Costs of study at different types of US university
Anyone familiar with the basic rules of averages will have realized that College Board’s estimate is likely to include significant variation in either direction – and this is true. At the very top-tier US universities (the majority of which are private non-profits), fees and living costs are likely to add up to around US$60,000 per year, but it’s also possible to study in the US at a much lower outlay.
Those seeking a more affordable option will find lower tuition fees at US universities within the public sector. These are typically run as state university systems – collections of colleges within a state, which share some administrative aspects while operating as separate institutions. Public universities in the US have two tuition fee rates: one for state residents and one for everyone else. The second (more expensive) category applies equally to applicants from other US states and from other countries. Private universities tend to be much smaller than public universities and have a more diverse student population (both from different states and different countries) due to the fact that tuition is the same price for all students. You can read more about how public and private US universities compare.
According to College Board, published tuition fees for 2017/18 at state colleges are an average of US$9,970 for state residents, and $25,620 for everyone else. This compares to an average of $34,740 at private non-profit colleges. The cheapest options of all, however, are public-sector two-year colleges – also known as community, technical or city colleges – where average fees for 2017/18 are just $3,570.
Admittedly, you can’t complete a full degree at a two-year college, but you can gain an associate’s degree. This counts as the first half of a bachelor’s degree, which can then be completed by transferring to a university for an additional two or three years.
Average fees at US universities, 2018-19
|Public two-year colleges||Public four-year colleges (in-state fees)||Public four-year colleges (out-of-state fees)||Private non-profit four-year colleges|
|Tuition and other fees||$3,570||$9,970||$25,620||$34,740|
|Room and board||$8,400||$10,800||$10,800||$12,210|
|Total (per year)||$11,970||$20,770||$35,420||$46,950|
When transport and other living expenses are factored in, College Board estimates the following annual budgets for undergraduate students in 2018/19:
- $17,580 (community college)
- $25,290 (in-state students at a four-year public college)
- $40,940 (out-of-state students at a four-year public college)
- $50,900 (private non-profit four-year college)
What funding is available to study in the US ?
When assessing the costs of studying in the US, it’s usual to distinguish between the “sticker price” – the published rates – and the amount students actually pay once various sources of funding and financial aid are considered. Unlike in other countries, it’s rare for US students to pay the full tuition amount. In 2014/15, 86% of full-time undergraduate students at four-year universities in the US received some form of financial aid, including 84% of those at public colleges and 90% at private non-profit colleges.
Often, the most prestigious US universities – with the highest sticker prices – offer the most generous funding opportunities. At MIT, the highest-ranked university in the US (and the world), 91% of undergraduates receive financial aid. At Caltech, almost 60% of undergraduates receive aid, while 98% of graduate students and 99% of doctoral candidates receive full financial support. Similar figures are cited by most other leading US universities, with forms of support including scholarships, grants, assistantships and work-study schemes.
While some funding avenues are only open to US citizens, there are also lots of aid opportunities available to international students. The University of Pennsylvania, for instance, allocates over $9 million every academic year in funding specifically for undergraduates from outside of the US, Canada and Mexico. According to data collected by US News, Harvard University allocated aid to 600 international undergraduates in 2016/17, with the average grant standing at $60,687, while Yale University awarded an average of $58,864to a total of 336 international undergraduates.
Funding information is provided on each US university’s website, and students should usually apply for financial aid at the same time as their application is submitted. A small number of elite US universities also have “need-blind” admission policies for all applicants. This means students’ financial background is not considered during the admissions process, and the university pledges to provide sufficient aid to ensure every successful applicant is able to attend.