It's an expensive time for college students. The price of tuition, supplies, clothes — even beer — is up. And, like in most places around the country, rents are up, too. Off-campus apartments are a cheaper option than dormitory life. But, lease prices for rentals around many college campuses are shooting back up now that students have headed back to in-person classes.
With students and local residents on tighter budgets and the cost of living rising, renters need to find spots to save on housing. As rents squeeze people into smaller units and less pricey cities, where can you find the best values? What are the cheapest college towns in America?
Apartment Guide isolated each city in the country that features an NCAA Football Bowl Series (formerly Division I-A) university or college representing one of the “Power Five" conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC), plus Notre Dame, which played an ACC schedule last season.
For each, we determined the average rental prices for one- and two-bedroom apartments and ranked them to determine the most and least affordable cities in each of the five conferences.
For a conference named for the Atlantic Coast, only one of its 14 schools could really be considered coastal. Six hours from the ocean, Virginia Polytechnic Institute is the cheapest school for rent in the ACC, for both one- and two-bedroom apartments. Rents in Virginia Tech's city of Blacksburg are a cheap $865 and $999 a month, respectively, on average.
Much farther to the south is Florida State University, about three hours from the Atlantic. Rents in Tallahassee are second-cheapest in the conference, again for both one- and two-bedroom units. In the affordable Florida Panhandle, monthly leases run $1,244 and $1,417, correspondingly.
Notre Dame, a Division I independent who played an ACC Conference schedule last season, would actually qualify as the second cheapest for both sizes, if included in the tally. Its South Bend, IN, town carries one-bedroom rents at just $930 a month and $1,417 for two.
Tied for second-cheapest two-bedroom rents in the ACC is Wake Forest University, in Winston-Salem, NC. Apartments are cheaper there than in its Tobacco Road rivals at North Carolina (Chapel Hill), Duke (Durham) and North Carolina State (Raleigh). The third-cheapest one-bedrooms are found in the very-much-not coastal city of Syracuse, NY. The home of Syracuse University rents for $1,275.
Florida State saw the most precipitous drop from a year ago for both one- and two-bedrooms, down more than 26 percent each. Two of those North Carolina rivals experienced the largest jumps. One-bedrooms in Raleigh rose more than 42 percent and two-bedrooms were up more than 54 percent in neighbor Durham.
It's been over 30 years since the Big Ten Conference had just 10 schools. With the addition of Penn State in 1990, it expanded to 11. A decade later, it ballooned to 14 schools in the Big Ten. True to its Midwest roots, rents in the cheapest Big Ten college towns belong to the conference's founding members.
The cheapest rents in the Big Ten for one-bedrooms belong to the University of Illinois main campus. Rents in the central Illinois twin cities of Champaign-Urbana are just $660 a month. The cities were also cheapest a year ago on average at $656.
The second-cheapest rents in the Big Ten are in West Lafayette, IN. The home of Purdue University saw one-bedroom rents at just $827. Purdue, however, carries the top least expensive rents for two bedrooms at $663 a month, almost as cheap as UI singles. The only other one-bedroom apartments under a grand for rent are in founding member Michigan State's home of East Lansing. However, popular two-bedrooms at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, at $679 a month, and at UI, at $850, are the remaining two-bedrooms less than $1,000.
The two cities that saw the biggest yearly drop in rent prices are both suburbs of otherwise relatively expensive cities. They're both in the rubber-banding Northeast and are the conference's only two cities outside the Midwest. The steepest decline in one-bedrooms is at the University of Maryland's main campus. Rent prices in College Park, just north of Washington, DC, dropped more than 35 percent. The only other city in the Big Ten that was down year-over-year was New Brunswick, NJ, where Rutgers University is. Another suburb of an expensive city had the sharpest decline for two bedrooms. Evanston, IL, home to Northwestern in suburban Chicago, saw double units 61 percent below a year ago.
Conversely, two of the Big Ten's traditional powers increased the most from last year. For one-bedrooms, the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor outside Detroit, rose more than 50 percent year-over-year. And, with a gain of nearly 40 percent, Bloomington, IN, home of Indiana University, rents were up the most for two-bedroom units.
For the last decade, the Big 12 conference has only carried 10 schools. And, everything, they say, is bigger in Texas. That includes rent. Four of the conference's 10 schools are in Texas. But the cheapest rents are all north of the Red River.
A conference in the relatively cheap Great Plains, six Big 12 cities have one-bedroom rents under four figures a month. The cheapest among these is in Manhattan, KS. Rents in the Little Apple, home to Kansas State University, come in at just an average of $735 a month. Oklahoma State and Iowa State also enjoyed rents under $800 in Stillwater and Ames, respectively. The cheapest of the four Texas cities is Texas Tech's Lubbock, at $872 monthly.
Similarly, four cities are still under a grand for bigger two-bedrooms. Two-bedroom rents in Ames are shockingly low at $683 a month. The two Oklahoma schools — the University of Oklahoma in Norman and OSU — were also under $900, at $865 and $880.
No Big 12 college town enjoyed a drop in year-to-year rent prices for one-bedrooms. The smallest increase belonged to the University of Kansas in Lawrence, which only rose 2.13 percent. And, despite an increase of more than 32 percent, one-bedroom rents in Lubbock remained cheap, as noted.
Two cities saw a yearly drop for two bedrooms, led again by KU in Lawrence, down 7 percent from the same time last year. And, with a massive increase of 105 percent, two-bedroom rents in Waco, TX, doubled, pushing rents around Baylor University from second-cheapest in the conference to fourth-priciest.
Unlike its other numbered fellow conferences, the Pac-12 Conference has continued to adjust its name as schools come and go. The league has previously been known as the Big Five, Big Six, Pacific-8 and Pacific-10.
But for now, the Pac-12's cities offer the priciest overall rents of any of the Power Five conferences. It's no wonder, with representation in some of the nation's most expensive cities like Los Angeles, the Pacific Northwest and the Bay Area. The cheapest is the University of Arizona in Tucson. Average one-bedroom rents in the desert southwest city run $1,065 a month, with $1,109 for two-bedrooms. Both are the cheapest in the conference. Oregon State, in Corvallis, is second-cheapest for both, at $1,357 and $1,738, correspondingly.
Every city in the Pac-12 Conference saw an increase in rent from a year ago. That's true for both one- and two-bedroom units. For singles, the smallest increase came from a surprising place. Up just 0.26 percent yearly was Los Angeles, surrounding USC and UCLA. Rents rose just eight bucks to a still-pricey $3, 155. For doubles, the smallest increase was in Corvallis, up just 3.9 percent to $1,738.
In this expensive conference, the city that shot up the most year to year for one-bedrooms was Tempe, the campus town of Arizona State University. Rents rose more than 46 percent to $1,716 a month. Among two-bedrooms, it was the University of Colorado at Boulder at the top. Rents increased to $2,684, up a steep 68.5 percent. Right behind were Seattle and the University of Washington, up 60 percent from last year.
The expanded Southeastern Conference, now up to 14 teams, stretches the definition of “southeastern." The league actually extends as far north as central Missouri and west to the Texas Triangle. And that will expand further in 2025 as the SEC balloons to 16 teams with the additions of Texas and Oklahoma. But the heart of the conference remains in the Deep South. That's where you'll find some of the cheapest cities in the nation, and some of its most affordable rents.
Six SEC school cities have one-bedroom rents below $1,000. The cheapest is the affordable city of Starkville, home to Mississippi State University. A one-bedroom unit leases for just $765 a month. Apartments in Tuscaloosa, around the University of Alabama, are also priced under $800 on average.
On the two-bedroom front, four cities have rents between $900 and $1,000 a month. The University of Arkansas, in Fayetteville, comes in cheapest at $917 a month. Columbia — the one that features the University of Missouri, not the Columbia campus of the University of South Carolina — is second, with Tuscaloosa and Starkville right behind.
A good sign in the SEC, five of its schools are in cities where one-bedroom rents were flat or lower than they were a year ago. In first place is the very college-centered town of College Station. The East Texas city, home of Texas A&M University, saw rents fall by 15 percent. For two-bedrooms, only one city dropped year to year. That beneficiary was Starkville, down just 3.66 percent to $955 a month.
As rent increases in the South catch up to the trends on the more populated coasts, many SEC cities suffered significant increases. Six of the conference's cities were up in one-bedrooms yearly by double digits. Rents in Columbia, SC, Athens (home to the University of Georgia) and Lexington (campus of the University of Kentucky) all rose between 30 percent and 40 percent, and a steep 56.8 percent in Columbia, MO. But the astonishing 132-percent increase in Knoxville, TN, was the biggest by far. Rents in the University of Tennessee city jumped from just over a grand to nearly $2,400, the most expensive in the league.
And, for those with two-bedroom units, 10 of 14 conference cities were up over double digits. College Station was up over a third, Athens increased by nearly half and Lexington surged by nearly two-thirds. But, it was Knoxville once again with the sharpest upswing, up 119 percent to $2,249. That's the second-highest two-bedroom rent in the SEC, behind only the conference's other Tennessee city, Vanderbilt University's Nashville.
When considering the entire sum of all 65 Power Conference schools as a whole, the cheapest college towns for one-bedroom rents are found in Champaign-Urbana at the University of Illinois. It's $660 a month average rents are the only ones in the nation under $700. And, for two bedrooms, Purdue's West Lafayette leads a pack of three cities under $700 at $663 a month.
In total, 17 college towns offered rents under $1,000 for one-bedrooms and 12 for two. And, to no surprise, nearly the entire cheapest 25 for both apartment sizes are in the Midwest and the Deep South.
The biggest yearly one-bedroom decrease of any school in the country was at the University of Maryland's College Park, down more than 35 percent from last year. For two bedrooms, it was Evanston, where the Northwestern campus city declined by 61 percent, nearly double the second-most.
|Institution||Location||Conference||Bedrooms||Month||Year||Avg. Rent||%Change, YoY|
|University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign||Urbana-Champaign, Illinois||Big 10||1||July||2022||$660||0.65%|
|Kansas State University||Manhattan, Kansas||Big 12||1||July||2022||$735||2.37%|
|Oklahoma State University||Stillwater, Oklahoma||Big 12||1||July||2022||$739||7.81%|
|Mississippi State University||Starkville, Mississippi||SEC||1||July||2022||$765||5.52%|
|University of Alabama||Tuscaloosa, Alabama||SEC||1||July||2022||$790||-3.77%|
|Iowa State University||Ames, Iowa||Big 12||1||July||2022||$794||3.45%|
|University of Oklahoma[a]||Norman, Oklahoma||Big 12||1||July||2022||$824||14.89%|
|Purdue University||West Lafayette, Indiana||Big 10||1||July||2022||$827||3.78%|
|University of Arkansas||Fayetteville, Arkansas||SEC||1||July||2022||$828||0.00%|
|University of Kansas||Lawrence, Kansas||Big 12||1||July||2022||$842||2.13%|
|Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University||Blacksburg, Virginia||ACC||1||July||2022||$865||0.00%|
|Texas Tech University||Lubbock, Texas||Big 12||1||July||2022||$872||32.38%|
|University of Notre Dame||Notre Dame, Indiana||Ind.||1||July||2022||$930||11.68%|
|Auburn University||Auburn, Alabama||SEC||1||July||2022||$969||0.00%|
|University of Mississippi||Oxford, Mississippi||SEC||1||July||2022||$972||-8.82%|
|Michigan State University||East Lansing, Michigan||Big 10||1||July||2022||$982||2.41%|
|University of Georgia||Athens, Georgia||SEC||1||July||2022||$993||31.89%|
|University of Missouri||Columbia, Missouri||SEC||1||July||2022||$1,058||56.79%|
|Universtiy of Arizona||Tucson, Arizona||Pac12||1||July||2022||$1,065||2.70%|
|Texas A&M University||College Station, Texas||SEC||1||July||2022||$1,071||-14.95%|
|University of Nebraska–Lincoln||Lincoln, Nebraska||Big 10||1||July||2022||$1,101||10.57%|
|Louisiana State University||Baton Rouge, Louisiana||SEC||1||July||2022||$1,131||22.90%|
|Indiana University Bloomington||Bloomington, Indiana||Big 10||1||July||2022||$1,194||17.79%|
|University of Iowa||Iowa City, Iowa||Big 10||1||July||2022||$1,199||50.19%|
|Florida State University||Tallahassee, Florida||ACC||1||July||2022||$1,244||-26.55%|
|Institution||Location||Conference||Bedrooms||Month||Year||Avg. Rent||%Change, YoY|
|Purdue University||West Lafayette, Indiana||Big 10||2||July||2022||$663||-34.44%|
|University of Iowa||Iowa City, Iowa||Big 10||2||July||2022||$679||-7.93%|
|Iowa State University||Ames, Iowa||Big 12||2||July||2022||$683||45.08%|
|University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign||Urbana-Champaign, Illinois||Big 10||2||July||2022||$850||-4.05%|
|University of Oklahoma[a]||Norman, Oklahoma||Big 12||2||July||2022||$865||-4.95%|
|Oklahoma State University||Stillwater, Oklahoma||Big 12||2||July||2022||$880||12.10%|
|University of Arkansas||Fayetteville, Arkansas||SEC||2||July||2022||$917||21.23%|
|Texas Tech University||Lubbock, Texas||Big 12||2||July||2022||$922||7.26%|
|University of Missouri||Columbia, Missouri||SEC||2||July||2022||$928||3.49%|
|University of Alabama||Tuscaloosa, Alabama||SEC||2||July||2022||$951||4.17%|
|Mississippi State University||Starkville, Mississippi||SEC||2||July||2022||$955||-3.66%|
|Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University||Blacksburg, Virginia||ACC||2||July||2022||$999||0.00%|
|Kansas State University||Manhattan, Kansas||Big 12||2||July||2022||$1,007||17.82%|
|University of Kansas||Lawrence, Kansas||Big 12||2||July||2022||$1,036||-7.01%|
|Texas A&M University||College Station, Texas||SEC||2||July||2022||$1,198||34.85%|
|Louisiana State University||Baton Rouge, Louisiana||SEC||2||July||2022||$1,206||15.45%|
|University of Mississippi||Oxford, Mississippi||SEC||2||July||2022||$1,211||18.41%|
|Pennsylvania State University||University Park, Pennsylvania||Big 10||2||July||2022||$1,221||6.05%|
|Michigan State University||East Lansing, Michigan||Big 10||2||July||2022||$1,223||5.12%|
|University of Nebraska–Lincoln||Lincoln, Nebraska||Big 10||2||July||2022||$1,295||-8.50%|
|Northwestern University||Evanston, Illinois||Big 10||2||July||2022||$1,340||-61.38%|
|University of Notre Dame||Notre Dame, Indiana||Ind.||2||July||2022||$1,417||46.52%|
|Florida State University||Tallahassee, Florida||ACC||2||July||2022||$1,417||-26.46%|
|Wake Forest University||Winston-Salem, North Carolina||ACC||2||July||2022||$1,417||13.47%|
|University of Louisville||Louisville, Kentucky||ACC||2||July||2022||$1,423||16.30%|
As for most renters in general, rents prices are highest on the coasts and cheaper in the Deep South and the Midwest for college students and nearby residents, as well. But, also like the rest of the nation, prices on those coasts, while still high, are leveling off, while the rest of the country catches up.
But, there are plenty of affordable college campus neighborhood availabilities if you know where to look. Find yourself a great place in one of the cheapest college towns, or anywhere you want to settle in for an education, or just a good time near a campus right now on Apartment Guide.
Apartment Guide ranked 70 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). Los Angeles was listed as a single city as home to both UCLA and Southern California. For one-bedroom rents in the Power Five cities of Clemson, SC, Morgantown, WV and Pullman, WA, state data was used in place of unavailable city data. The same was done for the same cities, plus Berkeley, CA and Auburn, AL for two-bedroom rent.
Each city included in our report was ranked 1 through 60 for one, two and three bedroom unit prices per bedroom. That total was then added together and divided by three. Cities with the lowest total score were determined to be the most affordable.
Rent prices are based on a rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.'s multifamily rental property inventory of studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Data was pulled in July 2022 and goes back for one year. A weighted average formula was used that more accurately represents price availability for each individual unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.
The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.