21 PRESCOTT COLLEGE
LOCAL COLOR Climbers flock to Prescott, a mountain town of 34,000, for trad and sport climbing on Granite Mountain, as do Phoenix tourists trading the valley's heat for the town's 5,347-foot elevation. Everyone mingles at the Palace Saloon on Whiskey Row.
WORD ON THE QUAD The school's downtown campus is a motley cluster of converted homes, an old hospital, and a former motelfitting for an educational philosophy that has students self-design the curriculum to create their own course of study (60 percent choose environmental studies or adventure education) and operates a marine research station in Bahia Kino, Mexico.
VITAL STATS CONTACT: 800-628-6364, www.prescott.edu; STUDENT BODY: 800 undergraduates, 200 graduates; TUITION: $14,970
22 WILLIAMS COLLEGE
LOCAL COLOR Known as "the Purple Bubble," thanks to its isolated location in a cozy North Berkshire valley, this burg of 8,400 plays host to a high-profile culture in its art museums and theater festivals. The Green and Hoosic rivers run through the valley, and you can pick up the Appalachian Trail five miles east of town.
WORD ON THE QUAD In addition to its 450-acre campus, Williams owns the 2,200-acre Hopkins Memorial Forest next door, with more than 15 miles of trails for runners and hikers. Many geology and biology majors pursue a concentration in environmental studies, and the Outing Club offers classes in everything from orienteering to bouldering.
VITAL STATS CONTACT: 413-597-3131, www.williams.edu; STUDENT BODY: 2,000 undergraduates, 50 graduates; TUITION: $27,890; room and board, $7,660
SAM VANVOLKENBURGH 23 UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS
LOCAL COLOR Fayetteville is as diverse as a town of 65,000 in northwest Arkansas's Ozark Mountains can be: It's home to millionaires, hippies, artists, students, hunters, and hillbillies. Pretty much any outdoor activity that doesn't require snow can be found within a 20-mile radius of the university's Dickson Street bar scene: canoeing the Buffalo River, fly-fishing the White River, and cragging at Devil's Den State Park.
WORD ON THE QUAD U of A's undergrad business school wins national props, but enviro coursework is still slim pickings (save for the lone degree in environmental soil and water science).
VITAL STATS 800-377-8632, www.uark.edu; STUDENT BODY: 12,900 undergraduates, 2,800 graduates; TUITION: residents, $2,968; nonresidents, $8,280; room and board, $5,780
24 EVERGREEN STATE COLLEGE
LOCAL COLOR Olympia's 43,000 residents are a strange brew of indie-rock hipsters, activists, fishermen, and earthy ex-hippies. Brick buildings, many painted with murals, sit along tree-lined streets on Puget Sound's Budd Inlet, with 14,410-foot Mount Rainier on the horizon.
WORD ON THE QUAD You've got to love a school that has the geoducka large saltwater clamas its mascot. Students are free to design their own academic pathways, and innovative courses like snow ecology combine a mix of ecology, technical mountaineering, and wilderness first-response training.
VITAL STATS CONTACT: 360-867-6000, www.evergreen.edu; Student body: 4,100 undergraduates, 300 graduates; TUITION: residents, $3,441; nonresidents, $12,264; room and board, $5,610
25 ST. JOHN'S COLLEGE
Santa Fe, New Mexico
LOCAL COLOR The second-oldest town in the United States, Santa Fe (pop. 62,000) has long attracted artists and free spirits looking to connect with the expansive high-desert landscape. But 20-minute access to the 12,000-foot peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Range also lures avid skiers, mountain bikers, and runners.
WORD ON THE QUAD A sister campus of the original in Annapolis, Maryland, St. John's borders the Santa Fe National Forest and has only one course of study: the liberal-arts-focused Great Books program, in which students study the foundational texts of Western culture.
VITAL STATS CONTACT: 505-984-6000, www.sjcsf.edu; STUDENT BODY: 450 undergraduates, 90 graduates; TUITION: $28,840; room and board, $7,320
CASSIE V. HEMSTROM
21 PRESCOTT COLLEGE