Not all colleges let students have a car on campus, but if you’re busy with classes, jobs, internships, or volunteer commitments, having a car at college can make your life a whole lot easier. The key to getting the right car, however, is a lot like finding the right college. You’ve got to match the characteristics of the institution. We took a look at some of the most popular colleges on the U.S. News site and found cars with the potential to not just fit in on campus, but also enrich a student’s experience there.
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University of Florida
With affordable in-state tuition and a sprawling campus in the suburbs of Gainesville, the University of Florida practically begs students to bring a car to campus. But, you need to make sure the car you bring allows you to take advantage of everything UF has to offer, from nationally ranked athletic programs to Greek life to internships. You’ll also want to be sure that the car you bring takes advantage of the Florida sunshine. The Mini Cooper Convertible won’t make you skimp on books to afford gas, and has a meter that tracks how many hours you spend with the top down. The Jeep Wrangler isn’t a traditional convertible, but with its removable top, you’ll still be able to work on your tan as you head to class. Plus, the Wrangler has plenty of space for passengers and tailgating gear.
University of Michigan—Ann Arbor
The University of Michigan—Ann Arbor is only 45 minutes from downtown Detroit, so don’t even think about showing up behind the wheel of an import. Freshmen aren’t required to live on campus, so you can roll up in the best the Big Three has to offer from Day One. With more than 900 student organizations (not including the Greek system), a car that can keep up with your busy schedule while handling Michigan winters is a must. The GMC Terrain is a capable crossover that has plenty of room for passengers and gear and an unusually long list of standard features for the price. Its lockable center console can hold a laptop, making it easy to stash your study gear before going to club meetings. The Ford Fusion is a midsize sedan with top safety scores, available all-wheel drive and high tech features like Ford’s Sync system, which gives you traffic, weather, and even sports scores–key info for any Wolverine fan.
University of California—Berkeley
Nestled above the San Francisco Bay, a car isn’t a necessity at UC—Berkeley, especially since students are guaranteed housing for their first two years. Berkeley has more than 700 student groups, though, so a car to transport you and your friends around the Bay Area for volunteer work and to watch the Golden Bears take on Stanford University might be nice to have. In ultra-green Berkley, you’ll want to skip the gas-guzzling SUVs and go for a car like the 50-mpg Toyota Prius. To save some cash, go for the tiny and maneuverable Mazda2, which should make short work of San Francisco’s cramped, curvy roads while still getting 33 mpg on the highway. Just make sure you spring for the automatic transmission on the Mazda2. On San Francisco’s hills, you’ll be glad you did.
[See U.S. News’s 2012 Best Colleges rankings]
Cornell University stands out by offering students the opportunity to participate in a number of interdisciplinary studies, including nanotechnology and genomics. While a car isn’t required to take advantage of all Cornell has to offer, a number of upperclassmen choose to live off campus (freshman are required to live on campus), and Cornell’s rural setting make a car a nice thing to have. Make sure your car lives up to Cornell’s tradition of interdisciplinary study. The Ford Escape Hybrid combines a gas-electric powertrain with available all-wheel drive, giving you an eco-friendly ride that can also handle the harsh winters of upstate New York. If you’re not worried about driving in the snow, consider the Honda CR-Z. This two-seat hybrid has three driving settings that allow you to choose from a basic, eco or sport driving experience, allowing you to combine green technology with sporty handling. That’s perfect for hitting the back roads after class.
University of Texas
The University of Texas— Austin has more than 38,000 enrolled students, making it one of the largest schools in the nation. Located near downtown Austin, UT students can take advantage of a vibrant live music scene, urban atmosphere, and some of the best-known NCAA sports teams. If you’re looking for a car to take to UT, remember that Texas means trucks. Car reviewers say the Ram 1500 is the best-performing pickup on the market, with a smooth ride and car-like handling. As an added bonus, you can get your Ram 1500 with in-bed storage boxes. The boxes have drain plugs, so they can be filled with ice and drinks for tailgating. If a truck isn’t your thing, take advantage of Texas weather with the Ford Mustang Convertible. It has plenty of Texas swagger and gets 30 mpg on the highway, which is an important consideration, even in oil-rich Texas.
[Read 10 steps to picking the right college]