Arizona is home to some of the most popular colleges and universities in the nation, making it a go-to place for many college-bound kids from around the country. But with tuition costs skyrocketing nationwide, leaving home for school in another state can be an expensive endeavor. One of the best ways to save money during one’s college years is to live off-campus, a strategy which ultimately gives a student more options for food, healthcare, transportation, and housing. Though Arizona is not the cheapest place in the U.S. to live — its cost of living averages 3% higher than the rest of the United States — there are affordable college towns in which to live and save money.
Using data from Wikipedia, our editors made a list of every college town in Arizona and then used data from Sperling’s Best Places to rank them on general affordability. To figure out which college towns are most affordable, we looked at costs for housing, food, health, transportation, and utilities, and compared them to the national average. We also considered features like amenities, crime rates, public transportation, and overall quality of life before narrowing our list down to the 10 most affordable college towns in Arizona.
University of Arizona, Brown Mackie College, Brookline College, Wayland Baptist University
Cost of Living: 5% lower than the national average; 8% lower than the state average
Thanks to its pleasant climate and attractive setting, Tucson spent many years as a go-to place for retirees. Today, it’s gaining ground as a popular place for younger people to settle down, many of whom are graduates of a Tucson-based college or university. Though technically a mid-size city, Tucson has a distinctly college-town feel. This is partly due to the fact that University of Arizona is located a mere mile from downtown. Tucson itself offers plenty to see and do within its city limits, though a mountain escape also makes for an easy day trip or weekend away. Best of all, Tucson remains one of the only Arizona college towns with an average cost of living lower than the national average.
Grand Canyon University, Phoenix College
Cost of Living: 1% lower than the national average; 4% lower than the state average
In the last 40 years, Phoenix has evolved from a resort town to one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. Home to Grand Canyon University, Phoenix College, and a number of smaller institutions, Phoenix is a great place to be a student — not least because of its lower-than-average cost of living. Young people in Phoenix can rent a one-bedroom apartment for an average of $760. That’s a hair higher than the Arizona average, but far lower than the national norm. Despite higher numbers in the housing category, the areas of food, healthcare, utilities, and entertainment all fall under the U.S. average costs.
Midwestern University, Arizona State University West Campus
Cost of Living: 0% lower than the national average; 3% lower than the state average
Glendale is considered a suburb of Phoenix, though its vast surrounding farmland gives it a distinctly isolated feel. Still, students living in the upper middle-class Glendale have the benefit of easy access to all of Phoenix’s amenities, without quite as much of the traffic and crowds. Not bad, considering Glendale’s cost of living is right on par with its bigger neighbor. Average costs for food, healthcare, utilities, and entertainment are all slightly below the national average, while housing and transportation rank slightly above. To give you an idea, a one-bedroom apartment in Glendale is likely to set you back about $741 per month — nearly $100 less than the national norm.
Lake Havasu City
ASU Colleges at Lake Havasu City, Northern Arizona University extended campus
Cost of Living: 2% higher than the national average; 1% lower than the state average
Lake Havasu City, home to extended campuses of two major universities, doesn’t have a whole lot to offer on the amenities side. It does, however, promise to offer students a lower cost of living than many other college towns in Arizona. Overall, living in Lake Havasu City costs approximately 1% less than the Arizona state average. Housing here tends to be a bit more expensive than the Arizona norm; a one-bedroom can be had for approximately $643 per month. Fortunately, costs for food, healthcare, utilities, transportation, and entertainment all average less than average.
Arizona State University Polytechnic Campus, Benedictine University branch campus, A.T. Still University School of Osteopathic Medicine
Cost of Living: 2% higher than the national average; 1% lower than the state average
Mesa is a middle-class suburb of Phoenix, and a close neighbor to Peoria, Chandler, Glendale, Scottsdale, and Tempe, all of which are also included on our list. For students attending college in Peoria, Tempe, Chandler, and Scottsdale, Mesa is an attractive option for living thanks to its much lower costs. A one-bedroom in Mesa rents for approximately $727 per month — slightly higher than the Arizona average, but less than the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale metropolitan area. Besides housing, transportation costs trend a little on the higher side, though average costs for food, healthcare, utilities, and entertainment are less than the national norm.
Trine University branch campus
Cost of Living: 8% higher than the national average; 5% higher than the state average
Like Mesa, listed above, Peoria is a middle-class suburb of Phoenix. Though Peoria’s cost of living is already higher than both the national and state averages, students thinking of living in Peoria should know that the strong local economy all but assures that Peoria’s costs are sure to continue rising. A one-bedroom rental here already costs an average of $200 more than the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale Metro area average, and 28% more than the national average. Transportation costs also average higher in Peoria. Food, healthcare, utilities, and entertainment costs do average below the national norm — only a couple percentage points below, but below none the less.
Arizona State University, Brookline College, Bryan University
Cost of Living: 9% higher than the national average; 6% higher than the state average
Tempe is yet another Phoenix suburb, and a popular choice for college students thanks to the presence of Arizona State University. Tempe has tons of options when it comes to entertainment, so it’s a good thing average entertainments costs are 4% less than the national average. Food, healthcare, and utilities also average less than the U.S. norm. Housing, however, is a different story, and property values here are rising fast. Housing costs currently average about 31% higher than the national average, and a one-bedroom rental in Tempe is likely to set one back just over $800 per month.
Western International University, International Baptist College
Cost of Living: 12% higher than the national average; 9% higher than the state average
As a suburb of Phoenix, Chandler is a good option for those who attend Phoenix schools, but want to live in the suburbs. If, of course, they’re willing to put up with a slightly higher cost of living. Housing costs here average 43% higher than the national average, and a one-bedroom costs approximately $903 per month — nearly $170 more than even the metro average. On the bright side, food, healthcare, utilities, and entertainment are all slightly lower than the national norm.
Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences, Pima Medical Institute
Cost of Living: 14% higher than the national average; 11% higher than the state average
Like its neighbor, Chandler, Gilbert is a nice option for those who want to live in the suburbs, but attend school in Phoenix or another nearby town. A one-bedroom apartment in Gilbert averages just over $1,000 per month — 49% higher than the national average. Transportation costs also average slightly higher than the rest of the country. Fortunately, the average costs of food, healthcare, utilities, and entertainment are all lower than the United States average.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Yavapai College, Prescott College, Northern Arizona University, Old Dominion University
Cost of Living: 17% higher than the national average; 14% higher than the state average
With so many colleges and universities calling it home, it may come as a bit of a surprise that Prescott has a cost of living averaging 14% higher than the rest of Arizona. Still, Prescott is quite a nice place to live. The historic desert mountain city is clean, pleasant, and prosperous, with tons of well-maintained historic structures and a vibrant artist community. Despite its higher-than-average living costs, a one-bedroom in Prescott rents for about $615 per month — a small mercy perhaps for a college student living off campus. Costs for food, healthcare, utilities, transportation, and entertainment are also less than the national norm, albeit just slightly.
And what are the most expensive college towns in Arizona? Those would be Scottsdale and Flagstaff.