The Best Phone Plans for Students: Phone Discounts and More

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.

Know What You Need Ahead of Time

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:

  • How often do I expect to use my phone and my data plan? Is it essential to my studies and contacting people to the degree that I need as reliable a plan as possible? The answer is certainly yes to a degree, but perhaps the best plan isn’t necessary for the average student. Remember that your time is also precious as a student, and if a poor data plan causes you to lose a lot of time, it isn’t worth it.
  • Are there people you can join for a family plan, or is a group plan already assumed? How much of an adjustment would be necessary? Sometimes, everyone in the group might need to switch over (not recommended). In order, it might just be a matter of a few clicks in the online account and going about your day.
  • Do you have a smartphone already, or do you need a new one? If you have one, what carriers is it compatible with? If you don’t, can you afford to pay in full for an unlocked phone, or would you be more comfortable with a payment plan for the phone?
  • When looking at a plan, are there any essential features? For example, a student who plans to go abroad a lot or travel will want options that keep that travel cheap from a phone service perspective. 
  • Many plans (especially the more expensive ones) come with extra perks and bonus subscriptions to things such as Netflix, Apple Music, and more. A student could use many of these perks, which come at a discount overall. Would you use them? They could be something to factor into your decision.
  • Do you need to keep your current number if you have one? It is something that most service providers will accommodate, but also something that you need to keep in mind.

About MVNO and Discount Plans

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.

Top Five Phone Plans for Students

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:

1. Verizon Start Unlimited

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.

Details of the plan include:

  • Unlimited talk and text in the United States.
  • 5G access nationwide, as well as access to 4G LTE data.
  • Unlimited international texting from the United States to more than 200 countries.
  • Call filtering tools to reduce spam.
  • Unlimited talk and text in Mexico and Canada, as well as data usage in those countries. Data speeds slow significantly after 0.5 GB of usage per day.
  • Verizon customers who are students should also know that there is a student discount available that ranges anywhere from $10-$25 a month depending on the plan(s) involved and that they should look into it.
  • A price of $80 per month if you get one line. However, this can be lower to $30 per month if you are willing to use paper-free billing, auto-pay, and have a group of five people or more on the same plan.
  • You may be able to get a discount on a new phone upon signup if you trade in your old phone or get set up with a 5G plan. 
  • 5GB of mobile hotspot data. After this is used, subscribers will have unlimited lower-speed data for mobile hotspot usage.
  • A free Apple Music subscription for six months and another subscription for six months (Disney+, discovery+, Apple Arcade, or Google Play Pass).

We recommend Verizon Start Unlimited if:

  • You want to work with perhaps the best network in the country.
  • You don’t mind a slower connection when traffic is heavy in exchange for a lower price.
  • You have people you can get on a group plan with to make the plan worthwhile and affordable.

2. Visible

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.

Details of the plan include:

  • The standard Visible plan is $30 a month. There are no extra fees or taxes after this.
  • The coverage of Verizon’s vast network, meaning service practically across the entire United States. Wherever you are studying, you’ll get what you need.
  • Unlimited talk, text, and data usage. You should know that the data might not be as fast as you’re used to with other plans, even if it is on a 5G or 4G LTE network.
  • You will have unlimited mobile hotspot data, though this will be limited to one device at 5Mbps. It can be a great option in a pinch, though, when WiFi is scarce, and you need to reach out with another device. 
  • Spam protection features. They are mostly standard these days with a major carrier, but it is a nice benefit to have.
  • You can bring in your existing phone or get a new phone to go with your plan.
  • There is no activation fee with Visible. In fact, all taxes and fees are included with the listed price. And there is no discount for autopay, so what you see is what you get in the best way.
  • You can add a smartwatch to your plan for $5 a month.
  • Unlimited talk and text to Canada and Mexico.
  • While there are no storefronts for Visible, they have 24/7 customer support if you run into a problem.
  • In addition to the standard Visible plan, you should know there is also a Visible+ plan for $45 a month. The higher tier plan features 5G ultra wideband access, much more international texting and calling, and 50GB of premium data. It may be better for you depending on your location and your needs, but make sure before you get your extra money’s worth.

We recommend Visible if:

  • You are looking for a discounted plan that offers a bit more than Mint Mobile while remaining highly affordable.
  • You have a group of friends, friends, or family that could also benefit from what Visible offers.
  • You want unlimited data but don’t want many of the other extra perks and higher pricing that the major service providers have on offer.

3. Mint Mobile Unlimited

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.

Details of the plan include:

  • Unlimited talk and texting across the United States.
  • Free calling to Mexico and Canada if you have friends or relatives in those countries.
  • The ability to mix and max plans in a family group up to 5 lines.
  • A free SIM card is included with your plan (many providers charge for one).
  • Coverage for the provider will be based on T-Mobile’s network. If you’re wondering if you will be covered in your home or place of study, check whether T-Mobile is good.
  • Access to 5G data coverage and 4G LTE. Your service will switch to whichever is available and provides the best service automatically. Note that 5G service might not be as fast as those with 5G service on a non-MVNO plan.
  • The ability to use your data for mobile hotspot service. Note that this will eat into your data allowance.
  • The ability to keep your current phone number or get a new one.
  • You will likely be able to keep your current phone, or you can buy a new one as needed.
  • A straightforward setup process will likely take less than an hour and potentially just minutes.
  • An option for a 3-month introductory price is equivalent to the 12-month commitment price. It’s a good option if you aren’t sure about the service. 
  • Several different plan options range from 4GB/mo. to $15/mo. to unlimited data for $30/mo. (at the best rates). It should be noted, however, that for the unlimited plan, users will experience a significant slowdown after using $35GB of data that month.

We recommend Mint Mobile if:

  • You are willing and able to pay upfront for months or even a year of phone service.
  • You have reliable internet at your place of study and will not need to use a data plan constantly.
  • You think you will be able to maximize your savings by working with the company and will be fine without too many extra perks and features.

4. T-Mobile Magenta Max

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 

Details of the plan include:

  • Usage of the T-Mobile network, which has access across the country and a wide array of options for 5G service. This is expanding, and you should be covered wherever you are studying.
  • Unlimited talk and text. This should be a given with every plan from every provider.
  • Unlimited premium data, which places you high on the priority list. This is invaluable if you are stuck using mobile data constantly, perhaps making T-Mobile the best and sometimes only true choice for those who are data power users. 
  • You will get several entertainment perks such as a standard Netflix subscription, Apple TV+ for a year, and Paramount+ for a year. Given that the plan isn’t Netflix’s best, it might depend on whether the other services are something you’ll use. You will also yet a 1-Year AA membership on them, which is much more universally useful.
  • When possible, you will sometimes have full-flight texting and WiFi while traveling. This can be helpful if you need to travel a lot for your studies or come home occasionally.
  • Unlimited international texting from home.
  • Unlimited talk and text in Mexico and Canada, and up to 5GB of data in those countries.
  • Scam protection features that can make screening calls easier.
  • You can get a discount on your plan if you sign up for autopay.
  • Taxes and fees are included in the plan’s cost, making budgeting easier and reducing the number of surprises.
  • You will not be committed to an annual service contract if you don’t want to. This allows you to switch providers more easily.

We recommend T-Mobile if:

  • You are generally interested in the perks T-Mobile has on offer, or you feel the need to have their coverage network for where you are studying.
  • You can get the T-Mobile Magenta Max service plan as part of a family plan so that the price becomes reasonable for a student.
  • You use a lot of data and want to continue using a lot of data.

5. AT&T Unlimited Extra

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.

Details of the plan include:

  • The AT&T network, which covers the vast majority of the country, should provide 5G service in more areas.
  • Unlimited talk, text, and data each month. This includes 50 GB of premium data, and after this is used, you might expect slower. 
  • If you have 5 lines on a group plan, sign up for paperless billing and autopay; the plan will cost $35 per line per month. If you have only one line, the price of the plan will be about $75 per month.
  • Standard definition streaming as a default. You might be fine for basic online videos, but someone looking for a high-end experience on their phone might want a different plan.
  • Unlimited texting from the United States to more than 200 countries.
  • Unlimited talk, text, and data in and between Mexico and Canada. However, it should be noted that data speeds can be extremely slow in those countries.
  • 15GB of hotspot data per line per month. This should be enough to handle emergencies and basic tasks.
  • Mobile security features which will help protect your phone and accounts.
  • Potential discounts depend on your career or the organizations you belong to. It could be a long shot, but check whether your university provides a discount.

We recommend AT&T if:

  • You need to use the AT&T network and think you would use many of the provider’s perks.
  • You are looking for a plan that balances quality and price.
  • You may get a discount on your plan through your organization.

Remember the Importance of Coverage

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.

Getting a Discount on Your Phone Plan

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.

Remember that WiFi Exists

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.

Use Your Plan to the Fullest

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.