Choosing where to pursue one’s higher education is a daunting process that seems to start earlier and earlier for each new crop of hopeful students. Applying for scholarships, researching faculty, reading course descriptions, and learning if the freshman dorms have central air are all parts of the process of choosing a college to call home.
But don’t neglect one of the most important factors of any college or university – the campus itself. The beauty of a college campus and the refuge it provides go a long way toward determining students’ quality of life. Strolling through a truly stunning campus consisting of impressive architecture and immaculate grounds can sway a prospective student.
Even if your college days are long gone some universities are so visually arresting and steeped in history that they’re worth the trip just to take in the sights. Explore this list of some of the most beautiful college campuses in the world for some aesthetic inspiration.
Elon University – Elon, North Carolina, United States
Elon University is a relatively small liberal arts institution, serving about 6,000 undergraduate students and 700 graduate students. Unlike more flashy institutions Elon University can’t rely on a massive endowment, and instead takes full advantage of many colors and natural plant life of the North Carolinian countryside. Why tweak something that’s already perfect?
At various times the New York Times and the Princeton Review have both named Elon University the prettiest college campus in the United States. The beguiling beauty of the grounds has lured multiple filmmakers to shoot their movies here including Spike Lee for “He Got Game.” The entire campus was designated as a botanical garden in 2005 to serve as a model for conservation and environmental stewardship. Situated in the heart of North Carolina, the 630-acre campus is a tranquil retreat for students seeking a stimulating education experience.
Oxford University – Oxford, United Kingdom
The performers among us can hardly say the words “Oxford University” without dipping into a shaky posh accent. Higher education was shaping minds within the vertical stone walls of Oxford as early as the 11th century, and today the university sets the precedent in academia for other institutions in Europe. You can feel the tradition and history of the university when you navigate the behemoth arches, innumerable quads, and spectacular buildings.
A campus highlight is the world-renowned Radcliffe Camera, constructed in the 18th century to house the Radcliffe Science Library. The building now serves as a silent reading room for students seeking prolonged periods of concentration (or perhaps a quick nap). Between undergraduates and postgraduate students the university houses over 23,000 students, but be warned before you apply that the acceptance rate hangs right around 17%.
University of Coimbra – Coimbra, Portugal
The University of Coimbra in Portugal appears frequently on lists of beautiful college campuses, and rightfully so; the unique architecture of the buildings has reflected the evolving characteristics and values of Portuguese culture as the university has steadily expanded over the last 7 centuries. Every building tells a story, and in fact the campus was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recent years.
The Baroque-style university tower was designed by architect João Frederico Ludovice and constructed in 1728. The Biblioteca Joanina (Joanine Library) also is entrenched with the signature Baroque style, containing bookcases that are constructed from Brazilian wood shipped directly from Portugal’s first settlements in the “new world.” The Chapel of São Miguel features thousands of traditional tiles that were hand painted in the 16th century. Enrollment hovers around 25,000, so if you choose to study here you’ll be thrust in the middle of a large and eager community of students.
University of Otago – Dunedin, New Zealand
In the American imagination New Zealand is probably synonymous with Peter Jackson’s rendering of Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings films. The splendid topography of New Zealand has attracted tourists for decades, and the picturesque campus of the University of Otago in Dunedin does an excellent job of showcasing the natural wonders of the area.
The Leith River curves through the center of the university and perfectly accents the vivacious greens of the trees and plantlife that grow unfettered around the campus. The buildings at the University of Otago combine classical elements with modern innovations to provide students a comfortable and memorable atmosphere to continue their academic pursuits. If you visit campus at the right time of the year you can witness the brilliant display of the cherry blossoms in bloom all across the grounds.
University of Bologna – Bologna, Italy
There is no distinct entrypoint for University of Bologna. The architecture of the campus is completely indistinguishable from the redbrick buildings and cobblestone streets of the urban area that surrounds it. The university is simply a part of the city, and one wrong turn will spit you out in the middle of bustling downtown. The medieval towers make Bologna quite the landmark in northern Italy, and the aerial views of the campus and the city that surround it attract hundreds of enthusiastic photographers every year.
Once you find yourself on campus be sure to take the time to visit the Neoclassical greenhouses – inside you’ll find sprawling beds of flowers, tropical flora, and the occasional carnivorous plant. Once the main building on campus, the Archiginnasio of Bologna houses the entirety of the Archiginnasio Municipal Library (or, to the layman, more than 700,000 volumes.
Tsinghua University – Beijing, China
Tsinghua University in Beijing has the striking fortune of being located on the same site as the Qing Dynasty’s historic royal gardens. As such, a jaunt around the campus will find a student immersed in impeccably maintained shrubbery, woods, ponds, and floating lotus blossoms. If the serenity of the campus eventually loses its appeal you can always visit significant Beijing sites like the Summer Palace that are a short walk away.
There is a fusion of Eastern and Western elements within the design of the campus; though the landscaping is thoroughly Chinese, many building like the auditorium and areas like the central quad are modeled after American standards. The architect of the university graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the influences of American architecture can’t be missed. Plus, the university is regarded as one of the leading academic institutions in Beijing.
Trinity College – Dublin, Ireland
Trinity College in many respects is Dublin, Ireland, and at the very least is the most prominent tourist attraction in the city. The rollicking greenery and the quaint cobblestone streets that line the 47 acres of Trinity College’s campus give the university a more inviting atmosphere than other historic institutions. Perhaps the most visited building on campus for beauty’s sake is the Old Library. The 14 marble busts sculpted by Peter Scheemakers bookend each row and depict some of the most influential philosophers and writers.
Students who choose to further their scholarly pursuits at Trinity College may wind up spending many an hour soaking in the splendor of one of the world’s most stunning campuses. If you visit simply for sightseeing don’t fret, as the students are friendly and mingle amicably with tourists. After your campus visit you can hop over to Grafton Street to enjoy some classic Dublin nightlife.
Stanford University – Palo Alto, California, United States
Stanford has grown tremendously since it was founded in 1885, but as architect Aaron B. Schwartz notes the university has dedicated its efforts toward a cohesive loyalty to its “initial design precepts.” Within the spacious 8,000 acres of the main campus you’ll find the mile-long stretch of walkway lined with sweeping palm trees as well as the 170 bronze sculptures in the Cantor Arts Center forged by Auguste Rodin.
In the central quad you’ll find the Stanford Memorial Church pictured here, which was commissioned by Jane Stanford as a memorial to her husband Leland. Venture off of campus a few miles and you can explore the redwood and Douglas fir forests of the Jasper Ridge Biological Reserve that Stanford owns. Even with 16,000 fellow students you’ll find more than enough room to take in the scenery at Stanford University.
Nanyang Technological University – Singapore
Nanyang Technological University in Singapore is one of the highest-ranked engineering schools anywhere in the world, and to further that claim the entire campus features head-turning architecture and streamlined design. Your eyes aren’t fooling you – The School of Art, Design, and Media shown here does indeed have a roof covered in grass that seamlessly meshes into the rest of campus.
The open spaces and creative angles aren’t only on display around the campus exteriors: the ingenuity extends to the design and execution of the classrooms themselves. Student group Cool Campus has successfully advocated for the implementation of numerous “learning pods” in key student areas that contain tons of LCD screens, movable power outlets, and writing boards made from glass where students can formulate enough. This high-tech and chic campus is currently developing plans for the implementation of a light-rail system in the near future.
United States Air Force Academy – Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States
A natural progression on this list following a campus infused with modern design, the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs stands apart from other campuses because its design actively avoids the commonplace Gothic and Oxford styles of other universities. Publisher Kevin Lippert of the Princeton Architectural Press lauded the sleek and minimalist aesthetic on the academy’s campus, calling the campus “a masterpiece of mid-20th-century American Modernism.”
The Cadet’s Chapel pictured is considered to be one of the most beautiful feats of design in all of America, regardless of its collegiate location. Many buildings across the campus incorporate aluminum coverings in their construction to evoke the imagery of the Air Force’s prized airplanes. Of course the United States Air Force Academy is not a standard liberal arts college, and you should only apply if you’re seeking a career in the military.
McGill University – Montreal, Canada
McGill University is a crowning example of a Gothic-style university that impresses while finding a way to be inherently welcoming. The university was founded by Scottish trader James McGill (not to be confused with the identically-named protagonist of AMC’s “Better Call Saul”). The Scottish elements of the design even two hundred years after its founding are evident in the pitched roofs of copper and the towering stone walls. One standout Gothic building is the Faculty of Religious Studies building that houses many intricate stained-glass windows. The multitude of pavilions that weave throughout campus attracts many visitors throughout the year.
About 40,000 students in Montreal attend McGill University currently. McGill University is one of the preeminent research universities in Canada, having educated 142 Rhodes scholars and 12 Nobel Prize winners.
Pepperdine University – Malibu, California, United States
You may associate temperate climates and occasional snowfall with gorgeous university campuses, but the grounds of Pepperdine University in Malibu are a beachside paradise. Students are greeted each morning with glistening views of the Pacific Ocean, and once they make their way to class they can marvel at the Mediterranean architecture on display at many of Pepperdine’s most recognizable buildings. The luxuriant landscaping that circles Phillips Theme Tower transfixes hopeful students when they congregate there for campus tours.
The relaxing and invigorating atmosphere of the campus lead many high school seniors to list Pepperdine University as their top choice once they’ve visited. Quite a handful of television shows and films have shot on location at the university, and can you blame them? The classic coastal weather and variety of ocean vistas make Pepperdine University look purely cinematic.
If you’re seeking a college that provides a beautiful backdrop and a rigorous education any of these respected institutions will make an excellent choice. Even if you’re not in the market for a degree make an effort to tour some of these campuses and treat yourself to some architectural delights.