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Should You Be Applying to a College Town… for Retirement?

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

Note: This is Part 1 of our “College Town Retirement” series, which has 4 different installments. See end of article for links to the rest.

Updated June, 2019 — When a reporter asked for our opinion about college town retirements we thought, what a great idea. Her questions concerned the pros and cons, reasons why retire there, best towns, etc. This article will help you try to assess if a college town retirement makes sense for you, as well as provide some recommendations and resources for finding the right college town.

Return to the scene of your youth. Most people who went to college have very warm feelings about the town where they came of age. Particularly if they have kept up some contact over the years, there is a strong pull back to that locale.

– A college town is more than just a college By that we mean in some places the overall town is so large or the college so small that the college presence is incidental. You could say that about New York City, except this is also true: if you go looking for the college town atmosphere you can usually find it. Just walk around Washington Square Park or near Columbia in the Big Apple and the college vibe is very much there.

– Vibrant, youthful atmosphere. The atmosphere is the attraction for a lot of retirees, for whom the last place they want to be is one surrounded by old people discussing their ailments. College campuses usually spawn interesting restaurants, funky bookstores, cool bars and shops. Plus lots of young people walking around having fun.
– Go back to school. Most colleges realize that retiring baby boomers are interested in keeping their minds sharp. Many generally allow retirees to take or audit classes, often for free or reduced fees. In addition, many towns have institutions like the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute or some other form of lifetime learning institution – which sometimes even hold classes in the area’s 55+ communities.
– Facilities. College campuses are a lot more like country clubs than when we attended. Competition for new students has led to expansive fitness centers, countless tennis courts, art and music studios, performance theatres, and top-notch golf courses. As an alumni, or as a resident in an affiliated community, you might have access to some of these facilities. Certainly you can attend concerts, plays, and sporting events – all of which add excitement and variety that a lot of other towns can’t offer.

Beautiful rotunda at UVA in Charlottesville (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Beautiful rotunda at UVA in Charlottesville (courtesy of Wikipedia)

– Pretty places to live. College campuses and surrounding neighborhoods are usually beautiful places. So given the choice, why not pick a place that is pleasing! Another plus is that college towns are increasingly home to active adult communities, and that includes some that are university affiliated communities.

Living in a college town is not always perfect.
– Traffic. Particularly in large schools with big-time sports teams, game days can turn into gridlock. Packs of daily commuters can have the same effect.
– Politics. Particularly if you are conservative in your politics, the liberal atmosphere of a college town might drive you mad. More than one college town has been dubbed the “People’s Republic of …”
Expense. College towns tend to have higher property values than their non-scholastic peers, as a nicer living atmosphere usually comes with a cost.

Top College Towns for Retirement
At Topretirements college towns make up a considerable percentage of our top 100 towns, including most of the top 25. There are so many great college towns with so many different atmospheres that any attempt to rank them would be impossible. The towns we recommend below are just a sample, with the emphasis on places where the college atmosphere is particularly strong. We don’t have room to mention all of the cities where major state universities are located – those are almost all great college towns. And don’t forget the hundreds of smaller towns where colleges dominate the scene – in New England, the Midwest, the South, and the West.
Austin, TX. Home to the University of Texas and a lot of other excitement.
Athens, GA. Where the U of GA Bulldawgs roam.

Charlottesville, VA. The university founded by Thomas Jefferson, UVA, is a key part of the Charlottesville scene.

UNC campus building

UNC campus building

Chapel Hill, NC. In many people’s minds, this is the consummate college town (UNC), now also home to many active adult communities.
Asheville, NC. UNC-Asheville even has a Center for Creative Retirement.
Claremont, CA. The City of Trees and PhD’s has no less than 7 colleges.
Eugene, OR. The U of Oregon brings life to Eugene in so many ways.

Ohio Wesleyan Univ.

Ohio Wesleyan Univ.

Delaware, OH. In addition to the Ohio Wesleyan, Delaware is home to one of America’s most famous horse races, the Little Brown Jug.
Burlington, VT. Here on beautiful Lake Champlain’s shore you get the University of Vermont, plus wonderful biking, hiking, and skiing. Elsewhere in Vermont, don’t overlook charming Middlebury.
Northfield, MN. The motto is “Two colleges – one town”. You get the idea, the nice little town of Northfield is home to Carleton College and St. Olaf.

We could go on and on – there are really some many interesting college towns to choose from! And beyond the obvious choices, don’t overlook cities that have community colleges. These institutions are often the most enlightened about welcoming retirees back to school – whether it is for lifelong learning or for picking up a new skill to help finance a more comfortable retirement. At these campuses you can meet like-minded folks who want to keep their mental powers strong.

More resources:
Part 2: These College Towns Are Great Places to Retire
Part 3: More Affordable College Towns for Retirement – Sunbelt
Part 4. Heading Back to Campus in Retirement: University Based Retirement Communities
Best College Town Retirements
Advanced Search (choose College Town under Environment, you can also select other criteria to narrow).

What do you think?
Are there other advantages or disadvantages of college towns we have overlooked? What is your college town you are dreaming about? Let us know in the Comments section below.

Posted by John Brady on March 21st, 2011


  1. “There are towns that have colleges and universities in them, and then there are college towns.” And then there are retirement communities directly linked to those colleges. Examples are Academy Village, founded by a past President of, and linked to, the University of Arizona in Tucson, or Longhorn Village, connected to UTexas in Austin, or The Village at Penn State. With lectures, music, discussions, and access to nearby colleges, these communities revolve around mental as well as physical well-being. Just google “College Linked Retirement Communities” or your favorite school/alma mater.

    by oldnassau — March 23, 2011

  2. One possible negative: if you’re looking for a part-time job, you might be competing with thousands of college students also looking for an additional source of income.
    One positive (mentioned by a gentleman at a talk I gave about retirement): “College towns are great. They have pretty girls and cheap beer!”

    Jan Cullinane, co-author, The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life (Rodale)

    by Jan Cullinane — March 25, 2011

  3. Colleges are tax exempt and tend to have a higher property tax. In Urbana Illinois our property taxes were $12,000 a year in a $400,000 home 15 years ago.

    by Mark — June 12, 2019

  4. You forgot Boise! It’s a great college town!!

    by Kathy — June 12, 2019

  5. At the top of our list was a college town for retirement, mainly for the vibe and the bookstore. We thought we found the perfect house when we narrowed it down as we looked online, but it ended up being in the midst of college rentals and apartments. We nevertheless ended up finding one on the quieter side of town and it is perfect. So you do have to pay attention to how much of the excitement you want to experience when you choose your neighborhood.

    by Darla — June 12, 2019

  6. We have spent 2 years in Gainesville, FL, home of the University of Florida. While the university offers many opportunities for recreation and cultural activities, almost everything is geared towards students. The city offers a major VA Hospital, along with Shands/UF Hospital and North Florida Regional. VA services are excellent. The challenges with living in a college town are many. Traffic congestion and scooters are the most obvious, but with the traffic local public transportation is pretty good which supports the students to and from housing locations. The liberal environment attracts a significant homeless population to the area. At most major intersections the homeless beg for money. Rental housing is expensive and Gainesville Regional Utilities has one of the highest utility rates in the state. While access to football is tough, tickets to basketball, baseball, soccer, and other sports are almost always available. Local health and fitness clubs are first rate; many students complete their practicum requirements as trainers. Many businesses look for retirees for part-time work due to the transient nature of student life.

    by MARK PHILLIPS — June 13, 2019

  7. An alternative is a city with multiple colleges such as where I live–Jacksonville, FL. The University of North Florida has an Osher Lifelong Learning Center (OLLI) as well as a Division of Continuing Education. However, the traffic here is a b*tch, and public transportation is not up to par. Also the six-month summers where the temperature usually rises above 90 degrees daily have been hard to get used to.

    I’ve lived in a lot of college towns, including Austin, TX; Fayetteville, AR; Athens, GA; and Asheville, NC and found that they sheltered me from the “real world,” … The American dream is a elusive as the perfect retirement location!

    by Sara May — June 15, 2019

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