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Which Cities Offer the Best College Experience?

When it comes time to select the right college and take out a student loan, undergraduates and their parents need to consider more than just class schedules and dormitory rooms. The city where it is located also has a lot to do with ensuring a student has the best college experience possible. A new list featuring the best cities in the United States for college study can help eliminate some of the guesswork.

The 2009-10 College Destinations Index compiled by the Massachusetts-based American Institute for Economic Research names 60 cities of various sizes as the best places according to quality of life, academic environment, and professional opportunities. Among major metropolitan cities (populations at least 2.5 million), New York City was rated at the top. San Jose, CA, was No. 1 on the list of the mid-size cities (populations of 1 to 2.5 million). Boulder, CO, claimed the highest position on the roster of small metro cities (250,000 to 1 million residents) .

In compiling the lists, researchers considered three categories with a dozen criteria total to make their choices. In considering academic environment, they weighed student concentration (number of college students per 1,000 residents), diversity (percentage of all students holding foreign passports), research capacity (spending on academic research and development per 100,000 residents), and degree attainment (percent of the 25- to 34-year-old population with college degrees) .

Another category was professional opportunities. It included earning potential (income per capita), activity among entrepreneurs (net yearly rise in number of business establishments per 100,000 residents), brain drain or gain (annual change in college-educated people moving into or out of the city), and jobless rate.

The third area was quality of life. Measured was cost of living (based on average rent for a two-bedroom apartment), arts and leisure (number of cultural and entertainment venues, such as museums, parks, and other recreational facilities per 100,000 residents), city accessibility (percentage of workers older than 16 who take public transportation to and from work), and creative class (percentage of residents working in education, design, arts, music and entertainment) .

Following New York City among the major metropolitan cities were in order San Francisco; Boston; Washington, D.C.; Seattle; Los Angeles; Baltimore; San Diego; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Miami; Philadelphia; Chicago; Phoenix; Houston; and Atlanta.

After San Jose, CA, the mid-size metros were in order Austin, TX; Hartford, CT; Raleigh, NC; Denver, CO; Salt Lake City, UT; Pittsburgh, PA; Orlando, FL; Portland, OR; Sacramento, CA; New Orleans, LA; Richmond, VA; Buffalo, NY; Nashville, TN; Providence, RI; Rochester, NY; Jacksonville, FL; Columbus, OH; Oklahoma City, OK; and Las Vegas, NV.

The small metro cities that followed Boulder, CO, were Bridgeport, CT; Ann Arbor, MI; Gainesville, FL; Madison, WI; Durham, NC; Trenton-Ewing, NJ; Honolulu, HI; Ft. Collins, CO; Santa Barbara, CA; Santa Cruz, CA; Lincoln, NE; Naples, FL; San Luis Obispo, CA; Albany, NY; Manchester, NH; Portland, ME; New Haven, CT; Oxnard, CA; and Sarasota, FL.

A student loan would undoubtedly help with living expenses in any of these cities.