By definition, a “college town” is a community that is dominated by its university population. The university may be large, or there may be several smaller institutions clustered within its confines, but the key element is how the schools impact the area’s economic and social life. One way in which colleges and universities can affect interest in their home cities is through a different kind of sightseeing – “edu-tourism,” if you will. And in this season of graduations, it’s a perfect time to look at some of the nation’s most beautiful campuses, which – with their breathtaking architecture and grounds – can inspire anyone to want to go back to school. Here are a few of our favorites, listed alphabetically:

College of William & Mary (Williamsburg) – The second oldest college in the United States, William & Mary is truly a historic spot in the center of the colonial city. The magnificent Wren Building – the work of acclaimed British architect Christopher Wren – is one of the architectural highlights. Completed in 1700, it is the oldest academic building to have been used uninterruptedly in the U.S. One of the campus’ most attractive spots was nearly scuttled in the “drawing board” stage. The Sunken Garden – a beautiful expanse of grass across the center of the school’s Old Campus – was designed in the early 1920s, but its development was delayed due to cost concerns. Fortunately, it got the go-ahead in the early 1930s and was finished in 1936. Crim Dell pond, with its trademark bridge, is another lovely green space that brings prettiness to the 1,200-acre grounds.

Lewis & Clark College (Portland) – Set at the top of a hill and surrounded by plentiful woods, the campus has a lot of beautiful scenery packed into its 137 acres. The school is focused around the rustic-looking Frank Manor House, originally completed in 1924 as a mansion with 35 rooms. The college purchased the surrounding estate in 1942; today, the Tudor-style manor house acts as a stunning campus cornerstone, with a waterfall and reflection pool on the rear terrace. Originally founded in 1867 as Albany Collegiate Institute (in Albany, Oregon), the school moved to Portland in 1938.

Point Loma Nazarene University (San Diego) – As well as offering gorgeous ocean vistas, this relatively tiny (just 90 acres) campus has an intriguing past: It was previously the site of a Theosophical commune named Lomaland. Many of the architectural elements date back to that time, including a stunning Greek theater – the first of its kind in North America, constructed in 1901. Completed that same year, the unusually shaped Mieras Hall acts as an eye-catching focal point, blending Victorian timber design with antiquated touches like a Corinthian-style column and an amethyst dome. Established as the Pacific Bible College in 1902, and undergoing various name changes during its history, the institute took over the Lomaland estate in 1973.

Rice University (Houston) – What the campus of Rice University lacks in size, it more than makes up for in lush green expanses and stunning wooded areas. Threaded through the grounds is the Lynn R. Lowrey Arboretum, a collection of more than 4,000 shrubs and trees that presents an idyllic backdrop for those who love to bask in the beauty of nature. As for its edifices, Rice has a number of splendid buildings, such as its iconic Lovett Hall, constructed in 1911. This Mediterranean-inspired stone and brick structure is named for Edgar Odell Lovett, who guided the creation of the university – carrying on the dream of entrepreneur William Marsh Rice. It was crafted to be a statement for the nascent institution – a bold assertion that Rice would be a serious intellectual and cultural force in Houston.

Southern Methodist University (Dallas) – According to its official website, Southern Methodist University “offers the tranquility of a 164-acre suburban campus with Neo-Georgian architecture, spacious lawns and tree-lined walkways.” Though the school was chartered in 1911, classes didn’t begin until 1915; its inaugural building, Dallas Hall, was dedicated around the same time. The grand Georgian style of the design was based on the historic – and equally beautiful – rotunda at the University of Virginia. Today, the hall remains a chief landmark of the school’s main campus in Dallas’ University Park.

Tulane University (New Orleans) – Tulane’s pretty campus in New Orleans has been on the National Register of Historic Places for more than 35 years – and it’s easy to see why: Graceful buildings in various different styles mix with beautiful green spaces like Gibson Quad. Grand oak trees can be seen in abundance. One of the most stunning architectural features is Gibson Hall – the first building on the school’s current location – completed in 1894 (the institution had been established as the Medical College of Louisiana 60 years earlier). Built in Richardsonian Romanesque style, Gibson Hall was named for confederate general Randall Lee Gibson. Today, it houses most of the senior level administration as well as the Office of Undergraduate Admission and the School of Continuing Studies.

University of Houston (Houston) – School’s been in since 1939 at the University of Houston’s beautiful 667-acre campus (though the institution was founded 12 years earlier as Houston Junior College, initially operating out of San Jacinto High School). Generations of students have been wowed by the leafy, sculpture-adorned grounds and the striking Art Deco-style Ezekiel W. Cullen Building. Completed in 1950, the building is made even more awe-inspiring by the surrounding Cullen Family Plaza. This outside space, which includes a fountain and reflecting pool, was dedicated in 1972. Another entrancing campus feature is Jim Sanborn’s sculpture, A Comma A, which features cut-out text from various literary sources, in different languages. At night, its text is projected onto the adjacent M.D. Anderson Library.

University of San Diego (San Diego) – A school that is both small (180 acres) and young (established in 1949), USD still has its share of architectural marvels. Chief among these is the magnificent Immaculata Church, a masterpiece of grandeur and beauty. Constructed by the Diocese of San Diego and receiving its dedication in 1959, it is truly something to admire, for people of any faith. Particularly noteworthy are the church’s opulent entrance – which boasts a door made out of solid bronze – and the Spanish-inspired touches, from the red-tiled roof to the mosaic-tiled dome. Many of the other buildings on campus also have a European flavor, thanks largely to a Spanish Renaissance architectural style that’s a living throwback to the 16th century.

University of Washington (Seattle) – Forbes says of the University of Washington’s Seattle campus: “Snow-capped mountain views in an urban setting is already a sweet deal. And in Seattle, the University of Washington offers this, and more.” While being able to see both the Olympic Mountains and Cascade Range from its 703-acre grounds is certainly a draw, there is beauty all over the site – from the cherry blossoms that grace the Quad in spring, to the imposing Tenino sandstone Denny Hall, designed in the French Renaissance Revival style. Opened for classes in 1895, Denny Hall acted as the hub of the new campus after it moved from downtown Seattle that same year. The school was originally established as the Territorial University of Washington in 1861.

University of Wisconsin-Madison (Madison) – For those who like sailing, windsurfing or wakeboarding, this campus is ideally placed – on 936 acres between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. Fans of elegant architecture can also get their fill with the likes of Bascom Hill – the main quad that combines Romanesque and Gothic elements. The quad is overlooked by Bascom Hall, a structure that opened its doors in 1859 and was described at the time by the Board of Regents as “the best building for educational purposes that has yet been erected in the West.” A botanic garden also adds a burst of natural splendor to the grounds, with more than 500 species of shrubs, trees and plants.

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