Coverage

How to Choose the Best Phone Plan for College Students

By
Kyle Reyes
February 6, 2023

Cell phones are crucial in college. Just about everyone communicates over these tiny computers, and college students need them to stay in touch with friends, keep up with clubs and classes, and just about everything else. There are two angles to this question. One is from a college kid who has just left their parent's plan, and another is from the parents who want to get their kid a phone plan that works well in college. 

Unfortunately, carriers, plans, and phone payments are a mess of complications and very difficult to decipher. College students are always looking for ways to save money, and phone plans are no exception.

This article will cover affordable plans for college students that ensure they have enough data to get through the month. We do not recommend trying to squeeze into a plan that provides less data than you use comfortably, because hitting the data cap either results in no data, an overage fee, or access to 2G or 3G speeds. The student’s cell phone plan and cell phone contribute to the phone bill, and we hope that this article will give you all the info you need to pick out the best phone plan for college students. Read on for information about:

  • Finding the right plan
  • Saving money with MVNOs and student deals
  • Some of the best phone plans for college students

The Perfect Plan is Out There

When it's time to choose the best phone plan, it is all about what you need. Phone companies, naturally, market their biggest and brightest plans for all users, but oftentimes those plans provide too much. If you are paying for data or other extras that don’t provide you any value, it is likely that there is a plan out there better suited for a college student like yourself. Switching carriers is a difficult proposition, so you want to be sure that you are picking the right one. 

This section will cover how to figure out how to get the most out of your plan without paying too much, how to work around having limited talk, text, or data in your plan, and the hidden dangers of buying the newest phones. 

Limiting Your Cell Phone Plan

The first step in the process is to figure out how much you really use your phone. How many minutes do you call each month, how often do you text, and how much data do you use are all questions that can help understand your plan's needs. Before we go any further, note that phone plans have gotten to the point that the cost to get unlimited talk and text is just a few bucks, so we will focus on limiting data. There are phone plans that cost less than $10 a month, and that often comes from the fact that they only have a few gigabytes of data. If you know that you don’t use a ton of data that could be a great choice. 

Getting anything other than an unlimited plan is a difficult decision to make, made doubly so by how many unlimited plans are marketed and advertised on television and social media. The big risk of getting a limited-data plan is that you run out in the middle of the month and have to function just about entirely on WiFi, but that’s not always the end of the world. 

There are phone plans for every situation. If you are willing to do the research we are certain you will find the best phone plan for you. This article will give you information for you to use when making your decision and then go over some of the best phone plans for college students. When limiting your data, we recommend going for a phone company that has a variety of options and starting with one of their more expensive plans. 

From there, you can track how much data you use each month and then take a lower plan from there.  If you decide on a plan and are worried about going over it, check out the company's policy for that situation. 

Most companies have a similar set of rules regarding overages, but it is crucial to check to make sure they don’t have serious overage charges. Going on a limited plan comes with significant disadvantages, but the savings are incredible. There’s even a plan from Freedom Pop that’s free! You only get 10 minutes of talk, 10 texts, and 25 MB per month, but it’s a way to have a number, and, if you can take advantage of Wi-Fi and non-data means of communication, it is a great way to save a lot of money on your phone bill. 

The Steep Price of New Phones

Companies spend lots of money marketing their newest phones and new releases. New phones are very expensive and a lot of those costs go into the quality of the camera and the processor. These phones are often on two or three-year payment plans, meaning you will have to pay an extra $15-30 a month for the duration of that payment or pay it all upfront. That’s a lot of money! It is purposefully easy to commit to a large phone contract like this one. If you want an expensive phone and a plan to pay for it over a few years, it does two major things: 

  • New phones get released before the plan is up, and the company will offer a nifty deal to trade in the old phone for a discount on the new one, meaning you will be in a constant state of paying off a new phone.
  • It makes it almost impossible to leave that service provider. Since you are paying off their phone, they will “lock” it, meaning you can’t use it for any other service provider. 

Smartphones have been around long enough that models from a few years ago are great options. They provide almost the same suite of uses as the newest phones for a fraction of the price. 

Take Advantage of Wi-Fi Coverage on Campus

With limited plans, each MB might feel like an investment. Fortunately, as a college student, there is a lot of public Wi-Fi available to you. You can use as much Wi-Fi as you want without touching your data allocation, so with a limited data plan, you are able to get a lot of mileage out of your device, but it does mean you have to take into account when and where you are using your data. 

Unlimited Plans

While more expensive, unlimited plans take that worry away. With unlimited talk, text, and data, Wi-Fi is nice because it is usually faster than cell service, but there’s no danger of going over and having to pay an overage fee if one month is particularly packed with phone usage on the network. 

The major problem with unlimited plans is that they often pack on extra frills for extra money each month. These are nice when you use them, like Cricket Wireless’ Unlimited plan offering the basic HBO Max subscription. If, however, you don’t, then it adds to the financial burden of phone plans without bringing you anything in return. 

So, when picking your plan, take into account all of the items that you need, and consider all of the extras added on top. They are often offered at great deals, but that’s only if you use them! 

Save Money With MVNOs and Student Deals

MVNOs are a great way for college students to save money on their phone plan. MVNOs rent out cell towers, making the cost to operate those companies much less expensive. That coupled with fewer employees, less marketing, and fewer overall running costs lets them offer cheaper plans. 

There are pros and cons of MVNOs, just as there are pros and cons of getting a plan with a major wireless company. 

Why are MVNOs so Cheap?

One of the main reasons MVNOs are able to offer cheaper plans is that they don’t have to construct, operate, and maintain their own cell towers. They are much smaller, in general, so across the board, they are paying less to run their company. This, in turn, lets them make less expensive plans that offer the same nationwide coverage as the major companies. In fact, there are some MVNOs that are owned by the major carriers whose cell towers they rent. One problem with MVNOs: a lot of people just don’t know about them. 

An MVNO has a lot of advantages for a college student when it comes to finding the best phone plan. 

Multi-Line Plans

Every wireless company has deals where plans are cheaper when it has multiple lines. The savings are immense. Verizon’s welcome unlimited plan is $10 cheaper with two lines, Cricket’s 10 GB plan goes from $40 to $35 with two lines, and the savings only get better and better as more lines are added. This is, of course, a risky way to save money, but if there’s anyone you trust to be on a plan with you, then going in on one together will net extra savings each month.

Popular Student Deals

That being said, do not underestimate the power of student deals. Verizon has a student deal right now with their unlimited plan. It allows students to save $10 on all of their unlimited plans, including their welcome unlimited plan, which is their lowest-cost unlimited. It is normally $65 a month for unlimited talk, text, and data. 

US Mobile offers 20% off of any plan for college students and one month free, and there are a handful of schools that offer extra perks on top of the discount. Student deals offer better prices than normal, but there are always extra steps to verify that you are a student and apply the deal to your plan, so while they are a nice bonus to lower costs, there are many other plans that offer similar amounts at similar price points that might be a better fit. 

Pros and Cons of MVNOs

Pros 

  • MVNOs offer cheap plans, contributing to overall savings on wireless bills every month. Oftentimes every one of their plans is at a lower price point than the cheapest plan at a major network.
  • MVNOs offer service on major networks, using the same coverage nationwide. Some even use multiple networks! 
  • MVNOs love it when you switch. The nicest a phone company will ever be to its customers is the moment they say they’re joining the party. All phone companies are looking to get new business, and you can also find the best deals as a first-time customer. 

Cons

  • MVNOs have slower service. While they use major networks, their customers have less priority over the bandwidth, so in times of heavy use, MVNO customers will lose data speed.

Best Phone Plans for College Students

After all this talk about how to save money on phone plans for college students, this list is some of the great plans out there. Finding the right phone plan for a college student is all about figuring out a plan that’s not too little and not too much. Now that there’s a free plan, it is easy to scale from 10 texts, 10 minutes, and 50 MB for zero dollars all the way up to the most expensive plan. 

Freedom Pop’s Free Plan

The free plan at Freedom Pop is uniquely cost-effective and must be recommended for college students looking to save money on their phone bills. 

Freedom Pop’s limited plans are great for those who are able to take advantage of Wi-Fi on their campus. Wi-Fi is free, and it can be used in unlimited amounts no matter what the plan is. To this degree, a good way to limit usage is to tie certain talk and text apps to Wi-Fi, so they don’t use any data while you are going between Wi-Fi zones. 

Verizon’s Welcome Unlimited Plan

While the most expensive monthly plan on this list, Verizon’s Welcome Unlimited Plan is a great choice for students looking to get that major carrier service while still saving some money. At $55 a month, it is a premium plan, but access to Verizon’s library of phones and high-speed network might be worth the cost. 

If you have decided on an unlimited plan, Verizon’s welcome unlimited is good for students because it doesn’t have anything added-on that will drive up the plan’s cost. That being said, it is still quite expensive compared to, say, Mint Mobile’s unlimited plan.

Mint Mobile’s Unlimited Plan

Mint Mobile’s Unlimited Plan slides in at $30 a month, almost half of Verizon’s cost. In order to stay at the price point, you have to purchase the plan twelve months at a time, but the prices are excellent. Mint’s plan puts unlimited on the table if you are concerned about data usage. There are many ways in which college students can go over their data usage from group projects to video calls with a club or other activity. 

College students just about live on their phones, and having the security of an unlimited plan is very valuable. If Mint’s unlimited plan is too pricey, they have three other options at lower price points that offer unlimited talk and text with limited data. 

Twigby’s 4 GB Plan

For $20 a month, Twigby’s phone plan offers unlimited calling and texting and 4GB of high-speed data. For a college student who does not use a lot of data, this or one of Twigby’s other limited-data plans is an excellent way to save. Twigby is one of the carriers that have a lot of options for low-data plans, and once you start dealing with only a few GB of data each month, plans start to get much cheaper. 

Visible Wireless Unlimited Plan

Visible has two plans, each with unlimited talk, text, and data. Understanding the ins and outs of Visible Wireless phone plans are a great place to start because they offer pretty robust plans for the price. The two visible wireless phone plans are as follows:

  • $30 per month for Unlimited
  • $45 per month for Unlimited plus

Choosing Visible Wireless as a college student is a bit pricier, but it provides you with a ton of data and excellent coverage. 

Hopefully, this article provided some direction when it comes to finding the right phone plan for a college student. College is an important time for phone usage, and your phone usage in college might look way different than in the few years after college.

There are so many options for plans and phones out there. We wish you the best of luck in finding the right balance between cost and savings on your phone plan! 

Kyle Reyes
Kyles Reyes is a journalist from Pittsburgh, PA that specializes in the wireless industry, phone plan comparisons & advice.