The Top-15 Most Physically Fit Colleges in America

See why we named Stanford University the fittest college in the nation. (photo: Facebook.com/Stanford)
See why we named Stanford University the fittest college in the nation. (photo: Facebook.com/Stanford)

The dreaded “freshman 15?” It’s a myth at these 15 colleges that provide an aggregate of programs to help students maintain their health and fitness. Get to know some of the fittest universities in America, where students know that playing sports, going outside, making time for the gym and eating well are just as important as focusing on academics. Can we be students at each of these schools for just a week, please?

15. Wabash College

Crawfordsville, Indiana

photos: Wabash.edu, Facebook.com/WabashCollegeNews

The motto at this men’s college with an enrollment of 900 students is “Wabash Always Fights,” and whether on the football field, the disc golf course or the rec center basketball courts, the Wabash Little Giants are constantly competing. An astounding 40 percent of the student body plays varsity sports (more than 180 conference and national championship titles to date) and 80 percent of students are involved in intramurals. With athletic facilities that are ranked 11th best in the country by The Princeton Review, it’s no wonder Wabash men love spending time in the gym, which includes a 7,000-square-foot weights and aerobics center. But most importantly? Wabash men have bragging rights for the lead in one of the oldest rivalries in college football history. Ask them about the Monon Bell.

14. Southern Methodist University

Dallas, Texas

photos: SMU.edu, Blog.SMU.edu

The students on this tree-lined, white-columned campus report being some of the happiest collegians in the country, and we think it has something to do with how much they love to exercise. With gorgeous green lawns and a superb athletic facility, Southern Methodist University is both the perfect place to play a pick-up game of frisbee or work out at the cardio center overlooking the Dallas skyline. At SMU, students can choose between 30 intramural sports; go on off-campus excursions, like caving and paddle boarding; and spend time at the gym, where amenities include four basketball courts, a 14-foot climbing wall and smoothie café. Students can also sign up with a personal trainer through the university. Sounds like a fitness fanatic’s paradise.

13. Kenyon College

Gambier, Ohio

In a secluded, rural setting surrounded by fall foliage and gothic architecture sits one of the nation’s most modern athletic facilities. The Kenyon Athletic Center encompasses a six-lane indoor track, set of award-winning Deco-Turf tennis courts and 19-lane Olympic-size pool, home to the Kenyon Lords swim team, who holds a record 34 NCAA Championships. The gym not only benefits the 30 percent of Kenyon students who compete in varsity athletics, but also those who play club sports or participate in free workout classes like “Not-Your-Momma’s-Spin Class” and “Guts, Butts and Chicken Wings.” Seriously: Where can we sign up?

12. Middlebury College

Middlebury, VT

Photos: Colleges.StartClass.com, Facebook.com/MiddleburyCollegeYogaClub

With 31 national championships to its name, Middlebury rules supreme when it comes to sports, and the school ranks fifth on Niche’s list for “Best Non-D1 Colleges for Student Athletes.” While nearly 30 percent of the student body participates in varsity sports, an additional number play at the intramural and club level. There’s even a log rolling club, which sounds more challenging than any weight-room workout. Students are also outdoor aficionados, and enjoy skiing or working at the school’s organic farm, which helps provide some of the locally sourced produce offered in the dining hall. Middlebury: proving that crunchy-granola jocks exist.

11. University of Massachusetts Amherst

Amherst, Massachusetts

photos: HerCampus.com, Facebook.com/Pages/U-Mass-Campus-Recreation

Come winter it’s freezing cold in Amherst, but that doesn’t stop UMass students from going to the gym. The school offers more than 40 intramural leagues, a variety of group fitness classes, personal training packages and sport clubs, including bicycle racing, Alpine skiing and baseball. Campus recreation staff also provide students with health and fitness tips through its blog, Be Well UMass, which includes articles like, “What to Expect When Signing Up for Personal Training,” and “What’s Wrong With Your Squat?” The university’s award-winning dining hall also allows students to make healthy choices with meal plans that have been certified for their commitment to nutrition and sustainability. A typical dinner entrée might include carved local roast turkey and sautéed kale. Sounds better than most post-grad diets.

10. Colorado College

Colorado Springs, CO

photos: Facebook.com/ColoradoCollege

Can you imagine getting a four-day long weekend every three and a half weeks? That’s the reality at Colorado College, where the unique block schedule is designed for students to take one class at a time every month. So what do students do during that hiatus? Backpack through the Rocky Mountains, ski in Aspen, climb, cycle, kayak or practice ice broomball, perhaps the most interesting intramural at any college in America. And yes, the school offers more traditional sports, too, and has been ranked by The Princeton Review for best intramurals for 20 out of the last 25 years. So sporty.

9. University of Arizona

Tucson, Arizona

photos: Facebook.com/UArizona, Facebook.com/UACampusRec

Tucson, Arizona, sees an average of 286 sunny days per year, so it makes sense that University of Arizona students love being outside. Outdoor programs include wilderness yoga and moonlit hikes, and among the school’s unique club sports teams and intramurals are Quidditch, synchronized swimming and pool battleship league (attempting to sink teams of canoes using buckets of water — sounds fun?) The university also helps students achieve their fitness goals through HealthyU, a program that includes mobile apps for reporting nutrition and workout goals, fun and motivational challenges and other resources for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Again, sounds easy with nearly year-round sunshine.

8. Clemson University

Clemson, South Carolina

photos: Facebook.com/ClemsonUniv, Facebook.com/ClemsonCampusRec

Clemson University makes choosing health easy for its students. Campus dining is committed to serving  meals with less sodium and fat and offering more local and sustainable options. Food lines are labeled with easy-to-read nutritional information and for further guidance, students are encouraged to download the MyFitnessPal app and track calories on their smartphone. Campus recreation allows students to choose between a range of exercise options, from personal and small group training with nationally-certified instructors to outdoor excursions in the snowy mountains of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. But why would you ever want to leave?

7. Bowdoin College

Brunswick, Maine

photos: Facebook.com/Bowdoin, SailingWorld.com

Few collegians can say they maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet. But At Bowdoin College, ramen meals are replaced by nutritious dining hall options like spicy lentil tacos, thai cabbage salad and African vegetable stew. In addition to boasting one of the country’s coolest cafeterias, Bowdoin has one of the largest athletics programs in the nation with 31 varsity sports, including sailing, ice hockey and Nordic skiing. Bowdoin Bears also enjoy being active through the college’s 300-member Outing Club, which offers more than 100 excursions per year, from sea kayaking off the coast of Maine to 75-mile bike rides through the countryside. When do they find time to do schoolwork?

6. Rice University

Houston, Texas

photos: Michael Paulsen for HoustonChronicle.com, Facebook.com/RiceRec

At Rice, fitness isn’t just a priority, it’s a graduation requirement. All students must complete one course in the university’s Lifetime Physical Activity Program, in place since the school was founded in 1912. Class offerings include pilates, tennis, weight training and, for the bold, Middle Eastern dance. Additionally, students can take advantage of working with a personal trainer, running the Flying Owls 5k, joining a cardio or yoga class, and participating in R.O.P.E., Rice’s outdoor education program that hosts activities like Friday night rock climbing and takes trips to the Grand Canyon. Seems like the Rice Owls are fit as well as wise. Hoot, hoot.

5. Scripps College

Claremont, California

photos: Flickr.com/Photos/ScrippsCollege

The some 950 women who attend Scripps College not only have access to their own 24,000-ft rec center, but also all the fitness facilities belonging to the five colleges in the Claremont consortium. That’s a total of five swimming pools, 12 athletic fields and more cardio machines than we’re willing to count. Scripps gals can also rent bikes, work with a personal trainer or take group exercise classes for free. And when it comes to eating healthy, the Scripps dining hall staff provides a variety of fresh options for students, including vegan, vegetarian and locally sourced meals. Recently, Buzzfeed rated the school No. 1 on its list of “10 College Dining Halls That Will Make You Want to Transfer.” We’re jealous.

4. University of Texas at Austin

Austin, Texas

photos: Facebook.com/UTRecSports

The University of Texas is located in one of the fittest cities in America, where students can take advantage of Austin’s ample parkland and waterfront for biking, running, kayaking and paddle boarding. Perhaps that’s what inspires so many UT students to pursue majors in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, which was ranked the third best health and fitness program in the nation by College Factual. In addition, Texas Longhorns dominate the athletic fields, landing them accolades like “Best Colleges for Male Athletes” and “Best Colleges for Student Athletes.” Not at the DI level? No problem; the school also has 43 club sports teams and eight intramural leagues. Hook ’em.

3. University of Georgia

Athens, Georgia

photos: Facebook.com/UGA, Facebook.com/UGARecSports

Down in Dixieland, the students at the University of Georgia are staying active and healthy through their dining options, extracurricular activities and academic programs. With services offered like one-on-one nutrition counseling, a course in eating healthy as well as ample vegan and vegetarian options, it’s no wonder UGA students gave their school an A+ rating for campus food. The Dawgs like to stay active through their 48 club sports teams, group fitness classes and the Outdoor Recreation Center, which offers trips like scuba diving, backpacking and sunrise yoga. Additionally, in 2012, the university was given a $1.7 million grant to ameliorate Georgia’s obesity epidemic, and currently, 13 academic departments are involved in the project through both cutting-edge research and community outreach. No surprise then that the school landed on College Factual’s list for best colleges for majors in health and physical fitness. It’s not all football and frat parties in Athens, y’all.

2. United States Military Academy

West Point, New York

photos: Facebook.com/WestPointUSMA

West Point sits at the top of college ranking lists like “Best Athletic Facilities,” “Everyone Plays Intramural Sports” and “Best Colleges for Student Athletes.” Through the department of physical education, cadets can take classes like snowboarding, skiing and rock climbing and participate in intramural athletics twice a week. In addition to offering 24 intercollegiate sports teams, West Point has 29 competitive club sports teams, including powerlifting, triathlon and water polo. Facilities include five gyms and three swimming pools. Need we mention that all students go through military training?

1. Stanford University

Stanford, California

photos: Facebook.com/Stanford

Not only are Stanford students stellar academics, they’re also active, athletic and healthy. The school was voted “Most Vegan Friendly College” by peta2 and named “Best Outdoor School” by Best College Reviews for its gorgeous 8,000-acre campus and outing program that includes camping in Yosemite and courses in windsurfing. Stanford was also named the second best college for student athletes by Niche and one of the best colleges for intramurals and athletic facilities by The Princeton Review. Students can partake in highly competitive club sports like hurling and polo or play intramurals for fun, including team bouldering, inner tube water polo and sand volleyball. Or you could just work out by riding a bike around this palm tree-studded campus. With 18,000 bike rack spaces, there’s plenty of parking.

How We Ranked

We looked at factors such as number of club sports offered, intramural and varsity sport participation, workout facilities and amenities, campus dining choices, outdoor recreation options and university-wide wellness programs. We also checked lists relating to health and fitness from college ranking sites, including the Princeton Review, College Factual, Best College Reviews and Niche. Disclaimer: We fully realize lists like this can be kind of arbitrary, but nevertheless we applaud the schools above for doing big things when it comes to the well-being of their students. You're awesome; keep up the good work.

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