December 13, 2021

Best Cell Phone Plans for College Students

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Read about the best phone plans for college students, what to look for in a cell phone plan, and the best phones available on the market today.

Every college student needs an affordable and reliable smartphone and data plan.

But can you get a good price and still get good service?

The answer is yes. As long as you know what to look for. Explore your options for the best affordable cell phone plans (and phones) for college students in this review.

Best Phone Plans for College Students

There is no shortage of cell phone plans for college students, so we narrowed down the best of the best based on the following criteria:

  • Price
  • Data Limits
  • Coverage Availability

CarrierPriceData LimitsNetwork Coverage
FreedomPopStarStarStarStarStarStarStarHalf StarEmpty StarEmpty StarStarStarStarStarEmpty Star
Mint MobileStarStarStarStarEmpty StarStarStarStarStarEmpty StarStarStarStarHalf StarEmpty Star
Google FiStarEmpty StarEmpty StarEmpty StarEmpty StarStarStarHalf StarEmpty StarEmpty StarStarStarStarStarHalf Star
TelloStarStarStarHalf StarEmpty StarStarStarStarStarHalf StarStarStarStarHalf StarEmpty Star
Boost MobileStarStarStarHalf StarEmpty StarStarStarStarEmpty StarEmpty StarStarStarStarHalf StarEmpty Star
VisibleStarStarStarHalf StarEmpty StarStarStarStarStarStarStarStarStarStarStar
US MobileStarStarStarStarEmpty StarStarStarStarStarHalf StarStarStarStarStarHalf Star
Metro PCSStarStarStarHalf StarEmpty StarStarStarStarStarStarStarStarStarHalf StarEmpty Star
VerizonStarStarStarEmpty StarEmpty StarStarStarStarHalf StarEmpty StarStarStarStarStarStar
AT&TStarStarStarEmpty StarEmpty StarStarStarStarEmpty StarEmpty StarStarStarStarStarHalf Star

Phone prices were not considered for this review. Generally, it's easy to purchase a phone from a third-party merchant like Amazon, Back Market, or Target to bring to any cell service provider.

1. FreedomPop: Best Budget Plan

CriteriaRating
PriceStarStarStarStarStar
Data LimitsStarStarHalf StarEmpty StarEmpty Star
CoverageStarStarStarStarEmpty Star

The financial struggle is real in college — and FreedomPop offers a plan that is essentially free. While the free plan is pretty bare-bones, their upgraded plans are still very inexpensive.

FreedomPop Mobile Plans

Price per planDataCallText
$2.99/month1 GB250 minutesUnlimited
$12.99/month4 GBUnlimitedUnlimited
$22.99/month10 GBUnlimitedUnlimited

FreedomPop is a "mobile virtual network operator" (MVNO). This means that they don't own their own cellular towers, but essentially "rent" usage rights from a major carrier. This allows them to buy plans at wholesale prices and pass savings onto their customers.

FreedomPop runs on the AT&T network, which has solid nationwide coverage.

You can view FreedomPop's coverage map here.

2. Mint Mobile: Best Unlimited Plan

CriteriaRating
PriceStarStarStarStarEmpty Star
Data LimitsStarStarStarStarEmpty Star
CoverageStarStarStarHalf StarEmpty Star

Mint Mobile is another MVNO company, except Mint uses the T-Mobile cellular network. T-Mobile currently has the third-best nationwide data coverage, but the best 5G coverage availability, according to data collected by WhistleOut.[1]

Mint offers a solid lineup of plans, including the least expensive unlimited plan starting at only $30 per month.

Mint Mobile Plans

Price per PlanDataCallText
$15.00/month4 GBUnlimitedUnlimited
$20.00/month10 GBUnlimitedUnlimited
$25.00/month15 GBUnlimitedUnlimited
$30.00/monthUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited

The catch with Mint Mobile is that you must buy plans upfront. Customers have the option to purchase plans from Mint Mobile for 3, 6, or 12 months.

For example, to get the $30 per month unlimited plan today, you would have to pay at least $90 for three months of service (plus taxes and fees).

3. Google Fi: Best for International Travelers

CriteriaRating
PriceStarEmpty StarEmpty StarEmpty StarEmpty Star
Data LimitsStarStarHalf StarEmpty StarEmpty Star
CoverageStarStarStarStarHalf Star

Studying abroad? Google Fi offers unlimited talk and text — including unlimited international texts and free calls to Canada and Mexico.

The big drawback of Google's phone plan is the price. At $20 for the base price and $10 for every GB of data you need, this plan can get very expensive.

The additional data costs cap after 6GB, but this would still leave you with an $80 price tag for the basic plan, so this plan is not for the frugal data user.

How Much Data Does the Average Person Use?
According to AllConnect, the average American uses 7 GB of cellular data every month.

4. Tello: Best for Customizable Plans

CriteriaRating
PriceStarStarStarHalf StarEmpty Star
Data LimitsStarStarStarStarHalf Star
CoverageStarStarStarHalf StarEmpty Star

With Tello, you can mix and match your own data, talk, and text limits to create the phone plan that works for your needs and your budget.

Data options with Tello:

  • No data
  • 500MB
  • 1GB
  • 2GB
  • 4GB
  • 6GB
  • 8GB
  • Unlimited

Minutes options with Tello (all plans come with unlimited texting):

  • No minutes
  • 100 minutes
  • 300 minutes
  • 500 minutes
  • Unlimited minutes

The most expensive plan (unlimited everything) is reasonably priced at $39, while a mid-range plan (8GB data, 300 minutes, unlimited text) costs $27 per month, and the bare-bones package (no data, 100 minutes) will cost you only $5 per month.

4. Boost Mobile: Best Rewards

CriteriaRating
PriceStarStarStarHalf StarEmpty Star
Data LimitsStarStarStarEmpty StarEmpty Star
CoverageStarStarStarHalf StarEmpty Star

Boost Mobile Review has a comparable lineup of data plan options similar to Mint Mobile or US Mobile, but one major drawback is that the two least expensive plans are only available to new customers.

Boost Mobile Plans

Price per PlanDataCall and TextMobile Hotspot
$15.00/month2 GBUnlimited-
$25.00/month4 GBUnlimited-
$35.00/month10 GBUnlimited-
$50.00/month35 GBUnlimited12 GB
$60.00/month35 GBUnlimited30 GB

With Boost, you can receive exclusive discounts and rewards with Boost Perks at retailers like Papa John's, AMC Theaters, Hotels.com, Sam's Club, and more.

5. Visible: Best for Social Butterflies

CriteriaRating
PriceStarStarStarHalf StarEmpty Star
Data LimitsStarStarStarStarStar
CoverageStarStarStarStarStar

Visible's plan options are very simple: $40 bucks for unlimited everything (data, talk, and text) — that's it, that's the only plan. But, you can get one month of service for only $5 every time you refer a friend.

Visible also offers discounts for family plans, called Party Pay, lowering your bill to $25 per month if you have four people in your "Party."

Looking for more ways to save? Review our picks for the best car insurance for college students to find a policy that fits your budget and lifestyle.

6. US Mobile: Best Variety of Plan Options

CriteriaRating
PriceStarStarStarStarEmpty Star
Data LimitsStarStarStarStarHalf Star
CoverageStarStarStarStarHalf Star

US Mobile offers a wide variety of different data plans at prices comparable to other discount MVNO providers like Mint Mobile or Boost — so there's really something for everyone.

US Mobile Plans

Price per PlanDataCallText
$6.00-8.00/monthNo DataUnlimitedUnlimited
$12.00/month1 GBUnlimitedUnlimited
$15.00/month5 GBUnlimitedUnlimited
$20.00/month12 GBUnlimitedUnlimited
$25.00/month18 GBUnlimitedUnlimited
$30.00/month30 GBUnlimitedUnlimited

US Mobile customers also have the option to use the Verizon network (branded the Super LTE Network) or T-Mobile network (called the GSM LTE Network) based on where they live, their cellular device, and current carrier.

7. Metro PCS: Best for Music Lovers

CriteriaRating
PriceStarStarStarHalf StarEmpty Star
Data LimitsStarStarStarStarStar
CoverageStarStarStarHalf StarEmpty Star

With 20,000,000 users, Metro PCS by T-Mobile is by far the most popular MVNO provider. Metro offers a solid range of plans for users who use a lot of data at a mid-range price point.

Metro PCS Mobile Plans

Price per PlanDataCall and TextMusicMobile Hotspot
$40.00/month10 GBUnlimitedUnlimited-
$50.00/monthUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited5 GB
$60.00/monthUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited15 GB

The best part about Metro PCS for music lovers is that the Music Unlimited service allows you to stream music with popular apps like Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora without using any high-speed data against your limit.

Best Major Mobile Carriers for College Students

When it comes to the big carriers like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, your best bet is to go with a prepaid plan instead of a contract. Prepaid plans tend to offer lower costs, no obligations, and the same features.

1. Verizon: Best Nationwide Coverage

CriteriaRating
PriceStarStarStarEmpty StarEmpty Star
Data LimitsStarStarStarHalf StarEmpty Star
CoverageStarStarStarStarStar

Verizon boasts the best nationwide data coverage of any of the major providers, so this may be the best option if you live or go to college in a remote location.

Verizon's pricing is a little confusing on the company website. Simply put, you receive a loyalty discount after 4 months and another discount after 10 months of service. Complexity aside, Verizon ends up being one of the lowest-cost options available.

Verizon Mobile Plans

Price per PlanPrice after 4 monthsPrice after 10 monthsDataCall and Text
$40.00/month$30.00/month$25.00/month5 GBUnlimited
$50.00/month$40.00/month$35.00/month10 GBUnlimited
$65.00/month$55.00/month$50.00/monthUnlimitedUnlimited

2. AT&T: Best for Paying Upfront

After Verizon, AT&T has the second-ranked network coverage money can buy.[1] And the difference is tiny: Verizon 4G LTE covers 70% of the United States while AT&T covers 68%.

While Verizon offers discounts for loyalty, AT&T offers discounts for paying upfront.

AT&T Mobile Plans

Price per PlanDataCall and TextRequirement
$25.00/month10 GBUnlimited12 months pre-pay
$33.00/month8 GBUnlimited3 months pre-pay
$40.00/month15 GBUnlimited-
$50.00/monthUnlimitedUnlimited-

What to Look for in a Phone Plan for College Students

The three major criteria that should be considered when selecting a phone plan for college students are affordability, data limits, and network coverage. Let's take a look at all three.

Can you get your own phone plan at 18? Yes, 18-year-olds are considered legal adults who are allowed to sign contracts (including phone plans) without a parent or guardian. This is called the Legal Age to Contract.

Affordability
First, you want to find a phone plan you can afford. The options above give you plenty of price points to choose from, ranging from the nearly-free to the more expensive plans in the $50 or more area.

Take a look at your bank statements for the last few months in order to create a budget and decide what you can afford.

Unlimited Data (Or Lots of It!)
Today's college students aren't old enough to have experienced the early days of the internet from back when You've Got Mail (1998) was filmed and dial-up was the norm — they expect high speeds.

Slow data can be incredibly frustrating, so you want to make sure the data plan you choose can handle your monthly data consumption.

It's easy to check your monthly data usage. Just follow these three steps:

  • On Android: Select Settings > Connections > Data Usage
  • On iPhone: Select Settings > Cellular > Usage

How can I use less cellular data? If you live on a college campus, try cutting down on your data usage by making sure you're always connected to the free campus Wi-Fi.

Coverage Availability
No one wants to get stranded after a party because they don't have cell phone coverage.

Coverage availability for the major phone retailers and MVNO operators is fairly universal, but be sure to check a coverage map before deciding on a provider.

Best Phones for College Students

  • Best Overall: iPhone 13 Pro Max
    Sorry Android users, the champion for this year's class of smartphones is Apple's top model, the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

    With significantly more battery power than any of the competition, the world's fastest smartphone chip, and the best pro-level camera according to PCMag, the iPhone 13 Pro Max takes the cake.

  • Best iPhone: iPhone 13
    Unsurprisingly, the latest iPhone is the best iPhone as Apple has made modest improvements compared to the previous year's model.

    Improvements include increased battery life, a new-and-improved A15 processor, and double the storage capacity at each tier (128GB, 256GB, and 512GB for the iPhone 13 vs. 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB for the iPhone 12)

  • Best Android: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
    Samsung continues to lead the way with Android phones with this sleek bezel-less 6.8" AMOLED display with QHD+ (1440 x 3220) resolution, triple cameras for flawless 1x, 3x, and 10x zoom photography and videography, and storage capacity galore with 128GB storage in the base model (and up to 512GB of storage).

  • Best Battery Life: iPhone 13 Pro Max
    At 18 hours of juice, the latest flagship iPhone model boasts significantly better battery life than any of its peers, according to PCMag.

    For comparison, the Google Pixel 5 and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra get just shy of 12 hours of life, while the iPhone 13 base model can go for 15 hours on a full charge.

  • Best Budget Model: Samsung Galaxy A32 5G
    Budget phones have come a long way. This device looks and feels much like its more expensive flagship cousins of the S-series. Samsung lovers can access 5G compatibility at a discount with the A32, available for only $204.99 from Samsung.

Saving up for a new phone? Start earning extra cash in your free time with this guide to the best college-student-friendly online jobs.

The Bottom Line

Luckily, there is so much competition in the cellular data plan industry that today's college students can get great deals for lightning-fast data speeds. Whether you're a discount shopper, data devourer, or music lover, there is a plan for you on the list above.

References

  1. ^ "Best Cell Phone Coverage": WhistleOut, 2021.

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