Affordable College Towns Where You Can Eat More Than Ramen
For many people, college is an important step to a future with financial stability. But getting a degree is expensive. Tuition costs in the U.S. are already high (especially when compared to other developed countries). Then, students have to figure out where to get the money necessary for housing, food, transportation and other costs-of-living expenses.
If your parents aren't millionaires who can pay for you to live comfortably for four years, consider these 10 affordable college towns. They've been ranked by how inexpensive they are, of course, but also on how young their population is and whether they have interesting things to do year-round.
Note: We may earn money from affiliate partners if you buy through links on our site.
10. Kalamazoo, Michigan
Affordability score: 5.82
Final score: 8.44
Home to Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo received an impressively high affordability score of 5.82. If it landed at No. 10, it's because the small city had a lower fun and opportunity score. You can visit the Kalamazoo Valley Museum or stroll through the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail, but it's not enough to keep you entertained for four years. Rely on campus activities instead.
Touring campus? Stay at Staybridge Suites Kalamazoo
*Rankings, population and scores are based on BrokeScholar's "Best Cities for Students on a Budget" 2022 report.
9. Ann Arbor, Michigan
Affordability score: 2.99
Final score: 8.47
Ann Arbor has the opposite issue as Kalamazoo. The city has lots of fun attractions, including museums, fairs and sports games. It doesn't shine as much in affordability, though. If you'd rather spend a little more money but have more fun, this is a good place to be. A lot of the city's activities revolve around the University of Michigan, so you're guaranteed a young, creative crowd even if you go to another college in town.
Touring campus? Stay at Bell Tower Hotel
8. Normal, Illinois
Affordability score: 4.81
Final score: 8.51
Disregard's this town's strange name and focus on it being home to Illinois State University. If you like big, busy cities, this isn't the place for you. But if you want a normal (get it?) college experience in a safe and quiet place, consider coming here.
Touring campus? Stay at Hyatt Place Bloomington/Normal
7. Gainesville, Florida
Affordability score: 3.99
Final score: 8.52
Life in Gainsville revolves completely (OK, maybe not completely, but about 90 percent) around the University of Florida. This prestigious institution gifts the city museums, an urban forest and rowdy students — whether the last one is a gift is up for debate, but young people seem to appreciate it. Plus, those living here have easy access to Florida's numerous pristine springs.
Touring campus? Stay at AC Hotel by Marriott Gainesville Downtown
6. Champaign, Illinois
Affordability score: 4.59
Final score: 8.52
Despite only having 88,288 people, Champaign manages to feel like a bigger city, thanks to the numerous restaurants, bars, cafes and museums it offers its residents. Students tend to stay on campus a lot, and we don't blame them, given the sprawling lawn that invites you to nap, study or socialize on it. And the best thing about this city is that it's quite affordable, so you won't have to go broke while attending the University of Illinois.
Touring campus? Stay at Home2 Suites by Hilton Champaign/Urbana
5. Blacksburg, Virginia
Affordability score: 2.67
Final score: 8.58
Blacksburg is mostly known for its prestigious university: Virginia Tech. If you're planning to attend this institution, congratulations! And also, you might need scholarships, as tuition here is slightly higher than the national average for in-state tuition. The good news is that Blacksburg has a lower cost of living than the state average, so if you can cover education expenses, you can afford to live here without going completely broke.
Touring campus? Stay at the Inn At Virginia Tech And Skelton Conference Center
4. Provo, Utah
Affordability score: 4.66
Final score: 8.72
With mountains constantly in the background and the large Utah Lake nearby, Provo is perfect for students who want to take care of their mental health by being outdoors. It's also about an hour from Salt Lake City, so it's easy to find a bigger city whenever you need it. This Utah town doesn't revolve around its campuses (which include Utah Valley University and Brigham Young University) as much as other places on this list. But it still has a sizeable student and young-adult population.
Touring campus? Stay at Hyatt Place Provo
3. State College, Pennsylvania
Affordability score: 2.48
Final score: 9.15
State College's name is all the proof you need that the University of Pennsylvania is the heart and soul of this town. Almost everything that happens here is somehow involved with the university, which is part of the reason students love living here. Even if you live off campus, you're never really "off campus." So, go ahead and opt for housing that's cheaper and more comfortable than the dorms.
Touring campus? Stay at the Penn Stater Hotel And Conference Center
2. Lawrence, Kansas
Affordability score: 5.90
Final score: 9.26
Lawrence has the highest affordability score out of any town on this list. It also has the third-highest fun and opportunity score, probably thanks to its numerous museums (many, courtesy of the University of Kansas) and its proximity to Clinton Lake and Clinton State Park. Though mainly suburban, there are numerous bars, restaurants and coffee shops surrounding campus to meet student demand — and most of them are fairly affordable.
Touring campus? Stay at the Oread
1. Manhattan, Kansas
Affordability score: 4.61
Final score: 10
Considered one of the best places to live in Kansas, Manhattan scores pretty well in terms of affordability and ranks highly for fun and entertainment options. People enjoy the city's museums, bars, restaurants and Big XII sports. And students looking to have fun for cheap can hike the Flint Hills or spend time at Tuttle Creek State Park.
Touring campus? Stay at Courtyard by Marriott Manhattan Aggieville