Jul 14, 2010

USNWR Gets It Wrong—DC Is Most Definitely a Great College Town

"A lot goes into making a great college town,” solemnly claims US News & World Report (USNWR), in a commentary accompanying a recent article entitled, “10 Great College Towns." “It can be the scenery, a fun [sic] community, a big sports culture—or all of those, in some cases.”

Reasonable enough. But what doesn’t quite seem right is how a list of ten “great” college towns could leave off one of the all-time best college towns, which happens to be our nation’s capital and home of ten world-class colleges and universities—Washington DC.

Nothing against Amherst, but how can the rural Massachusetts community heading the USNWR list compare with everything DC has to offer the average college student? The weekly farmers’ market on the town green is fun, but it’s not where most students go to look for internships, cultural experiences, or big time scorts. The very bright and capable students at Amherst College no doubt make their own fun on weekends, but if they want a meaningful or educational summer experience, they are likely to head south to DC.

And DC is where they will find all the resources of the Executive Branch of government, the Congress, and the highest courts in the land. Nations around the world have set up shop in embassies located throughout the city and some of the most powerful corporations and businesses are within walking distance of many of the District’s colleges and universities.

But it’s not just about opportunities and jobs. DC is a beautiful place to be. The architecture, cherry blossoms, and broad thoroughfares connecting the Capitol with the Washington Monument and beyond are among the distinctive physical features that set the District apart from an average college town.

For culture, college students have access to the Kennedy Center, the National Zoo, Folger Theater, and the Smithsonian. The National Archives, Library of Congress, and the many other local research facilities are almost too much for college students to absorb or take advantage of in four years. DC also has nightlife and some really hot sports provided by teams ranging from the Georgetown Hoyas to the Washington Capitals.

USNWR specializes in list-making, and despite continuing complaints, the magazine has managed to create a cottage industry of rating and ranking colleges and universities. Unfortunately, the most recent list of “great” college towns is like all the rest—not terrifically accurate or useful.

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