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Top 5 best student cities in the USA

Choosing where you’ll study is a big decision as it will be your new home for a couple of years. We guide you through some of the top student cities in the USA to help you decide.

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Part of the experience of studying abroad is getting to immerse yourself in a new environment and culture. While picking a good university is important, a part of that decision will be influenced by where the institution is located. If you’re like most students you’ll want a vibrant student life outside of the classroom, with things to keep you active and engaged. With lots of international students selecting the USA as their go-to destination, we give you the rundown on the top 10 best student cities in the U.S. 


To put together our list we’ve considered several factors including the social and cultural attractions, and of course how student-friendly and convenient a city is to live in. We’ve also made use of the QS Best Student Cities rankings. 


It’s time to take a whistle-stop tour of the USA’s most desirable student cities. 


New York City 


Need we say more? No list of great American cities would be complete without New York. Known for its energy, vibrancy and 24/7 lifestyle or ‘the city that never sleeps', New York has always attracted people from around the world, including students. 


New York was ranked in the top 20 cities for students in the QS Best Student Cities 2019 and there is no shortage of things to see and do. From the iconic architecture and the bright lights of Broadway to the cultural hub of Harlem and the world-famous Statue of Liberty. 


New York is home to two universities in the top 100 worldwide as per the QS World University Rankings 2021, namely Columbia University (#19) and New York University (#35). That’s not all. The city has 110 universities and colleges in the city. Some of the well-known institutions include Fordham University, the City University of New York and Pace University


Find out more about some of the best postgraduate institutions in the USA




When you think Boston, you may think baseball. Perhaps it’s the distinct accent associated with the city? Well, there’s much more to Boston than just this. The city boasts diverse nightlife, great culinary options and is situated on a natural harbour with all the natural beauty that this brings. 


Boston is one of America’s storied cities having played an integral part in the American war of independence and the formation of the modern United States. It is also close to two of the most famous universities in the world in Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). MIT occupies the illustrious first-place spot in the world on the QS World University Rankings 2021.  


Naturally, these fabled institutions are not the only places to study in the city. Boston is home to numerous universities that include Boston UniversitySuffolk University and Northeastern University. While ticking the boxes on the education front Boston also holds its own on the QS Best Student Cities 2019 rankings coming in at 12th in the world. 


Thinking about studying in the USA and wondering what it has to offer international students




Often dubbed ‘the windy city’ Chicago, Illinois is a city known for its impressive architectural facades, entrepreneurial spirit, cultural heritage and diverse multicultural community. Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago has many iconic sites including the Navy Pier, Millennium Park, and the Field Museum of Natural History. If you are a sports fan you can also pop past the United Centre to catch a glimpse of the world-famous statue of basketball player Michael Jordan. 


Chicago is not without some world-class higher education institutions. This includes the University of Chicago, which is rated as the 10th best university in the world by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021 (THE) and Northwestern University, which is ranked in the top 30 worldwide by THE


Other well-renowned universities in Chicago include the University of Illinois at Chicago, Loyola University Chicago and De Paul University. A point to remember about Chicago is that it is well known for heavy snow and extremely cold winters, so be prepared with some warm clothing if it’s your destination of choice. 


Discover who makes the list of the top universities in the USA.


San Francisco 


Famous for both the Golden Gate Bridge and as the home of ‘big tech’, San Francisco sits alongside the Pacific Ocean on the west coast of the USA in California. It’s rated as a top 50 student city by QS and offers a great lifestyle for students studying abroad. There is the well-known Pier 39 shopping and entertainment centre, the Golden Gate Park, riding the famous trams, taking advantage of the free museums and of course a trip to the beach. 


San Francisco has a reputation for offering great internship, work placement and employment opportunities. This is not surprising as it’s home to some of the biggest companies in the world including Apple, Google and Facebook. On the plus side, San Francisco is also known for its relatively cheaper cost of living compared to other big cities. 


The city also has much to be proud of in terms of higher education with both Stanford University and the University of California Berkeley close by. Both universities are ranked in the global top 100 by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021 and the QS World University Rankings 2021. These universities form part of a network of colleges and universities in the city that also includes San Francisco State University, University of San Francisco and Santa Clara University. 


Explore some of the things you should do as a student in the USA.




Rounding out our top five list of the best student cities in the USA is ‘the city of brotherly love’, Philadelphia. The QS Best Student Cities 2019 rankings place the city 7th in the USA and this is not surprising given what it offers. The city has a renowned historical heritage, a great culinary scene, a dynamic cultural scene and numerous museums and entertainment venues. 


Philadelphia has the distinction of being an Ivy League city with the top-ranked University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) located in the city. UPenn is ranked in the top 20 globally by the QS World University Rankings 2021 and also ranks highly for several subjects, including medicine and engineering. Other universities that form part of the fabric of the city include Temple University, Drexel University and La Salle University. 


Remember that the USA is a very big country and there are many other cities in which to study. What’s important is that you find a student lifestyle that suits you best while being able to pursue your desired academic path. Don’t miss our top tips on applying to a U.S. university and our guide to tuition fees in the country. 

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