48 Colleges That Work Hard and Play Hard Where Students Balance Learning and Letting Loose

Hard work and dedicated study is surely an important part of succeeding in college, but as the proverb goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Many of the best schools throughout the nation understand the importance of balancing a rigorous curriculum with a fun and lively campus environment and put great effort into creating a space for students to relax, make friends, explore their interests and let loose a little.

The schools that follow are in the top 25 percent when it comes to graduation and freshman retention rates, and produce some of the highest-earning graduates. They also provide students with enriching campus lives, including sororities, fraternities and athletic programs. Students looking for a premium education and exciting campus culture: Read on.



Our rankings are a combination of academic data available from Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) from the Department of Education, a Greek chapter list from GreekPages.com and crime statistics from Campus Safety and Security (CSS), which is also a Department of Education service.

Minimum requirements to be considered as a school that Works Hard:

  • Be in the top 25 percent for graduation rates

  • Have a top 25 percent Freshmen retention rate

  • Report within the top 50 percent on student earnings after graduation

What is considered when measuring the Play Hard component?

  • Schools have a large college athletic program presence in at least three major sports

  • Active chapters of a nationally recognized Greek Organization

  • Campus alcohol-related incident reports

2018 Spotlight: 48 Colleges That Work Hard and Play Hard

number University University Information
1 Pennsylvania State University

Photo credit: Penn State

With more than 24 campuses spanning from one edge of the state to the other, more than 320 degree programs and a slew of self-directed and school-facilitated student activities, it’s no surprise Penn State proudly calls itself a place where “inspiration meets perspiration.” Rigorous academic curricula are balanced by a vibrant and multifaceted life outside of class. Students can find their niche in one of Penn State’s 74 fraternities and sororities or explore more than a thousand academic, professional, athletic and special interest clubs. Campus activities, facilities and resources paired with so many academic choices are part of why 93 percent of freshmen students continue their education at Penn State after their first year. Penn State students tend to stay involved long after graduation, too — along with high retention rates, Penn State has a remarkably large and active alumni network of more than a half-million graduates.

2 University of Richmond

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A unique mascot isn’t all this private Virginia university has to offer. While the University of Richmond is known for providing students with a comprehensive liberal arts education, those who become Richmond Spiders won’t feel limited by degree options. The school offers a variety of degrees, including those in the business, leadership and law fields, and unique classes — like 1930s film and consumer culture — as part of its core curriculum. The University of Richmond’s financial aid policy is impressive, too. The school doesn’t take financial need into account when making admission decisions, and 100 percent of tuition costs are covered for those with demonstrated financial need to keep students from taking out loans. Less financial stress means more fun! Richmond has a small student body and plenty of activities, including color wars, Spider Fest and homecoming, and participation in clubs, athletics, the arts, Greek life and residence life are highly encouraged. Plus, Richmond is home to great food and dozens of amazing museums and attractions, like Kings Dominion amusement park, the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Science Museum of Virginia and more than 30 breweries.

3 Butler University

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Butler University is a private college in Indianapolis known for its sports and its live bulldog mascot, Butler Blue III, aka “Trip.” Of Butler’s 18 intercollegiate sports teams, 17 compete in the Big East conferences, taking 29 conference championships. The Bulldogs have also participated in NCAA National Championship Tournaments in eight sports. However, life at Butler isn’t all about athletics; a liberal arts foundation and hands-on experience in more than 65 academic areas contribute to the school’s 97 percent placement rate in either jobs or graduate programs within six months of completing undergraduate study. Exploring the city and the 295-acre campus are important aspects of the experiential learning upheld by the school — and it makes for a lively extracurricular experience. Greek life is a big part of Bulldog culture; one-third of students are active members in fraternities and sororities. While there is plenty of room for fun through Greek parties and events, Butler students put in work, too. Greek members participate in alumni mentorships, contribute over 20,000 hours of service to local nonprofits and maintain GPAs averaging above 3.4.

4 Muhlenberg College

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Muhlenberg College is proud of its rigorous education programs across the arts, sciences, humanities and social sciences. The school also offers a vast array of pre-professional programs to help students get the practical and theoretical knowledge needed for success after graduation. A student body of about 2,400 and small class sizes allow students to get individual attention in class, and lends opportunities to build strong relationships with peers. A small cohort won’t leave Muhlenberg students feeling trapped, however; located in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Muhlenberg is part of a fast-growing, politically active city that’s just a quick trip from New York or Philadelphia. Muhlenberg and the surrounding area are deeply entrenched in America’s political scene; the school’s polling service ranks first in college polling services and 10th in polling services across the country. Students who want to pursue interests beyond politics and their studies can join one of Muhlenberg’s 112 student organizations, take advantage of extensive study abroad opportunities or enjoy the many performances held on campus every year.

5 Lehigh University

Photo credit: Lehigh Valley, PA

Located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Lehigh University is a top research university that offers over 100 degree programs and majors. An average class size of 29 and a 9:1 student-teacher ratio help students get the most out of their studies. Outside the classroom, students can be found serving the community, cheering on Lehigh’s 25 NCAA Division I sports teams — including the school’s accomplished wrestling team — and competing in bed races, one of Lehigh’s long-standing traditions. Today, the bed races are a fun, community-building activity where students drag race beds on wheels, but originally, the bed races were an opportunity for students who built the beds from scratch to show off their engineering skills and affirm Lehigh’s mission of being an innovative, entrepreneurial institution that could advance America as an industrial powerhouse. While Lehigh only accepts about a quarter of its applicants, nearly 95 percent of freshmen continue studying at the college after their first year. Participation in campus extracurriculars is strikingly high, too: 99 percent of students at Lehigh participate in extracurricular activities.

6 Gettysburg College

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Gettysburg College boasts rigorous academic curricula and takes pride in its accomplished students and faculty. Recent graduates have been awarded the Rhodes and Fulbright fellowships, and all students can take advantage of Gettysburg’s four-year career preparation program. The program not only helps students develop skills in writing resumes, interviewing and articulating experiences but also connects them with internships, job shadows, networking events and career immersion opportunities around the country. Gettysburg College expects its students to work diligently, but the school also works to ensure students have first-rate lives away from the classroom. The college’s 120-plus clubs have all been started by students and meet the school’s stringent quality control policies. Gettysburg also hosts nearly 800 events each year, ranging from comedy nights to talks given by leading figures from around the world.

7 Lawrence University

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Located in Appleton, Wisconsin, Lawrence University is a liberal arts college and music conservatory that caters exclusively to undergraduate students. The university notes that its approach to education is demanding, but students are sure to see the benefits of attending a school with 100 percent full-time faculty, some of the smallest student-to-teacher ratios in the country and opportunities for one-on-one collaboration with professors. Lawrence University prides itself on its engaged learning model, where students must actively participate in discussions, debates, explorations, research and performances. Life at Lawrence, however, isn’t limited to hard work in a classroom; students attend seminars and go on regular retreats at Björklunden vid Sjön, a 441-acre estate in Door County, Wisconsin, complete with meadows, woods and more than a mile of Lake Michigan shoreline. Björklunden trips give students highly immersive and unique learning opportunities along with chances to relax and build relationships with peers and faculty.

8 Michigan State University

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Notable for its consistently high-caliber athletics, Michigan State University demonstrates that hard work and fun go hand-in-hand. While Rose Bowl wins and NCAA championships may be enough to grab the attention of athletes and sports enthusiasts alike, prospective students would be remiss to ignore the extensive list of student organizations and programs of study available at MSU. Michigan State considers its Greek life, which consists of 62 sororities and fraternities, to be one of the most significant and enriching aspects of being a Spartan. The school’s Greek organizations give students the chance to build bonds with their brothers and sisters, organize and attend special events and work within the community through volunteer and professional experiences. Those who aren’t interested in going Greek are highly encouraged to join one of MSU’s 600-plus clubs. Sparticipation, an annual student participation event, gives new and returning Spartans the chance to learn about various clubs and organizations around campus, so students are sure to find a group of like-minded peers to spend time with outside of class.

9 Bucknell University

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Bucknell University is at the heart of Lewisburg, a small town in central Pennsylvania. The private liberal arts college offers degrees through both its College of Management and its College of Engineering, but students will find the greatest variety of majors within Bucknell’s College of Arts and Sciences. Bucknell’s living-learning communities, themed residence halls covering a range of interests, give students a unique way of getting to know like-minded peers with whom they can explore Bucknell’s campus and all it has to offer. From costume shops and sculpture studios to group outdoor adventures and special guest speakers, Bucknell provides an abundance of opportunities for students to explore their interests outside of class and deepen their knowledge through experience. Bucknell students fare well after graduation, too: Median graduate earnings 10 years post-enrollment hover around $66,000 per year.

10 Dartmouth College

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This Ivy League school is known for its selectivity, rigor and commitment to student success, and it shows: Dartmouth graduates earn a median of $70,000 annually — 10 years after enrolling. However, Dartmouth understands that going to college isn’t just about potential earnings down the road and offers students an enriching life in and out of the classroom. For instance, it’s common for students to work closely with faculty and conduct hands-on research. Residence life is a significant part of Dartmouth’s culture as well. Around 90 percent of undergraduates live on campus, which contributes to school’s the tight-knit community of students. When they aren’t preparing for exams, making plans to study abroad or cheering on Dartmouth’s 35 Division 1 varsity teams, students can be found engaging in professional, political, athletic, cultural and special interest clubs and organizations. These activities combined with Dartmouth’s high-caliber curricula make for an active, well-rounded college experience.

11 DePauw University

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Ranked the No. 1 private liberal arts college in Indiana by U.S. News and World Report, DePauw University provides students with a focused education founded on free thinking, communication and interdisciplinary study. The school is also recognized for producing Fulbright Scholars and business executives, and partially contributes the success of its students to strong bonds built between peers, faculty and the local community. DePauw offers a wide range of housing options to encourage community and shared learning experiences, and was the starting place of many Greek chapters. Participation in Greek life, clubs, athletics, spiritual exploration and inclusive activities contribute to the tight-knit community students will experience and DePauw. In their downtime, students can grab their new friends and peruse DePauw’s events calendar, which is full of diverse and exciting activities, from sporting events to gallery premieres.

12 Florida State University

Photo credit: Jackson Myers

Florida State University is one of the top research universities in the country and is the second-most competitive when it comes to medical school admissions. While the school is known for its commitment to science and technology, FSU’s arts programs are extremely high quality, too, so regardless of their major, Florida State students can expect to put considerable effort into their studies. However, the school’s student life website makes a point of noting that no one benefits from a life of all work and no play. Sports, clubs, an extensive dining network and an enriching residence life enhance the student experience at Florida State. Plus, students can take advantage of FSU’s newly erected Innovation Hub, a makerspace and hackerspace where students can experiment with new technologies, design and 3D print prototypes, explore virtual realities and break new grounds. This is the kind of fun-meets-learning that contributes to Florida State students’ success in and out of school.

13 Indiana University – Bloomington

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Indiana University in Bloomington has more than 550 academic programs to accommodate the needs and interests of its 50,000 students. The university also offers more than 300 study abroad programs, but students may be so enamored with IU’s beautiful campus that they’ll be satisfied to stay in Bloomington for the duration of their major studies. Hoosiers are known to be enthusiastic sport spectators, so whether they’re watching football, baseball, basketball or any of the school’s other athletic teams, students should be prepared to dress in crimson and join in the excitement. The fun at IU isn’t limited to stadiums, either. More than a thousand musical performances are held on campus each year and they’re all free. Plus, life on and off campus is heavily intertwined, so when students decide to break away from IU to explore greater Bloomington, they’ll find plenty in the way of entertainment, including festivals, movies, live theater and farmers markets.

14 Stanford University

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Many hardworking students dream of getting into this West Coast, Ivy-like university, and with good reason. Stanford’s reputation as a launching pad for student success is backed by its high graduation and retention rates, extensive academic and career resources and median graduate earnings of $85,700. A remarkable 4:1 student-teacher ratio allows for focused study and instruction, and students can build strong relationships with classmates and instructors. Students come from around the world to live and study at Stanford, making cultural exchange a prominent part of the university’s student experience. Stanford expects many of its students to become leaders in their field and as such, the school provides a wealth of opportunities for students to research, volunteer, intern, travel and participate in leadership and outreach programs. When it’s time to kick back, students can participate in more than 625 campus clubs, support varsity sports teams, visit museums and theaters or even take a trip into the bustling Bay Area cities.

15 Lafayette College

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Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, has been producing engineers for more than a century and a half. The school attributes the success of its students to an academic program that not only hones technical skills but also encourages students to consider the human element of a problem. Lafayette’s focus on humanity fosters well-rounded, interdisciplinary students. Studies aren’t limited to engineering, either. While that’s how the school got its start, Lafayette now offers more than 50 degree programs within the humanities, sciences and social sciences. Students can even create their own degree programs. Nearly all of Lafayette’s students live on campus and can enjoy 200-plus clubs, the school’s “1,000 Nights” freshman formal dance, the Presidential Ball, school-wide days of service and Rivalry Week, a series of events and activities to gear students up for the highly anticipated annual football game against Lehigh University.

16 Clemson University

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This public South Carolina university is nationally recognized for its excellent academic reputation. Students, who can choose from more than 80 undergraduate majors and 110 graduate programs, experience hands-on learning in a range of fields. Clemson also has six different scholar programs to enhance student learning beyond the classroom. Along with its academics, Clemson is known for its abounding enthusiasm when it comes to supporting its athletic teams, using two-dollar bills at away games, Clemson Blue Cheese and Tigerama, one of largest student-run pep rallies in the country. Clemson’s campus is also notoriously safe, so students can be at ease while they’re out making friends and attending events. What’s more, the Princeton Review found Clemson’s hard-working students to be among the happiest in the U.S., a claim that is backed up by the school’s 93 percent freshman retention rate.

17 University of Miami

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A private research college near the Florida coast, the University of Miami is home to around 17,000 students from across the country and around the world. Miami’s pleasant climate is just the beginning of the perks UM can offer its students. Eleven academic departments, including schools of architecture, law and marine and atmospheric science, give students a range of subjects to delve into, all with research at their core. State-of-the-art facilities, like the nation’s only hurricane simulator that can generate Category 5 hurricane conditions, and more than $300 million in sponsored research give students a truly practical learning experience. UM students are also privy to a vibrant Greek life, tons of on-campus events and activities, nearly 300 student-run clubs and a shuttle system that travels to popular locations on- and off-campus.

18 Franklin and Marshall College

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Pennsylvania’s Franklin and Marshall College is one of the oldest colleges in the U.S. and its first bilingual higher education institute. It was also the first college to instruct both male and female students. This pioneering attitude persists in the present-day image of Franklin and Marshall, which strives to push its students to think critically and creatively, engage with faculty and conduct independent study. More than half of F&M seniors pursue a self-created major or independent study, and each summer, students have the opportunity to work side-by-side with faculty conducting intensive research. Franklin and Marshall believes that its students’ campus lives should complement their studies. Students don’t live in standard dormitories but instead actively participate in living collectives, where they develop their own rules and living structure as a community. Each house is also given a budget, and students work together to determine how funds are spent. The college stands by Benjamin Franklin’s assertion that involvement is the key to learning and encourages students to make friends and participate in clubs and activities around campus.

19 Hope College

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Hope College is a private Michigan institute that offers a Christian liberal arts education. Scenic Holland, Michigan, provides the backdrop for Hope College and provides students with an array of activities and places to visit, including breweries, coffee shops and restaurants that call back to the town’s Dutch roots. To speak only of life in a historic neighborhood and popular vacation spot, however, would do a disservice to Hope College’s excellent academic offerings. Hope students can choose from more than 90 majors, minors and pre-professional programs, and they benefit from the research opportunities that resemble graduate-level work. Hundreds of internships and an emphasis on collaboration and community involvement enhance student learning and lend opportunities to apply knowledge in real-world settings. Hope College has a small but active student body, so whether it’s through local fraternities and sororities, ministry groups, arts or athletics, students are sure to find a way to get involved and have a good time.

20 Elon University

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This private university located in Elon, North Carolina, is dedicated to student success. Not only has Elon been called one of the most affordable private colleges in the country, it also received recognition from all eight of U.S. News and World Report’s lists of academic programs that lead to student success. These programs include first-year experiences, senior capstones, undergraduate research/creative projects and learning communities. Students can expect to work hard and gain a foundation in liberal arts and sciences, regardless of their major studies, and build lasting relationships with peers, teachers and alumni. Away from class, Elon students enjoy the beautiful campus, residential neighborhoods, cultural events and more than 200 clubs and organizations, including a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, one of the oldest and most prestigious honors societies in the U.S. Cheering on highly accomplished athletes competing in NCAA and other tournaments is always a fun experience, too.

21 University of Dayton

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The University of Dayton is one of the largest private research universities in Ohio and is known for its academic merit, research and Catholic education. The college is the highest-ranked Catholic school for sponsored engineering and the second-highest Catholic school for sponsored science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) research. Students at the University of Dayton can expect an academic experience designed to develop the mind, body and spirit through experiential study and rigorous research. The school offers studies in the arts and sciences, business, engineering, health and law, and provides an Intensive English Language Program to help speakers of other languages quickly develop English language proficiency. Well-rounded students also take time to enjoy life outside of school. Dayton’s 398-acre campus is a quick trip from downtown Dayton, but with 17 Division 1 sports teams, close to 300 clubs, a rich performing art series and resources for spiritual growth all around campus, students won’t have to go far to find an activity they enjoy.

22 Villanova University

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Located in Pennsylvania and founded on an Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition, Villanova University is home to more than 10,000 students who are dedicated to their studies. The school recently earned a reputation as a top-producer of Fulbright Scholars, with 12 students and alumni earning awards for the 2017-2018 academic year. Villanova students aren’t just committed to academic success, though. Service to others and upholding the Augustinian ideals of truth, unity and love are at the core of Villanova’s students and education programs. As the largest Catholic university in Pennsylvania, Villanova provides students with an array of support, facilities and activities, all of which are intended to enhance student success and compliment academic and personal growth. Involvement in student groups, residence life and athletics is highly encouraged. For those who want to explore off campus, Philadelphia is less than 15 miles away. Regardless of how they spend their free time, Villanova students’ high retention and graduation rates and 10-year post-enrollment earnings approaching $75,000 a year show they enjoy their school and thrive within their academic and professional communities.

23 University of Delaware

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School spirit and rich history alike overflow at the University of Delaware. UD is the largest college in the state, one of the oldest in the country and has an impressive alumni roster. The school’s reputation as an esteemed research university has attracted award-winning educators and accomplished students. Despite its large student body, UD provides small class sizes and opportunities for students to collaborate with scholars and one another. Engaging with the local community is a significant part of life at UD: 75 percent of students say they participated in community service projects by their senior year. When they aren’t studying or lending a hand around Newark, UD students can often be found supporting the Blue Hens athletic teams from the Cockpit Cheering Section or as part of the dance team and cheer squad. Residence life and campus entertainment, including theaters and museums, also lend plenty of entertainment for eager students.

24 University of Georgia

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The University of Georgia, also known as the birthplace of public higher education in America, aims to lead the way in preparing students to thrive in emerging fields, like biomedical research and cybersecurity. The university gets high marks in value, program quality and athletic success and has something to offer every student who is willing to put in the work. Students at the University of Georgia are high-caliber; the average GPA for 2016’s freshman class was 4.0, and UGA has been one of the top three producers of Rhodes Scholars for the past two decades. Georgia students put in a lot of effort to make meaningful contributions to the university’s commitment to research and service, but Bulldogs know how to have a good time, too. Students go all-out when it comes to cheering on UGA’s 21 extremely successful Division 1 varsity sports teams, and they can unwind with some of the school’s numerous free activities, like yoga, cooking classes and movie showings.

25 Beloit College

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Wisconsin’s Beloit College invites its students to explore their interests and push beyond a run-of-the-mill college experience. When first founded in 1846, Beloit was unique in the large amount of freedom it gave students to choose their classes. The liberal arts college still carries that tradition of choice, not just by giving students the ability to build their own degree but by asserting their aim to prepare students to take on the world, however they decide to do so. Beloit’s Initiatives Program supports student independence by providing one-on-one mentorship and advising, exciting coursework, tools and assistance for creating a plan for school and beyond and Venture Grants, funding to help students carry out projects they design over the course of their studies. Despite a strong emphasis on the self, Beloit is also an excellent place for students to make friends and have a good time. Students will enjoy the open-minded, tight-knit community that invites people of all interests and disciplines to collaborate and get to know one another. Clubs, Greek chapters, athletics and regular formal and informal performances around campus are an excellent counterbalance to Beloit’s academic life.

26 Carleton College

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Nationally recognized for its excellent undergraduate teaching, Carleton College strives to push its students academically while offering a range of support across campus. Students are encouraged to work together, actively contribute in small classes, try out some of Carleton’s 240 clubs and organizations, pick up a new sport, have snowball fights, send each other flowers and get together for group baking sessions. Those who attend Carleton get to enjoy Northfield, Minnesota’s four distinct seasons, a beautiful arboretum and quick trips to both St. Paul and Minneapolis. Ninety-six percent of freshmen students return to Carleton after their first year, and 94 percent graduate on time. The spirited and welcoming campus life is only partly responsible. Tuition coverage for all students who need assistance help students stay focused on school rather than financial stress, and Carleton’s educators are experts in their fields who have a talent for teaching.

27 Colorado School of Mines

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As its name suggests, the Colorado School of Mines is a specialized university that focuses on applied science and engineering, particularly as they pertain to the Earth’s natural resources. This mid-sized public research institute prepares its students for the workplace by combining practical know-how with creative and critical thinking skills needed to thrive in contemporary science and engineering fields. The school makes a point of emphasizing both teamwork and individual attention to enhance student success. As much as Mines students love to study the Earth, they are equally thrilled to play around in it. Golden, Colorado, where Mines is located, is a beautiful landscape with tons of outdoor activities students can enjoy. On campus, more than a quarter of Mines students play intramural sports, and the school’s NCAA Division 2 athletic teams are accomplished competitors. Professional associations, special interest clubs, Greek life and day trips to Denver and Boulder also provide excellent extracurricular activities for Mines students.

28 Kenyon College

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A large campus with a small student body awaits those who attend Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. The private liberal arts college sits on 1,000 acres, including a 500-acre nature reserve, and hosts 1,700 high-achieving students. The 33 traditional majors and 12 interdisciplinary programs give students a range of subjects to explore, and various leadership opportunities, like getting real exhibition training in the school’s Gund Gallery or taking on a social media internship, elevate students’ learning experiences. Weekly lunchtime gatherings, senior soirees, fried chicken cook-offs, singing clubs and everything in between make it hard for students not to get involved on campus. All Kenyon students live on campus; nearly a third are athletes in the school’s NCAA Division 3 intercollegiate teams and Greek life involves living among independent students and hosting events the whole school can attend.

29 James Madison University

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James Madison University works as hard as its students. Not only has it been ranked the second-best public school in the South by U.S. News and World Report, it has also been praised for the balance of educational and extracurricular activities it provides its students. Those students come into James Madison as some of the top students in their high schools and engage in the school’s immersive, engaged style of learning that helps make it one of the top producers of Fulbright Scholars. With 133 degree programs from which to choose, students can find a field of study that fits their academic interests, and that accolades-worthy balance of work and play that James Madison offers ensures that students can find plenty to do that meets their extracurricular interests. Tea time, craft nights, open mics, movie showings and late-night breakfasts are some of the fun activities students can regularly find around campus.

30 University of Connecticut

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Each year, freshmen at the University of Connecticut are more academically competitive than those who came before them, and the school strives to keep up with its high-achieving students. UConn understands the value of exploring different interests to determine on which path a student will be most successful, and more than 100 majors, plus the option to work with an adviser to create a custom degree path helps ensure students find their own route to success. Research funds and grants help students put their ideas into action, something the University of Connecticut values both in and out of the classroom. Its student athletes excel academically and in sports, and student fans fill the beautiful, rural campus with an abundant spirit that drives the school’s Division 1 teams to take home championship after championship. Life at UConn isn’t all about competition, though. Learning communities and special interest housing, more than 600 clubs and organizations, cultural centers, good food, free activities and great places to hang out, like the student union’s game room and TV lounge, all contribute to student success and satisfaction.

31 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, more commonly known as Virginia Tech, is the leading research university in Virginia and offers the most comprehensive education programs in the state. Around 280 degree programs and a commitment to integrating technology into all of its disciplines help students push themselves to actively contribute to the world’s growing body of knowledge. Those who complete their studies at VT can also expect to earn more than $60K annually within 10 years of enrolling. Virginia Tech has been ranked not only as a top-tier school for academics, but for value and students’ enjoyment as well. The school has been acknowledged for its happy students (94 percent of freshmen continue their studies at VT), great food and the quality of life that can be had at VT. On top of that, students and staff love their HokieBird athletics, and the enthusiasm for the school’s elite teams can be felt throughout campus and spill over into all aspects of life at Virginia Tech.

32 College of William and Mary

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The College of William and Mary is the second-oldest university in the United States, but this Ivy-like research institution is far from stuck in the past. Innovation, collaboration and efficiency are at the heart of William and Mary’s research and academics. This model attracts some of the nation’s stop students — the average SAT score for incoming freshmen, for instance, is between 1300 and 1480, and Fulbright Scholars abound — but as hard as they work toward academic success, William and Mary’s students also know how to have a good time. The university prides itself on its quirky students and their extracurricular, community-building activities, including midnight cupcake picnics, 24-hour film festivals and intramural mini golf teams. Those looking for traditional college experiences can find those, too; students can join a plethora of not-so-silly clubs, support NCAA sports teams and enjoy Greek life. In fact, William and Mary students founded Phi Beta Kappa in 1776, earning the school its reputation as “the birthplace of the American college fraternity.”

33 Dickinson College

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Founded days after the conclusion of the American Revolution, Dickinson College was created to foster revolutionary-minded students who would be leaders in the new democratic country. Today, Dickinson holds onto that revolutionary mindset by providing a comprehensive liberal arts education focused on curiosity and critical thinking to help its 2,400 students tackle 21st century issues across all disciplines. Students who apply to Dickinson have already proven themselves academically by taking college preparatory courses and challenging themselves in high school, and they can expect to continue pushing themselves through hands-on learning, critical examination and collaboration. Personal growth continues after class through participation in Greek life, Dickinson’s Quidditch team, color fights, concerts and many other club- and non-club affiliated activities.

34 University of Florida

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The University of Florida is an innovative public university that is committed to giving back to the local, national and global communities. A 2,000-acre campus with more Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings than any other university in the country provides students with more than 200 research, service and education centers; an array of degree programs focused on innovation; Pulitzer-winning educators and an extensive honors program. Sea, land and space grants make UF’s high-quality facilities and programs some of the most affordable in the country. Gators tend to have full schedules, but they always find room for play. Sunny skies, more than 1,000 student clubs, high-profile athletic teams, the largest natural history museum in the southeast, two lakes and community housing ensure that UF students always have something fun and enriching to do.

35 Colby College

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January in Maine may not seem ideal, but students at Colby College, a private liberal arts school in Waterville, often find that the first month of the year is one of the most fun. Colby’s Jan Plan is an exploratory term where students can take a series of special-interest courses, conduct research or participate in internships. Students can take credit or non-credit courses at Colby’s campus, in facilities throughout Maine, across the country or around the world. While only three years of Jan Plan are required, 90 percent of students take four. This integrated work-play structure helps set Colby apart from other institutions, and it helps produce top-earning students with a 94 percent on-time graduation rate. While engaged academics is a significant part of life at Colby College, the school likes to make sure the majority of student life is spent outside of class. Plenty of outdoor activities, student clubs, athletics and a Phi Beta Kappa chapter allow students to engage with one another and live active, fulfilling lives.

36 Cornell University

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It’s no surprise that this New York Ivy League college provides its students with intensive curricula, but a 93 percent graduation rate indicates that Cornell students are up for the challenge. The school’s highly qualified faculty aim to push students and their ideas far beyond the limits they could reach alone. Cornell is surrounded by natural beauty, and students can expect to explore the lakes, waterfalls and gardens in and around campus as part of their studies and recreation. They can also expect to see art and architecture students show off a giant, constructed dragon on Dragon Day and hear the rival engineering students’ jeers. Dragon Day is one of Cornell’s many exciting and long-standing traditions that bring students together for a good time. Cheering on the Division 1 hockey team against Boston, going Greek, joining a club and dedicating some time to community service are all part of Cornell’s enriching campus culture. New York City is a quick trip for those who want to explore off campus, too.

37 Washington and Lee University

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Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia is home to both a fully accredited business school and a fully accredited journalism program, and a host of unusual, but very cordial, traditions. Along with 37 undergraduate majors and a liberal arts foundation across all disciplines, Washington and Lee is notable for its student-run honors system. The school’s honors system approach to education was enacted by Robert E. Lee, who became the school’s president shortly after the end of the Civil War and wanted to create a school of gentlemanly conduct. The honors system is one of trust and suggests that students will not lie, cheat or steal and will benefit from the free and candid exchange of speech. Unproctored or self-scheduled exams and 24-hour access to buildings are examples of this trust in action. Freshmen, sophomores and juniors at William and Lee all live in on-campus housing, which comes in various forms, including traditional dorms, themed halls, townhouses and apartments. Students also have fun in more than 130 organizations, on-campus concerts, movies, galleries, carnivals and outdoor activities.

38 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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The University of North Carolina was the first public university in the U.S. and continues its tradition of providing high-quality education to thousands of students each year. UNC is regularly recognized as a top public university both in terms of academic quality and affordability, and the school turns out many Rhodes Scholars, Luce Scholars and Peace Corps volunteers. Students can put a lot of time into their cross-disciplinary studies, but developing non-academic interests is an important part of being a Tar Heel, too. Whether it’s strolling through UNC’s cherished poplar trees with friends, painting themselves blue and cheering Tar Heel teams into national championships, attending comedy events and dance performances, joining student groups or going Greek, students at UNC find plenty of ways to enjoy themselves on campus. Off campus, they immerse themselves in the active and welcoming Chapel Hill community, which is filled with music, expos, restaurants and other attractions.

39 Davidson College

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Davidson College is a private liberal arts school in North Carolina whose Presbyterian roots continue to provide a foundation for the development of students into honest, creative leaders. Davidson is highly selective, and its students are high-caliber in terms of both academics and character. Students and teachers abide by Davidson’s Honor Code, a century-old, student-run system that assumes a just and honorable approach to academics and personal conduct. Trust is at the core of academic and social life at Davidson. With this trust and freedom comes deep, strong bonds between students and faculty, which is a significant contributor to the school’s enriching campus life. Friends live together on campus, exchange different cultural and spiritual ideas, play sports, participate in community service activities and go on outdoor adventures such as whitewater canoeing on the lakes near campus.

40 Wake Forest University

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Located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Wake Forest University aims to build well-rounded students, help them find their calling and encourage them to contribute to the good of humanity. Students are expected to challenge themselves and take on their studies wholeheartedly. However, Wake Forest doesn’t limit its idea of “studies” to academia; the university’s mission is to educate the whole person, which means fostering students’ creativity, curiosity, personal and global awareness and social and physical wellbeing. Students work hard in the classroom conducting research projects with peers and professors, and they also participate in film festivals and theater productions. Actors and “Saturday Night Live” writers have sprung from the school’s student-run comedy troupe, and quick thinkers have been pushing competitive debate to its limits and then some. Students play rugby in prom dresses and volunteer overseas. Wake Forest’s focus on holistic education means there’s something for every type of student to enjoy on campus.

41 Case Western Reserve University

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Known predominantly for its commitment to both classic education and innovative science research, this Ohio university attracts dedicated, inquisitive students from around the world. Case Western students can expect to take advantage of countless research opportunities that challenge them to transform their ideas into realities. However, incoming students aren’t limited to science-focused degrees. The school offers nearly 95 undergraduate degrees and 135 graduate and professional programs from which to choose. Outside of class, students enjoy exploring the campus’s unique architecture, hundreds of clubs, cheering on Division 3 athletics and exploring Cleveland, one of Ohio’s most popular cities. Students get free access to many of Cleveland’s exciting attractions, like the botanical garden, museum of art and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Case Western Graduates fare well, too, taking home nearly a median of $70K per year, 10 years after enrolling.

42 Yale University

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Yale, a highly sought-after Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, is home to some of the country’s highest-achieving students. Admissions are notoriously competitive, and once students get accepted, nearly 99 percent of them continue their studies at the school. While the university encourages academic exploration among its freshmen, Yale students should be prepared for a rigorous education intended to create leaders and innovators across all fields. After all, Yale has an impressive alumni roster and intends to continue adding to it. Greek chapters, art festivals, theater productions, athletics and campus housing all enhance student learning and help peers build positive relationships with one another. Students can also let off steam around New Haven, a fun town where great food, outdoor concerts, athletic events and museums can be found around every corner.

43 Vanderbilt University

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Nashville’s Vanderbilt University is a private research university that offers a range of undergraduate and graduate degrees across its 10 schools. Immersive education is the school’s focus, so students are expected to delve deeply into their studies, taking them beyond lectures and seminars and into hands-on projects with direct input and assistance from teachers. This proactive perspective extends beyond academics and into the everyday lives of students. Vanderbilt’s emphasis on community and engagement means students build relationships with one another through on-campus experiences, like multicultural performances, involvement in Greek life and other clubs, intercollegiate and casual sports and living-learning communities. Students are also privy to Vanderbilt’s natural beauty; with more than 300 tree and shrub varieties, the university doubles as an arboretum. The welcoming environment and balance between academic and social wellness could be why Vanderbilt is home to the happiest students, according to the Princeton Review.

44 Marist College

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This small, private college in New York strives to ensure student success, whether it’s through regular, face-to-face advising or strategic integration of technology into education programs, something for which the school is well-known. The school’s core curriculum gives students a liberal arts foundation to enhance their studies in a variety of subjects, from environmental sciences to games and emerging media. Butted up against the Hudson River, Marist College is a place where students of all disciplines come to further develop the knowledge, skills and character to thrive in a contemporary global economy. While the scenic, 210-acre campus is a nice place to spend four years, students can also venture overseas to study at the Marist College campus in Florence, Italy. Wellness fairs, trips to Broadway shows, residence life, an Activities Fair and high-tension rowing championships along the Hudson make life in New York pretty exciting, too.

45 Duke University

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Duke University is a private institution in Durham, North Carolina, that combines inquiry, collaborative research and hands-on experiences to create the foundation of its academic programs. The coursework is rigorous, but an 8:1 average student-teacher ratio and academic support across campus helps Duke’s talented and ambitious students succeed in school and after graduation. Duke is proud of its accomplished graduates, who go on to become CEOs, Olympians and scholars. Students bring their curiosity beyond the classroom and integrate it into Duke’s fun campus culture. Greek life has always played a significant role in the school’s student life and commitment to service, and students can also join some of the school’s hundreds of clubs and show their school spirit at Blue Devil athletic events. If all else fails, students can unwind and have fun by exploring the expansive forests that surround campus.

46 Tulane University

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Tulane got its start as a medical college in the mid-1800s and has since grown into top-ranked research university offering more than 70 majors from five different schools. While Tulane students work hard conducting research and tackling multiple majors and minors, they also make sure to give back to the community. A significant part of Tulane’s curriculum is community service, something that has been rooted in Tulane’s culture since the school was formed by physicians who were fighting the cholera and yellow fever epidemics of 19th century New Orleans. Tulane students will find that college life is far from endless work, though. Food carts and farmers markets pop up around campus, and students have plenty of ways to meet one another and engage in fun activities, like intramural sports, fraternities, sororities and live performances. Moreover, Tulane students get all the excitement of living in New Orleans, one of the most culturally diverse and exciting cities in the U.S., and convenient campus transportation to get safely to and from the city buzz.

47 Boston College

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Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, is a private Jesuit school with more than 14,000 students working toward degrees in more than 50 different fields of study. The college was the first in Boston and continues to develop the minds of its students through education in liberal arts and sciences and a focus on international collaboration. Education grounded in inquiry, spirituality, ethics and service produce accomplished student scholars across disciplines, and a supportive alumni network helps ensure student success after graduation. Students balance their academic lives by fostering meaningful relationships with peers. Boston College’s special interest housing is a great way for students with similar goals and interests to get to know one another, and farmers markets, recreational clubs, competitive sports teams and an upgraded arts and culture center help students stay well mentally, physically and socially. Boston is known as a college town, so students are sure to have a great time off campus, as well.

48 University of Pennsylvania

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This Ivy League research university hosts accomplished students and renowned faculty, fostering a community of intellectual excellence and innovation. UPenn is the first university in the U.S. and has remained one of the country’s top schools. The admissions process is selective, and the coursework is rigorous, but Pennsylvania students are subject to highly individualized attention from top-tier instructors, research and networking opportunities and post-enrollment annual earnings in the $80,000 range. All of the hard work that goes into being a UPenn student must be countered by a lot of play, and the university facilitates this by hosting campus events, clubs and culture facilities. Students party like it’s 1916 during annual Hey Day celebrations and cover themselves in splashes of color during Holi Festival. Clubs, Greek life, casual and competitive sports teams, extensive study abroad opportunities and work within the local community all help UPenn students become well-rounded individuals who get as much fun from school as they do in academic development.

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