What makes a campus beautiful? It is hard to say, but often times, it all comes down to a simple combination of nice weather, a great location, stunning buildings, and an electrifying atmosphere. These schools are gorgeous not only because of their perfectly manicured lawns, but also because they feature vast arrays of unique architecture that are elaborately designed and always coherent.

“If you ask freshmen why they chose their colleges, they usually say one of two things,” says Baltimore architect Adam Gross, who’s worked on projects at the University of Virginia and Swarthmore. “Either they got a good financial aid package or they thought the campus was beautiful.” Each and every educational institution highlighted in this list has had the power not only to sway indecisive high school students, but also to attract hoards of awestruck tourists. Their appeal comes through varying combinations of interesting landscaping, surroundings, and of course, architecture. There are more than 2,600 four-year American colleges to choose from, but here are the top 15 U.S. campus masterpieces to put on your travel list.

Colleges with the Best Architecture

Florida Southern College - Image Credit: panotracks.com

1. Georgetown University

Also known as “the Hilltop,” the beautiful construction of the campus offers a true ‘Hogwarts’ feel and ironically is where they almost filmed Harry Potter. Looking down on the Potomac River and northern Virginia in Washington, D.C., several buildings on campus are on the National Register of Historic Places. The beauty of the university is in its rich history, and though it was founded 1789, the newer buildings embrace and encapsulate the storied tradition of the school just as much as the older ones. Student favorites include the sanctuary-like Walsh rooftop and the historic Healy Hall.

Georgetown University is located in Washington, DC at 3700 O St NW.

2. Pratt Institute

Ranked in the top 10 U.S. colleges with the best architecture by Architectural Digest, the specialty college of art, design, and architecture certainly does not disappoint. Its Brooklyn-based location as well as its various blends of styled buildings provide students with the perfect balance of a classic college atmosphere and city excitement. What’s more is that the campus is chock full of artwork and offers beautifully designed antique hotspots such as the campus library—which features 19th century Tiffany glass floors. Other contemporary standouts on the small, enclosed campus include Leo J. Pantas Hall dormitory, a 1980s Skidmore, Owings & Merrill design built between 1885 and World War II that put Pratt on the National Register of Historic Places.

Pratt Institute is located in Brooklyn, New York at North Hall, 200 Willoughby Ave.

3. Yale University

This Ivy Leaguer has embraced one architectural movement after another. As Robert A. M. Stern, dean of Yale’s School of Architecture, puts it: “Our campus is a living history of the architecture and urbanism of its three centuries in New Haven.” Wherever your taste lies, you’ll be able find something that caters to your liking, such as the vintage dorms designed by 1960s architect Eero Saarinen or the 216ft tall Harkness Tower.

The campus is literally an oasis boasting more than three hundred years of architecture and includes landscaped gardens designed by James Gamble Rogers in addition to various buildings from prominent architects like Frank Gehry and Philip Johnson. Other standout architecture include a 15-floor cathedral-styled Sterling Memorial Library and two art galleries well stocked with masterpieces by Monet and Picasso.

Yale University located is in New Haven, Connecticut at 149 Elm St.

4. Northwestern University

A sunset view of the Evanston campus could mesmerize anyone for hours-- or for lucky enough students, four entire years. An architectural beauty with styles spanning from collegiate Gothic to modern steel and glass, masterly designed buildings fill the university’s 240 acres on Lake Michigan. There are the impressive stained-glass windows of the Alice Millar Chapel or the infamous ‘Rock,’ as well as one of the university’s most artistic traditions, a boulder where student groups can paint messages to use as advertisements.

Northwestern University is located in Evanston, Illinois at 633 Clark St.

5. University of Michigan

Assuming that The (infamous) Big House isn't enough to make the case for a minor visit, Michigan's campus also offers plenty of Gothic architecture, as well as a handful of buildings designed by renowned, 20th-century architect Albert Kahn. One of Kahn's greatest, the 212ft-tall Burton Hill Memorial Tower, rocks a 55-bell carillon—making it one of the heaviest carillons in the world. There is also a stunning 1980s-designed Allan F. and Alene Smith Library featuring a glass facade that offers gorgeous reflective views from both outside and in.

University of Michigan is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan at 500 State St.

6. The University of Mississippi

Ole Miss began in 1848 with just one building, the Lyceum. Its Greek Revival architecture (and oldest college bell in the United States) landed it on the National Register of Historic Places and has influenced nearly every other building on campus that has since been built. From Ventress to the Cochran Center, the campus is dominated by clean lines, brown brick, and gleaming white plaster accents. And if classic architecture is not your cup of tea, the lush foliage of The Grove provides visitors with a welcoming scene as well. It’s also the beating heart of the entire campus and home to some epic tailgating on Saturday nights in the fall.

The University of Mississippi in University, Mississippi at 145 Martindale.

7. University of Montana

Sitting in the shadow of Mount Sentinel on the Clark Fork River, the campus showcases no fewer than 60 different architectural styles. From the Art Deco of the Student Union to the Queen Anne-inspired Prescott House, the eclectic mix of building types is anchored by the Main Hall’s stately, green-capped clock tower, whose 47 carillon bells always ring out at precisely high noon.

University of Montana is located in Missoula, Montana at 32 Campus Dr.

8. University of Virginia

The only university in the nation to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 1,682-acre campus was originally designed by Thomas Jefferson himself. The school's most iconic structure, the Rotunda-- a stately Neoclassical building with a white pillar facade crowned with a dome-- was modeled after the Pantheon in Rome. The campus itself, in addition, is a vibrant, accommodating gathering spot with a magnificent, terraced Lawn that is, even today, still innovative for its time.

UVA is located in Charlottesville, Virginia at Peabody Hall, McCormick Rd.

9. Harvard University

The country’s oldest institution for higher learning may look it-- with buildings going back to the 1720s-- but it was also one of the first schools to embrace modernist architecture. The Carpenter Center, with its pedestrian ramp slicing radically through its middle, is Le Corbusier’s only building in America (not counting his collaboration on the United Nations headquarters). But it was Corbusier’s protégé, Catalan architect Josep Lluís Sert, who truly shaped Harvard’s modernist legacy with still-controversial designs for the Holyoke Center and the Harvard Science Center, among other prominent buildings.

Harvard University is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts at 1350 Massachusetts Ave.

10. UC Berkeley

At an impressive 307ft tall, Berkeley's Campanile—a.k.a. the Sather Tower—is the third largest clock tower in the world. Its 1,232-acre campus also houses Hearst Memorial Mining Building, a traditional European-style structure designed by architect John Galen Howard in 1907, as well as a reflecting pool in the front that makes for an even more glorious view. Another show-stopper would be the Greek Theater, which is modeled after Epidaurus’s ancient Greek amphitheater.

UC Berkeley is located in Berkeley, California at 101 Sproul Hall.

11. Elon University

Ranked the nation’s most beautiful campus by The New York Times and The Princeton Review for its classic collegiate architecture, this is the quintessential Southern campus. The high praise, however, does not go unwarranted; the campus is bursting with colonnades in front of red brick buildings, and the practically Photoshopped lawns are classified as pure botanical gardens.

Elon University is located in Elon, North Carolina at 100 Campus Dr.

12. Tulane University

A mix of old and new, the campus features architecture from the Renaissance period to the modern era. Large live oaks and plenty of quad space characterize the area, which, quite conveniently, is located right across from a park that includes both a zoo and a golf course. What more could you want in terms of beauty? Student favorites include the secluded patio connected to Joseph Merrick Jones Memorial—where a sparkling fountain and beaming white rocking chairs soothe individuals hoping to hit the books (it’s also right next to the library).

Tulane University is located in New Orleans, Louisiana at 6823 St. Charles Ave.

13. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The red brick of Alvar Aalto’s massive Baker House dormitory, built in 1949, and Eero Saarinen’s tiny 1955 chapel both blend in seamlessly with MIT’s look-- but there is nothing conservative about their incredibly undulating designs. Various other buildings on campus also seem to push the envelope. From Frank Gehry’s Stata Center, which is better known for its leaks than for its wild form, to Steven Holl’s Simmons Hal, which matches the scale and audacity of Aalto’s design.

MIT is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts at 77 Massachusetts Ave.

14. Florida Southern College

Featuring the largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the world, this little-known campus on swampy Lake Hollingsworth includes a dozen of Wright’s most magnificent structures, connected all by low esplanade roofs that provide relief from the harsh Florida sun. It’s nice to know that both male and female students played a huge role in the initial construction of the campus through the 1940s and 50s by exchanging carpentry and masonry skills for free tuition.

Florida Southern College located in Lakeland, Florida at 111 Lake Hollingsworth Dr.

15. Bennington College

The open-minded students and teachers who occupy these 550 wooded acres at the foot of the Green Mountains interact in buildings by designers such as Robertson Ward, Pietro Belluschi, Carl Koch, Kyu Sung Woo, and Edward Larrabee Barnes. The latest addition to the campus is the Center for the Advancement of Public Action-- three buildings constructed of local materials nestled comfortably into a sloping site designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. It truly is a magnificent site to see.

Bennington College is located in Bennington, Vermont at 1 College Dr.

This article was written by Pamela Chan.

Hero Image Credit: www.umt.edu