Choosing a college is one of the biggest decisions that a person will make in their lifetime. In addition to considering factors such as cost, location, and academic programs, or even studying abroad for free, many students also place a heavy emphasis on the appearance of the campus. After all, for many students, college will be their home away from home for the next four years.
With that in mind, here are 50 of the most beautiful college campuses in America. From stunning coastal views to sprawling green spaces to Gothic architecture, these campuses have it all.
So whether you’re looking for a picturesque setting to study in or simply want to enjoy some eye-catching scenery, be sure to check out these colleges.
Several studies have revealed that campus design and facilities have a significant impact on the collegiate experience. According to a case study conducted by furniture designer Knoll, for instance, facility aesthetics and spatial organization have a strong effect on students’ satisfaction with the learning environment (Knoll, n.d.). Advent’s The College Choice Study, published in 2016, further states that tangible elements—like a college campus and its facilities—played an integral role in how students perceived intangible elements like campus safety and the value of the education (Fox, 2017).
Outdoor spaces and campus landscapes are important as well, as these spaces can help build engagement while emphasizing an institution’s brand and mission (Knoll, 2015). As such, the entire campus can be perceived as a holistic learning space that promotes a holistic learning experience (Gumprecht, 2007).
Colleges and universities have also realized that campus design has an overall positive effect on student recruitment and marketing efforts. One can argue that aesthetics on top of heritage is one of the major competing points in Oxford vs. Cambridge. According to the 2018 Marketing and Student Recruitment Report Of Effective Practices by Ruffalo Noel Levitz, for instance, an overwhelming majority of four-year colleges and universities used campus visit days (98%) and campus open house events (94%) for marketing and recruitment purposes. It is not a far cry to think that colleges that put emphasis on campus aesthetics is no different from stores offering student discounts, that is, both are tapping into non-academic motivational factors.
According to the same study, these events have been proven to be highly effective as well, as indicated in the chart below:
Source: Ruffalo Noel Levitz
The most beautiful college campuses in America offer a wide range of styles in their architecture and landscaping, from the modernist edifices of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs to the classic Collegiate Gothic style of Princeton University.
Below are the 50 universities that have set themselves apart for having the country’s most beautiful college campuses.
The Wesleyan University campus currently sits on 316 acres of land in Middletown, Connecticut, with over 300 buildings designed in Greek Revival style. Several of the university’s buildings, including the main Olin Memorial Library, were designed by the renowned architecture firm McKim, Mead, and White, also designers of the Brooklyn Museum. Wesleyan University is also home to Russell House, a Greek Revival mansion designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Colgate University has a countryside campus that is located on 575 acres of land in Hamilton Village, New York. The campus is known for its abundance of sugar maples and northern red oaks as well as its 10 miles of walkways. Nearly all buildings on the university’s campus are made from stone, and new buildings are designed to ensure that these match the university’s current aesthetics.
Baylor University’s campus features Georgian-style buildings and architecture. Its most recognizable spots are Burleson Quadrangle and Pat Neff Hall, named after a former president of the university. The McLean Foyer of Meditation, located in the Armstrong Browning Library, has also become known as “the most romantic spot on the Baylor campus.” (Room descriptions, 2020)
The Trinity College Long Walk, comprising Seabury Hall, Jarvis Hall, and Northam Towers, was designed in the High Victorian Gothic style and is considered an early example of Collegiate Gothic architecture. Designed by renowned architect Frederick Law Olmsted, the university’s Main Quad is notable for its large size and lack of walkways.
Also known as West Point, the United States Military Academy and its grounds have been declared a National Historic Landmark. The academy’s campus is home to various scenic spots, including Trophy Point, which features one of the largest columns of granite in the world. Cadet Chapel is also considered one of the best examples of Gothic revival architecture. The academy also offers a degree in military science and other fields.
The campus of the University of Notre Dame features Indiana landmarks such as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. Notre Dame’s Main Building is particularly notable for its gold-gilded dome.
One notable feature of the majority of Virginia Tech’s buildings is that they are made from locally sourced “Hokie Stone,” limestone rock that is gray with shades of brown and pink. Virginia Tech is also home to the War Memorial Court, which features limestone pylons bearing the names of students who have died in battle since World War I.
Rhodes College’s campus is unique for the uniform, consistent design of its buildings. The university’s buildings are primarily made from stone, particularly Vermont slate, Indiana limestone, and Arkansas sandstone, and each slate roof is designed at an exact 52-degree angle. Each building at the university also features leaded stained-glass windows.
The Amherst College campus features red brick buildings with entries supported by columns, reflecting classic New England style. Points of aesthetic interest on the campus include Stearns Steeple, a standalone steeple located at the heart of the campus, and Memorial Hill, which provides scenic views of the Mount Holyoke range.
Vassar College’s multitude of buildings is designed in a variety of styles, ranging from International to Collegiate Gothic. The university’s Main Building, considered a classic example of Second Empire architecture, was also once the largest building in the U.S. in terms of floor space.
Duke University sits on a sprawling campus of over 8,600 acres, which include natural attractions such as Duke Forest and the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. One of the most recognizable buildings on the campus is Duke University Chapel, located at the center of the university and one of the oldest buildings on campus.
Aside from ranking as a top American university, Harvard University has gained recognition for the architectural diversity of its campus. For instance, Memorial Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus, is notable for its highly ornate style and horizontally striped roof. Another iconic fixture on the campus is the 22-acre grassy area called Harvard Yard, the center of the university’s Cambridge campus.
The College of William and Mary’s campus covers 1,200 acres of land, the vast majority of which consists of woodlands. A site of colonial-style buildings, the campus is also home to the oldest college building in the U.S., Sir Christopher Wren Building, which dates back to 1695.
Mount Holyoke College’s campus was designed by renowned landscape architecture firm Olmsted and Sons. As such, the campus is home to two lakes, numerous waterfalls, woodland riding trails, and a botanic garden. The university’s Williston Library also features a glass sculpture by artist Dale Chihuly.
Salve Regina University’s campus is set alongside the Newport Cliff Walk and sits on seven contiguous Gilded Age estates. One such estate is Ochre Court, once the summer residence of American businessman Ogden Goelet and now the university’s main administration building.
Georgetown University is often referred to as “The Hilltop” because its main campus was built on an elevated site above the Potomac River. Aside from providing scenic views overlooking Northern Virginia, the Georgetown University campus also features National Historic Landmarks such as Healy Hall.
Syracuse University’s campus features a mix of old and new architectural styles. While many of the campus’ iconic buildings, such as the Hall of Languages, have a classic, Romanesque Revival look, the university is also home to contemporary buildings like Newhouse 3, which was designed with a glass facade.
Holy Cross’ campus is a registered arboretum, and its landscaping has won the university several national awards. The campus also provides panoramic views of the city of Worcester, due to its location on the slope of Mount Saint James. Another point of aesthetic interest is Dinand Library, which features carvings on its interior walls and a grid-patterned ceiling embellished with gold.
The centerpiece of Flagler College is the Ponce de León Hall, which was built in the late 1880s as a luxury hotel. Though the building is now used as a residence hall for women, the college has preserved the hotel’s Spanish Renaissance style and Tiffany stained glass windows.
At the center of James Madison University’s quadrangle is Woodrow Wilson Hall (Wilson Hall), a three-story bluestone building with a portico supported by Doric columns. The campus also features natural attractions such as botanical gardens and Newman Lake.
Bard College features a wide range of architectural styles, from the rustic, rural style of the Ward Manor to the deconstructivist style of the metal-clad Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts. The college’s library complex alone comprises buildings in the Greek Revival, brutalist, and postmodern styles.
Berry College owns the world’s largest contiguous college campus, which sits on more than 27,000 acres of land, home to fields, forests, and a large population of deer. Aside from English Gothic buildings like Ford Dining Hall and stone structures like Frost Chapel, the campus features several fountains and pools.
Public or private: Private
Location: Houston, Texas
Places of aesthetic interest: Herzstein Hall, Lovett Hall, James Turrell Skyspace, Brochstein Pavilion
The first president of Rice University intended for the university’s campus to be uniform in style. As such, most of the buildings on campus have facades of light-colored brick and decorative columns. An iconic feature of the campus is the James Turrell Skyspace, which puts on a show of light and sound at sunrise and sunset.
The University of Missouri’s campus is centered around Francis Quadrangle, which features Ionic columns from the university’s original Academic Hall. The university’s new White Campus also features Neo-Gothic style limestone buildings, including Memorial Union, which features a bell tower.
Kenyon College is located on a rural campus, the center of which is Middle Path, a 10-foot wide walkway that runs the length of the campus. Historic stone buildings such as Ransom Hall, natural forests, and outdoor art installations are also fixtures at the college’s campus.
Bryn Mawr College’s campus was designed by renowned landscape designers Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted. Aside from its green spaces and courtyards, the campus features stone buildings designed in the Collegiate Gothic style, including Rhoads Hall and the Old Library, which has also been declared a National Historic Landmark.
At the center of the Lewis and Clark College campus is Frank Manor House, which was completed in 1926 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The college’s forested campus also provides a lush natural environment, as it is contiguous with Tryon Creek State Natural Area.
Contiguous with the Brown University campus on College Hill, the Rhode Island School of Design features a wide variety of architectural styles, including Georgian and Colonial. One notable aesthetic fixture at the school is Dr. George W. Carr House, a Queen Anne-style house built in 1885.
Columbia University’s campus is located in Morningside Heights, Upper Manhattan, New York City, and it features the Beaux-Artes style in its buildings. The most prominent building on the campus is the neoclassical Low Memorial Building, which features Ionic columns and bronze busts of Zeus, Apollo, and Pallas Athena.
The University of San Diego (USD) is located on the edge of a mesa that overlooks Mission Bay. The university’s buildings and landscaping are designed in 16th-century Spanish Renaissance architecture as an homage to the Universidad de Alcalá, which served as an inspiration to USD’s founder.
Lehigh University is split into three contiguous campuses arranged on and around South Mountain. These campuses feature Gothic-style stone buildings, including the Alumni Memorial Building and Packard Laboratory, along with more than 50 outdoor sculptures in a wide variety of styles and materials.
Overlooking Cayuga Lake and New York City, Cornell University’s Ithaca campus is the site of several Gothic-style buildings, including Andrew Dickson White House and Llenroc. The campus is also home to Classical Revival and Greek Revival architecture, like Wing Hall and Bailey Hall.
The oldest college in South Carolina, the College of Charleston has an equally historic campus. The university’s Randolph Hall is one of the country’s oldest college buildings still in use and is an example of Southern colonial architecture. The William Blacklock House also features Adamesque architecture, with two Gothic Revival buildings.
In addition to being one of the best universities for business degrees, the University of Chicago is home to a mix of Victorian Gothic and Collegiate Gothic styles, with many buildings modeled after the buildings of the University of Oxford. The modern Joe and RIka Mansueto Library, designed in 2011 with a distinct elliptical glass dome, stands out among the campus’ buildings.
Wake Forest’s Reynolda campus features vast expanses of greenery and trees, along with structures such as Wait Chapel (which has a 213-foot steeple) and Z. Smith Reynolds Library. Adjacent to the campus is Reynolda Gardens, which includes over a hundred acres of woodlands and wetlands.
The University of Michigan’s campus features a variety of styles, including modernist, classical, and Collegiate Gothic. Unique bell towers, each with a grand carillon, can also be found at the university’s North and Central Campuses. Another notable building at the university is Burton Memorial Tower, a 192-foot clock tower designed by renowned industrial architect Albert Khan.
Several aesthetic landmarks can be found on the Stanford University campus, including the century-old Stanford Memorial Church, the White Memorial Fountain, and the Rodin and Papua New Guinea sculpture gardens. The Ivy League university’s buildings are also examples of Spanish Colonial and California Mission style architecture.
The University of Montana’s campus is located at the base of Mount Sentinel, the peak of which is visible from The Oval at the campus. The university’s buildings are also designed in a variety of styles, including art deco, Renaissance Revival, and Queen Anne. Another place of interest on campus is Memorial Row, where 29 evergreen trees stand to honor university students, alumni, and faculty who died in World War I.
One notable place of interest on the Dartmouth College campus is the Baker-Berry Library, which features a 200-foot tower and houses a fresco called “The Epic of American Civilization.” With its mid-century modern architecture, the university’s Hopkins Center for the Arts also stands out among the Georgian Colonial buildings on campus.
Northwestern University’s campus is located along the shores of Lake Michigan, and it is home to Gothic buildings such as University Hall and Charles Deering Library. The Shakespeare Garden, the first of its kind in the United States when it was built, can also be found on the university’s grounds.
The Academical Village at the University of Virginia, which includes buildings such as The Rotunda, The Lawn, and The Range, has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its Jeffersonian architecture. The university’s campus also features examples of postmodernist architecture, such as Hereford College.
The university’s 750-acre wooded campus is located at the foot of South Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Several gardens can be found on the campus grounds, like the Janie Earle Furman Rose Garden and the Asia Garden, which also features a Japanese temple.
Most of the main buildings of New York University surround city landmarks such as Washington Square Park and Broadway. The university’s urban campus is also the site of modern architecture such as the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library and Gould Plaza.
The University of Vermont’s University Green Historic District is a collection of different architectural styles, from Gothic buildings like the Billings Memorial Library to the Colonial Revival buildings on the Redstone estate. The University Green Historic District has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The 172-foot tall Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower stands at the heart of the campus of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Other points of aesthetic interest at the university’s campus include Old Well, a neoclassical rotunda built in 1897, and the Louis Round Wilson Library, which was designed in the Beaux-arts style.
SUNY Geneseo’s oldest stone-and-brick buildings, including the James V. Sturges and James B. Welles Buildings, were designed in a blend of Collegiate Gothic and Georgian styles. The Sturges Building also features the university’s central clock tower and houses the Alumni Carillon.
UCLA’s first four buildings, which include Royce Hall and Powell Library, were inspired by the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio in Milan and designed in the Romanesque Revival style. The Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden, featuring works by Henri Matisse, Francisco Zúñiga, Auguste Rodin, and Henry Moore, can also be found on campus.
One notable feature of the University of Washington’s campus is the Liberal Arts Quadrangle, which contains thirty Yoshino cherry trees that bloom in spring. The Suzzallo Library on campus was also designed with hand-carved friezes, 35-foot stained-glass window panels, oriel windows, and terracotta sculptures.
The Cadet Area at the Air Force Academy consists of buildings designed in a modernist architectural style, with aluminum-clad exteriors. With its spires and accordion-like design, the Academy’s Cadet Chapel received the National Twenty-Five Year Award from the American Institute of Architects (U.S. Air Force Academy, n.d.).
The majority of Princeton University’s buildings are designed in the Collegiate Gothic style, including notable landmarks Nassau Hall and Cleveland Tower. Several 20th-century sculptures by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Richard Serra, and Henry Moore are also scattered throughout the campus grounds.
Despite the recent COVID-19 pandemic, many American universities and colleges have resumed providing in-person campus tours to interested students (Jaschik, 2020). The Texas A&M University, the University of Toledo, and Tulane University are some schools that now allow students and families to schedule visits to campuses.
Below are some points to consider in making the most of a college campus visit.