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These 10 Most Expensive and 5 Least Expensive College Towns in the US

As the cost of living and higher education rise, many families of college-bound students are becoming savvier about where to attend college based on affordability and the quality of education offered.

However, selecting which university to attend isn’t always about the cost of living. Many look for cultural and social diversity. Is there a vibrant nightlife? Great coffee shops? Outdoor activity spaces?

Based on the average rental price pulled from Zillow, a real estate marketing site, of every college town in the United States, we compiled the top 10 most expensive and an alternative top 5 least expensive college towns to live in. 

1. Hanover, New Hampshire

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Coming in at No. 1 as the most expensive college town to live in is Hanover, New Hampshire, with an average monthly rent cost of $3,475. Home of Dartmouth College, this quaint New England town, unfortunately, has a housing shortage. Combine that with high demand and increasing home prices, and you have the perfect storm for sky-high living expenses. 

Hanover offers that small-town feel while providing additional urban opportunities, and Dartmouth has much to offer. From solid academic programs to unique study-abroad opportunities, it is a highly sought-after university experience.

2. Santa Cruz, California

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Santa Cruz is not only a popular tourist destination but also home to the University of California. With soaring cost of living rates, high demand, and a low supply of housing, the average rental price is $3,400 per month. This makes the oceanfront town the second most expensive college town in the United States. 

According to Cody Perez, a former colleague who attended UCSC, “Santa Cruz has the quintessential chill California beachside town vibes, excellent weather year-round, and close enough proximity to places like the Bay Area for weekend trips.”

3. Cambridge, Massachusetts

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Cambridge, Massachusetts, home to Harvard University and MIT, is no stranger to providing quality education that potential candidates fight over during college admission acceptance periods. But is the city or the college worth coughing up an average of $3,300 a month for just housing? The magic 8-ball says “most definitely,” considering the job and networking opportunities that await any future graduate of either university.  

Kyle Logan, a fellow journalist, often visited Cambridge during his college days and shared with me that although rent is outrageous in the town, there are still some reasonably priced theaters and bookstores to visit. 

4. Princeton, New Jersey

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Princeton and Harvard might be Ivy League competitors, but they are neck and neck when it comes to the average cost of rent in their respective towns. Princeton, NJ’s median rent price is $3,300, which is tied with Cambridge’s at $3,300.

As a former resident of Princeton, Chris Karl, told me, “Princeton is not a cheap place to live, but that’s the cost of having easy access to a prestigious Ivy League university and small-town charm. They also have a top-rated public school system, which makes it a great place to raise a family.”

5. Claremont, California

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Coming in at No. 5 on the list of most expensive college towns is Claremont, California. This suburb of east Los Angeles is nationally known as the home of the Claremont Colleges, a complex of six institutions of higher learning. Due to this, rent prices are steep, averaging $3,000 a month.

In addition to its incredible higher education system, the city boasts a vibrant art and cultural scene and plenty of green spaces to explore and appreciate. Local museums include the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology at The Webb Schools and the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College.

6. Boulder, Colorado

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Boulder, Colorado, has a median rent price of $2,995, making it the most expensive college town in Colorado and the sixth most expensive in the nation. This Rocky Mountain town is considered highly educated, considering it’s home to the University of Colorado and a high concentration of STEM professionals.

In 2017, National Geographic declared that Boulder is the “Happiest City in the United States,” and CBS even said, “If happiness is a state of mind, then Boulder is its capital.” So maybe those high rent prices are worth it?

7. San Luis Obispo, California

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California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo is the oldest of the three polytechnic colleges in California. Its graduate and undergraduate programs enroll roughly 21,000 students a year. Due to its popularity and the overall cost of living in California, San Luis Obispo is not inexpensive to live in. The average rent price is $2,850 a month. 

Housing in SLO is in short supply for both renters and buyers. Despite an 18.9% increase in housing prices, most homes sell on average seven days after going on the market. 

8. Berkeley, California

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Berkeley is home to the University of California, a highly sought-after higher education institution for college-bound students. Although it is ranked No. 8 as the most expensive college town, with rent prices averaging $2,728, individuals gravitate to the area not only because of the quality education one receives but also because of the pubs, coffee shops, and great restaurants in the downtown area.

While located in an urban setting, Berkeley is a safe place to study and live. The town also has a diverse population, with popular museums, art galleries, and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA).

9. Amherst, Massachusetts

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Catering to the students of three different universities, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College, and Hampshire College, combined with a low amount of rental properties, makes Amherst, Massachusetts, a costly town to live in, with an average rental price of $2,660.

According to the City of Amherst’s website, overcrowding of rental properties has been a historical problem in this New England town. This is primarily related to off-campus student housing and decreased on-campus housing available to students. 

10. New Brunswick, New Jersey

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New Brunswick, home to Rutgers University, is No. 10 on the list of most expensive college towns, with an average rent price of $2,587. Students at Rutgers have also expressed that the landlords wield all the control in their city and often take advantage of their tenants. On various occasions, renters have reported that their landlords have withheld fixing reported issues, such as lack of heat and pest problems. 

In addition to being known for its higher education, New Brunswick is also home to a lively music scene—the rock bands Bon Jovi and The Smithereens hail from this New Jersey town.

Least Expensive

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If you or your kid are college-bound and you’re working with a limited budget, there are more cost-friendly colleges and towns to consider. However, most of them are located in the southern or midwest states, which can have other drawbacks, such as less diversity and stricter reproductive rights for women. 

1. Macomb, Illinois

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In Macomb, Illinois, home to Western Illinois University and Spoon River College, renters pay an average of $825 a month, making it the cheapest college town to live in. This small midwest town offers multiple state parks and a historic downtown square that attracts many residents. 

College students do have their selection of a handful of pubs and bars to hang out in, and there are always the campus libraries and museums where they can have a quiet place to study and further their education.

2. Hays, Kansas

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Hays, Kansas, is the second least expensive college town. With an average rental price of $850 a month, residents’ money can stretch farther than most. 

This sleepy college town is home to Fort Hays State University. It offers cheap housing, low unemployment, and numerous shopping and dining establishments, so you might not be too disappointed to live there. 

3. Grand Forks, North Dakota

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The University of North Dakota is located in Grand Forks, the third-most populous city in the state, behind Fargo and Bismarck. With a median rental rate of $875, the cost of living is manageable for most people.

In addition to plenty of bars, restaurants, and shops that cater to students and locals, there are countless outdoor activities that people participate in. Fishing, kayaking, and hiking are popular activities enjoyed by the residents of Grand Forks.   

4. Starkville, Mississippi

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Starkville is the fourth-cheapest college town to live in, with a monthly rental price of $920. Home to Mississippi State University, this southern college town has a thriving art scene and multiple seasonal events throughout the year.

According to Southern Living, Starkville is home to a budding culinary scene and has more restaurants per capita than any other city in Mississippi. So, if you’re in town to catch a football game, there should be plenty of options. 

5. Radford, Virginia

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Rental prices average approximately $950 a month, making Radford, Virginia, another affordable college town. Radford University students have several restaurant options and can enjoy the outdoor spaces at several of the town’s waterfront parks.

Residents of Radford have shared multiple reviews on Niche, stating that it’s an excellent town for students, retirees, and empty nesters. They also mention that the downtown area is easy to get around by foot and bike and has several shops and eateries to enjoy.

With a passion for travel, great food, and beautiful art, Julie put aside her 15-year career in the tech industry and dove head-first into a more creative sphere. Utilizing her degree in Communications, she is pursuing freelance writing. An avid traveler, Julie has experience writing and documenting the amazing spots she has visited and explored, the delicious food she has tasted, and the incredible art she has admired and purchased! When she’s not writing, she can be spotted around Austin, TX, at various art gallery openings, having a delicious meal with her husband and friends, and playing with her two dogs.