20 Colleges with the Most Beautiful Campuses

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

View of students walking in the school campus

20 Colleges with the Most Beautiful Campuses

While the aesthetic beauty of a college’s campus doesn’t necessarily reflect everything about the school itself, it is certainly one aspect that students care about. This is because the environment in which students live and study can have a profound impact on their success in college. But students want different things out of their college campuses. Some want a school set in a serene rural location, while others are dead set on going to an urban school.

We set out to figure out which schools have the most beautiful campuses in the U.S., and we’ve found that when it comes to college campuses, beauty can mean so many different things. We tend to picture a beautiful campus as either stately stone or brick buildings and lots of trees, but the schools on this list prove that modern architecture can be just as impressive as traditional campus architecture. So, after exhaustive research, here is our list of the 20 most beautiful college campuses.

Because it’s so hard to be objective about “beauty,” this list is presented in no particular order. So, what are the best college campuses?

20. Vanderbilt University

Located just outside of downtown Nashville, Tennessee, Vanderbilt University is beautiful all year round. The campus, which covers over 300 acres in suburban Nashville is home to an amazing variety of different tree species which also attracts a variety of wildlife.

View of Vanderbilt campus surrounded by trees.

The buildings themselves are mostly constructed of old, red brick with sloping slate rooves, and concrete accents. The campus also features a network of walking paths that allow students to navigate their extraordinary campus.

19. Furman University

How many schools have their own 18-hole golf course? We’re not totally sure, but Furman has a professional level course located right on campus. Additionally, Furman University is home to a life-sized replica of Henry David Thoreau’s house. When you first set foot on the campus, you are immediately struck by the peaceful environment that Furman has constructed for their students.

View of Florentine tower during day time.

Their sprawling 750-acre campus is located in Greenville, South Carolina, and as a result, you will find plenty of old-south touches. From their unique plant life, to their iconic Bell Tower, Furman is lush and beautiful. They even have an Asian garden with a variety of different flowers and flowering trees.

18. University of Chicago

The University of Chicago is known for top-notch academics and a diverse student body from all over the world. But it’s also known for having one of the most beautiful campuses in the U.S. Most of the buildings are based on traditional Gothic architecture, featuring stately stone buildings often covered in decades-old Ivy.

University of Chicago signage placed near the school buildings.

Many students picture the University of Chicago as a modern, urban campus, but the truth is they’ve managed to mix both traditional and modern styles to create a campus that feels as though it is evolving with the times. The 215-acre campus features a botanical garden and intimidating Gothic gargoyles can be seen looming from atop many of the buildings.

17. Wellesley College

Like many colleges in New England, Wellesley College features many brick buildings, but their 500-acre campus is an interesting mix of old and new. While you will certainly find lots of traditional structures, Wellesley has also sought out world-renowned architects to design modern buildings that often look like they are defying physics.

View of Wellesley college at day time.

Of course, it needs to be pointed out that Wellesley is also next to Lake Waban which is surrounded by groves of pine trees and other trees native to the Boston area. While the cold winters can often make New England feel dark and barren for much of the year, Wellesley has constructed a series of greenhouses that operate year-round and feature varieties of plants from all over the world.

16. The University of Virginia

This is the only college on our list that was actually designed by one of the founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson made the University of Virginia one of his lasting legacies along with the Declaration of Independence. In fact, Jefferson was so involved with the creation of UVA that he was even involved in hiring their first round of faculty. But we’re here to talk about the campus itself.

Aerial view of a school campus.

The proof that UVA has one of the best college campuses is the fact that it has been copied by so many other schools. The style of the campus is considered Neo-classical and features a rotunda based on the Pantheon in Rome. The campus is so impressive it was actually designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its beauty and influence. They also have a library that houses Jefferson’s letters, writings, and an early copy of the Declaration of Independence.

15. Kenyon College

Known for their liberal arts programs, and specifically their writing programs, Kenyon College is located in Gambier, Ohio. While the setting is quite rural, students appreciate the inspirational beauty of their campus which features the Middle Path, a 10-foot-wide walking path that runs all the way through the campus. The path is lined with old, tall trees that burst into color soon after students arrive in the fall.

View of a student walking in the school campus.

Kenyon’s architecture is traditional Victorian-Gothic and features grand stone buildings that resemble English castles. If you leave campus and take a trip into nearby Gambier, you will find a small yet elegant town that serves as an idyllic companion to the campus itself.

14. Princeton University

Another traditional Gothic campus, Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey could be a model for university campuses. Imposing stone buildings are connected through a series of walking paths that slip in and out of groves of trees. Their huge Gothic doors make you feel as though you are in a much older setting like Oxford University in England.

View of Princeton building surrounded by trees.

Princeton’s campus sits right on Nassau Street, which serves as the main drag in Princeton, and is often described as the quintessential college town. From the century old P.J.’s Pancake House to Palmer Square, life at Princeton University is everything you would want from a college campus. You can even hop on the train at the Princeton Station and go right into New York City.

13. The University of Washington

Located on Seattle’s east side between the city and Lake Washington, the University of Washington is a special place to be. With weather permitting views of Mount Rainier to serene views of Lake Washington, you would never know that you are right next to a growing metropolis. Of particular interest is UW’s Suzzallo Library which features imposing Gothic architecture and massive stained-glass windows.

View of University of Washington campus.

The UW is located in Seattle’s University District, which is home to plenty of restaurants, bars, and live music. A short trip will take you to Green Lake for a perfect 3-mile stroll and you can always stop off at the Spud for world-class fish and chips.

12. The University of San Diego

Like much of the city itself, the University of San Diego features Spanish Renaissance architecture that is distinctly different from the Spanish architecture you will find a couple of hours north in Los Angeles. As soon as you step on campus, you know you are in Southern California. Palm trees line the many walking paths, and then of course, there is the panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean.

View of San Diego University.

At the University of San Diego, it’s easy to feel as though you landed in paradise. The Immaculata Chapel is one of the school’s more striking buildings with a bright blue dome and a solid bronze door. Students are also just a short distance from the rest of San Diego and its year-round perfect weather.

11. Stanford University

Moving up to Northern California, we find Stanford University, which is typically considered one of the most beautiful college campuses in the world. Its massive 8000-acre campus feels as though it goes on forever and begins with a dramatic palm tree-lined entrance that leads to the main quad, which is actually an oval. The university buildings are Spanish-style with traditional red rooves and ached doorways.

Aerial view of Stanford University campus.

Another reason why Stanford is one of the best college campuses in the world is the preponderance of fine art. Sculptures by Rodin are part of a collection of over 170 bronze statues, making this the largest collection of Rodins outside of France. Across the bay, students can get a beautiful view of San Francisco, and this is best viewed from Hoover Tower.

10. Berry College

Speaking of colleges with enormous campuses, Berry College actually hold the record for the largest single campus in the U.S. at over 27,000 acres. Yes, you read that right. The main buildings are located fairly close together, but they are surrounded by forests, lakes, and mountains. Attending Berry College often feels as though you are off in your own world because it takes up so much space.

View of a beautiful campus at daytime.

The buildings themselves are constructed in a classical style that feel more like English castles than a college in Georgia. Berry has also used a lot of their central space for water elements like reflecting pools. This offers the campus of level of elegance not usually seen in American colleges.

9. University of Notre Dame

Located in South Bend, Indiana, Notre Dame is arguably one of the universities with the most beautiful architecture. Their neo-Gothic buildings feature imposing pointed arch doorways and tall, pointed towers. The university’s main building, with its shimmering golden dome is often the thing people remember most about their visit to Notre Dame.

Aerial view of university campus.

In addition to fantastic architecture, Notre Dame has gone to great lengths to make sure they have one of the most verdant campuses in the U.S. Everywhere you turn are lush fields surrounded by groves of tall trees.

8. Bard College

Often noted for being one of the country’s leading arts colleges, Bard College sits along the banks of the Annandale river with a view of the Catskill Mountains. Its buildings are mostly Gothic-style Ivy covered stone buildings that go back 160 years. The campus is also studded with small cottages that are used for classes and housing for Bard’s nearly 1,800 students.

View of Bard college campus next to a river.

But the current star of the Bard-on-Annandale campus is the Fisher Center designed by acclaimed architect Frank Gehry. The ultra-contemporary structure might seem a bit out of place on such a traditional looking campus, but Bard is all about the arts, and this building, which looks quite like the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles fits right in with Bard’s philosophy.

7. Rice University

Rice may be located near downtown Houston, Texas, but it feels like it’s in another world entirely. The 300-acre campus is practically walled off from the rest of the city by tall oak trees, but the campus is also home to a wide variety of other native trees as well. Rice’s architecture often confuses visitors because it looks quite different from other schools in the south, and that is thanks to its Southern European Medieval style which features elegant stone columns and splashes of red brick.

View of Rice University building at day time.

6. Cornell University

Cornell University is known for being highly selective and excellent academics, but the designers of the campus clearly intended to construct one of the best college campuses in the nation. Located in upstate New York, Cornell is nestled into the Finger Lakes which are really a series of fjords. Cornell is perched above Cayuga Lake and features both classical structures and ambitious modern buildings.

View of Cornell University building.

Cornell has also attracted world-famous architects to design campus buildings, including the Johnson Museum of Art by I.M. Pei and Millstein Hall designed by Rem Koolhaas. The campus also features the Cascadilla Gorge which has a 400-waterfall that leads to Ithaca, New York.

5. College of William & Mary

Many people don’t know that the College of William & Mary is the second oldest college in the United States after Harvard. Located in Virginia, the college consists of mostly brick Wren buildings that often bear the date of the college’s founding in 1693. The campus also features sprawling fields and the Crim Dell pond.

View of William and Mary building.

Overall, the College of William & Mary excels at creating a serene atmosphere for their students. The rich history of the college is constantly on display and being there feels like being transported back in time. This is helped by the fact that the college is located right next to Colonial Williamsburg. So, if you’re looking for a college campus with a distinctly historical feel, the College of William & Mary is for you.

4. Sewanee, The University of the South

Another school that boasts a massive campus is Sewanee, The University of the South. With around 13,000 acres to call home, Sewanee is located on the Cumberland Plateau overlooking the Tennessee Valley. Much of the area is very rural, and the college is tucked right into the middle of it. Part of what makes Sewanee one of the schools with the best college campuses is its environment. But the university buildings themselves are likewise impressive.

View of a University chapel.

Constructed mainly in the Gothic style, Sewanee’s buildings a similar to those of Oxford University in England. In fact, Sewanee’s All Saints’ Chapel  was designed to be similar to the University Church at Oxford and Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

3. Swarthmore College

Setting foot on this campus, you would never know that Philadelphia is just a few minutes away. One of the factors that makes Swarthmore one of the most beautiful college campuses is their commitment to nature. The Scott Arboretum is the crown jewel of the Swarthmore campus, and it is home to numerous varieties of trees, plants, and flowers, all of which thrive in this ecosystem.

Swarthmore building surrounded by trees and flowers.

And of course, there is Swarthmore’s outdoor amphitheater which looks like it was pulled straight from ancient Greece—albeit a bit more green. The theater is a series of grassy tiers leading to a central stage. At Swarthmore it is practically impossible not to fall in love with the lush, serene surroundings.

2. Yale University

The basics of Yale University are fairly traditional stone buildings set around dramatic courtyards. But Yale also embraces modern architecture in a way that many other schools avoid. In fact, at this point, Yale has added so many different types of buildings that it doesn’t really feel like they have a single style at all anymore. And this is part of what makes their campus so interesting and fun.

View of Yale University

Located in New Haven, Connecticut, Yale features myriad different styles of architecture from Connecticut Hall in Georgian red brick-style, to their ice rink which was designed by Eero Saarinen and takes on a completely post-modern style. Then there’s the Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript library that is made from marble and wood. When it comes to campuses with the most beautiful architecture, Yale is way ahead of the curve.

1. Duke University

Another school that takes an eclectic approach to their campus is Duke University. Most people are familiar with Duke’s heavily Gothic style which is present in many of its old, stone buildings, but what many people don’t know is that Duke has been busy constructing all kinds of buildings for a campus that truly has everything.

One of the United States first African-American architects, Julia Abele designed the Duke Chapel which sits in the middle of campus. She was also responsible for much of the other early Duke buildings. Since then, modern architects like Karl and Mary Ellen von der Hayden and Rafael Viñoly have taken on designing the Nasher Art Museum, which is mostly constructed from dramatic glass and metal. Walking the Duke campus is like taking a trip back in time, and also to the future.

View of Duke University buildings.

So, there you have it. AdmissionSight’s list of the 20 schools with the most beautiful campuses. If you’ve been wondering, what schools have the most interesting architecture, hopefully this post has helped. If you want to discuss your college plans with experts who specialize in tailoring a college admissions plan specifically for you, contact AdmissionSight today and schedule your free consultation.


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