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Friday, April 19, 2024
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Courtesy of Bryce Richter / University of Wisconsin-Madison

America’s best college town? A closer look at Madison’s claim to fame

Madison is often referred to as one of the best college towns in the nation, but what makes a good college town anyway?

Publications and research institutions routinely rank the city of Madison high in their United States city rankings. In 2018, National Geographic recognized the city as one of the best small cities. PeopleForBikes ranked it second in its list of best cities for bicycling in 2020. And in 2022, Livability named the city the best place to live.

Adding on to these titles, Madison is often praised as one of the best college towns in the nation. The city was ranked in the top 10 midsize cities in WalletHub’s 2023 Best College Towns & Cities in America list, and Best College Reviews ranked the city third on their list of the 50 Best College Towns in America in 2022. 

Location matters when finding the right college as the experience during “the best four years of your life” will be partially shaped by the environment you will be in. Though the criteria for each college town ranking may be different, they analyze similar aspects — including academic and professional opportunities, livability and social environment. 

So does the city of Madison provide the space and opportunity for students to grow both personally and professionally while being inclusive and accessible? 

The heart of Madison is, of course, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an institution founded 175 years ago. Students already have access to countless opportunities for intellectual and personal growth just by being in the classroom. But job and internship opportunities are also at one’s fingertips. And with Madison being the third fastest-growing startup city in the country, the number of ways to explore your interests is only increasing, according to investment company York IE

Not to mention, Madison is a capital city. Opportunities for political involvement — such as communicating with local officials and participating in protests or rallies — are accessible to students. 

But, let’s be honest — college is about more than learning, and Badgers are known for being masters of balancing academic and personal life. 

State Street — which runs from campus to the Wisconsin State Capitol — is lined with cafes, local businesses, restaurants and bars as well as the Overture Center for the Arts, the Orpheum Theatre and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Every Saturday during the warm months, the largest producer-only farmers market in the country is held on Capitol Square. And the city’s drink, food and music scene expands outside the campus area, which students can easily explore using Madison Metro buses. 

For outdoor-loving students, the city offers 200 miles of biking and hiking trails, five lakes — two of which are only a few minutes away from campus — and many parks. In fact, a survey by the ACSM American Fitness Index found 95% of residents are within a 10-minute walk to one of the parks. 

But every good thing comes with downsides. For the past few years, UW-Madison students have been facing the increasing cost of housing. Finding an affordable apartment or affording high rent prices while being a full-time student can evoke stress and anxiety. 

And regarding inclusivity, a lack of diversity exists on campus and throughout the city, with more than 75% of the city's population being white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In May, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) suggested potential budget cuts if the UW system does not phase out its diversity, equity and inclusion offices. Vos’ suggestion was made when a video of a UW-Madison student using racial slurs surfaced. 

Living in Madison also means learning how to brave freezing temperatures, heavy snowfall and strong winds while walking to class. Not to mention, the harsh winters last for at least five months. 

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No college town is perfect. What defines a successful college experience is more than location, but Madison is filled with opportunities that provide life lessons and places where you will make unforgettable memories. The only way of achieving them is to seek those experiences yourself. Once you do, you will find that Madison is the best college town. 

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