The 25 Healthiest Colleges in the U.S.
With the end of the school year drawing near, we’ve rounded up the healthiest schools across America. We’re praising the top 25 colleges committed to creating the best environment for leading a fit, healthy, and happy life. Find out if you’ll be returning to one of the healthiest colleges in America come fall, and learn about the food, fitness facilities, health services (and more) that made the cut. Scroll to the bottom for the in-depth deets on our ranking process.
1. Bowdoin College
There are no “good” or “bad” foods in Bowdoin’s dining halls — everything is fine if eaten in moderation! Stealing the number one slot on the Princeton Review’s "best food" list, Bowdoin’s dining services offer healthy, delicious, wholesome meals, including everything from pear and parsnip soup to polenta cakes with spicy tomato chutney, to spicy lentil tacos. Though it’s relatively small compared to other schools on this list, Bowdoin offers a wide array of fitness classes each week including yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, and meditation at The Wellness Center. Bowdoin also holds seminars, workshops, and retreats centered on everything from integrative medicine, acupuncture, and massage, to reflexology (for students and staff interested in an alternative approach to health). At the Peter Buck Center for Health and Fitness (which opened in 2009) students can get their fitness on with brand new gym equipment.
2. Stanford University
With more than 8,000 acres of gorgeous campus, Stanford kids have ample space to enjoy the outdoors (likely one of the reasons Stanford’s received positive press for having some really happy students). The school's dining halls feature seasonal foods free of artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners, and trans fats. With the school’s new 10-Weeks to a Fitter You program, students can access fitness coaches to get personalized assistance with getting more fit in a fairly short amount of time. And we can’t fail to mention Stanford’s coolest club sports team — dragonboat — the water sport consisting of 20 paddlers, one drummer, one steersperson, and some major camaraderie.
3. Virginia Tech
To get students moving after hours of sitting through lectures, Virginia Tech created an incentive program based on exercise routines created by personal trainers at the rec center. Students keep track of workouts, then the people who log the most workouts win fun prizes including a free personal training package, a group exercise pass, or a free fitness assessment. The food’s not too shabby either, with healthy options such as grilled salmon, char-grilled tuna Nicoise, and unique pizzas like tomato and fig with balsamic or sweet potato and onion. And the healthy eats aren’t limited to VT’s dining halls: In 2009, VT created the "Y.E.S. (You’re Eating Smarter) to Go" program for healthier grab-n-go options at one of the campus’s convenience stores. And for extra (healthy) brownie points, students praise Virginia Tech for its quality of food, too.
4. Rice University
Ranked by the Princeton Review as the school with the happiest students, Rice attendees have a lot to smile about. One thing Rice dining halls don’t lack: veggies (and we don’t mean the bland, previously-frozen kind). Rice offers a slew of healthy (but still super flavorful) options such as marinated tofu with jicama, yucca fries, turmeric potatoes, and chickpea masala. The school also ranks on College Prowler’s top ten list for schools with the best intramural sports — so in case normal water polo doesn’t suffice, students can try out Rice’s inner tube water polo intramural team (where do we sign up?!).
5. Washington University in St. Louis
Wash U, as it's known on the street, caters to its students' healthier sides with its Studio40 kitchen — a hands-on program that offers healthy eating cooking classes and chef demonstrations in a demo kitchen, all using fresh, sustainable fair. Menus focus on helping students consume more fruits, veggies, and whole grains. And when students are in a health-food coma, they can retire to their cushy digs — The Princeton Review named the dorms at Washington University in St. Louis number one in the country. Despite busy schedules, the South 40 Fitness Center is open for more than 100 hours per week, so students can squeak in a workout morning, day, or night.
6. Brown University
Brown’s got impressive health services and resources available to its students. Snagging the number two slot on Trojan’s 2012 sexual health report card, Brown was recognized for having accessible sexual health resources including positive reviews of the health center by students, condom availability, health awareness programs for students, and STI testing on campus. Beyond excellent health services, Brown’s dining services contain everything from a crepe bar (don’t worry, the fruit makes it a healthier option) to a “roots and shoots” line full of vegetarian, vegan, and locally grown food. The school was even awarded a “real food pioneers” award by the 2011 Real Food Awards.
7. Wheaton College
Wheaton’s student health services is especially accommodating, providing a free shuttle service for students to get to and from off-campus medical appointments. Students can even see a health services nurse without an appointment beforehand, free of charge. Wheaton’s all about serving healthy food, too, while also making sustainable choices with the leftovers. The school’s coffee grounds and eggshells are used as fertilizer for Wheaton’s greenhouse, and food scraps head over to a local pig farm. Wheaton is committed to fresh, made-from-scratch chow. Each week, Wheaton chefs produce 120 gallons of fat-free plain and assorted flavored yogurts using milk sourced from a local farm; burgers are hand made with local beef and turkey; and mozzarella cheese used for pizzas is locally sourced and hand grated.
8. Cornell University
With more than 30 places to grab grub on campus, Cornell has got a lot of food (but it’s healthy, too). Students can look out for the “eating well” apple icon on menus to easily spot whole-grain, trans fat-free, low-fat, low-sugar, and reduced-sodium options. Cornell makes sure to contribute to Mother Earth’s health too: In 2012, Cornell dining services was awarded a STARS gold rating for sustainability. And when it’s time for a sweet treat, students can enjoy ice cream made from milk produced right on campus at the school's dairy farms.
9. University of Massachusetts, Amherst
At the forefront of fitness trends, UMass Amherst offers classes in Tabata training, P90X, and reggae-tone (see what they did there?). UMass is also home to UFIT, a 10-week class designed to help participants shed a few pounds and — most importantly — maintain a healthy lifestyle. The class provides a free pedometer and fitness log book to keep track of individualized workout programs. The best part: the class fosters a positive environment (with major motivation from peers) plus discussions on exercise, nutrition, and healthy living. And UMass Amherst dining hall menus look more like fancy-schmancy restaurants than less-than-desirable cafeteria grub. (We’re talking crabmeat quiche, curried chickpeas and quinoa, barley roasted tomato risotto, a sushi bar, and a standalone vegetarian station.)
10. Bryn Mawr College
With the number one residential facilities on the Princeton Review’s “dorms like palaces” list, Bryn Mawr students not only live like queens, they dine like them too. This itty-bitty school isn’t lacking in the dining department — pesto pea salad with pine nuts, Caribbean bean salad, and chili Brazilian carrots. Bryn Mawr even holds sustainability dinners with options such as cream of wild mushroom soup, roasted root veggies, and sweet and crunchy quinoa salad. It’s not just about tasty food at Bryn Mawr. The school’s Fit Club encourages students, faculty, and staff to achieve their healthiest selves with free drop-in group exercise classes and events such as the National Eating Disorders Awareness Walk and the Cycle-a-thon benefit.
11. University of Chicago
With nearly 40 options for club sports — including less common ones such as tang soo do, kendo, and genkikai ki-aikido (try saying those three times fast) — the University of Chicago offers tons of fun ways to get moving. For those who’d rather not join a club team, the 150,000 square foot Gerald Ratner Athletics Center, is filled with scores of cardio equipment, weight machines, and free weights.
12. James Madison University
In the pursuit of reducing its ecological footprint, JMU is on top of sustainability efforts with a successful composting program. Biodegradable bags collect waste in the East Campus Dining Hall, which is then used as fertilizer. Having been named on the Princeton Review’s top five list for colleges with the best food for five years running, JMU dining services provides tons of options — vegan, locally grown, steamed, baked not fried, sodium conscious, naturally sweet, gluten-free. Beyond the basics (soccer, basketball), the school also offers Battleship as an intramural sport, where students attempt to sink each other’s canoes in the super intense team competition.
13. Claremont McKenna College
Claremont McKenna has got student happiness on lock with a 96-percent retention rate, plus incredible food and housing. If lentil and apricot soup or shrimp paella doesn’t do it for you, take solace in Claremont McKenna’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint: All the school’s salsas, pizza sauce, stocks, and dressings are made from scratch on campus. Extra health points: The dining halls skip out on foods that contain MSG or trans fats, and all meats are antibiotic and growth hormone-free.
Nabbing the top spot on the 2011 Princeton Review’s best health services list, UCLA works to provide accessible healthcare and health-related resources to its students with online appointment booking, specialty clinics, educational events, and even acupuncture and chair massage. UCLA stays on top of sustainability with beef-less Thursdays, tray-free dining, and a composting program. With 48 club sports, including quidditch, power-lifting, surfing, and triathlon, plus 30 intramural sport leagues, this school’s got plenty of options to help students get out of the dorm and into the killer LA weather. The athletic class selection isn’t too shabby either — hoola hoop and conditioning, pop diva, bhangra, bollywood, kayaking, and windsurfing. For students who’d rather take advantage of California’s great weather, the Outdoor Adventures Center offers bike rentals and wilderness outings like kayaking trips, hikes to hidden hot springs, and overnight camping at Yosemite.
15. Yale University
Filled with some of the happiest students according to Newsweek, Yale attendees make time to hit the fields and courts with more than 40 club sports and 30 intramurals. Fitness classes here aren’t just yoga and kickboxing. Instead, say hello to sailing, West African dance, and capoiera. Another plus to attending this school: Yale’s health care plan provides students with full access to the Yale Health Network, which includes everything from nutrition counseling and mental health counseling to flu shots and physical exams at no charge.
16. Vanderbilt University
The school’s new multipurpose fitness facility and expansion of the rec center are in the works, and set to be completed by the end of the year. The new state-of-the-art facility will increase recreation space by 160,000 square feet. But in the meantime, students can try out group fitness classes using the latest trends in fitness equipment “kettlebell chaos,” “BOSU 2 Express,” and “on a roll” (which uses a foam roller). Vanderbilt’s recently launched Healthy Bites initiative focuses on three primary areas: healthy eating, healthy catering, and healthy vending options with fewer sugary beverages, plus snacks including air-popped chips, protein bars, apple slices, and celery sticks (in refrigerated machines).
17. Oberlin College
Oberlin’s menus include icons such as low carbon, certified organic, gluten-free, house-made, and farm-to-fork. The Simple 600 Station at Stevenson Dining Hall serves only foods that total fewer than 600 calories with balanced portions of whole grains, fresh vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fast. Vegan house-made black bean burgers, poblano brown rice and beans, portabella and white bean cassoulet make the cut.
18. University of Georgia
With 69 Loyal E. Horton Dining awards for excellence and the National Restaurant Association’s Great Menu Design Award under its belt, the University of Georgia’s food services knows what’s up. For healthy grub between classes, students can head to the Eating Smart Line at Bolton Dining Commons where each entrée and side contains fewer than 30 percent of its calories from fat. The Build Your Plate function on the University of Georgia’s dining services site makes it easy to calculate nutritional info for each item found in the dining hall. GORP, which stands for Georgia Outdoor Recreation Program (no, not this stuff), provides fun, hands on instructional opportunities including climbing, kayaking, hang gliding, and rafting for students who want to take a break from the daily grind.
19. Boston University
At BU’s Sargent Choice Nutrition Center, chefs whip up recipes featuring whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean proteins, heart-healthy oils, and tons of fruit and veggies. Students then taste test the creations before they hit the dining hall menus. Some of the latest offerings include yellow gazpacho soup with spicy shrimp, pear carpaccio, shrimp and mango salad with whole-wheat couscous and summer vegetables, and heart-healthy oatmeal raisin cookies. The school also hosts special themed meals, like lobster night, as well as a visiting chef series. Vegetarian-friendly meals make up 80 percent of the dining hall menus, and vegans aren’t left without a good meal, either. And with more than 100 phys ed classes offered per semester and more than 7,000 students participating in intramurals, BU kids find time to get fit with peers.
20. Columbia University
More than half of Columbia’s dining food expenditures go toward local, organic, or otherwise environmentally preferable food, and all bakery and grab-and-go sandwiches are purchased from local vendors. To top that off, 50 percent of meals served in the dining halls are vegetarian. As far as fitness goes, Columbia provides resources and tools to set goals and monitor progress with CU Move. The free initiative promotes healthful living with motivational email updates, incentives (including fitness gear), and free or low-cost events — walks, run, ice skating, kayaking — in the Big Apple. For burning health questions, students can turn to Go Ask Alice and expect reliable information from a team of CU health promotion specialists, health care providers, and other health professionals.
21. Colby College
Colby’s dining services made the 2011 top 10 Trends list (published by the National Restaurant Association) in recognition for locally sourced meats, seafood, produce, and sustainability efforts. Colby has a student-run organic garden and a local farmer even uses Colby’s recycled fryer oil as fuel to power his farm equipment (talk about green!). The school is also home to iPlay, a program that encourages teamwork between friends and healthy competition between residence halls without the commitment of joining a sports’ team — no practices, and games generally held only once a week.
22. Georgetown University
Chock full of happy students, according to Newsweek’s happiness ranking, Georgetown’s dining services works with the CampusDish app so students can access up-to-date nutritional and ingredient info for each day’s menu items. And sports aren’t only for the traditionally athletic around here, either — they offer classes like swimming or tennis for beginners, or a complete introduction to racquetball or ballroom dance. At the Yates Field House, Georgetown students can hit up the standards — pool, courts, track, and a cardio and weights space — as well as the lesser common indoor golf practice facility and racquetball courts.
23. St. Olaf College
St. Olaf’s food service program specializes in fresh, local food prepared from scratch. While many U.S. college dining halls feature old standbys such as grilled cheese, burgers, and pizza, St. Olaf takes the time to explore different cuisines including Indian, Mexican, and Thai. Though they’ve still got the grilled cheese, St. Olaf offers dishes like North African spiced chicken with cilantro cucumber yogurt sauce, seitan sloppy joes with pineapple cole slaw, and gado gado (an Indonesian dish consisting of vegetables and a peanut sauce).
24. Scripps College
Scripps dining services challenges students’ taste buds with dishes like tuna and salmon marinated in sake, sweet potato-pumpkin tart, and persimmon dressing. Scripps’ drop-in group fitness classes are open and free to students (unlike many other schools). Healthy Lifestyles, a new program on campus, provides workshops, seminars, and events to address women’s health issues such as nutrition, weight management, binge drinking, body image, and healthy fitness habits.
25. Tufts University
Tufts dining halls are chock full of organic stuff — whole-wheat pasta, legumes, whole grains, tofu, granola, and peanut butter — to name a few. And at the beans, greens, and grains station, students can fill up on healthy fair. With its F.I.T. (Fitness and Individual Development) program, Tufts is committed to introducing freshmen to fitness, wellness, and nutritional programs offered at the school. Students can even book five free personal training sessions at the gym.
How We Ranked
We completed a rigorous scoring process to rank these schools. Starting with nominations from our readers through social media and reader suggestions from last year’s list, we scoured the web for any mention of schools with exceptional food, fitness facilities, health services, killer health and fitness initiatives, and happy students. We then consulted student surveys from College Prowler and The Princeton Review and examined each school’s website to get the nitty gritty details on more than 100 schools.
From there, we scored each school for its dining services (and awards), fitness facilities, health services, happiness rankings, and health and fitness initiatives. Our scale took into account everything from dining hall menus and sustainability of ingredients, to the number of club and intramural sports, fitness class offerings and accessibility, campus acreage, and dorm satisfaction. Finally, we whittled it down to the 25 schools you see here.
Of course, there’s no perfect way to generate a perfectly precise list for the simple fact that the definition of healthy can differ from person to person. While locally sourced food may be more important to some than state-of-the-art fitness facilities, we are confident in our extensively researched ranking system. If this list is lacking a school you feel strongly belongs on it, please feel more than free to suggest colleges for next year’s ranking!
Is there a college you think we missed? What does your alma mater do to encourage healthy habits?
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