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The 11 Most Student-Friendly Cities in the U.S.

A perfect list for students who can’t afford to live in New York, Chicago or San Francisco or to study at Harvard.

Manuela Wendt
| Updated on
The 11 Most Student-Friendly Cities in the U.S.© 2023 Shutterstock

Claremont, Scripps collegeMonticello-in-CharlottesvilleEach year, studying in the United States becomes an important topic for millions of young people, bringing up lots of questions. The cost of studying in the U.S. is very high, and for most pre-students, the matter of financing studies is the first thing they think about, often reducing the choice of student cities in the country. Even though New York, San Francisco, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago or Boston are in most lists of the best U.S. cities for students, these cities are not an option for everyone. The cost of living and the tuition fees of some top unis, such as Harvard or Columbia University, are simply too high. In case you're trying to figure out which university is the right one for you, we have a guide on how to choose the best university, which can help you with guidance on relevant factors; when it comes to choosing an educational institution, many criteria must be considered, among which the location of a university plays a major role. There's a significant amount of elements that make for a genuinely student-friendly town, which we'll elaborate further.

How we picked the best cities for students

When we thought about what criteria we should take into account during our research for this article, we definitely kept in mind cities that are nice to live in and that have adapted to the student way of living. Moreover, as the financial aspect is crucial for many, factors such as the average cost of living, the average cost for a one-bed apartment and the price of transportation (like the cost of a monthly ticket) were essential for our selection. Other important determinants are the availability of housing close to the university, as well as the entertainment opportunities the city has to offer, like an exciting nightlife – and of course, if these activities are affordable. Smaller cities, with a young median age of the population, can often be more attractive regarding these points, and a low average age can mean that a high number of students are living in the city.

Cities like New York, Miami and San Francisco are of course, very exciting, but they are also way more expensive, especially when you have to take a cab to go from one area to another. For many people, good weather is an important factor – particularly warmer temperatures, which allow you to do more activities outside, like practicing sports, hanging out or simply studying in parks. Finally, other crucial aspects are high-end education and good prospects for your post-university life.

After taking all these elements into account, we've put together a list of the most student-friendly towns in the USA. For more info on other important city facts, you can also check out our post on how to choose the right city to live in.

1) Austin, Texas

Cityscape Austin, Texas

The capital of Texas is nothing like the cliches that you might associate with “The Lone Star State”. Home to one of the largest and best universities in the U.S., the University of Texas at Austin, Austin is a culturally-diverse city, with many young people, activists, musicians and artists that live upon the unofficial slogans: “The Live Music Capital of the World” and “Keep Austin weird”. Besides plenty of exciting activities, Austin offers great advantages, such as an average maximum temperature of 70.88°F (26.1°C), allowing you to enjoy long summer days outside, a youthful vibe (with a median age of 32.3 years) and great education, as well as good job prospects.

The University of Texas at Austin has a high position in many prestigious rankings, displaying the best universities in the world, including: Times Higher Education World University Rankings (49th place), U.S. News & World's Best Universities (56th), QS World University Rankings 2018 (67th) and the Academic Ranking of World Universities, or ARWU (51st).

In 2016, Forbes placed Austin in 11th position of their Best Places for Business and Careers ranking, and considered it the 4th among all big U.S. cities for job prospects. As Austin’s popularity grew with time, so did its cost of living, with an average of $992 for a one-bedroom apartment.

2) Gainesville, FL

Citycenter Gainesville, FL

Gainesville was the second fastest developing city in the United States from 2007-2011, with tremendous growth in employment and population at working age. Similarly to numerous cities which are attractive to young talents, Gainesville became a startup hub.

In Gainesville you can find a top school, that is perfectly combining a research environment with a high level of athletic programs. Thanks to the University of Florida, 50% of the town's 120,000+ occupants are students. People who fell in love with Gainesville value its tropical climate (average max. temperature of 66.2°F/19°C), natural beauty with a strong business aspect, and the endless amount of things to do. If you're fond of nature, you'll most certainly enjoy Gainesville's many parks and palm trees; you might also want to check out the Bat House at the University of Florida and the butterfly rainforest. Gainesville has many museums and a fantastic nightlife with tons of bars; on top of that, it's quite affordable, with an average rent of $752 per one-bedroom apartment.

3) Pittsburgh, PA

Skyline Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh is slightly larger than Gainsville (and definitely colder, reaching a low of 41°F/5°C during winter) and other cities you'll find in our list, but throughout the years, the number of students has managed to keep pace with the city's increasing growth. This is mostly thanks to the fact that Pittsburgh welcomed many large corporations over the course of the 20th century. The city offers extensive research infrastructures, but it's also where you'll find the highest amount of bars per person in the country.

These days, Pittsburgh has more than 1,600 tech firms (such as Google, Apple and Intel), but that's not all: federal headquarters for energy research, cyber defense and robotics are all located in the heart of the city. The University of Pittsburgh and other 66 colleges and universities make Pittsburgh one of the smartest cities in the United States. With its top companies and colleges, the city's popularity grew steadily, and so did the rent, reaching an average price of $1,162 for a one-bedroom apartment.

4) Chapel Hill, NC

Chapel Hill/Shutterstock.com
Old Well of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, NC

With amazing weather, an exciting college atmosphere, arts, music, and many food festivals, Chapel Hill qualifies as an amazing college town. Its beautiful Georgian architecture and its parks and natural areas with a total surface of 700 acres are alluring. The town has many residents with graduate degrees – in fact, it has one of the highest rates in the country –, which is probably due to many work opportunities in healthcare, science, and tech. The average rent cost is $982 per month, and temperature-wise, the city is perfect for those who like cold temperatures, as the average is around 39.1°F (4°C).

The University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill was voted amongst 100 best U.S. public colleges in the past two years by several rankings, including Times Higher Education and QS World University Rankings. Nearly one third of their students get the chance to study abroad before graduating, as UNC offers 325 programs in 70 countries. Now the cherry on the cake, just for the foodies: you should know that Chapel Hill was nominated "America's Foodiest Town".

5) Charlottesville, VA

Monticello in Charlottesville, VA

The small town of Charlottesville is the former home of two U.S. presidents and a UNESCO world heritage site, offering tons of fun excursions. The mall downtown is one of the most beautiful outdoor pedestrian malls in the U.S.; you can also take a 30-minute drive out of the city and lose yourself in vineyards, and also visit the Blue Ridge Mountains, from where you can see the true beauty of Charlottesville – but that's not all! Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia, which is made up of eleven schools across the city and was ranked several times amongst the top 100 best national universities (public and private) by rankings such as the Times Higher Education (56th), U.S. News (25th) and Forbes (40th).

A one-bedroom apartment in the city costs in average $1,049 per month, and the annual high temperature is 67.4°F (20°C).

6) Tuscaloosa, AL

Tuscaloosa, hospital
Tuscaloosa hospital, AL

A few years ago, Tuscaloosa was named one of the best cities to live in by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, on top of being featured in lists such as "100 best communities for young people" and the “50 best college towns”. The reason behind this is that most of the life of Tuscaloosa revolves around its universities, particularly the University of Alabama. One can quickly notice the importance that sports teams hold in the heart of the inhabitants of this small city, and feel a high sense of camaraderie throughout the streets of Tuscaloosa. It is also a very green place and a cheap city to live in, with an average cost of $687 for a one-bedroom apartment.

7) Claremont, CA

Claremont, Scripps college
Claremont Scripps College, CA

Referred to as the "City of Trees and PhDs", this city is as educated as it is beautiful. A quiet community only a short distance from L.A., Claremont has one of the largest metro infrastructures in the United States and has something to offer to everyone. Its streets are filled with coffee shops, boutiques and restaurants, with many events always taking place in the city. If you're an outdoor lover, prepare yourself to be fulfilled all throughout the year, since you can go swimming in the Pacific Ocean and go skiing or snowboarding at the San Gabriel Mountains on the same day, making the most of cold and hot temperatures. Even though its rents are way above national average ($1,509 for a one-bedroom apartment), Claremont has been ranked the best place to live in California.

Finally, for you to fully immerse into the city's very zen atmosphere, the Claremont Graduate University offers health and wellness outlets for relaxation, fitness and spirituality.

8) Oxford, MS

Oxford, University of Mississippi
University of Mississippi, Oxford

Oxford was named after the university city in England due to hopes of having the state university placed there. Year after year, Oxford is ranked among the top 10 college towns in the U.S. and as one of the country's most charming small towns. In the center of Oxford's southern charm and polished nightlife, you'll find the University of Mississippi. Because of its proximity to New Orleans, Nashville and Memphis, alongside its college town atmosphere, Oxford has a varied and unique music scene. Big acts sometimes perform there, while on the road between larger cities!

Oxford's cost of living is generally in tune with a student's budget, with an average rent of $990 per month and cheap grocery prices. Moreover, Oxford is perfect for people that can't stand too hot or too cold temperatures, as its average temperature of 61°F (16°C) during Summer and of 39°F (4°C) in January, Winter's coldest month.

9) Nashville, TN

Skyline Nashville, TN

Nashville provides a great balance in terms of size, as it is a metropolitan city, but not as big as New York, Miami or Boston. There are plenty of cultural activities, sports teams, restaurants and coffee shops to enjoy, as well as countless concerts year-round – no wonder Nashville carries the nickname of “Music City”. The weather is great as well, with an average maximum temperature of 21.2°C, but an even more important aspect is the city's education. With a median age of 34.2 years, Nashville is a city for young people, with many universities and colleges, including Vanderbilt University, Tennessee State University and Lipscomb University. In 2016, Forbes ranked Nashville at the 8th position for cities with highest job growth, which has attracted more and more people, leading to an increased cost of accommodation (current average of$982 for a one-bedroom apartment).

10) Houston, Texas

Cityscape Houston, Texas

Houston is the fourth most populous city in the United States and one of the country's biggest job creators, home to more than 26 Fortune 500 companies and to the Texas Medical Center – the largest medical complex in the world. It comprises 54 not-for-profit medical institutions, including the largest children’s hospital and the biggest cancer hospital worldwide.
Houston is a culturally-diverse city with many cultural activities, restaurants, coffee shops and a good nightlife. Since the city is located in the south of Texas, it gets quite hot during Summer, but with the sea close to the city, there are numerous options to relax on the warmest days.

Houston is home to three top universities: Rice University, Houston Baptist University and the University of Houston. The average price for a one-bedroom flat in the city center is $1,285, but cheaper flats can be found outside the city center and the cost of the monthly public transport ticket is quite affordable, at $46.38.

11) Columbia, MO

Old Courthouse-Columbia-shutterstock.jpg
Old Courthouse Columbia, MO

Columbia is famous for its protected journalism, progressive politics and the Columbia College, Stephens College and the University of Missouri, which make the city a center for culture, education and athletic competition. TheWe Always Swing jazz festival attracts some of the finest Jazz musicians in the country; furthermore, the University of Missouri's sports team has a significant role in the city's culture. Nature lovers can enjoy Columbia for its beautiful surrounding nature, with the Stephens Lake Park east of the city, offering a beach, picnic areas, hiking trails and a boardwalk. Columbia is also a very cheap city to live in, with one-bedroom apartments for an average of $656 per month.

In conclusion, America offers a broad range of towns and cities suitable for all kinds of studies and students. Luckily, we all value different things in life, thus the perfect college town is, at the end of the day, a very personal decision, but we hope to have helped you in finding the best one for you! If you're struggling with the final decision, a good start might be to think about what you value the most – the environment in which you live or the level of your education. Good luck!

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