Memorial Union are about as impressive as college structures come. But Iowa State even features a campus lake—complete with swans—and a spectacular central lawn.
Kansas State University
Kansas has an impressive number of attractive schools: Friends, Kansas University, and Kansas Wesleyan, just to name a few. But the oldest public university in the Sunflower State is also our pick for the prettiest. Plenty of green space (more than 2,000 collective acres) and limestone buildings make K-State a true beauty.
University of Louisville in Kentucky
The main campus, known as Belknap, is set in historic Old Louisville and includes stunning Grawemeyer Hall. There’s even a cast of the famous statue, The Thinker, and plenty of foliage flanking the classic red brick structures.
Tulane University in Louisiana
A combination of tropical palms and evergreen oaks gives Tulane an unmistakable New Orleans vibe, and the manicured grounds and variety of stately buildings make it a spot worth visiting even for the non-matriculated. Majestic Gibson hall faces Audubon Park just across St. Charles Avenue, and behind it lies acres of lovely campus.
College of the Atlantic in Maine
America’s easternmost state has no shortage of beautiful campuses—Bowdoin, for example, was a top contender. But the stunning scenery and unique atmosphere of the College of the Atlantic made its campus the winner. Nestled on an island in Bar Harbor, any part of the tiny college could be mistaken for a private coastal estate. Though the Turrets building, in particular, looks like a storybook mansion.
United States Naval Academy in Maryland
A domed chapel, a Versailles-like palace that is the world’s largest single dormitory, and an idyllic setting on the Severn River and Chesapeake Bay. This military academy is where our country’s navy grows up, and it couldn’t be much prettier.
College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts
Massachusetts is the seventh-smallest state in the country, but it might have the largest selection of stunning college campuses. After all, the Bay State is home to Harvard, Smith, Boston College, Williams, Mount Holyoke, and Amherst. On and on it goes. But the winner right now is Holy Cross, perched on a hill above the city of Worcester. The school has received numerous accolades for some of the best landscaping in the country, and both the Fenwick and O’Kane Halls are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Kalamazoo College in Michigan
Leafy, suburban Kalamazoo College is probably best described as pleasant. Understated but attractive red-brick buildings make up the majority of campus structures: Hodge House, the president’s residence, is a good example.
St. Olaf College in Minnesota
Winters at St. Olaf, about 40 miles south of Minneapolis, can be brutal. But goodness do they make for a picturesque scene. The fall foliage here is fierce, too, and beautiful structures like Old Main and Holland Hall help complete the picture.
University of Mississippi
Towering oaks, the grand Lyceum, blooming flowers, the lovely town of Oxford: Ole Miss has no shortage of beauty or Southern charm. Other highlights at this state school include the tailgating spot, The Grove, and beautiful Ventress Hall.
Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri
How many schools can say they’ve hosted a World’s Fair? How about the Olympic Games? It just so happens that Washington University has managed to do both. In 1904, what’s now known as Danforth Campus was the site of both international events. The grandeur continues to be embodied by the Collegiate Gothic architecture and sprawling green lawns.
University of Montana
The red-brick clock tower of Montana’s University Hall stands silhouetted against Mount Sentinel, on which a giant concrete “M” serves as the university’s version of the Hollywood Sign. The Oval at the center of campus and a majestic valley setting make this a particularly stunning state college.
Creighton University in Nebraska
Nebraska’s Jesuit university takes the honor here primarily because of the architecture. St. John’s Parish and the new Harper Center represent old and new beauty on Creighton’s Omaha campus.
Sierra Nevada College in Nevada
It’s easy to confuse this college with a luxury cabin retreat in the hills above Lake Tahoe. The Tahoe Center for Environmental Sciences features impressive woodwork and masonry, and seamlessly fits the Tahoe-area vibe. We’re also willing to argue that it’s one of the most unique colleges on this list.
Dartmouth College in New Hampshire
Perhaps President Eisenhower said it best when he described Dartmouth in 1953: “This is what a college should look like.” The school and adjoining town of Hanover sit on a hill above the Connecticut River, just across the border from Vermont. Classic architecture and a magnificent quad are highlights of the pristine campus.
Princeton University in New Jersey
Another Ivy to perform as well aesthetically as it does academically, Princeton’s Collegiate Gothic campus is an exercise in Ivy League splendor. On a visit here, don’t miss Nassau Hall, the beautiful archways, or the adjacent golf course. There’s also plenty of literal ivy at Princeton.
St. John’s Santa Fe in New Mexico
Actually a satellite campus of Maryland’s runner-up (St. John’s College in Annapolis), St. John’s College Santa Fe sits in the trees at the base of Monte Luna, offering students a mountain experience with lots of greenery.
Colgate University in New York
It proved particularly hard to choose a school to represent New York—from Columbia to Bard and from Union to Cornell, the Empire State teems with pretty colleges. But there’s just something about Colgate University that makes it stand out. Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s in the middle of nowhere, but the whole place just seems unspoiled. Entire forests, rolling hills, and a campus lake are a perfect complement to the traditional collegiate architecture.
Wake Forest University in North Carolina
Wake Forest is our pick for North Carolina (another state with no shortage of pretty). The groundskeeping here is top quality, as evidenced by the patchwork of fields and plazas on campus. The buildings, for the most part, are gorgeous inside and out.
University of North Dakota
North Dakota doesn’t have a huge number of colleges, but the ones it does have are quite scenic. Both state schools (the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University), are pretty. But we give the edge to UND for the attractive English Coulee that zigs and zags through campus.
Kenyon College in Ohio
Small, liberal arts Kenyon College boasts both a beautiful campus as well as some beautiful alumni (see: Newman, Paul). The majestic stonework dorms and quaint academic buildings are an ideal fit for the gorgeous rural setting.
Oklahoma State University
An expanse of green grass and the soothing fountain outside the Edmon Low Library set the tone for Oklahoma State. It’s a mixture of incredible landscaping and stately halls that create an ideal campus atmosphere. Check out the Formal Gardens, the grand staircases in front of the Student Union, or peaceful Theta Pond.
Lewis & Clark in Oregon
Tucked away in a quiet Portland neighborhood is Lewis & Clark, which was named for the famous explorers. This campus must exemplify the beauty they encountered on their expedition. We especially love the rustic undergraduate campus, which is set among Douglas Firs and rolling hills.
University of Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is one of those states with too many contenders to note. (The Commonwealth states, including Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, are particularly bountiful.) But Penn has it all: eclectic and varied architecture, plenty of trees, and even a park with views of the Philadelphia skyline.
Salve Regina University in Rhode Island
The most appropriate word here is stunning, and it’s no wonder: it’s what happens when you form a college out of seven magnificent Gilded Age estates. And that’s to say nothing of Salve Regina’s perch on the windswept coast of charming Newport.
Furman University in South Carolina
Elegant fountains, an Asian garden, a Florentine bell tower, and Georgian architecture: it’s difficult to imagine a more comprehensive approach to collegiate beauty. And Furman University’s lakeside location in the Blue Mountain foothills is a tremendous bonus for degree-seekers and visitors alike.
Augustana University in South Dakota
Augustana’s campus, like others in South Dakota, is pleasant but not jaw-dropping. But its close-cropped quads, impressive administration building, and scenic Sioux Falls setting easily make it the state’s prettiest.
Vanderbilt University in Tennessee
Rural and stunning Sewanee was a close runner-up, but Vanderbilt is just too gorgeous to pass by. Impeccable grounds and landscaping, most obvious in places like Alumni Lawn and Bishops Commons, set the campus apart. Majestic columns (on display at the Wyatt Center) and clean red-brick facades add to the school’s impressive beauty.
Southern Methodist University in Texas
The majestic, tree-lined entrance gives visitors to the Dallas school an immediate Instagram-worthy shot, and it doesn’t get less impressive once you’re inside. Manicured lawns, red-brick buildings, and a feeling of symmetry land SMU on our list.
Utah State University
Utah State’s main campus, in Logan, stands out even when compared to beautiful schools like Brigham Young. Majestic Old Main makes a stunning silhouette against a gorgeous mountain backdrop. It’s not just mountains that make the place beautiful, though; a well-groomed campus and valley views add to the school’s visual appeal.
Middlebury College in Vermont
Middlebury is one of those places that’s pretty year round, because the vibrant fall foliage gives way to pristine white snowfall—with minimal dreary time in between—and come summer, the campus is blanketed in colorful blooms. The campus is surrounded by the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks, and there’s a picturesque New England town nearby.
University of Virginia
No list of the sort would be complete without this classic, designed by the singular Thomas Jefferson. The impeccable Lawn, the iconic Rotunda, the now eponymous Jeffersonian Architecture, and the Grounds (specifically not the “campus,” in this case) at UVA are tops in the state.
University of Washington
If you’re not from the western United States, the University of Washington might pass you by. Don’t let it. The campus not only sits on Union Bay, with snowcapped mountains in the distance, but it also boasts some spectacular architecture. And in the spring, the cherry blossom explosion makes the place particularly pretty.
Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
West Virginia University
Big points for architecture here, particularly Woodburn Circle, which features three beautiful halls on the National Register of Historic Places. Add in plenty of leafy trees and a riverside setting, and you’ve got West Virginia’s winner.
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Apologies to other Wisconsin schools, but it’s tough to beat out a campus set on an isthmus between two lakes, like UW’s flagship at Madison. Aside from the incredible natural scenery, buildings like Bascom Hall, Music Hall, and Memorial Union give the campus impressive character.
University of Wyoming
The real strength of this university is the rustic setting (well, just about all of Wyoming is rustic) and the beautiful sandstone Old Main building. From Prexy’s Pasture to the evergreens punctuating the grounds, this campus easily makes this wild, unbound state proud.