Top 10 Best Student Cities in the US | Top Universities

Top 10 Best Student Cities in the US

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Sabrina Collier

Updated Oct 17, 2019



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The US is home to the most entrants in the QS Best Student Cities ranking of any country, with 13 ranked among the world’s top 100 places to study. None of these are in the top 10 this year, however, largely due to poor scores in the affordability indicator, but US cities perform well for many of the other indicators, particularly for rankings (thanks to US universities dominating the QS World University Rankings® 2018).

However, the high costs clearly do little to deter the large numbers of international students who study in the US every year.

Read on for a countdown of the 10 highest-ranked student cities in the US in 2018.

Honorable mentions

  • Baltimore, Maryland – Ranked joint 90th in the Best Student Cities ranking this year, and 23rd for rankings (its highest-ranked institution is Johns Hopkins University at 17th in the world).
  • Houston, Texas – Ranked joint 97th, also in the top 50 for the rankings indicator (its highest-ranked university is Rice University at 89th).
  • Miami, Florida – New this year and ranked joint 100th, as well as being in the top 50 for desirability. Its highest-ranked university is the University of Miami at 252nd).

10. San Diego

San Diego

Ranked 80th in the Best Student Cities ranking in 2018, the beautiful Californian weather, beaches and surfing opportunities available in San Diego are sure to be a powerful draw for many students, but ‘America’s Finest City’ has much more to offer international students.

San Diego is featured in the top 50 of the rankings indicator, with University of California, San Diego (UCSD) the highest-ranked at joint 38th in the QS World University Rankings®.

Beyond enjoying yourself on the beach in your spare time while studying in San Diego, the city is also home to attractions such as the 1,200-acre Balboa Park, which includes the world-famous San Diego Zoo.

9. Pittsburgh


Based in the north-east state of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh is ranked 68th this year, and its top institution is Carnegie Mellon University, ranked joint 47th in the world. 

Pittsburgh receives one of the US’ best scores for student mix, thanks to it having one of the highest proportions of international students in the US at 23 percent. Known as the ‘Steel City’ due to it being home to more than 300 steel-related businesses, Pittsburgh has lower living costs than many other US cities, giving the US its best score for affordability.

8. Atlanta


Ranked 62nd in this year’s Best Student Cities ranking, Atlanta (the state capital of Georgia in the south-east) is considered the unofficial capital of the South and is known for the key role it played during the American Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

Atlanta gained a reputation for being the city ‘too busy to hate’ due to its progressive outlook during this period, and is today one of the US’ major transport hubs and a center for arts, music, interesting historical sites and museums, and outdoor attractions.

The city is home to three internationally ranked universities, including Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) at 70th in the world.

7. Washington DC

Washington DC

US capital Washington DC dropped to 60th in this year’s Best Student Cities ranking, but nonetheless receives a high score for desirability, having frequently ranked as one of the US’ most livable cities according to The Economist Intelligence Unit.

Washington DC is one of the most historically and culturally rich cities in the US and is home to iconic symbols of American politics like the White House, the Capitol and the Supreme Court. As well as famous sights, Washington DC is home to some excellent universities, such as the University of Maryland, College Park, ranked 129th in the World University Rankings.

6. Philadelphia


Philadelphia is ranked as the 58th best student city this year, with a very high score for both employer activity and rankings, the latter helped by the fact the city is home to three top universities, including the University of Pennsylvania (ranked 19th in the world).

Philadelphia has played an instrumental role in US history and politics – the Liberty Bell is housed here, and it was where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. Beyond all its history, Philadelphia is also well known for its excellent food (think Philly cheesesteaks, Irish potato candy and pretzels), sport and music.

5. Chicago

Up six places in the Best Student Cities this year, Chicago is ranked 40th this year and is in the top 10 for the rankings indicator. Notably, it’s home to one of the top 10 universities in the world rankings, the University of Chicago (ranked ninth).

‘The Windy City’ also receives top 50 scores for student mix, employer activity and desirability, and is known for its excellent live music scene (particularly for blues and jazz), Chicago-style pizza, interesting architecture, Broadway-style theaters, and scenic waterfront.

4. San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco is ranked 38th in this year’s ranking and is home to four internationally ranked institutions, including the famous Stanford University, which is ranked second in the world.

Unsurprisingly, San Francisco is in the global top 50 for desirability, consistently ranking as one of the most livable cities in the US. It also earns the US’ second-best score for employer activity, likely thanks to the presence of Stanford and the Silicon Valley tech hub.

3. Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Up 12 places from 47th to 35th this year, Los Angeles is often referred to as the ‘Creative Capital of the World’ and is known for being the home of Hollywood. One in six of its residents works in the creative industry.

A respondent of our student survey said: “I am so glad I study in Los Angeles. It is a city where you can try out all the possibilities. The city is very diverse--it is common to behold all races of people at one place. If you get the chance to live in this amazing city, just seize the opportunity.”

2. New York

New York City

New York is ranked 18th in the Best Student Cities this year, improving in the desirability and student view indicators since last year. New York now receives the strongest score of the 13 US cities for student view, and is ranked 11th by students, scoring better than any other city for ‘staying after graduation’, suggesting that staying in this huge, fast-paced city to find work after graduation is an attractive prospect for many students.

Answering our student survey, one respondent said: “Living in Manhattan is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as it has everything, and more, of what I yearned for in a college town” while another said “There is such a richness of academic, cultural and industry diversity here. There’s something for everyone, and many good universities.”

1. Boston


Finally, the number one student city in the US this year is Boston, sharing 13th place with Toronto. The city is home to two of the world’s top five universities: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, ranked first and third respectively in the QS World University Rankings® 2018. It also receives an excellent score for student mix, thanks to the fact it’s home to one of the largest student populations of the 13 US cities featured, and 23 percent of its student population come from outside the US.

However, Boston’s best score comes for employer activity, in which it ranks joint second with London, showing it’s a highly sought-after recruiting ground for employers, and cementing its status as one of the most economically powerful cities in the world.

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Think there’s a US city which deserves a place here? Rate it in our student survey, or let us know in the comments.

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