College Tuition and College Costs

Information about college tuitions and costs.

Understanding College Tuition & the Cost of College 

College Tuition and Costs: Introduction

Applying to college is stressful. The cost of college makes the admissions process even harder to navigate. How much does college cost, and how can you plan for the price of college?

Understanding the average college costs for every school on your list may seem overwhelming. This guide and our individual school-based articles will help you navigate the confusing world of rising college costs. These resources will also help you create a college costs list, find the most affordable colleges, and learn if college is worth it. 

In this “College Tuition and College Costs” guide and the School Specific College Tuition guides below, we’ll break down the average cost of college and help you understand how college tuition costs work. We’ll also look at how the average cost of college has changed over time. Later on, we will break down college tuition costs at top schools and help you learn how to calculate your cost of college using a college tuition calculator. Finally, we’ll examine the difference between tuition costs and room and board costs.

You might wonder if college is worth it. Often, the answer is yes—however, you should always consider the average cost of college at various schools as you build your college list. Check out this college tuition webinar to start building your list of college tuition costs. 

Duke University Tuition Preparing to start your studies at Duke is one of the most exciting times of your life. Shopping for your dorm, meeting other Duke admits, selecting your […]

MIT tuition and costs MIT is one of the highest nationally ranked universities according to U.S. News. However, that also means that MIT tuition is higher than the national average. […]

Purdue University Tuition Are you wondering about the cost of Purdue tuition and fees? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Applying to college isn’t easy. As you build your […]

Understanding College Tuition & the Cost of College – Continued

Why is college so expensive?

So, the first question you may ask about college tuition is obvious: why is college tuition so expensive? What drives that 4 years of college average cost up so high? There are a few reasons why the price of college can appear so high. However, there is also plenty of variety in the college costs at different schools. 

First, let’s discuss the difference between college costs at state universities versus college costs at private universities. State universities receive state funding, while private colleges and universities do not. This creates a sizable difference between the average college tuition at a state school versus the average private college tuition. 

Because state universities are funded by the state, they often have lower average college costs than private college costs. State colleges, otherwise known as public colleges, rely on federal, state, and local funding. Since these institutions are partially funded by taxpayers, residents who live “in-state” will have a lower college tuition cost at public universities than “out-of-state” students. The 4 years of college average cost at public universities is lower than the average private college tuition. 

Private colleges, private funding

Conversely, private colleges are privately funded, so much of their funding comes from both donors and college tuition dollars. This is why the price of private colleges can be so much higher than college costs at state universities. Additionally, the cost of college over time has increased. So, over the years, the average college tuition number at both private and public schools has risen. 

Colleges and universities use college tuition money for lots of different things. After all, it’s expensive to run such large institutions! A college’s operating costs can include professor salaries, facility costs, programming, student and faculty resources, research, and other expenses. These are covered by the school’s endowment and partially by student tuition. So, your college tuition costs are put to good use. Although the price of college has risen, schools do fund their programs through tuition money. 

At many schools, part of the endowment also goes toward scholarship funding and financial aid. We’ll talk more about how scholarships and aid can lower the average cost of college later in this guide.

Overall, the average cost of college seems high, but there are ways to mitigate that cost. This is why it’s helpful to build a list of college tuition costs as you start your college costs analysis. 

How much does four years of college cost on average?

So, you understand why college is so expensive, but now you’re wondering how that annual tuition will add up. What will your total 4 years of college average cost be? You may initially be alarmed by large annual college costs. However, the initial price, or “sticker price” of a public or private university, isn’t always accurate. Your 4 years of college average cost will likely not reflect the full tuition and room and board multiplied by four. 

As you create a list of college tuition costs, note that the “sticker price” of colleges often does not reflect how much you’ll actually pay in college costs. Many schools have robust financial aid programs that can offset high college tuition costs. So, don’t panic when you look up “Harvard College tuition” and see a number above $80,000. Schools like Harvard aim to offset that initial high college tuition cost with financial aid. So, the average college tuition at Harvard will be much lower than that initial number. 

In certain cases, some students may not be able to afford the full college tuition cost at a given school. However, they may also not meet the threshold for need-based funding. This makes it important to research the financial aid policy at any given school before you apply. This will help you ensure that school falls within your personal financial boundaries. You should also keep a list of college tuition costs for every school on your list. That way, you can calculate at each school if college is worth it for your financial situation. 

For example, according to this U.S. News article, while the 2020-2021 Princeton University tuition was $53,890, the average tuition cost that students actually paid after receiving need-based grant funding was $23,572. So, the first price you see may not be the price you pay for your four years of college tuition. The average cost of college will be different for everyone. 

So, how much does college cost? To answer this question, you may want to take advantage of a school’s college tuition calculator. Most schools have this tool on their website to help you understand the price of college and if college is worth it.

List of college tuition costs

As you can see, the average college tuition varies among schools. This variety depends both on the type of school, such as whether it’s a private or state school, and also on the individual school itself. The Boston College tuition will be different from Middlebury tuition, and both of these will differ from the North Carolina State cost. 

You can’t ask yourself “how much does college cost?” and then only research the college costs at one university. You also have to look at other factors, like the average private college tuition and the cost of college over time. This is why keeping a list of college tuition costs is helpful when you start your application process. 

According to U.S. News, the average cost of college in the US is as follows:

  • About $38,000/year for private universities
  • About $23,000/year for out-of-state tuition at public universities
  • About $10,000/year for in-state tuition at public universities

These numbers will not be the exact figures for every private or public university. They simply represent the average college costs. Since these numbers are only representative of average college tuition costs, you may pay a significantly different amount to attend college. In fact, it is likely you will pay more than just the price of tuition, no matter which college you attend. So, you should factor in additional funding to cover room and board as well as other expenses. 

Room and board is the cost of your housing and meal plan while attending college. These charges are separate from tuition costs, so remember to not just look at the average college tuition of a school you may be applying to. However, you may pay less for room and board if you commute to school or if you select a cheaper meal plan. 

For example, Ohio State tuition looks different from the full Ohio State cost, and both of these numbers differ from the Harvey Mudd cost or the cost of University of Michigan. Let’s break down a few of these price tags so you know what to expect.

How much does college cost? — Real World Examples

Ohio State Tuition

First, let’s look at Ohio State to help answer this question. Ohio State is ranked #17 in Top Public Colleges by U.S. News. Below is a graphic comparing the average college costs for in-state and out-of-state residents for the academic year of 2021-2022:

Billed Expenses Ohio Resident Nonresident
Tuition (includes instructional and general fees) Columbus: $11,936

Region campus: $8,550

CFAES Wooster (ATI): $8,508

$35, 019
Room and board Columbus: $11,936

Region campus: Varies

CFAES Wooster (ATI): Varies

$13,352

So, as you can see, the estimated average college cost for an out-of-state student is more than three times that of an Ohio resident for tuition alone. However, room and board cost the same for both types of students. This brings the estimated total for in-state students to around $25,000 and the out-of-state estimated price of college to around $48,000. 

These estimates may not end up being the actual Ohio State cost you pay. For example, the website includes this information on college costs: “Tuition and fees will vary depending on the mode of instruction (on-campus, online) and the program of study.” So, the average college tuition at Ohio State might not reflect your expected tuition contribution. 

Additionally, for Ohio residents, there is the Ohio State Tuition Guarantee. This means your tuition, general fees, and room and board costs are held steady through 2023-2024. So, your average cost of college will not be affected by any rising college costs during your time at Ohio State. This is important, because at many universities, the cost of college over time increases. 

As an out-of-state resident, although the “sticker price” may look a lot higher, you may be eligible for the National Buckeye Scholarship. So, be sure to research each specific policy at the schools you apply to. It may be helpful for you to keep track of all the information you gather in a college costs list. Your list of college tuition costs will be very helpful when it comes time to make a decision. 

UMich-Ann Arbor Tuition

Let’s check out another state university, University of Michigan–Ann Arbor. UMich–Ann Arbor is ranked #3 in U.S. News’ list of Top Public Schools, which makes it a great value school. However, because of this high ranking, the college cost will be higher than that of Ohio State. In fact, the UMich “sticker price” is even above the average private college tuition cost. 

In-State Tuition

Here is the average college cost for in-state UMich–Ann Arbor first years and sophomores for the 2021-2022 academic year:

Tuition & Fees Housing & Meals Books & Supplies Personal & Misc. Total Budget
$16,178 $12,592 $1,048 $2,454 $32,272

Here is the average college cost for in-state UMich juniors and seniors for the 2021-2022 academic year:

Tuition & Fees Housing & Meals Books & Supplies Personal & Misc. Total Budget
$18,208 $12,592 $1,048 $2,454 $34,302

Out-of-State Tuition

Now, this is the average college cost for out-of-state UMich first years and sophomores for the 2021-2022 academic year:

Tuition & Fees Housing & Meals Books & Supplies Personal & Misc. Total Budget
$53,232 $12,592 $1,048 $2,454 $69,326

And finally, this is the average college cost for out-of-state UMich juniors and seniors for the 2021-2022 academic year:

Tuition & Fees Housing & Meals Books & Supplies Personal & Misc. Total Budget
$56,962 $12,592 $1,048 $2,454 $73,056

As you can see, the college cost between public universities can be very different. This type of information will factor into your understanding of average college costs and if college is worth it. 

Additionally, these costs are different from student to student. So, how much does college cost if you attend University of Michigan–Ann Arbor? Use their net cost calculator to get an idea of how scholarships and financial aid would affect your cost of college. 

Harvey Mudd Tuition

Now, let’s check out the price of Harvey Mudd, a private college in California. According to U.S. News, Harvey Mudd is ranked #28 in National Liberal Arts Colleges. The Harvey Mudd cost will be higher than both the Ohio State cost or University of Michigan cost. It will also be higher than the average private college tuition. 

Item Cost
Tuition $60,402
Room (dorm) $10,592
Board (16 meals/week plan) $8,741
Student Body Fee* $301
Personal Expenses $1,400
Books & Supplies $800
Average COA $82,236

The above chart represents the estimated cost of the 2021–2022 academic year at Harvey Mudd: over $80,000. However, Harvey Mudd offers needs-based financial aid to qualifying students. Learn if you qualify here

Use the Harvey Mudd college tuition calculator here to determine your 4 years of college average cost at the school. Remember, keeping a list of college tuition costs will be helpful throughout your application process. 

Our final example will explore Stanford tuition and Stanford total costs. Stanford is ranked at #6 in National Universities according to U.S. News. Although Stanford is also a private college in California, the available Stanford tuition scholarships and financial aid are different from Harvey Mudd. Stanford tuition also exceeds the average private college tuition cost. 

So, the total estimated college cost of Stanford is on par with Harvey Mudd. However, according to the Stanford website, most students do not pay this full cost. Use the Stanford college cost calculator to see how much you would be expected to pay. 

For a final comparison, note that Boston College tuition is $31,475 per semester, bringing the total cost for tuition alone to over $62,000 per year. Similarly, Middlebury tuition is $62,000 per academic year. Finally, the North Carolina state cost for in-state tuition is $9,130, and the out-of-state cost is $29,914.

As we’ve explained, college tuition can vary greatly among schools. The average college costs range from $25,000 for an in-state student at a public university all the way up to $82,000 for a private university. However, remember that the “sticker price” you see on a college’s website may not be the actual price you pay for that school. Aspects such as financial aid and scholarships can make a big difference in your 4 years of college average cost. 

How much does it cost to go to Harvard?

Budget Item 2022‒2023 Academic Year
Tuition 57,693
Room and Board 18,619
Student Fees Allowance 2,145
Books & Supplies Allowance 1,350
Personal Expenses Allowance 2,355
Travel Varies
Total $82,162

We’ve looked at the price of college at top public and private universities and answered your question of how much does college cost. However, one school may still be on your mind. Harvard is ranked by U.S. News as #2 in National Universities. While you may assume that would make Harvard one of the most expensive colleges, their commitment to financial aid makes Harvard one of the most affordable colleges for some students. The average college cost of Harvard is lower than that of many other private colleges. 

Let’s start with some history. The Harvard cost of college over time has risen consistently. Harvard has increased its tuition costs almost every year. In 1990, Harvard tuition was around $13,000. Today, it costs $47,730. And before 1960, it cost less than $1,000 to attend Harvard! So, take that as an example of how the cost of college over time is growing. 

Let’s look at the “sticker price” of Harvard:

Budget Item 2022‒2023 Cost of Attendance
Tuition $52,659
Fees $4,602
Room $12,056
Board $7,446
Subtotal – billed costs $76,763
Estimated personal expenses (including $800‒$1000 for books)    $3,500
Estimated travel costs $0$4,150
Total billed and unbilled costs $80,236‒$84,413

So, Harvard College tuition and fees can range anywhere from $80,000 to $84,000, depending on travel costs for students who may come from out-of-state or internationally.

However, Harvard is also committed to need-blind admissions, and the average parent contribution is about $12,000 after aid. According to their admissions website, 20% of students at Harvard receive full financial aid. This means that they pay no amount in college tuition costs. 

Furthermore, 55% of students receive need-based scholarships. And as of March 31, 2022, Harvard announced that beginning in the 2022-23 academic year, families with annual incomes of up to $75,000 (up from $65,000) will be expected to contribute nothing.

According to their website, “Families with annual incomes between $75,000 and $150,000 will contribute between 0 and 10 percent of their income. Those with incomes above $150,000 will be asked to pay proportionately more than 10 percent based on their circumstances”. 

This means that for families whose income is under $75,000, Harvard will be more affordable than any other private or public university. The net college cost for these students to attend Harvard is $0. So, sometimes, private universities are the best option for students because they have the ability to offer the largest financial support. 

Let’s take a closer look at some of the types of support offered by Harvard:

  • Scholarships and Grants – These can be at the institutional, state, or federal level. According to their website, “Scholarship funds come from a variety of sources, including Harvard endowment funds, gifts from alumni, general tuition revenues, and federal and state grants.” This type of funding includes Federal Pell Grants and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants. You can determine your eligibility for these by filling out the FAFSA.
  • Outside Awards – These scholarship funds come from sources outside of Harvard. They include funding from secondary schools, civic organizations, parental employers, corporations, the National Merit Scholarship Programs, VA Benefits, and the ROTC. These outside awards are factored into your aid package, and they must be reported here.
  • Student Employment – Students may hold jobs during their time at Harvard. In your aid package, you could be expected to work during term-time—often around 10 to 12 hours per week. This includes the Federal Work-Study Program (or FWSP), which subsidizes the wages of eligible students. View the Harvard Student Employment Office website for more information. 
  • Loans – Students are not expected to take out loans as part of their financial aid package. In fact, most Harvard students graduate debt-free. However, you are able to borrow in order to help cover your student or family contribution. You can fill out the Harvard Student Loan Request Form or pursue federal or private parent loans as well. 

Those are the types of aid that help cover Harvard College tuition costs. How does Harvard calculate these need-based packages?

Three steps to calculation Harvard’s need-based packages:

  1. First, they determine an award by establishing parent contribution.
  2. Then, they factor in student employment and any outside awards received by the student.
  3. Finally, all remaining need will be covered by scholarship funds which are grant-based and never need to be repaid.

However, everyone’s Harvard College tuition cost will be different, so if you’re considering applying to Harvard, be sure to use their college cost calculator here. If you’re interested, you can read more about Harvard’s history of financial aid here. That history will further illuminate the rising cost of college over time. 

We’ve shown a few example breakdowns of the average cost of college for some public and private universities, including Harvard College tuition. Now, let’s discuss the cost of college over time and how it has changed.  

Cost of college over time

According to Forbes, the cost of college over time in the US has risen at a faster rate than that of housing or medical care. This explains why college tuition costs at the above schools look like such big numbers. While it doesn’t seem like these average college costs will suddenly trend lower any time soon, financial aid and scholarships can help you cover your college tuition. 

Because most top colleges do not face competition that forces them to lower the average tuition cost, they have little incentive to do so. Think about the “sticker price” of Harvard College tuition from above. Just because that number is so high, doesn’t mean that students will stop applying to or attending Harvard. It’s the #2 university in the country! So, they can afford to have higher average college costs.

College tuition and student loans

Due to the widespread availability of student loans, colleges largely don’t base college tuition costs off of students’ ability to pay upfront. Instead, they can expect to receive tuition from students even when the average tuition cost is not fundamentally viable for some students. That is why the average college tuition number is so high. 

So, for these reasons, college tuition costs remain at an all-time high. And, if the trends in rising college costs are any predictor, it doesn’t seem that these average college costs will go down any time soon. However, don’t panic at this news. There are ways to make the average cost of college lower, like qualifying for financial aid or getting a scholarship. 

Public universities are a very good cost effective option, especially for in-state students. And private universities, like Harvard, may seem like the most expensive colleges in the US, but sometimes they can actually be the most affordable options. Remember, the most expensive college for someone else may not be the most expensive college for you. Each student has a different experience with financial aid and scholarships. That’s why each average college tuition number is merely a guide, not a set-in-stone number. 

Is college worth it?

We understand that college costs can seem prohibitive, and you may be thinking that college isn’t worth the price. However, before you make that type of decision, you should do extensive research to make sure that college would not be a viable option for you. 

Consider that attending a four-year college or university is a requirement for most jobs in today’s world. So, in order to have a career, it is likely you will need a Bachelor’s degree even for an entry-level position at most companies. Your Bachelor’s degree can be from any state or private university, but the important thing is that you have one. 

You may be feeling like some college tuition costs are so prohibitively expensive that they can’t possibly be worth it. For example, many Ivy Leagues or exclusive top colleges have “sticker prices” of over $70,000.  However, when it comes to college tuition costs, not all schools are created equal.

Explore the opportunities

Some schools might cost more but offer more opportunities upon graduation. By contrast, other schools might have more comprehensive scholarships or financial aid that make them a better choice for the next four years, even if they may have a smaller alumni network or fewer connections in a certain field. 

Larger state schools can be an advantage because they often have enormous alumni networks. This gives you more people you can reach out to when you’re beginning a job search. Ivy League colleges may offer connections to elite consulting companies or look better on graduate school applications, such as medical school or law school. 

There are many aspects to consider when you’re thinking about the average cost of college. Remember, your college choice will impact you even after your four years on campus is over. 

Is college worth the cost? 

So, is college worth the cost? As a prerequisite to many jobs and graduate education, we believe that a college degree is worth the cost. However, to know if college is right for you, you must essentially perform a cost-benefit analysis. 

As you think about college tuition costs, consider what you’ll get out of your education. Some questions to ask yourself might be:

  • How much money can you expect to make after graduation?
  • Why might one college serve your long-term goals better than another? 

You must also keep in mind the hidden costs of college. The college tuition “sticker price” won’t apply to every student. At each school, think about what’s included in your tuition bills—and what might not be. You will also want to keep an eye on room and board charges at every school. 

These are some questions to investigate as you create a college costs list: 

  •  Do you receive food and housing? 
  • Are you looking to participate in any programs (such as study abroad) that might require additional costs? 
  • Will you have the opportunity to work on campus to offset any college costs? 

So, with all of these questions in mind, sit down and ask yourself if the price of college is worth it for you. We’ve outlined the average college tuition costs, broken down some examples of public and private university costs, and even gone in-depth about the financial aid process at Harvard. In the second half of this guide, we’ll help you understand what college tuition costs will mean for you and your own financial situation. 

Check out our college tuition webinar to get started on building your list of college tuition costs today. 


College Tuition and the Cost of College: Understanding and Calculating Your Own College Costs

We’ve outlined what college tuition looks like and how the cost of college has changed in recent years. Now, let’s break down some college tuition costs at top schools and help you calculate your own college tuition costs. 

We’ll look at the most expensive colleges in the US, as well as the most affordable colleges. Then, we’ll explain how to use a college cost calculator. We’ll show you how a college cost calculator can help you work out the most affordable colleges for you. 

As you read this “College Tuition and College Costs” guide, remember that research into college tuition costs doesn’t need to be stressful. It’s a matter of knowing your own financial boundaries and using a college tuition calculator to estimate the price of college. You can use these estimated college costs to identify schools with college tuition costs that are viable for you. 

Find out more about factoring in college tuition costs when building your list in this college tuition webinar. 

Exploring the most affordable colleges

Any student who has the average cost of college on their mind will want to know the most affordable colleges out there. 

As we mentioned earlier in this guide, the price of college will vary depending on whether it is a public or a private school. The cost of college will also vary depending on whether you’re an in-state or out-of-state student. 

The average private college tuition cost is higher ($38,000/year) than the average college tuition for a state school. Further, when we look at average college costs in public schools, the average college cost is higher for out-of-state students ($23,000/year) than the average college cost for in-state ($10,000/year). 

Therefore, your list of most affordable colleges is likely to include colleges in your state. For example, Boston College tuition will be the cheapest for Massachusetts residents. Similarly, Middlebury tuition will be the cheapest for Indiana residents. Finally, the Harvey Mudd cost will be cheapest for, you guessed it, California residents. 

However, some of the most affordable colleges in the country can be found out of state. U.S. News lists the following as some of the most affordable colleges for out-of-state students.

Most affordable colleges:

Despite the low average cost of college at these schools, you can expect a high-quality education at every one. 

However, don’t get too distracted by the low average cost of college! Even the most affordable colleges won’t give you value for money unless they also meet your individual needs. So, as you pour over your college cost calculator and college costs list, remember to keep your own goals in mind. Finding schools with a college cost you can afford is important, but they must also offer the areas of study and extracurriculars that will allow you to thrive. 

Exploring the most expensive college

You’ve asked yourself “how much does college cost?” and now you understand the rising college costs and know the average cost of college. But, you might still be wondering what the most expensive college is. 

As we’ve mentioned before in this “College Tuition and College Cost” guide, the average private college tuition is higher than the average college tuition at public schools. 

In 2021, U.S. News collected data on the price of college. Of the 705 private colleges that shared their 2021-2022 college tuition costs, 145 gave an average college tuition cost of more than $50,000 for the year. By contrast, only 55 reported an average price of college under $20,000.

Ivy League schools are expensive

Often, the most expensive college is also one of the Ivy League schools. For example, both Stanford and Harvard have above-average college costs. Stanford tuition is $56,169. Meanwhile, Harvard College tuition is $52,659. With the national average cost of college at $41,281, both of these Ivy League schools far exceed the average college cost. 

Although these schools have higher college costs than the national average cost of college, they won’t be the most expensive college for every student. 

That’s because both schools feature in the U.S. News list of Best Value Schools. This ranking measures the quality of the education and the average cost of attendance for a student with college tuition need-based aid. The higher the quality of the program and the lower the college cost, the better the ranking. Therefore, the most expensive college can also be the best value and can have the best financial aid programs. 

Furthermore, if you would like to attend a top school with high college tuition costs, you may find this article useful. It shares the story of how two Harvard students saved up for the price of college. Similarly, you can read more about how financial aid could help you afford the price of college here

Most expensive colleges in the US

As you read through this list of the most expensive colleges in the US, remember that the most expensive college is not the same as the best college. Even if the most expensive college was the best overall, that doesn’t mean it would be the best for you

Just because it’s the most expensive college, a school may not have the resources, academics, or extracurriculars to fulfill you. A high ranking on the college costs list also doesn’t tell you about the size of the student body, or whether campus life would suit you. 

In short, don’t let rising college costs and “most expensive college” lists distract you. Finding your most affordable colleges is essential, but so is finding colleges that fit you well

You’ve now read about rising college costs, the most affordable colleges, and the four years of college average cost. You’re probably itching to know the most expensive colleges in the US. For more tips on how to make your final decision about college beyond college tuition costs, click here.  

According to U.S. News, the most expensive colleges in the US are:

For Columbia, the most expensive college on this “most expensive colleges in the US” list, the total 4 years of college average cost is $254,120. 

Seeing this list of the most expensive colleges in the US may make you wonder if college is worth it. Before you throw your hands up at rising college costs, keep the following points about the cost of college in mind.

1. Financial Aid 

Often, even the most expensive colleges in the US will offer financial aid to support college tuition costs. This means the school will pay for some of your cost of college. How much of the college tuition costs they cover will often depend on your family income. Schools will measure your level of need in different ways. You’ll learn more about this when we explain college tuition calculators later in this “College Tuition and College Costs” guide.

In addition, students can earn financial support with college tuition through scholarships.   

2. Alternative Schools

If the most expensive colleges in the US are above your college cost upper limit, you shouldn’t worry. There are plenty of high-quality schools which don’t have such high average college costs. For example, the North Carolina State cost (for out-of-state students) is $29,916. Equally, the Ohio State tuition (out-of-state) is $35,019. Both the NCS and Ohio State costs fall well below the national average college cost. 

Therefore, don’t limit your school search to the most expensive colleges in the US. Look beyond the most expensive college and you’ll find plenty of schools with rewarding undergraduate experiences. 

3. Expense Does Not Mean Good Fit

Finally, as we discussed above in this “College Tuition and College Cost” guide, the most expensive college isn’t always the best college for you. Don’t let lists of the most expensive colleges in the US distract you from finding colleges that fit. Alongside average college tuition fees, you should be thinking about: the type of college, your future career path, your academic interests, student life at the college, and much more!

How much should college cost?

Alongside the question of “how much does college cost” many students also wonder “how much should college cost?” After all, with such a huge variety of average college costs, it’s easy to wonder what you should pay. And when you see rising college costs, you might also ask yourself if college is worth it at all. 

The truth is, we cannot give you a range of college tuition costs that you “should” pay for school. It’s down to each family to work out the average college cost they can afford. 

Once you know the average cost of college that’s viable, you can use the college tuition calculator we explain later in this “College Tuition and College Cost” guide. The college cost calculator will help you work out the expected college cost for your list of schools. Once you know the expected college cost for your list, you can pick the ones with college tuition costs you can afford. 

The college tuition calculator will also help determine whether you qualify for financial aid from any given college. 

If you don’t qualify for support with college costs, look at schools with average college tuition you can afford. For many students, an in-state public university makes the most financial sense. As we mentioned, these schools normally offer the lowest average college costs. 

College cost is high, these can help

If the estimated cost of college for many schools looks too high, don’t worry. As well as financial aid and national scholarships, there are other ways you can reduce your college cost and mitigate the rising college costs:

  • Local scholarships – Local scholarships won’t typically cover as much college tuition as national ones. However, they are also often less competitive. If you’re worried about the average college cost, it may be worth researching these.
  • Dual enrollment Dual enrollment courses allow you to earn college credits as a high school student. The cost of these programs is often much lower than the average cost of college. 
  • Commuting A large factor in the rising college costs is the cost of college accommodation. If you are keen to reduce the average cost of college, you might consider living at home and commuting to school. Check out this list of schools where commuting is the norm. 
  • Advanced Placement Courses Many schools will award college credits based on high AP scores from high school. This can allow you to graduate early, reducing your overall college tuition. 
  • Regional Exchange Program In regional tuition exchange programs, out-of-state students qualify for college tuition at a reduced rate. Sometimes this can be up to 150% of the in-state college costs. Find out more about how exchange programs can help you save on college costs here

Whichever average college cost you can afford, and however you pay for it, remember that there is no target amount that college “should” cost. The right cost of college tuition is different for every family. 

Learn out more about using the price of college when building your list in this college tuition webinar. 

Using college tuition cost calculators

Admissions teams know that many students ask “how much does college cost?” They are aware that college tuition can be one of the most important factors for students compiling their college lists. 

Furthermore, the “sticker price” — the full cost of college — is rarely the actual amount families will pay for college. For this reason, many schools offer something called a “college tuition calculator”. 

But what exactly is a college tuition calculator? A college tuition calculator, also known as a college cost calculator, is a tool that determines “the amount that a student pays to attend an institution in a single academic year AFTER subtracting scholarships and grants”. 

Each school’s college tuition calculator will be slightly different. When using a college cost calculator from different schools to compare the average cost of college, you must be aware of the possible differences. 

For example, Harvard’s college cost calculator clearly reports the cost of Harvard College tuition and accommodation as separate figures. Some schools may include room and board in the total price. Others may not. Therefore, be aware of what each college tuition calculator measures, before using them to compare college costs. 

If you’re keen to know “how much does college cost?” then you’ll want to know how to use a college cost calculator.

Most college cost calculators will ask you for the following:

  • Basic personal information e.g. place of residence
  • A student’s dependency status
  • Parents’ income and asset information

Some college cost calculators will also ask about a student’s academic record. This helps the college cost calculator factor in merit-based scholarships to the total estimated college costs. 

To get as realistic a reading as possible from the college cost calculators, share accurate information. Having a good sense of the price of college will help you make the right decision about where to study. 

In addition, remember that a college tuition calculator is not an application for financial aid. You will apply for financial aid individually through each university. For example, you might apply for support with Harvard College tuition here, Boston College tuition here, or Middlebury tuition here

Finally, bear in mind that you may receive your college acceptance letter before you receive your financial aid award letter. For help reading your financial aid award letter, check out this article

In summary, a college tuition calculator can help you to estimate the cost of college tuition for your target schools. However, the results of a college cost calculator cannot be taken as an exact prediction of college tuition costs.    

Is college tuition a tax deduction?

Many of you asking “how much does college cost?” will also want to know whether college tuition costs are tax-deductible. 

In short – yes, college tuition costs are tax-deductible. That means if you covered any of the costs of a degree program for yourself (or your child) last year, you could be eligible to reduce your taxable income.

To qualify for a tax deduction on your college tuition, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You (or your spouse or dependent) pay qualified education expenses for higher education
  • The eligible student (yourself, your spouse, or a dependent) is enrolled at an eligible institution

Note that you can claim either the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) or the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit (LLC) in the same tax year. Read an overview of the difference between these two forms of tax deduction here. To compare these two education credits, this chart from the IRS is useful. Make sure you do your research and claim the credit you qualify for.

College Tuition and the cost of College: Conclusion

In this “College Tuition and College Costs” guide, we have covered the following:

  • How much does college cost?
  • 4 years of college average cost
  • College costs list for private and public universities 
  • An overview of rising college costs
  • Top ten most affordable colleges
  • The most expensive colleges in the US
  • How to use a college tuition calculator

We’ve seen that the answer to “how much does college cost?” varies hugely depending on the type of school. The average college tuition cost is different for private ($38,000/year), out-of-state public ($23,000/year), and in-state public schools ($10,000/year). This difference in average college costs will impact each student’s college costs list and their list of target schools. 

In addition, the college tuition landscape is changing. The average cost of college has gone up year to year. So too has the cost of college at the country’s top schools.

Despite rising college costs, remember that the most expensive colleges in the US are not always the best. This country’s most affordable colleges also offer exceptional undergraduate experiences. 

Furthermore, schools’ sticker prices often do not reflect the actual price of college for most families. The financial aid you receive will affect your college tuition costs significantly. You can use a college tuition calculator to estimate accurate college tuition costs for your chosen schools. 

The difference in the price of college between schools is stark. Further, financial aid and scholarships can impact college costs significantly. For this reason, it’s essential to sit down with your family and work out the price of college that’s affordable for you. Then, research college tuition costs thoroughly. 

Finally, remember that you should not choose colleges based on college tuition costs alone. College costs cannot tell you much about other factors which are essential to a fulfilling undergraduate experience. The questions you should consider beyond “how much does college cost?” include:

  • Can you meet the admissions requirements?
  • Will the school set you up well for your potential career path? 
  • What’s your preferred student body (e.g. Greek system, single-sex colleges, etc.)?
  • Does the school have strong credentials in your areas of academic interest?
  • Will you be able to take a specific set of majors and minors? 

Use this “College Tuition and College Costs” guide to create a college list you can afford. Then, do thorough research well beyond college tuition to create a list of colleges where you’ll truly thrive!

CollegeAdvisor.com is here for you on every step of your college admissions journey, including college tuition. Our network of 300+ Admissions Experts (and former admissions officers) can help guide you through the process of calculating the average cost of college and building a college list that’s right for you. Create your free account or schedule a free advising consultation by calling (844) 343-6272.