Real State

The Best College Towns for Students on a Budget

College costs have long been in the stratosphere, and record inflation is only putting more stress on student budgets. Student loan forgiveness is in the air (and in the courts), but even if President Biden’s plan, which forgives up to $20,000 in debt for millions of federal borrowers, is enacted, it won’t help student borrowers with their future college costs, housing among them.

There may be some help: A study by, a scholarship and grant search engine, used various data points to find the U.S. college towns where students could thrive without breaking the bank. Researchers compared 100 cities across three categories: “Affordability” awarded points for lower median rent, general cost of living and average cost of college tuition; “demographics” rewarded cities with larger shares of 20-somethings and unmarried residents; and the “fun and opportunity” category was based on unemployment rates, biking and walking scores, and the concentration of bars.

If you’re a student from the Midwest, it may make sense to stay local. In addition to steeply discounted in-state tuition, the region has relatively low housing costs, which helped it fill 14 of the study’s top 25 spots. At the very top: Manhattan, Kan., home to Kansas State University, followed by Lawrence, Kan., home to the University of Kansas. Hattiesburg, Miss., home to the University of Southern Mississippi, was found to be the most affordable college town, but its apparent lack of much “fun and opportunity” dragged it down to 21st place.

There were anomalies in the results. Thanks to its chart-topping walk and biking scores, Berkeley, Calif., sneaked into the top 25 despite having among the most expensive housing markets in the nation.

The top 25 cities, based on the study, are shown in this week’s chart.

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