10 Cities Where You Can Stretch Your Student Housing Dollars

The demand for rental property has soared in recent years, bringing with it an increase in cost.  New construction can’t keep up with demand in many markets, where job growth is pulling in well-paid residents who like the convenience of renting. Nationwide, the average rent for an entry-level studio apartment is currently at $769, and it’s much higher in major cities. At that rate, rent can be the most significant item in most budgets.

For college students, renting is often the best housing option, and private property can offer a lower cost than most on-campus housing.  Still, with the option of sharing with roommates and some smart shopping, there are deals to be had in some of the country’s favorite college towns.

A recent article on The Simple Dollar used information from Kiplinger and Forbes to select towns and cities with one or more colleges, and then rated their affordability. They looked at rent, but also factored in costs for utilities, groceries, transportation and healthcare. As you might expect, the most affordable cities were smaller, with a population under 200,000.  Here’s their top 10, with the average rent for a one-bedroom:

  • Knoxville, TN $600
  • Cookeville, TN $634
  • Conway, AR $522
  • Cedar City, UT $900
  • Gainesville, FL $643
  • College Station, TX $570
  • Bloomington, IN $675
  • Muncie, IN $491
  • Kalamazoo, MI $586
  • Tuscaloosa, AL $687

These smaller college towns offer a lot for less, but if you just look at rents, the top spot would go to Muncie, followed closely by Conway, AR. Nearly all of these cities have rental rates below the national average, but differences in other living expenses create the rankings above. They should be weighed as carefully as rent rates when you’re evaluating potential college locations.

Of course some of the country’s top colleges are in its largest cities. The cost of living in place like New York, Boston, and Chicago are in an ivy league of their own, even compared to fairly sizable “second tier” cities. For example the median rent in Charlotte is $1235, and in Denver, it’s $1827.  Compare this to rates in Los Angeles ($2460) and New York ($2331), and you have an idea of how much housing expenses increase and you move into major metro areas.

Small to mid-size college towns seem to be the best option for budget-conscious students, and even tuition rates can be significantly lower in these locations. Tuition and fees at the University of Wyoming, for example were under $5000 for 2014-15, while students at NYU paid around $22,000.  With over 3000 4-year colleges in the US to choose from, it’s possible to find tuition that your budget can handle.

So, don’t despair, scholars! If housing costs are a significant factor, and bunking with Mom and Dad is not an option, there are still college towns where housing is a bargain. Just be sure to take into account all the costs –utilities, transportation, groceries, and health care- to get a really accurate picture of a locale’s cost of living.  Next to choosing the best school for you, it’s one of the more important decisions you’ll have made so far, so do your homework.