One of the great things about being a college student is that you will be questioning conventional thinking and in the process, will learn that sometimes "conventional wisdom" is wrong. This can apply to your car buying as well. I suggest that you can do better than follow the herd shopping for that cheap Civic (and by creating demand, driving up the price) - which is more likely to be a clapped out piece of junk at that price. It also has an interference engine, so if you are unlucky and that cheap Civic breaks its timing belt, the engine will be toast. There's nothing inherently wrong with Civics - but they are better bought new, maintained religiously, and not at the $2-3K price level. Being in college is a time to think outside the box. Why would you buy an old used Corolla when the exact same car with a Chevy Prizm label glued on it - from the same assembly line in Freemont CA costs half as much? In 2005, I bought a 3 year old (2002) like new Prizm LSI with 25K miles on it for $5750. The car coming off the same assembly line but wearing a Toyota Corolla label would have cost twice as much. Which is the better value? I drove that car for 4 years before turning it over to my daughter for her HS ride and she will also take it to college.
Through college and two grad schools myself and now with kids in college, one thing I have discovered about college towns is that they have great mechanics! Check it out yourself at this web site that I have found to be very helpful:
Enter your college zip code and check it out. My son found an excellent mechanic just two miles from his college for his old subaru this way. How about this crazy idea - check & see if you have a mechanic who is known for working magic on certain marques, or a specialist. Say you've got a Volvo specialist right there known for fair dealings - then you could consider a Volvo 240, 740, 940 etc. Or what if customers call a local mechanic the best Jeep expert in this half of the country - then you could consider a classic Cherokee with a 4.0. Such things do occur. You could even stop by and see if the specialist has something for sale, or just talk to him and see what he recommends. If not such exotic specialties, ask the generalist about which model with a GM 3.8 v-6 would he recommend. Having somebody right there near school to work on your car when needed is a huge relief - and extremely practical. It will also provide some peace of mind to your parents. Caveat: some brands you should avoid at your price regardless of what you read in the cartalk mechanix files - like Land Rover and Audi, for example. A $2-3K VW is also probably not worth considering. One of the biggest mistakes made by college students is to ignore the practical advice from the guys with the grease under their fingernails. I have known mechanics who were pure wizards around an engine, and could also discuss Dostoyevsky, or Faulkner, or C.S. Lewis, or knew advanced calculus. No, I'm not kidding (that was in MA) - I found this out when I brought a case of beer for them at Christmas.
Also consider if you'll be driving in the snow, or transporting long things on the roof. Will you carry skis or a bike or canoe or kayak on the roof? Some roof rails are stronger than others and better than aftermarket clips for gutterless roofs & will save you some money in roof rack components.