Spring decision time is here. College applications are in, admissions offices are sending offer letters, and high school seniors everywhere are deciding where they want to spend the next four years.
As everyone knows, college isn't just about academics, and decisions aren't made based solely on which schools have the biggest research budgets or the highest job placement rates.
State-of-the-art recreation facilities, rock climbing walls, and even scuba diving classes are some of the things universities are using to sweeten the pot for incoming freshmen. On our list you'll find a campus with groomed skiing trails, student groups that offer dirt-cheap trips to national parks, a “bicycle library” that lends bikes to students, and for-credit classes in ice climbing and wilderness survival.
With a little sweat and hard work, we tracked down ten of the most active schools in the United States.
These two campuses of the University of Hawaii system are on this list not so much for their school-sponsored activities -- UH-Manoa can teach you how to surf, stand-up paddle, and sea kayak, and UH-Hilo has a comprehensive scuba training program -- but because they're surrounded by the active paradise that is Hawaii. An hour from Oahu's North Shore, UH-Manoa is right in the heart of surfing's honorary capital. UH-Hilo, on Hawaii's Big Island, is near Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, and offers a range of activities through its Outdoor EdVenture program.
Bounded by redwood forests to the north and meadows overlooking Monterey Bay to the south, UC Santa Cruz has miles of picturesque hiking and mountain bike trails on campus, and a wide variety of programs to get students (even more) outdoors. The school offers recreational classes in surfing, wilderness survival, scuba diving as well as backpacking trips to places like Pinnacles, Big Sur and Yosemite. Of course, you can rent just about any equipment you need on campus, but if cycling’s your game and you're low on cash, enter the lottery to "check out" a bike from the campus "Bike Library" on a quarterly basis.
Located in what National Geographic Adventure calls one of the world's best ski towns, Montana State University has the kind of outdoor recreation you'd expect from a campus so close to Yellowstone and Big Sky. Its Outdoor Recreation Program offers students dirt-cheap trips to incredible places, like a 5-day, $225 trek to Utah's Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. MSU has an on-campus bike and ski workshop, and of course classes in climbing, kayaking and avalanche safety -- not to mention gear.
The Badgers of Wisconsin have always had a knack for being active and getting outdoors, at least since John Muir was a student in the 1860s. The Wisconsin Hoofers, founded in 1931, is one of the largest student groups on campus and is an umbrella for six clubs (mountaineering, outing, riding, SCUBA, sailing, ski and snowboarding) and five competitive teams drawn from those activities. The Outing Club, in particular, offers a packed calendar of trips and clinics where most equipment is provided free of charge.
Universities have long been investing in big, state-of-the-art recreation centers, but with more than 500,000 square feet of indoor rec space, the University of Texas, Austin stands out for sheer size. The university boasts eight rec facilities and 40 acres of outdoor activity space. Everything truly is bigger in Texas. For those students interested in learning how to improve their workouts and productivity, they can head over to the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center, a research facility solely devoted to physical culture and sports.
This Burlington, Vermont, campus is close to both Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains, which is why its Outing Club has been going strong for 81 years. In the group's own words, "Every UVM student is a member of the Outing Club," meaning students have access to not only a long list of affordable hiking, ice climbing and skiing trips, but also outdoor certification classes and UVM's very own cabin near the Bolton Valley ski area.
An obvious choice for this list, the University of Colorado, Boulder is in one of the most active cities in America. An hour from Rocky Mountain National Park and a gateway to Colorado’s famous ski areas, Boulder is a natural location for a university with a top-notch outdoors program, an 80-year-old ski and snowboard club that's the largest on campus, and a bike share program with free short-term rentals. With 88 percent student participation in recreational sports, the university will soon have students' fitness needs covered with a $63.5 million upgrade to its rec facilities, to be completed in spring 2014.
For the complete slideshow of America's Best Bike Vacation Towns, go to TheActiveTimes.com.
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