10 of the Cheapest Student Cities in the US in 2019 | Top Universities

10 of the Cheapest Student Cities in the US in 2019

By Chloe Lane

Updated October 17, 2019 Updated October 17, 2019

The United States is home to some of the highest ranked universities in the world, according to the QS World University Rankings® 2020.

However, the US is also renowned for being one of the most expensive places to be a student, and with high tuition fees and pricey living costs, it’s unsurprising that US cities often earn their lowest score in our affordability indicator – one of the six used to compile the QS Best Student Cities index.

In this article we’ll be counting down to reveal the cheapest US student cities US in 2019, based on the affordability indicator. Each of these cities contain at least two world-renowned universities featured in the QS World University Rankings® 2020.

Affordability Ranking in the US

Affordability ranking in the world

Best Student Cities ranking 





San Diego





































10. Chicago


Ranked as the world’s joint 41st best student city, Chicago takes tenth place in the US for affordability and 132nd in the world. Chicago contains five world-ranked universities, with the University of Chicago coming top in 10th place in the QS World University Rankings® 2020.

Nicknamed ‘The Windy City’, Chicago will blow away your budget with tuition fees costing an average of US$30,800 (the higher end of US universities’ tuition fees). Despite this, the city scores well in the Mercer Cost of Living indicator, in 34th place, and a one bedroom apartment in Chicago city center is likely to cost students US$1,880 according to Numbeo.

9. Boston


Home to eight universities in total, with two universities in the top five; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, in first place) and Harvard University (third), Boston is undoubtedly an extremely popular student city. Boston is ranked 12th in the best student city index (the highest ranked student city in the US) and places 131st in the world for affordability (down four places this year).

Average tuition costs US$34,800, and as a result, Boston is one of the most expensive cities for tuition fees in the US. You may argue, however, that the exceptional reputation of Boston’s institutions justifies the higher costs.

Don’t let these high costs put you off – the universities offer generous financial aid packages, so students can have access to some of the world’s top universities, without breaking the bank. 

8. Philadelphia


Philadelphia rises four places in the affordability indicator this year, ranking 130th in the world and 8th in the US. The city places 62nd in the Best Student City rankings, containing three ranked institutions, with the University of Pennsylvania coming top in 15th place.

Tuition fees, on average, will cost students US$29,900, and the city ranks relatively well in the Mercer Living Index in 38th place. Despite this, a single person’s monthly costs (excluding rent) will be around US$1,003 according to Numbeo, and the cost of living index is 1.23 percent higher than London.

7. Miami


Florida’s most populous and well-known city comes seventh in our countdown of the cheapest US student cities, ranking 125th in the world for affordability. The city comes in at 94th in the best student cities rankings, climbing six places this year, and it’s highest ranked institution is the University of Miami in joint 271st place.

Average tuition fees in Miami will set you back US$30,800, but the monthly living costs (excluding rent) for a single person are a lot lower than other US cities – US$973 without rent – and the cost of living index in Miami is 5.32 percent lower than London, according to Numbeo.    

6. Dallas


In sixth place we have Dallas, in north east Texas, ranking 123rd in the world for affordability (dropping two places this year) and 114th overall in the Best Student Cities ranking.

Dallas’ top ranking university is the University of Texas Dallas, placing 501-510, and average tuition fees will cost students US$31,700. However, this is offset by lower costs of living – 14.9 percent lower than in London, and consumer prices (including rent) are 43.4 percent lower than the US’ least affordable student city – San Francisco, according to Numbeo. 

5. Houston


Entering the top 5 now, Houston ranks 120th in the world for affordability and comes 93rd in the best student cities ranking. Houston is the largest city in the state of Texas, the fourth largest city in the US, and is home to 6,313,000 people, of which 43,300 are students.

Tuition fees in Houston will cost students US$29,800 on average, and a one bedroom apartment in the City Center will cost around US$1437, according to Numbeo, with consumer prices (including rent) 46 percent lower than San Francisco.

4. Baltimore


Baltimore ranks 87th in the best student cities ranking and rises five places this year to reach 119th. Maryland’s largest city, Baltimore, contains two ranked universities, including John Hopkins University, which places 24th in the world university rankings this year; is the city’s highest ranked university, as well as one of the best medical schools in the world.

Average tuition fees for Maryland’s universities will cost students a comparatively low US$21,500. The city also scores well in the Mercer Cost of Living Index in 38th place.

3. Atlanta


Atlanta kicks off the top three, ranking 115th in the affordability indicator, rising two places this year and placing third in the US. Average tuition fees in the city are a modest US$27,100, but the cost of living is relatively high, with Atlanta ranking 78th in the Mercer Cost of Living Index.

The city boasts rich history and culture as well as being a thriving center of commerce, and as a result, places joint 57th in the student cities ranking. The city contains three internationally recognized universities, with the highest ranked being the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech, joint 72nd).

2. Pittsburgh


Dropping four places this year in the affordability indicator is Pittsburg, ranking 112th. Despite this fall, Pittsburgh is still the second cheapest student city in the US this year, and only just misses out on the top spot by one place in the affordability indicator. Pittsburg contains two world-ranked universities, including its highest ranked, Carnegie Mellon University, in 48th place.

A one-bedroom apartment in the city center costs a comparatively cheap US$1,166 -- the US’ most expensive student city, San Francisco, is significantly more expensive, with a similar apartment costing US$3442 on average.

1.San Diego

The cheapest student city in the US this year is San Diego, remaining in 111th place for affordability. With numerous attractive beaches and plenty of tourist attractions, San Diego is an extremely popular student city, earning its highest score in the desirability rank and placing 76th overall in the best student cities ranking. The city contains three top universities; including University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in 48th place.

The city offers the cheapest average tuition fees of the US ranked cities at US$15,500. Supporting this is a relatively affordable cost of living, and San Diego places 27th in the Mercer Cost of Living Index. A single person’s monthly costs (excluding rent) is around US$903; significantly lower than many other US cities.

This article was originally published in October 2019 .

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Written by

As Content Editor for TopUniversities.com and TopMBA.com, Chloe creates and publishes a wide range of articles for universities and business schools across the world. Chloe has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Reading and grew up in Leicestershire, UK. 

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