The leaves are changing, temperatures are dropping, and football is on TV. That can only mean one thing: School is in session. For lots of young adults, that means back to college—or maybe even stepping onto campus for the first time.
There are plenty of ways to rank colleges—from the quality of academics to the party scene. But we think an important—and often overlooked—metric is how healthy a university is.
We looked for schools where students don’t have to resort to eating chicken fingers and ramen every night—schools that go the extra mile to create an environment where students have access to not only healthy food but also top-notch fitness facilities, and robust medical and mental health services. And these 26 schools passed with flying colors. For more details on how we put together this list, scroll to the bottom.
Editor's note: This list is organized by geography but presented in no particular order of ranking.
Whitman College's cafe team cooks everything from scratch (meaning no MSG or preservatives) and serves food sourced from local farms. There's also a 7,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art climbing wall designed by Brien Sheedy (a mountain climber who scaled the seven highest points on each continent), as well as a bike share program that provides free 24-hour rentals. Did we mention the 10,000-square-foot fitness center with a 30-meter swimming pool? Whitman doesn’t skimp on health care either. Its center is staffed 24/7 and offers massage therapy, sports medicine, access to nutritionists, HIV testing, and even transportation for medical appointments.
UCI’s campus caters to people who love being outside. The school offers 71 sailing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboard classes at Marina Park, plus has dedicated bike paths to the main campus. Prefer indoor activities? UCI has you covered there too, with 300 classes ranging from belly dancing and indoor cycling to Paleo cooking and tae kwon do. It also has on-campus social workers, programs dedicated to helping victims of sexual assault, wellness workshops, and an LGBTQ mentoring program.
You know what's cool? Being into health since before it was cool. Such is the case with UC Davis. In addition to the usual special diet offerings (vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free), the dining halls also have low-microbial options. The campus has been bikeable for years—and was even recognized as a platinum-level Bicycle Friendly University by the League of American Bicyclists. There's also the Love Lab, a mobile cart stocked with free safe sex products; counseling services that help students with issues from career concerns to relationships; and an environmentally friendly food program that teaches undergrads about everything from mindful eating to home composting.
Perhaps it's this university's location in the valley of the majestic Wasatch and Oquirrh mountain ranges that inspires it to take extra-good care of planet Earth. The school composts all food waste, and uses only biodegradable food packaging, plates, and utensils made from compostable materials such as bamboo and corn byproducts. The University of Utah also has a Center for Student Wellness, which helps students stay healthy by educating them on a variety of topics like stress, sleep, and relationships.
College is stressful. And most students don’t have the budget for spa treatments. That's why we love that WashU makes it easy to find Zen among the chaos. The Olin Library hosts stress-free zones before final exams that include care packages, relaxation stations, and free back rubs. The school is also prioritizing healthier eating through its Bear Balance Movement, which aims to increase whole-food and plant-based options, limit fried foods, provide access to nutritionists, and more by 2017.
With a staff of 25 personal trainers at your fingertips, you’ll easily be able to avoid the freshman 15—or, alternatively, gain 15 pounds of muscle. Butler also hosts the Bulldog Jog, a philanthropic 5K that’s been running for 24 years straight. And the school takes a fun and down-to-earth approach to sexual health through Sex Signals, an improvisational, educational program about sex, and Get Yourself Tested (GYT) Tuesdays—you can probably guess what that entails.
This school's dining hall got an A rating from PETA for its extensive vegan options. Ohio University also has an on-campus registered dietitian who collaborates with the school’s chefs and marketing team to create health-focused informational posters. Not only that but the school publishes daily menus and always includes nutrition and allergen information. The fitness facility offers 50 free group classes including Zumba, yoga, boot camp, cycling, and more—and provides semester-long programs like Bobcat BarBelles, a women’s strength-training program, and a personal trainer certification prep course.
Indiana University offers a perk you won’t even find in most restaurants: vegan ice cream! And it doesn’t stop there. The school also has vegan soups, homemade hummus, and gluten-free sandwiches. Onto fitness: Students can choose from more than 80 workout classes per week, including cardio hip-hop, cardio kickboxing, and Zumba. There are also 10 basketball/volleyball courts, two weight rooms, and nine racquetball courts—and a large number of outdoor sports ranging from group activities like dodgeball to the individual-sport pinnacle: triathlon training.
The coolest club on campus is the Condom Club, a free service for students interested in safe sex. If you're more interested in, um, other types of physical activity, check out the Outdoor Adventure Center, which is home to a 4,000-square-foot, 35-foot-tall climbing and bouldering wall. Hardcore climbers can even take part in regular climbing clinics. The school also offers free consultations and nutrition advice from an on-campus dietitian. As if that wasn't enough, OSU is making major green strides and even has four LEED-certified buildings.
If you have a food allergy, the University of Dayton is right up your alley. The school has an A+ Room where vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free folks, and those allergic to everything under the sun can prepare a meal with safe food in a clean place. Dayton also has an on-site dietitian to answer any nutrition questions. Another major reason the university made our list is Green Dot, an intervention program that educates people on the warning signs of sexual assault, stalking, and similar issues. On a lighter note, Dayton offers fitness classes like P90X, and students can even rent outdoor equipment such as tents and sleeping bags for weekend getaways.
If you're a vegan, you're in luck: UND's online form lets students easily request a vegan entree option from 30 main dishes and 11 side dishes. Want to try your own hand at cooking? Culinary Corner is an instructional kitchen with healthy-eating classes. UND didn't forget about drug and alcohol education, either: Its What’s Your Buzz app uses beer goggles and Mario Kart to show the effects of drunk driving.
Clemson has a truly holistic approach to healthy living. Two great examples are its safe rides program, which provides transportation after dark, and its 90-minute peer-led health classes, which cover a wide range of topics such as drinking and stress. Activities range from group fitness classes (think Tabata and barre) to outdoor adventures (whitewater kayaking, snowboarding, and hiking).
The school's close proximity to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center certainly influences Vanderbilt's focus on health. Students can visit the Medical Center for everything from routine care to specialized issues such as dermatology and sports medicine. What’s more, the university recognizes that good health starts with a good diet—and has a campus dining app to prove it. In addition to accommodating dietary restrictions, Vanderbilt sources local and organic foods whenever possible. To top it all off, students can sign up for 60-minute food classes that tackle topics from snacking to cooking in your dorm.
The Sunshine State's beautiful weather isn’t the only thing that keeps students active on campus. UCF has just about every single fitness facility you can imagine, plus an outdoor adventure center; a challenge course complete with not one, but two zip lines; and a rec area at Lake Claire with beach volleyball. Translation: Physical activity is always fun, never a chore. If you’re into group experiences, you can bank on epic events like yoga under the stars, a midnight 5K, or an 80s aerobic dance party. And UCF won't just serve you healthy meals; it'll make nutritious eating a lifelong habit with cooking demonstrations, free appointments with registered dietitians, and classes like healthy meals on a budget.
Nutrition is one of the top health concerns on campus at UNF, so the school created the Healthy Osprey Eat Well campaign, a year-long movement that promotes good eating habits and a wholesome diet, provides access to a registered dietitian, and offers other programs and resources to help students stay fit and healthy. Speaking of fit, you won’t ever feel gym-timidated here. The fitness center's Cozy Corner has the feel of an approachable boutique studio.
Two words: belly dancing. Yep, the University of Louisville has a class that teaches traditional belly dancing moves mixed with modern pop, R&B, and hip-hop music. So, yeah, you can check that one off the list. Louisville also offers more traditional fitness, with four to five classes per day and options like barre, cycling, power yoga, and HIIT. Something that everyone should try is the enhanced yoga class. Instructors work with student musicians to create the music- and relaxation-focused session. There’s also the U-Fit Program, which provides peer coaching, fitness assessments, workout recommendations, and—ooh—a free t-shirt!
This Southern school has appeared on our list four out of the last five years, so we know UT Austin is a well-rounded, healthy university. But what makes it truly stand out is its understanding of the modern college student. For example, UT Austin speaks to students where they are: on their phones. Its Healthyhorns TXT program, which sends subscribers short texts with general health tips and other info about campus events, physical activity, nutrition, sleep, alcohol, and stress management. On social media? UT Austin is too. Students can get weekly healthy eating tips from the @UTexasDining Twitter account. Above all, the school listens to its students: The Housing and Food Service added 42 new vegan entrées to the fall 2016 menus per their request.
Oklahoma State is on par with the other schools on this list when it comes to nutrition, fitness, and mental health. But what's really worth mentioning is Camp Redlands. For cowboys and -girls with an adventurous side, the Camp is located just 10.5 miles from campus and features 12 cabins, a lodge, pavilion, swimming dock, picnic area, and a high- and low-ropes course with a zip line. Animal lovers take note: The OSU pet therapy program, which includes numerous adorable pups, helps with students' emotional wellness.
UMD has an extensive amount of resources to handle mental health and sexual education. The most notable is CARE to Stop Violence, which offers confidential counseling and services for people impacted by rape, relationship violence, and stalking. UMD is also serious about food, with a kosher meal plan and Terp Farm, a sustainable farm that grows produce for the entire campus. If you’re into fitness, the university has three indoor recreation facilities, multiple outdoor spaces, and aquatic centers (one of which has a sauna!).
Last year Rice made our list due, in part, to its top-notch sexual health resources. The school's Project SAFE offers classes on Title IX rights, romantic relationships, and sexuality, as well as bystander, sexual, and domestic violence prevention education. But what’s new this year is the Rice medical insurance plan, which enables students to receive preventive vaccines for things such as HPV and meningitis B for free (reimbursed through Aetna). Plus the plan provides next-day STD test results for HIV and syphilis.
NC State was the first U.S. university to complete the Healthier Campus Initiative of the Partnership for a Healthier America. What exactly does that mean? Basically that the school met 23 guidelines around nutrition, physical activity, and programming. NC State is also using technology to make healthy food choices even easier with QR codes containing nutrition and allergen info, MyFitnessPal listings for all campus menu items, and iPad stations in every dining hall to help with allergy concerns. And with more than 3,700 fitness and wellness activities (and that doesn’t include team sports, intramurals, or outdoor activities), there’s no shortage of options.
UNC Wilmington has a student recreation center that rivals the coolest big city gyms. The 160,000-square-foot, two-story center is a state-of-the-art facility that includes basketball courts, indoor soccer, team handball, a three-lane indoor track, and rock-climbing wall. But wait, there’s more: a cardiovascular floor equipped with treadmills, ellipticals, and bikes. UNCW offers vegan, gluten-free, vegetarian, pescatarian, organic, locally farmed, and seasonal dietary options across all 16 dining locations. The campus also has the mental health scene covered with relationship counseling, crisis management, substance abuse help, and even drop-in meditation.
On our list for the second year in a row, Binghamton just keeps getting better. The school is opening a new 140-bed health and wellness community in fall 2016. The all-freshman facility will include yoga and exercise studios, bicycle desks, meditation alcoves, and a kitchen-classroom space. Students will be able to take wellness and nutrition classes and sign up for cooking demos, workouts, and ropes course challenges.
Here's a fun acronym: CHEW—Scranton's Center for Health Education and Wellness, which offers cooking and wellness classes—and even has an on-campus Weight Watchers group. Student educators run health challenges and events such as Mental Health Awareness Week and Healthier U Day, as well as lead sessions to educate students on alcohol, drugs, sexual health, and sexual assault. CHEW also provides 55 booze-free events per year through Late Night at Scranton.
Cal U’s draw is its extensive fitness facilities. Think two cardio theaters, two gyms, a golf simulator, and a 33-foot-high rock climbing wall. There are 45 fitness classes to choose from per week—yoga, boot camp, circuit training, and even booty building. Like most of the colleges on this list, Cal U takes food allergies seriously and has a safe zone, which is free of all eight major allergens and has a staff to help students find meals that work for them—and don’t send them into anaphylactic shock.
The only school to make our list for the fifth consecutive year, Bowdoin continues to impress with its consistent focus on healthy food. Not only do its dining services cater to a variety of preferences and restrictions (vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, and soy-free), but the resulting food is so delicious, you’ll want to put it on your tray regardless of your diet. Bowdoin also offers monthly nutrition education (think foods that help your brain, wild caught vs. farm raised). If students want to know even more about their food, they can work in the school’s organic garden or take part in Meet What You Eat, a collaborative program where students learn about food-related issues like sustainability.
How We Ranked the Colleges
We took all the schools that made last year’s list and asked our readers to submit additional nominations via social media. We rounded out our list of nominations by looking at schools in the top 20 of Trojan’s Sexual Health Report Card; those included in The Princeton Review’s lists for best campus food, best health services, best athletic facilities, best quality of life, and happiest students; and the American College of Health Association's Healthy Campus Partners.
From there, we sent each nominated school a questionnaire asking about its dining services, fitness facilities, student mental and sexual health care, and alcohol education and policies. Our rankings take into account many criteria, including but not limited to special dietary options on dining hall menus, number of fitness classes offered, and available mental health resources. After rating each college or university, we whittled down the list to the top 26 you see here.
Do you feel like we missed a school? Feel free to send us an email and we’ll consider the college for next year’s ranking.