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Where Are the Most Affordable College Towns?

Guest Contributor

Choosing a college or university is an important decision for you and your college-bound teen. One of the factors families consider is affordability. Higher education in America isn't cheap. A study by The Economist found that 14 out of the 19 most expensive universities in the world are in the U.S. 

In most cases, these elite colleges and universities are located in cities or towns with a high cost of living. If your student's heart isn't set on an Ivy League university, choosing a college in a city or town with a lower cost of living can significantly reduce the overall cost of a college degree.

College Towns With the Lowest Cost of Living

Moving Feedback conducted research into the most affordable college towns in America based on factors that include:

  • Average rent of a one-bedroom apartment in the middle of the city
  • Minimum wage
  • City population
  • Annual tuition
  • Average cost of utilities
  • Average transportation costs
  • Average price of food

The research revealed that the top 10 college cities with the lowest cost of living are:

  1. Springfield, Missouri
  2. Mobile, Alabama
  3. Toledo, Ohio
  4. Tucson, Arizona
  5. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  6. Lubbock, Texas
  7. Huntsville, Alabama
  8. Little Rock, Arkansas
  9. Fort Wayne, Indiana
  10. Redding, California

Springfield tops the list for the lowest rent for a one-bedroom apartment at only $592 per month, while the cheapest on-campus accommodation is at the University of Arizona at $6,200 per year.

Least Expensive Towns for Student Renters

Choosing to study in another city or state means paying for housing. If your student is pursuing a bachelor's degree out of state, you'll be paying housing costs for four years. On-campus residences can be expensive, but renting an off-campus apartment in one of the top college towns can also be prohibitive.

So which college town has the cheapest rentals? Apartment Guide did some research and found the most affordable college towns for renters are located in the Midwest and the South. 

You can compare off-campus housing options for one, two, and three-bedroom apartments. Sharing a two or three-bedroom apartment with fellow students can make a rental more affordable.

Here are the top 10 college towns for cheap apartment rentals, according to Apartment Guide:

  1. Aimes, Iowa
  2. Starkville, Missouri
  3. Lubbock, Texas
  4. Columbia, Missouri
  5. Manhattan, Kansas
  6. Iowa City, Iowa
  7. Lawrence, Kansas
  8. Auburn, Alabama
  9. Waco, Texas
  10. Norman, Oklahoma

Clearly, Iowa is budget-friendly for renters, with two cities making the list. What's more, Iowa renters insurance, which is advisable for students renting off-campus apartments, only costs $124 per year according to Ross Martin from The Zebra. That's a little over $10 a month and $61 less than the national average.

Columbia, MO and Manhattan, KS are tied in fourth place.

Note that Lubbock, TX and Oklahoma feature on both the lowest cost of living and most renter-friendly lists.

More Ways to Cut College Costs

If you are on a tight budget, there are a few more strategies for lowering the costs of your student's college education. 

  1. Apply for financial aid. If your student can demonstrate financial need, you may qualify for federal student aid. There are also state-based student grants and university scholarships available.  
  2. Join a work-study program. Students who qualify for a work-study program (a form of financial aid) can use the money earned to offset their tuition or living expenses. 
  3. Consider a community college. Community colleges are a great way to prepare for a career if you can't afford university tuition fees. Students can advance to a four-year degree later on when they are in better financial standing.
  4. Access military or veteran benefits. Children of military personnel and veterans qualify for in-state tuition rates. Should the parents relocate to a post in another state, the student can remain at their current college or transfer to a college in the state their parents have moved to. Either way, they will continue to pay in-state rates.
  5. Sign up for an online course. There are many reputable online colleges and universities offering degree courses. By attending college online, you avoid room and board costs, and tuition fees are likely lower.

Other Factors to Consider When Choosing a College

While costs are a major consideration when choosing a college, there are other factors you and your student shouldn't overlook:

  • The college or university's reputation, especially if you choose an online university. Is the school accredited? What is their first-year retention and graduation rate? Is their degree valued by prospective employers?     
  • Curriculum: Does the school offer majors and academic programs that align with the career path your student wants to pursue? How comprehensive is the curriculum?
  • Extracurricular activities: What college groups, clubs, athletic teams and other extracurricular activities and amenities are available? If your student wants to study performing arts, does the school have high level music and theatre programs? What's available in the surrounding community?
  • Transportation. Will your student have a vehicle? If not, does the campus and surrounding town/city have a good public transit system? How far is it to the nearest airport? 
  • Safety: Is the city or town safe, and how strong is campus security?

Like most parents, you want to provide the best opportunities for your children. But with the rising costs of higher education, finding the ideal home away from home for your college student can be a challenge. In some cases, attending school out-of-state may be surprisingly less expensive in a city with a lower cost of living.

Deevra Norling is a freelance content writer covering topics such as entrepreneurship, small business, career, human resources, e-commerce, finance, insurance, and travel. When not writing, she’s tossing balls on the beach with the four-legged fur babies she looks after as a professional pet sitter.
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