Take a Tour of America's Most Beautiful College Campus
That’s why we launched Travel + Leisure’s 2017 Most Beautiful College Contest, asking readers to submit their most beloved photos from college campuses around the country to determine which is the nation’s most stunning.
Photos could range from anything that included magnificent common areas to breathtaking libraries, with two rounds of judging conducted by T+L editors to determine the winner.
The first round of votes was based on the overall campus culture and appeal, while colleges that made it to the second round were judged based on the aesthetic of the photos submitted and readers' votes.
The College of Charleston, which is located in the heart of historic Charleston, South Carolina, was this year’s winner, with readers noting the campus’ magnificent blend of nature, historic homes and facilities, and charming culture.
Founded in 1770, the college is the oldest municipal college in the U.S. and stands today as a National Historic Landmark.
It's also worth noting that its home city of Charleston took the top spot for the best U.S. city this year as part of our World's Best Awards.
Take a look at the photos below to see what makes the college America’s most alluring.
An All-American History
Besides being the oldest municipal college in the U.S., the College of Charleston is also the oldest institute of higher learning in South Carolina, and the 13th oldest in the entire country, according to the National Park Service.
Its founders included three signers of the Declaration of Independence and three fathers of the United States Constitution, according to the NPS, and some of its earliest classes took place inside Revolutionary War barracks.
You'll see a nod to its past throughout the school's corridors, with some 85 of the 150 buildings dating back more than 100 years, and others dating as far back as 200 years, according to Michael Robertson, senior director of media relations at the college.
A Variety of Programs
While the very first graduating class was made up of only six students, today the college offers a total of 59 different majors, 77 minors, 22 masters programs, and 10 graduate-level certificate programs.
One prime example of the College of Charleston's historic buildings is Randolph Hall, which is the school's oldest and one of the oldest college buildings still in use throughout the nation, dating back to 1828.
Inside you'll also find the oldest continuously functioning classroom in the U.S., from 1829, and a stroll around the outside of the building will lead you to cannonball markers from the Civil War.
The Addlestone Library
The Addlestone Library was completed in 2005 and includes a magnificent circular atrium with the capacity to hold 1 million different volumes of books.
“The rotunda in the library goes all the way up three stories and spans the length of an entire football field,” Zaylee Butler, a sophomore majoring in political science and secondary education at the college, told T+L. "Since we don’t have a football field, we call this our field."
More Than Just Books
Look closer in the Addlestone Library and you’ll also begin to notice the intricate woodwork that lines the space.
“The woodwork starts at the base level and goes all the way up to the ceiling, winding around the windows, and creating a lovely sight when the natural sunlight hits the panels from outdoors,” Butler said.
It's also home to Bucky the Teenage T. Rex, which is the sixth most complete Tyrannosaurus rex to have ever been found, and a special collections area where you'll find artifacts like the first edition of Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species."
The Towell Library
The Towell Library, which was used as a library up until 1974 but functions today as study rooms for students, sits right next to Randolph Hall.
Besides being the first library on the campus, the building also doubled as a green room away from the White House when former U.S. President Barack Obama was in South Carolina preparing for rallies during the South Carolina primary.
Everything from student housing to classrooms, departments, and faculty homes can be found within some of the historic properties that make up Charleston.
Students can often be spotted sitting out on the expansive verandas of faculty homes when meeting with professors.
"The porches are exactly what you'd think of when imagning a Southern porch...there are literally rocking chairs where you can sit and talk to your professor while enjoying a view that overlooks the campus," Tamara Berry, a junior majoring in Spanish and foreign language education at the college, said.
Even the campus' sorority and fraternity homes date back to the 1800s.
They can be browsed from a horse-and-carriage ride, a popular mode of transportation in Charleston, to take you all the more back in time.
Mansions on Campus
Victorian mansions like the Sottile House can also be found on the campus.
The mansion, which sits near the center of campus, is known for its kaleidoscopic stained-glass windows, carved oak doors, mosaics, and detailed woodwork.
Touches of Southern Charm
You'll also find items on campus that are "uniquely Charleston," as Robertson puts it. One example includes the joggle boards, long pieces of wood that have two stands at each end and bend a bit in the middle, rocking you back and forth like a rocking horse.
According to Butler, the boards can be traced back to when women in the area would suffer from motion sickness during horse-drawn carriage rides. While they were waiting, they would sit on these boards to mimic the motion and prepare for the journey.
A Graduation Tradition
Such traditions also extend to ceremonies on campus, like graduation, when women wear white dresses and men wear white coats.
The dress code dates back to when the school started admitting female students in the early 1900s. The women would save and re-wear the white dresses from their high school graduations to cut back on the expense of getting a cap and gown, according to Butler.
The Cistern Yard
The Cistern Yard, at the center of the campus, is where the commencement ceremonies take place in late May and early June.
It's also the location where jazz artists perform during the Spoleto Festival, while blooming azaleas fill the space in the spring.
The campus is home to several lush areas perfect for enjoying the great outdoors.
What makes these green spaces ideal for students is the Wi-Fi connection throughout, giving them the chance to study and get their homework done outside.
"Our campus is covered with beautiful Spanish moss overhanging our walkway and places to study; you can't hate school with a view like this," one reader wrote.
Trees abound throughout the campus, from the oak trees that stand throughout the entire Charleston Peninsula to the Palmetto trees that line the walk down to Cougar Mall.
In fact, nature is so weaved into the architecture of the school that the students have an emoji on their campus app dedicated to the Charleston Shuffle.
The term refers to tripping over the tree roots that will often sprout up from the bricks that line the grounds.
Besides opportunities available on campus, students are also treated to the natural scenery that surrounds the college, like the nearby Dixie Plantation.
Located about 20 minutes from the school, the 881-acre property consists of everything from long-leaf pine forests and wetlands to savannas and tidal marshes.
Since the plantation is home to fresh water, saltwater, and brackish water, it's often used by marine biology departments for research, while art students and even faculty members will go to the space when they're in need of some inspiration.
Using the City as a Classroom
The school also takes advantage of nearby locations like Folly Beach, adding surfing classes to its curriculum, while some students will go out on boats and conduct ocean mapping off the coasts of North and South Carolina to map parts of the ocean that never have been mapped before.
“We encourage our students to use the city as a living laboratory; it’s part of their education to learn and live what’s going on in the city,” Robertson told T+L.
Another area where students can get up-close to nature is at the Harbor Walk, which opened in 2014.
The 45,000-square-foot facility includes classes, faculty offices, and laboratories, all of which sit right next to the Charleston Harbor.
Students will often take internships here and work hands-on with animals, like sick sea turtles who need rehabilitation. Butler said she often sees dolphins jumping out of the water while she walks down the path.
While some of the students' living facilities are in large, historic houses, the university also opened a tiny dorm last year, which measures a total of 252 square feet and includes an extremely small sleeping area.
"The thought was that with a lot of colleges, you have students who are going off for the very first time and may have trouble going up and starting conversations, so we thought this would be a better way to get more people into a suite to get to know one another," Robertson said.
All of the campus' surrounding nature and facilities can be enjoyed via bike.
"I ride my bike everywhere on campus; it's extremely accessible," Berry said. "I recently biked around the entire peninsula and it was such a relaxing and calming exprience getting to see all of the historic homes."
Make sure to look down while walking around the campus to notice the detailed herringbone brick pattern that you’ll find throughout.
A late former president of the college, Ted Stern, put the bricks in place to allow workers to get to the utility lines underneath without causing too much damage to the flooring, and then decided to have the bricks laid out in a herringbone pattern to let visitors know where the campus starts and where the city of Charleston ends, according to Robertson.
Whether you're in search of modern complexes, access to the water, lush green spaces, or prime architecture, you'll find it at the College of Charleston.
"Boasting views of beautiful historic buildings, live oaks dripping in Spanish moss, wrought iron gates, and the genteel Charleston culture...the college experience at CofC is truly unlike any other," a reader wrote.