Every college student and most high school students need a smartphone to study and live these days. This means that smartphone shopping needs to get done, and a new phone plan might also be necessary. Now you might be on a family plan or with a provider already, in which case you might need a slight adjustment. Yet you might not be ready or wish to strike out on your own. In this case, you have the world open to you, and this is both great and a bit frightening. What are the differences between plans? Will one plan be enough? How much will all this cost?
With all these questions and concerns in mind, let’s talk about the best phone plans for students, some potential options, and how to best utilize what plan you eventually work with.
Before diving into the potential plans, you should have a general idea of what you are looking for and your monthly budget. Some questions to ask yourself are:
You will see a lot of mention about plans for students outside the realm of Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile (the big three). And many of these are very good, but practically all are MVNO plans or operate like them. An MVNO provider leases usage of the network from a major provider on a lower priority level, essentially using up the surplus of bandwidth from those providers and selling it at a discount to subscribers.
Essentially, with an MVNO plan, you will be trading priority for savings and getting a few other perks and a smaller data allowance. This will be perfect for some people and unacceptable for others. We recommend a couple of such plans below, but note what you are getting into with them.
Alright, now that you have a few notes down, it’s time to find the plan for you. After scouring the market for what’s available, here are our top recommendations, with one plan for each major provider and a few additional low-cost plans:
Verizon is one of the biggest carriers in the country, and they arguably have the best network. Therefore, it stands to reason that they might have the best plans for students. And while their different plans might suit different students equally well, here we want to focus on the Verizon Start Unlimited Plan, a more basic option that eschews the perks that many do not find necessary.
Users will have unlimited data and 5G access, though they won’t have high-priority data allowances as the more expensive plans provide. Additionally, there are a few perks and extra subscriptions included, but we find these are unnecessary for most students.
They also might not be the cheapest option, so you should keep that in mind. Verizon is an excellent choice for those already on a family plan. Otherwise, you could be paying $80 a month for a very basic service, which we find unacceptable and wouldn’t recommend under any circumstances. If you’re paying $90+ monthly for your smartphone service because you are alone in your studies and breaking out on your own, there might be a better plan for you.
Whether Verizon is a good fit depends on existing contracts, your current situation, and how much the network matters to you compared to your cost.
Visible is interesting because it is something of a discount plan available to everyone brought to people by Verizon as an alternative. It may or not be an MVNO depending on your precise definition, but you can effectively treat it like one. Users will use Verizon’s network but be deprioritized compared to people with a proper Verizon plan. Nonetheless, speeds are fast enough, service is reliable enough for most students, and it provides amazing value.
Visible offers one promise for students (or anyone): unlimited talk, text, data, and hotspot data for $30 a month. Everything is included in this, and it works off Verizon’s network so that users can rely on it. And for the most part, it works. If this sounds good to you and you don’t need anything extra, then Visible deserves more of your attention.
Visible might have a few options depending on what you are looking for (there are currently two plans), but their standard plan is worth consideration and provides the best value for the average student. There’s nothing tricky in terms of extra fees or taxes to worry about, and you will also find that the prepaid plan is simple to work with in general. It’s a great choice for students who want simple yet effective service while paying an affordable amount.
Out of all the MVNO service providers in the United States, Mint Mobile may be the most well-known and the most successful. How so? They have very low prices for decent service and relative name recognition and, as a rule, keep things simple for customers. It is still an MVNO plan, and as such, won’t be the best in terms of priority or data allowance, but for students who are already on a connected campus and rely on WiFi, its an affordable option that will save money, especially if they can plan and pay ahead for the plan. It should be noted that Mint Mobile is a prepaid plan, which means you will be paying for at least three months of service at a time.
In practice with the plans, Mint Mobile is relatively simple. It has a few options with limited data, except for the unlimited plan, which is a 35GB plan with some slower usage after the fact. It is incredibly cheap, with lines going down to $15 a month.
Mint Mobile will not have a ton of the extra features that people coming from other plans might be used to, but they may not be essential to your student life and budget. It is the perfect option for those looking for as minimal a plan as possible.
Out of the T-Mobile plans, we think the T-Mobile Magenta Max is the one that offers the most to students, especially for students who are looking for an absolutely stellar internet connection. It might be the most generous plan depending on how you value the perks and how much you value unlimited data, and it certainly has its fans already among existing students.
It doesn’t have as many extra perks, and some might argue that the network isn’t as great as the other two major providers (debatable). However, it will be more than enough for most students, and the overall savings make up for it significantly. Just ensure you are covered both at home and your place of study, and you will have nothing to worry about.
Note that the T-Mobile Magenta Max plan isn’t cheap, but it can become affordable as part of a family plan. In fact, it is only a bit more than some of the MVNO plans, costing potentially $43 per month. You will get unlimited data for this, and you will be looking for the
We don’t think that AT&T is overall the best provider for students, but many students will be using it nonetheless due to a family plan, coverage requirements, or other reasons. Therefore, at the very least, you should know about the AT&T options available.
For students using AT&T, we think the Unlimited Extra plan will be the best for most, and the one we will focus on in the details below. It has some perks but isn’t as focused on streaming as some other plans. Yet however much data you use, you should be able to have enough for your studies, and you should not notice much of a difference when compared to plans from other providers.
Some students may want to look at the other plans, especially the prepaid ones, if they are on a tighter budget and might not use everything AT&T offers. There is the AT&T 8GB 12-month prepaid for those who need to get as big a total discount as possible, and there is the unlimited Plus prepaid for those who want to get something a bit more robust.
A network that doesn’t work in your area is not a network you want to consider working with. While the three big service providers operating in the United States work well within major cities, some work better than others. And in some areas of the country, a network might not be a good fit for you.
If you’re worried about whether you will be able to get coverage, there are sites and resources you can use to check. For starters, we recommend checking the website of the service provider you’re looking at the most. They’ll have an accurate map.
As a student, you’ll want to ensure you get great coverage both at your university (whether you live there or not) and in your hometown. You’ll spend the most time in those two places, and a lack of coverage in either can cause a major problem.
If you’re a college student, a phone plan will be expensive, and even more expensive as most students don’t have too much disposable income. $100 monthly for a data plan is a lot and likely too much. The good news is that there are plenty of discounts available to students.
A group or family discount is still the most reliable way to get a discount on your phone plan. It can quickly turn a $90 per month expense into a $40 one. With the cheaper options, you can pay $25 monthly for a reasonable phone plan.
Timing can mean a lot, and if you can work ahead of time, you might be able to snag a deal on an extended plan. This can save you quite a bit in the long run, so be on the lookout for special offers. If you need a plan now, don’t wait for a deal. You need a phone, and the stress of going without is not worth the savings if they even come around.
If you are lucky, there could very well be a service provider that works with your university, providing discounts to students in exchange for publicity. You don’t have to go with them, and the discount can and will vary by the institution if it does exist, but it remains an option to explore.
And then, some providers, such as Verizon, might offer a student discount. It could be a discount of $10, but that adds up quite a bit throughout a college career. You’ll need to verify that you’re a student, but it’s worth the slight inconvenience.
A student with a fancy new data plan doesn’t mean they should be using it constantly. They should certainly use it when needed and not hesitate (that’s what it’s there for), but university buildings and dorms hopefully have WiFi networks available. An average college student can easily eat through a limited data plan, and most “unlimited” data plans will deprioritize users after a certain point.
It will be helpful for new students to find the settings that automatically connect their phone to nearby WiFi and turn them on. There might be cases where you want to be more careful with that, and you might want to connect to (not every network is safe), but designating some home and safe ones can be extremely helpful and safe for both time and data.
Note that when using WiFi, ensure you are safe and not sharing too much information. A public network can be insecure, though tools such as VPNs can help split the difference between security, speed, and data savings.
If you have a perk or option on your plan, try using it a few times. If it genuinely doesn’t help you with your life or studies, you can ignore it but give it a chance. With your data, smartphone, and anything else you get through the plans above, try to wring as much value out of it as possible. Hopefully, it will make your student life easier, teach you a few tricks, and make you feel better about the financial commitment.
Buying a phone plan as a student can be a tough challenge. This might be the first plan you are determining for yourself if you’re the student purchasing the plan. If you’re the parent seeking an option for your adult children, you want to ensure they have what they need and won’t be lacking halfway through the year. And on a student’s budget, getting the perfect option will take some work. Nonetheless, we hope some of the above-mentioned options and tips work for you. We encourage you to do more research, look into specific options for your situation, and return to this page as needed.