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These college campuses emphasize brains over beauty.

Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago

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The message to students at Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology is that the school will “settle only for excellence.” Buildings designed by none other than Mies van der Rohe support that mission. Unfortunately, the parts of campus that double as an office park would beg to differ. Even the addition of the Rem Koolhaas–designed McCormick Tribune Campus Center railway station fails to impress. Students ranked IIT the thirteenth least attractive in the Princeton Review survey of 387 campuses.

America's Ugliest College Campuses

Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago

The message to students at Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology is that the school will “settle only for excellence.” Buildings designed by none other than Mies van der Rohe support that mission. Unfortunately, the parts of campus that double as an office park would beg to differ. Even the addition of the Rem Koolhaas–designed McCormick Tribune Campus Center railway station fails to impress. Students ranked IIT the thirteenth least attractive in the Princeton Review survey of 387 campuses.

B.O'Kane / Alamy

America's Ugliest College Campuses

College is about developing your inner beauty, and that’s a good thing. As for the colleges themselves, from a purely aesthetic point of view, campus exteriors are sometimes beautiful, often plain, and occasionally so downright ugly that students use the term “warts” to describe building elements.

In defense of California’s Harvey Mudd College and other offenders, we admit that a campus commission must be challenging for any architect. When the results fall short, campuses begin to resemble hospitals, shopping malls, or even prisons.

Many of today’s least attractive campuses date to the post–World War II era, a heyday of free education that, unfortunately, coincided with Modernism, Brutalism, and a general love affair with concrete—and with the car.

“We became suburbanized, and the campuses became suburbanized,” says Richard Wilson, professor and chair of the University of Virginia’s department of architectural history. It’s no surprise then that sprawling commuter campuses like the University of Minnesota may bring to mind Dunder Mifflin, the uninspired setting of TV show The Office.

They don’t stand up well to the ideal of beautiful college campuses, which is still influenced by early institutions like ivy-covered Princeton and UVA, where Thomas Jefferson located the library at the center, emphasizing the importance of knowledge over faith.

Yet there’s more to good campus design than a pretty façade. It isn’t worth a Pritzker Prize if the spaces don’t encourage students to put down their iPods and actually connect. “I like to argue that half the learning experience takes place in the hallways,” Wilson says. “Ultimately architecture is like music; you can’t put it all into words.”

You can, however, put it into surveys. We consulted the Princeton Review, Unigo.com, and other forums where students hotly debate all aspects of campus life. While our resulting selection of campuses certainly won’t win any beauty competitions, if you’re choosing a college based on looks alone, you’re probably doing it wrong.

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