A degree from a college or university is one of life’s most expensive purchases. Besides tuition and board, today’s students must consider costs like food, transportation, and off-campus housing. Luckily, American college towns vary dramatically when it comes to the cost of living.
Though New York’s cost of living is about 29% higher than the national average, the Empire State is a much more affordable place to live than many of its neighbors in New England and on the East Coast. This is good news for students attending any of New York’s 100+ colleges and universities.
Methodology for Ranking the Best Colleges Towns in New York by Affordability
We began by compiling a list of each and every college town in the state of New York. To figure out which college towns are most affordable, we consulted Sperling’s Best Places, and looked at costs for housing, groceries, health, transportation, and utilities. Those costs were then compared 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 25 most affordable college towns in New York.
State University of New York at Fredonia
Cost of Living: 20.2% Lower than the National Average; 49.6% Lower than the State Average
Home to a state university, the small town of Fredonia is nestled amongst the vineyards and wineries of western New York. At first glance, Fredonia’s village-like setting and almost elegant vibe might seem like an odd choice for a college town. In reality, this town of just over 11,000 residents is laid-back, tight-knit, and nothing but friendly. College students living off campus can find affordable housing on quiet streets. All things considered, Fredonia’s cost of living is 20% lower than the national average, yet a whopping 50% lower than the New York state average.
State University of New York at Oswego
Cost of Living: 19.7% Lower than the National Average; 49.1% Lower than the State Average
Oswego is an historic lakeside city in upstate New York. Home to a New York state university, Oswego is a charming and affordable haven for college students. Typically, students here spend only 44% of the national average on housing — though costs for groceries, healthcare, utilities, and transportation are right on par with the rest of the country. Oswego residents also have plenty of options for affordable entertainment in town! The town hosts the annual Oswego Harborfest, a four-day festival celebrating music, culture, and food, while year-round options include fishing, hiking, and the town’s successful ice hockey team.
State University of New York at Cortland
Cost of Living: 19% Lower than the National Average; 48.4% Lower than the State Average
The historic small town of Cortland, located in upstate New York, is student friendly in terms of both affordability and amenities. The hundreds of students at SUNY Cortland have plenty of access to affordable restaurants and cafes, shopping options, movie theaters, and even golf courses. Cortland’s general cost of living is an amazing 48% lower than the rest of the state, but perhaps the best news is that Cortland residents can expect to pay about half of the national average for housing costs!
University at Buffalo, SUNY Buffalo, Canisius College, Daemon College
Cost of Living: 18% Lower than the National Average; 47.4% Lower than the State Average
As the second largest city in New York, Buffalo is hardly a traditional college town. But with eight colleges, and a cost of living that is a whopping 47% lower than the state average, we had to include it. Though costs for transportation and utilities are slightly higher than the national average, food, healthcare, and entertainment all fall well below the norm. Students choosing to live off campus can really save on housing costs, which average only 40% of the U.S. mean price. Not bad for a big city with all of the big amenities.
State University of New York at Potsdam
Cost of Living: 17.9% Lower than the National Average; 47.3% Lower than the State Average
Students living in Potsdam, New York will be happy to know that residents here enjoy a cost of living that is an impressive 47% lower than the rest of the Empire State. Even housing comes out to roughly half of the national average. Potsdam has the feel of a classic college town, complete with historic buildings, lots of modern stores, and dozens of restaurants within walking distance from campus. Indeed, many of Potsdam’s stores and restaurants offer college students discounts or loyalty-based points that go a long way in keeping costs of entertainment and food to a minimum.
University of Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology, St. John Fisher College
Cost of Living: 17.5% Lower than the National Average; 46.9% Lower than the State Average
Home to a variety of colleges, trade schools, and religious seminaries, Rochester is consistently named one of the best college towns in the nation. And with a cost of living that is almost 18% lower than the national average, and nearly half of the New York average, it may come as a surprise that Rochester has also been named one of the “10 Most Unexpected Cities for High-Tech Innovation” (Techie.com) and the 7th “brainiest” large metro in the country (Lumosity). Quality of life is good here, too. Though winter brings both snow and popular winter sports, a bunch of parks and lakes means plenty of hiking, sailing, canoeing, and running in the warmer months.
Syracuse University, Upstate Medical University, Le Moyne College
Cost of Living: 17.5% Lower than the National Average, 46.9% Lower than the State Average
Syracuse’s low cost of living might mean this fun town is one of the best deals in the whole country. While the high yearly snowfall does present a challenge — it once received 192 inches of snow in one winter — the beautiful natural surroundings are perfect for a variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the year. Indeed, Syracuse has more trees than any other city in New York. For those who prefer spending time indoors, Syracuse has an active arts scene, complete with a symphony orchestra, an opera house, and multiple theaters. Affordable housing is divided up into family-friendly neighborhoods, one of the most popular being student-friendly University Hill.
St. Lawrence University, State University of New York at Canton
Cost of Living: 15.9% Lower than the National Average; 45.3% Lower than the State Average
Canton is a small town that seems to pride itself on being home to not one, but two universities: SUNY Canton and St. Lawrence University. Like its neighbor, Potsdam, Canton’s lower cost of living practically caters to its large student population. Many of the local businesses employ students from both campuses. Excellent K-12 schools, high-quality healthcare, plentiful housing options, and lower taxes all contribute to a high quality of life that makes Canton’s lower cost of living seem even sweeter.
State University of New York at Plattsburgh
Cost of Living: 14.3% Lower than the National Average; 43.7% Lower than the State Average
College towns are often beautiful, but Plattsburgh takes it to another level! Nestled on the shores of Lake Champlain, Plattsburgh is a small upstate town that practically caters to students with its large variety of affordable restaurants, shops, and entertainment. Speaking of entertainment, students at SUNY Plattsburgh aren’t likely to run out of day trip options while living here. Plattsburgh is a short drive to a number of fun places, including Montreal, Lake Placid, Vermont’s Green Mountains, and the Adirondacks.
Hartwick College, State University of New York at Oneonta
Cost of Living: 14% Lower than the National Average; 43.4% Lower than the State Average
Despite its small size, there is a lot happening in Oneonta! Students at SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College have ample access to dozens of hiking trails along the Susquehanna Trail, while closer to town are plenty of bars and live music venues to keep things interesting into the wee hours of the night. Plus, Oneonta is one of the safest towns in the state.
Cost of Living: 13.3% Lower than the National Average; 42.7% Lower than the State Average
With students making up nearly 1/3 of the population, perhaps it isn’t so surprising that Binghamton’s cost of living is lower than both the national and state averages. Well below, in fact. This historical city has multiple local industries that are always willing to provide jobs and internships to students. Several festivals throughout the four seasons mean that local students on a budget almost always have something fun to do come the weekend.
Cost of Living: 6.9% Lower than the National Average; 36.3% Lower than the State Average
This charming village with its quintessential New England feel is home to Hamilton College. The cost of living is higher here than in some of the other surrounding towns (Syracuse, for example). Hoever, Clinton does offer quite a few amenities that make life easier and more enjoyable here. For example, Clinton has far more chain stores and restaurants than nearby towns, making it much easier and more affordable to acquire necessary items for work, school, or personal use. Students living in Clinton can expect to pay about 5% less than the rest of the country for things like groceries, healthcare, and transportation, and about 14% less for housing.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Russel Sage College, Hudson Valley Community College
Cost of Living: 6.3% Lower than the National Average; 35.7% Lower than the State Average
Troy may not be the most exciting place to live — it’s really made up of a quaint and quiet downtown area — but its low cost of living remains a major draw. Indeed, those living off campus in Troy can expect to pay just 77% of the national average on housing, plus lower than normal rates for food and healthcare. Only transportation, utilities, and entertainment come out slightly above the national norm. But plenty of options for each exist. For example, Troy residents in search of some weekend entertainment have a wide range of options that include campus-sponsored (read: free) events, or taking the train to nearby Albany.
State University of New York at Geneseo
Cost of Living: 2.4% Lower than the National Average; 31.8% Lower than the State Average
With 3/4 of the population associated in some way with the local university, Geneseo is a college town in every sense of the word. Housing costs are nearly 55% lower than the state norm, but the real value comes with all that Geneseo has to offer in terms of entertainment. Outdoor activities are most popular here, and students often take advantage of nearby Letchworth State Park (pictured below) for hiking, jogging, kayaking, cycling, and anything else one can think of to enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings. For further outdoor enjoyment, Niagara Falls is an easy hour and a half away, while those in need of some city amenities can head to nearby Rochester.
Cost of Living: 4.1% Higher than the National Average; 25.3% Lower than the State Average
Country Living calls Aurora, New York “America’s Best Kept Secret,” and we have to say we might just agree. This pleasant and picturesque small town is located on the shores of Cayuga Lake in upstate New York, and is home to Wells College, beautiful historic homes, and a downtown that looks like it has been taken right out of a book. Though Aurora’s cost of living is on the uprise, the town remains affordable. The average cost of housing is about 20% higher than the national average, while transportation costs average about 7% higher. Meanwhile, costs for food, healthcare, utilities, and entertainment all average below the national norm.
Cornell University, Ithaca College
Cost of Living: 7.3% Higher than the National Average, 22.1% Lower than the State Average
Situated in one of the most naturally stunning areas of New York, Ithaca is well known for its college scene. Both Ithaca College and Ivy-ranked Cornell University attract some of the best and brightest, and the student scene in Ithaca tends to feel more sophisticated and laid-back than other college towns. More than a hundred gorges and waterfalls can be found in and around town, so hiking is a popular pastime here, as is wine tasting. Ithaca’s wine trail includes 15 different wineries, a few distilleries, and even a mead plant.
Cost of Living: 8.4% Higher than the National Average; 21% Lower than the State Average
Residents of Cazenovia, New York have the pleasure of living in one of the Empire State’s most charming and affordable small towns. Once a major stop on a transportation line, Cazenovia is now home to a quaint downtown lined with restaurants, cafes, galleries, and shops. Further out are dozens of top horse farms that remain a major draw for those students who come to Cazenovia for its well-known equine programs. Despite such features usually associated with the most luxurious of places, Cazenovia remains affordable. Though average housing costs come in about 33% above the national average, every other major necessity is about on par with (transportation) or well below (food, healthcare, utilities, entertainment) the national norm.
Vassar College, Marist College
Cost of Living: 11.3% Higher than the National Average; 18.1% Lower than the State Average
As Poughkeepsie’s relationship with nearby Vassar continues to improve, so does the town’s overall appeal. A series of projects are underway to modernize the downtown area and make it more resident friendly. Plus, a new historic preservation movement has transformed a number of old buildings’ into retail shops and even affordable living space. And Poughkeepsie is affordable. The average cost of in-town housing hovers right at the national average. Costs for groceries, healthcare, transportation, and entertainment are all only slightly above the norm.
19. Annandale On Hudson
Cost of Living: 13.7% Higher than the National Average; 15.7% Lower than the State Average
Though just about everything costs a little more than the national average in Annandale On Hudson, the cost of living in this charming college town still comes in at below the state average. The town revolves around its artistic community, and is home to the famous Fisher Center for the Performing Arts. Poets’ Walk is a gorgeous place for a peaceful stroll, while downtown is the place to be when it comes to top-notch restaurants and nightlife.
20. West Point / Highland Falls
United States Military Academy
Cost of Living: 18.1% Higher than the National Average; 11.3% Lower than the State Average
The two adjacent towns of West Point and Highland Falls are practically one and the same, and both proudly claim the United States Military Academy as part of their community. Residents here may pay a little more than the rest of the country when it comes to cost of living, but quality of life in these two small towns is high. The Hudson River runs within viewing distance of town. Bear Mountain, Bannerman Island, and Hudson Highlands State Park are also nearby and within easy access. Fun fact: Highland Falls has such a reputation for being charming that Billy Joel even wrote a song about it: “Summer, Highland Falls.”
Cost of Living: 18.5% Higher than the National Average; 10.9% Lower than the State Average
Loudonville is situated a stone’s throw from Albany, the New York state capital. It’s a charming college town complete theater and concerts, shopping, plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities, and an interesting history. Just outside of town is a beautiful countryside that provides places for running, hiking, boating, cycling, skiing, and snowboarding. Best of all, it’s all pretty affordable! The cost of living in Loudonville comes in about 19% higher than the national average, but 11% lower than the New York state average — nearly unheard of in other capital regions.
22. New Paltz
State University of New York at New Paltz
Cost of Living: 20.8% Higher than the National Average; 8.6% Lower than the State Average
The quirky town of New Paltz, home to a State University of New York, is a great place for students to spend four years (or longer!). Despite an average cost of living roughly 19% higher than the national average, New Paltz residents have a wide range of amenities that add up to a great quality of life. An 8,000-acre private land trust within city limits is a nice place for hiking, climbing, and even swimming in the lake. Meanwhile, the laid-back downtown is lined with restaurants and cafes, bookstores, and plenty of nightlife options.
23. Saratoga Springs
SUNY Empire State College, Skidmore College
Cost of Living: 25.4% Higher than the National Average; 4% Lower than the State Average
The historic town of Saratoga Springs has long been a go-to place for society’s upper crust, in part because it’s home to Saratoga Race Course, the oldest sporting venue in America. While the racetrack still draws quite the crowd, modern-day Saratoga Springs revolves around its colleges, Skidmore and SUNY Empire State College. Students won’t have a problem finding affordable entertainment in town. Saratoga has more than 20 golf courses, dozens of nightlife options, and various performance venues.
24. Stony Brook
Stony Brook University
Cost of Living: 49.7% Higher than the National Average; 20.3% Higher than the State Average
More a village than a town, charming Stony Brook is a wonderful place to live, even if it is on the more expensive side. The town is located on Long Island, giving residents easy access to all that New York City has to offer. Still, students on a budget won’t have constant need to leave Stony Brook. Thanks to its large student population, Stony Brook is full of affordable restaurants and cafes, shops, and an active nightlife.
Dominican College, St. Thomas Aquinas College
Cost of Living: 71.2% Higher than the National Average; 41.8% Higher than the State Average
Orangeburg’s higher-than-average cost of living is due to the fact that this small town is a suburb of New York City, one of the world’s most expensive places to live. Still, affordability is relative and Orangeburg offers plenty of value when it comes to quality of life. For example, thanks to the close proximity to the Big Apple, residents have an unlimited selection of entertainment, plus easy access to things like airports. In Orangeburg itself, a mall and lots of restaurant options keep things interesting. Though the most expensive cost in Orangeburg is undoubtedly housing, residents on a budget will be happy to know that average costs of food, healthcare, and entertainment are all at just above the national average.
By GCD Staff