Saturday football games with 80,000 of your closest friends, warm summer days playing Frisbee in the quad and long nights in dusty college bars drinking cheap beer. College towns in America, from the sunny suburbs of Coral Gables, FL, to the hallowed halls of Berkeley, CA, are a unique experience for residents of these university-centered cities.
Whether you're a student looking for a cheap rental with friends, a young professional living as an alumnus in their alma mater's shadow or a family setting down roots, college towns are distinctive residential locales. They represent big cities from Pittsburgh to Atlanta and small towns like Starkville, MS, and West Lafayette, IN. But what are the most affordable college towns in the nation?
Apartment Guide ranked cities that feature an NCAA Football Bowl Series (formerly Division I-A) university or college representing the five Power Conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC).
The average rental prices for one-, two- and three-bedroom units were calculated and then averaged to determine the most and least affordable cities.
Keep reading to find the top 10 most affordable college towns in the U.S. — along with how much you can expect to pay per room for an off-campus apartment — or jump ahead to see the towns ranked by unit size.
When you have the word “college" right in the name of your city, you know you're a hopping college town. In the core of the triangle formed by Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, College Station is certainly deep-in-the-heart-of-Texas.
The name College Station itself symbolizes the two ingredients that created the town. The site's origins started in 1860 when the Houston & Texas Central Railway chose the site as a stop on its line, and then in 1871, the agricultural and mechanical college that would become Texas A&M University was founded.
Today, Texas A&M dominates the daily life of College Station. Kyle Field, the home of the Aggies football team, is the third-largest football stadium in the world, with a capacity of nearly 103,000. The school's west campus contains the George Bush Presidential Library. And for fun after football victories (and to drown sorrows after defeats), students and fans alike can enjoy the restaurants and bars along Boyett Street, University Drive and College Drive, particularly the legendary Hurricane Harry's.
Living solo will cost you almost $850 in College Station, but if you split that rent with two other roommates, you'll only pay about $350 for your room.
With a population of more than half a million, Tucson is by far the largest city in the top 10. The home of the University of Arizona isn't usually thought of as a typical American college town, but the large 380-acre urban campus of 180 buildings is a dominant feature of Central Tucson.
The university's proximity to downtown makes it unique for a college town, also having all the trappings of a larger urban center. To the east is the upscale Broadway Village shopping center, and to the west is the historic 4th Avenue Shopping District, the Lost Barrio warehouse shopping complex and the city's bustling downtown.
Cultural institutions are seemingly around every corner, including the Tucson Museum of Art, University of Arizona Museum of Art, DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, Center for Creative Photography and the Arizona Opera.
There's much to see and do in Tucson both on Wildcat football and basketball game days and when school is out of session. Adjacent to the university is the Main Gate Square shopping and nightlife district.
Looking for trendy eateries and authentic Mexican cuisine? No better place than Tucson, named a UNESCO “World City of Gastronomy" in 2015 for its unique food scene, the first city in North America to receive the distinguished designation.
Rent prices in Tucson are incredibly affordable compared to other cities of its size. You could grab a one-bedroom unit for about $730 a month on average.
About a half-hour from downtown Washington, D.C., and about an hour from Baltimore, College Park, MD, offers a unique mix of college town and east coast suburb. Like its fellow “College" city, College Station, College Park also owes its existence to the confluence of the construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the founding of the agricultural college that would become the University of Maryland.
The city came of age in the late 19th century, growing rapidly with residents trying to escape the hubbub of D.C. But it wasn't until recently that the University District Vision 2020 — an urban growth plan — was implemented to give College Park a more downtown vibe and connected feel like other college towns.
Additionally, the College Park City-University Partnership is helping elevate the city to a higher “college town" status with the construction of the MTA's new Purple Line, the new College Park Academy, the MilkBoy ArtHouse restaurant and music venue and new bikeshare stations.
Despite the university's reputation as a commuter school, there's a lot to do around Terps football, basketball and lacrosse games. You can spend your day exploring institutions like the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center and College Park Aviation Museum, as well as tours of the National Archives at College Park and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
At night, grab a brew at some of College Park's campus-convenient bars like Cornerstone Grill & Loft, Terrapin Turf, Looney's Pub and R.J. Bentley's.
Even though you're close to D.C., you fortunately don't have to pay D.C. prices to live in College Park. A one-bedroom apartment averages about $750 a month.
Any discussion of college life in Lawrence, KS, begins and ends with the legendary Allen Fieldhouse. The hallowed home of the University of Kansas Jayhawks since 1955 has been named both the “loudest college basketball stadium in the country" by ESPN and the “best place in America to watch college basketball" by the Orange County Register.
But while Big Mondays at “The Phogg" are legendary (and Saturdays at Memorial Stadium slightly less legendary), there's much that makes Lawrence one of America's best college towns. The city lives and breathes Jayhawk sports, and on game day, the entire town feels like one giant stadium.
The campus is close enough to Kansas City to be considered an outer suburb but also isolated enough — although close enough to two rivals, Kansas State and Missouri — to feel like the definition of a Midwest campus city.
Every resident has their pick for favorite restaurants, like Dempsy's Pub, Jefferson's and The Underground, or favorite college bar, whether it be Jayhawk Café (The Hawk), Bullwinkle's Bar (The Bull) or The Wagon Wheel (The Wheel).
More options abound on Mass Street with The Granada and Liberty Hall music venues, retail stores like Shark's Surf Shop and even more bars like Louise's, The Sandbar and Free State Brewing Company.
When you imagine an archetypal Big 12 campus town, Lawrence is often what comes to mind. You can almost hear the lament of “Rock Chalk Jayhawk" echoing in the hills.
If you're looking for a real deal on housing in Lawrence, grab two friends and get a three-bedroom apartment. You'll pay less than half for your room than you would if you rented a one-bedroom unit.
Smack-dab in the middle of Iowa, just 45 minutes north of Des Moines, is Ames, one of the most overlooked college towns in the nation. Life in this city of 60,000 centers on the campus of Iowa State University and its student life.
ISU's campus is in the heart of this city in the heart of the state, which was once named a top 10 “Best Places to Live" in the U.S. by CNN. In addition to Cyclones football and basketball games, Ames features a whopping 36 public parks, a state-of-the-art aquatic center and the Octagon Center for the Arts and The Space for Ames art galleries.
Adjacent to the Iowa State campus is the classic college entertainment district known, appropriately enough, as Campustown, a unique six-block district filled with student apartments, bars, clubs, music venues and restaurants.
Several campus favorite eateries and pubs line the district's Lincoln Way and Welch Avenue including Café Beaudelaire, Sips, Arcadia Café, Fuzzy's Taco Shop, Freddy's Frozen Custard and Steakburgers and TJ Cups. Many more establishments can be found along Main Street and Somerset Village.
The average monthly cost for a two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartment are fairly close here, so if you're looking to save money, grab the larger unit and split it three ways.
The folks over in Lawrence aren't going to be happy when they find out Manhattan finished higher on this — or any — list than they did. Manhattan is a classic college town, farm-fresh agriculture students, lush green campus lawns and Saturday afternoon face-painted football fans, where nearly 20 percent of residents are students.
Founded as a Free-State city during the “Bleeding Kansas" Civil War days, today the Sunflower State city is home to the sprawling Kansas State University.
But it's not just Wildcat weekends at Bill Snyder Stadium that makes Manhattan stand out. “The Little Apple" has previously been named both one of the “Best Places in America to Retire Young" by CNN and Forbes number one "Best Small Place for Business and Careers."
The Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art is an important feature on KSU's campus as are the Kansas State University Gardens. Elsewhere in town is the 90-year-old Sunset Zoo, with 300 animals of more than 100 species, and Colbert Hills Golf Course, regularly ranked as the best public course in the state by Golfweek. The boyhood home of Damon Runyon, author and the “Inventor of Broadway," is on the National Register of Historic Places.
But the beating heart of college town life in Manhattan is the Aggieville neighborhood. The eight-block district is everything you want out of a Midwest college entertainment hub, with lines of bars, shops, cafes, bookstores and restaurants catering to the college crowd. Both on gamedays and off, the establishments of Aggieville are crowded with purple-clad swarms of students and boosters.
Popular spots include Taco Lucha, Mojo's Beach Bar, Eighteen63, Kite's Bar and Grill and historic Auntie Mae's Parlor, founded in 1930. Other required stops include Varsity Donuts, Sisters of Sound indie record store and live music venues O'Malley's Alley and The Hat.
KSU also beats KU at rent prices for one and two-bedroom units. But if you're living with two other people, the $353 you'll pay per room is actually slightly more expensive than a unit of the same size in that rival city down the road.
If Texas is the empire of college football and the fiefdom of college towns, then call Lubbock the king. The city of 260,000 is an isolated oasis in the Llano Estacado region of northwest Texas, and the only urban center for miles and miles of the South Plains.
And at the heart of the city is Texas Tech University, a large school of nearly 40,000 students. Each academic year, more than 60,000 pack Jones AT&T Stadium to watch Red Raiders football and 15,000 rattle United Supermarkets Arena, home of the recent Final Four hoops squad.
The lively city offers many cultural and entertainment attractions to rival larger Texas metros, including the Cactus Theater, Silent Wings Museum, National Ranching Heritage Center and the Buddy Holly Center and Buddy Holly Hall of Performing Arts and Sciences, honoring the late Lubbock native.
The Depot District, a former old railroad depot on the edge of downtown along I-27 is the nightlife capital of the city, offering brewpubs, music venues, upscale restaurants, theaters and nightclubs.
But for those on a college budget, several bars and eateries line the eastern edge of the TTU campus along University Avenue, including Lubbock Breakfast House, Skooners Grill & Bar, Raider Bar, Local Bar, Spanky's and One Guys Pizza.
And for something different, Lubbock offers an unexpected selection of great wineries. Due to the unique composition of the soil in the area, 90 percent of the wine produced in Texas comes from Lubbock and half a dozen wineries dot the region.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist (Tech actually has a rocket team!) to realize a good deal on rent in Lubbock. You can save about $400 a month on average for your portion of rent if you bunk with two friends in a three-bedroom pad rather than getting a single for yourself.
Just 80 miles separate the campuses of Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma, participants in one of the most heated rivalries in college sports history. “Bedlam" spans 113 football games, 230 basketball games and 178 wrestling matches. While the schools share the storied rivalry, the cities of Stillwater and Norman are very different places.
While Norman sits firmly in the suburban camp, Stillwater — OSU's hometown — is full-fledged Southern Plains small city college town. Stillwater, equidistant from Oklahoma City, Tulsa and the Kansas border, is a city of 50,000, once described by Washington Irving as, “a glorious prairie spreading out beneath the golden beams of an autumnal sun." The city was founded in 1890 specifically to house the new land grant college that would become Oklahoma State, which opened four years later.
Today's Stillwater most certainly still revolves around the university, but offers much in the city, as well. Several cultural institutions attract visitors from around the state such as the Sheerar Museum, the Oklahoma WONDERtorium children's museum and the Botanic Garden at Oklahoma State. But the most well-known attraction is the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum, dedicated to the history of the amateur version of the sport.
Stillwater also offers a legendary and diverse music scene, with many artists from Garth Brooks to the All-American Rejects kicking off their careers in well-known campus area clubs like Willie's Saloon, The Union and Eskimo Joe's.
The world-famous Eskimo Joe's, a hub for students, music enthusiasts, Pokes fans and T-shirt-toting tourists alike, was voted the “Best College Post-Game Hangout" by Sporting News and serves The Odyssey's “America's Greatest Cheese Fries." Eskimo Joe's sits just steps away from 60,000-seat Boone Pickens Stadium and Gallagher-Iba Arena, the sixth oldest basketball arena in Division 1-A.
To save the most money on rent in Stillwater, it's actually best to get a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate. There's such a gap in average rent prices between two and three-bedroom properties that it's more expensive per room to get the larger unit size.
Boomer Sooners will be happy to find out that once again, their beloved OU has finished ahead of those Cowboys from up the road at OSU. Much like their dominance on the gridiron over their cross-state rival, Norman has finished ahead of Stillwater once again.
Just a half-hour south of downtown Oklahoma City, the largest city in the state, Norman itself is actually the third biggest. Norman is part college town, part suburb and part big city, and all three had a part in the early history of Norman.
Prior to the Civil War, Oklahoma was still Native American territory. In the 1890s, the city fathers decided to petition the state to place Oklahoma's first university in its budding town, rather than join the fight to become the state capital. Norman got the university and OKC, just up the road, got the capital.
Today, the bustling city of 120,000 is still the heart of the Oklahoma academic community. While still operating as a bedroom community for Oklahoma City, Norman offers all the trappings of both a true South Central college town and cultural city.
The campus hosts the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art (which exhibits the largest collection of French Impressionist art donated to an American university), Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History and the Catlett Music Center. Norman is also the site of the National Weather Center and its Storm Prediction Center, a joint venture of OU and government resources.
But as a college town, Norman doesn't disappoint. Fall Saturdays bring more than 86,000 to Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium to watch the seven-time National Champion Sooners, Big Mondays fill the Lloyd Noble Center on the run to March Madness and spring semester gives way to OU's championship softball team with three national titles this decade.
The heart of off-campus life is Campus Corner, four blocks of crimson-and-cream retail shops, restaurants, apparel stores, national chains and bars like Louie's Grill, O'Connell's Irish Pub and Seven47.
Compared to their rivals in Stillwater, it's actually more expensive for one and two-bedroom apartments in Norman. However, the affordability per room for a three-bedroom unit is what moves Norman slightly ahead.
The number one most affordable college town in America is one of its least considered and most underrated — Morgantown, home of the Big 12's West Virginia University. So important is WVU to Morgantown that the population of the city doubles from 30,000 to 58,000 when school is in session.
Sure, we can talk about 60,000 screaming Mountaineers fans at Milan Puskar Stadium or the basketball team's two Final Fours, but what makes the WVU campus unique is the Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit.
The PRT is a government-funded unmanned light rail system, one of the first in the nation, which opened in 1975 connecting students and locals alike to WVU's three campuses: Health Sciences, Evansdale and Downtown.
The WVU PRT's southern terminus lets off in the heart of Morgantown's delightful downtown that's nestled around the Monongahela River and Deckers Creek. The city's center is big for its size and modern for a college town and much more chicer than one would expect from West Virginia.
The WVU-adjacent downtown is filled with cultural attractions such as Mainstage Morgantown and Metropolitan Theatre, as well as restaurants like Dirty Bird and Black Bear Burritos, coffee shops like Blue Moose Café and The Grind and college bars including Joe Mama's Motown, Fat Daddy's and Lux Nightclub.
Additionally, many attractions line the Monongahela waterfront hotel and brewpub Wharf District, from Hazel Ruby McQuain Park and its open-air amphitheater to gastropubs and breweries like Mountain State Brewing and Table 9.
You'll find a great deal on average across the board in Morgantown. Rent prices per room for one and three-bedroom apartments are the most affordable of all college towns in our top 10, and only Stillwater is more affordable for two-bedroom units.
The rest of the top 25 is an assortment of the famous (we see you, South Bend), rivals (Auburn and Alabama) and sometimes overlooked (Pullman and Waco). Here are your full rankings from Columbia (Missouri) to Columbia (South Carolina).
|Rank||City||State||University||Averge Rent (1BR)||Average Rent (2BR)||Average Rent (3BR)|
|10||College Station||TX||Texas A&M||$844.67||$879.00||$1,055.06|
|18||South Bend||IN||Notre Dame||$854.15||$1,037.45||$1,119.86|
Some lucky students and young grads (or couples) have the opportunity to shed a roommate and go solo in a new apartment. Luckily, many cities are affordable for one-bedroom apartments. Most of the 10 most affordable college towns are the same that are the best values overall, with a few exceptions.
Here's the full 25 based on one-bedroom units.
|Rank||City||State||University||Average Rent (1BR)||YoY Change (1BR)|
|15||East Lansing||MI||Michigan State||$820.53||4.40%|
|18||College Station||TX||Texas A&M||$844.67||-10.32%|
|21||South Bend||IN||Notre Dame||$854.15||-5.59%|
Whether you're sharing your living space with a roommate or expanding your young family, there are many college towns where two-bedroom apartments are a great option. Most of the units in the top 25 can be had for under or around a thousand dollars, and a few notable rates stand out.
Here's the full 25 based on two-bedroom units.
|Rank||City||State||University||Average Rent (2BR)||YoY Change (2BR)|
|9||College Station||TX||Texas A&M||$879.00||-9.78%|
|23||South Bend||IN||Notre Dame||$1,037.45||2.14%|
For bigger families with great college town careers or students and young grads who love a bustling apartment full of roommates, there are many affordable university area options both in complexes and single-family rentals with a full three bedrooms.
Here's the full 25 based on three-bedroom units.
|Rank||City||State||University||Average Rent (3BR)||YoY Change (3BR)|
|11||College Station||TX||Texas A&M||$1,055.06||8.24%|
|18||South Bend||IN||Notre Dame||$1,119.86||3.38%|
If money is no option (a good education is priceless, right?), here are the 10 most expensive college towns.
|Rank||City||State||University||Average Rent (1BR)||Average Rent (2BR)||Average Rent (3BR)|
|2||Los Angeles||CA||UCLA / USC||$2,897.76||$4,036.71||$6,834.20|
|3||Chestnut Hill||MA||Boston College||$2,990.94||$3,940.36||$5,564.88|
Apartment Guide ranked 62 cities that feature an NCAA Football Bowl Series (formerly Division I-A) university or college representing the five Power Conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC). Clemson, SC (Clemson University) and Palo Alto, CA, (Stanford University) were not included because they did not have sufficient inventory. Los Angeles was listed as a single spot for UCLA and the University of Southern California.
Each city included in our report was ranked 1 through 62 for one-, two- and three-bedroom unit prices. That total was then added and divided by three. Cities with the lowest total score were determined to be the most affordable.
The rent information included in this article is based on average August 2019 multifamily rental property unit inventory on Apartment Guide and is used for illustrative purposes only. Any mention of rent comparisons from the previous year is based on average August 2018 prices. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.
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