Picking the right college is a feat in itself, but we’re here to help with another aspect of college life — learning about the town you’ll be living in. Whether you’re looking for a big-city feel, proximity to nature or something in between, there’s a place for everyone in Arkansas.
In Conway, population 63,000, you’ll find three different colleges: Hendrix College, Central Baptist College and the University of Central Arkansas. Hendrix and CBC are smaller private colleges, while UCA is a public university with around 11,000 students. Conway is only about an hour from Petit Jean Mountain and less than an hour from Arkansas’ capital city. You’ll even find nature near campus. Conway has 11 public parks and a nature reserve located on UCA’s campus.
Recreation: Bike to one of the city’s many parks or take a day trip to Petit Jean. To watch a gorgeous sunset, take a short drive to Cadron Settlement Park and sit near the cliffs.
Shopping: Conway’s downtown is filled with adorable antique shops and boutiques. You’ll find spots like Jenifer’s Antiques as well as upscale clothing stores like E. Leigh’s and EM Jeans. Conway Commons is home to chain stores like Old Navy and T.J. Maxx. The newest development on Dave Ward, Central Landing, hosts popular spots like Ulta, Academy Sports and Sam’s.
Eat/drink: If you’re a fan of Mexican food, you’re in luck. There are many Mexican restaurants to choose from in Conway, and everyone has their own favorite. For nightlife, head to Bears Den, the UCA college bar, or go downtown to Kings Live Music. To get your caffeine fix, head to Blue Sail Coffee, Zeteo or The Black Orange.
Big-city feel meets nature-lover’s paradise in Fayetteville. With more biking trails than you’ll know what to do with, Fayetteville remains recreational while growing into one of Arkansas’ urban centers. Fayetteville is home to 83,000 residents and the state’s largest university where more than 27,000 students are enrolled and thousands of fans state-wide travel to “The Hill” for Razorback games. In 2016, Fayetteville was named the third best place to live in America, coming in just behind Denver and Austin, in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Places To Live” rankings.
Universities/Colleges: University of Arkansas
Recreation: You might want to invest in a bike if you decide to move to Fayetteville. The city boasts many biking opportunities, especially the 36-mile Razorback Regional Greenway trail that connects Fayetteville with Bella Vista via Johnson, Springdale, Lowell, Bentonville and Rogers. Be sure to check out local staples Pack Rat and Fayettechill for cool outdoor gear.
Shopping: In addition to a traditional mall, Fayetteville’s historic square boasts popular boutiques like Riffraff, a local company that’s expanded into a huge online business, for college shoppers to enjoy. Stop by the Square on Saturdays for a bustling farmers market with over 60 vendors selling everything from fresh veggies to handmade crafts.
Eat/drink: When it comes to food and drink, look no further than Dickson Street. Right down the street from campus, Dickson is the city’s social hub. Late-night study sessions and early class perk-ups call for Puritan Coffee or Arsaga’s Coffee Roasters.
Other than being home to Arkansas Tech University, Russellville and the surrounding River Valley are known for beautiful scenery. Insiders refer to the town as “Russ Vegas,” which has spawned an annual Russ Vegas half marathon. It’s easy to get around town, and you can be in Little Rock or Fayetteville in a couple of hours. Russellville, with a population of 29,500, has a “just big enough to have things to do, but small enough that you’re not overwhelmed” feeling that makes it truly special.
Universities/Colleges: Arkansas Tech University
Recreation: There is no shortage of beautiful and amazing sights to see and experience, including Lake Dardanelle, the Arkansas River, Mt. Nebo, Petit Jean Mountain, numerous waterways and parks. It’s a great area for fishing, swimming, hiking, biking, walking, running and more. Locals enjoy supporting Arkansas Tech athletics and truly make students feel at home in this friendly town.
Shopping: If you want to break free of “chain store” shopping in Russellville, there are a few perfect places to check out. The Other Foot & More, a fun shoe and clothing store, and Lavish Boutique, a fun boutique in downtown, are prime shopping destinations.
Eat/drink: Located across from campus, Feltner’s Whatta-Burger is a popular stop for Tech students, locals and people passing through town. Taco Villa and Stoby’s (try their cheese dip!) are more college favorites in Russellville. As far as the bar scene goes, you’ll have to go to a restaurant for your legal beverages because Russellville is located in Pope County, which is dry.
College life means getting involved, making new friends and networking. There are so many ways to do just that in Jonesboro, which is the largest city in northeast Arkansas with a population of 74,800. If you are going to A-State, be sure to attend at least one football game. If the stadium gets too crowded on game day, you can find plenty of students at J-Towns Grill, conveniently located across the street from the football stadium, watching the game with other Red Wolves football fans.
Recreation: If you’re outdoorsy, you can hike and bike in Craighead National Forest or visit nearby Lake Frierson. If you’re more into indoor fun, Hijinx is a fun spot for bowling or laser tag. Most of the concerts that come through town make use of A-State’s Convention Center, so if you live on campus, you can walk to a concert. Game days are lively and draw the entire city out in Red Wolf colors.
Shopping: Shopping in Jonesboro is extremely convenient thanks to Turtle Creek Mall, which has a Barnes & Noble; Sephora; Bed, Bath & Beyond; Express and Best Buy all in one bustling spot.
Eat/drink: Students love Kandela Grill, a Mexican restaurant locally famous for its queso. Oriental Express is a popular place for study fuel. And no college town is complete without a great coffee shop, like Jonesboro’s The Edge Coffeehouse.
Nestled in the heart of Arkansas is Little Rock, the biggest city in the state, which has much to offer college students. Little Rock, with a population of 198,500, is home to a variety of colleges and graduate schools. With tons of great recreational opportunities, delicious local eats, a booming downtown and so much more. Little Rock has something for everyone.
Universities/Colleges: University of Arkansas at Little Rock, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, University of Arkansas -ulaski Technical College (NLR), Philander Smith College, Arkansas Baptist College, Shorter College (in North Little Rock), Baptist Health College Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law, Clinton School of Public Service,
Recreation: There’s no shortage of outdoor activities in Little Rock, specifically the Big Dam Bridge, Two Rivers Park, Pinnacle Mountain, the River Trail and tons of awesome parks. There are also lots of big name concerts that come through the Verizon Arena.
Shopping: Steamroller Blues and E. Leigh’s are popular with girls for curating their college wardrobes, and the Heights and Hillcrest neighborhoods have many other local boutiques with unique clothing for all. The Promenade at Chenal and Pleasant Ridge Town Center have a variety of shops with cute clothing, shoes and accessories, and Park Plaza Mall offers national chain stores.
Eat/drink: Some of the great options for a college budget include The Fold, U.S. Pizza, The Root Cafe, Whole Hog, Gusano’s and Flying Fish. If you’re a fan of coffee, be sure to check out Mylo’s in Hillcrest. It’s a great study spot. Downtown is also overflowing with local coffee joints like Blue Sail Coffee, Zeteo and Nexus.
While it may not seem like your typical college town with a population of 10,700, Arkadelphia packs in two big Arkansas colleges in a small area. Henderson State University and Ouachita Baptist University provide one of the biggest and oldest rivalries of D2 football, which takes place every fall because the two universities are right across the street from each other. Located next to several outdoor recreation spots, there’s much to be discovered in this college town.
Recreation: Make sure to add hiking the DeSoto Bluff Trail to your Arkadelphia bucket list. Tack on a trip to Lake DeGray and floating the Caddo River, which are two more staples of college town life.
Shopping: Hot Springs and Little Rock are easy weekend trips for a variety of shopping destinations.
Eat/drink: Be sure to stop by the Little Penguin Taco Truck, the Burger Barn and Riveridge for pizza and ice cream. If you’re 21, Friday night karaoke at The Clubhouse at Turtle Pointe is the place to be. Unfortunately, a fire burned down the restaurant/bar in 2016, but until it gets back up and running, there’s a food truck on the premises to tide you over.
Maggie McNeary contributed to this article.