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How Much Does it Cost to Study in the US?

How Much Does it Cost to Study in the US? main image

While the US remains the world’s most popular destination for international students, it’s also among the most expensive choices. But while the headline costs of studying in the US may be daunting, often involving a string of five-digit numbers, it’s worth checking all the facts on fees and funding options before you make up your mind.


In HSBC’s 2014 report on the costs of studying abroad in different locations, the US emerged as the third most-expensive option overall, behind Australia and Singapore. HSBC put the average annual cost of study in the US – including tuition fees and living expenses – at US$36,564. Multiply by four for most undergraduate courses and by two for most master’s degrees, and for the majority of prospective students, attending university in the US may seem about as realistic as crashing at the White House while you look for a place to live.

But before you abandon all hope of spending your student years playing baseball, going to the 'drive-thru' and generally carving out your own version of the American dream, be reassured: there may be a way.

HarvardCosts of study at different types of US university

Anyone familiar with the basic rules of averages will have realized that the HSBC 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 may 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.

According to student support organization College Board, published tuition fees for 2014/15 at state colleges are an average of US$9,139 for state residents, and $22,958 for everyone else. This compares to an average of $31,231 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 2014/15 are just $3,347.

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, 2014/15

 

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

$3,347

$9,139

 

$22,958

 

$31,231

 

Room and board

$7,705

 

$9,804

 

$9,804

 

$11,188

 

Total (per year)

$11,052

 

$18,943

 

$32,762

 

$42,419

 

 

When transport and other living expenses are factored in, College Board estimates the following annual budgets for undergraduate students in 2014/15:

  • $16,325 (community college)
  • $23,410 (in-state students at a four-year public college)
  • $37,229 (out-of-state students at a four-year public college)
  • $46,272 (private non-profit four-year college)

While these averages provide a helpful overview of the broad range of study costs in the US, it’s worth remembering that there remains significant variation in tuition fees charged by each type of institution. At the most prestigious public universities, for instance, fees may be just as high as those in the private sector. For instance, the University of Michigan (the highest-ranked public US university in the QS World University Rankings®) estimates fees for new out-of-state students in 2014/15 at $41,906, plus $10,246 for room and board, and $1,048 for books and study supplies.

ScholarshipsWhat 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 are considered. As of 2011-12, 85% of full-time undergraduate students at four-year universities in the US received some form of financial aid, including 83% of those at public colleges and 89% 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), 90% of undergraduates and 86% of graduate and professional students 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, has allocated $6 million this academic year in funding specifically for undergraduates from outside of the US and its neighbors Canada and Mexico. According to data collected by US News, Harvard University allocated aid to 540 international undergraduates in 2013/14, with the average grant standing at $51,854, while Yale University awarded an average of $56,630 to a total of 349 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.

How can you calculate your own costs of studying in the US?


In recent years it’s become easier for individual students to calculate how much they could expect studying in the US to cost. All US universities are now legally required to include a fees and financial aid calculator on their websites, allowing students to get a rough idea of how much their intended course of study would cost and what aid they may be eligible for. These “net price calculators” can be accessed via the government’s College Affordability and Transparency Center, which also provides details of the US universities with the highest and lowest tuition fees and net costs.

This article was originally published in February 2012. It was updated in February 2015.

Laura Bridgestock's profile image
Written by Laura Bridgestock

The editor of TopUniversities.com, Laura oversees the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edits the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributes to market research reports including Students Online: Global Trends.

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16 Comments
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hii this is ezhilarasan .iwould like to pursue my masters in civil engineering.what would be the possible score in gre to study at MIT in US

Hi! These details can be found under the program details on MIT's official website. If you still cannot find them, contact the admissions team directly. L

Hii this is divyanshu Kapadiya. I have completed master of pharmacy from the department of medicinal chemistry. I want to get fully funded PhD course in toppest university of US. Need you proper guidance. Thanx.

Hi there, to find the names of leading US universities for pharmacy & pharmacology, see our latest subject ranking. From there, you can research each university via their official website to see if they offer PhD placements in your specialization and/or financial aid. This may take a while but is the best way to find leading programs. To get more information on PhD funding see this article and this guide to graduate funding.

To learn more about graduate study in the US, see our guide for international students.

Laura :)

I am 34 years old graduate of Bs CompSci in my country, but my profession now in Turkey is ESL teacher. I am planning to take an undergraduate school related to my profession probably an education course. US is my choice but according to the agents, It would be hard for me to study in US because of my age. Does age really matters in studying?

Hi Jennifer. As far as I'm aware, age shouldn't be an impediment for you to gain a place at university, so long as you fulfil the admissions criteria.

Hey...i m from india and i m from middle class family...i want to study abroad but i can't afford to study...can u please give me the full information about fee structure....

Hi Laura,
Very valuable and informative.
I am a born U.S. citizen studying abroad in New Zealand) ...will complete my Bachelor of Science degree and am
Wanting to do PharmD in the US.
How does funding and financial aid work in my case?

Hi Naren. If you're a US citizen, you should be eligible for the same funding and financial aid as other US citizens. 

Hey. This was quite useful information.
But i require still some more information on fees aids in USA for international students.

looking forward for help. Thank you.

Hi Purva, you can look for information on funding on your chosen university's website, or you can take a look at our range of scholarships articles, particularly this one - International Scholarship to Study in the US. Good luck! Laura

Thanks for this info "All US universities are now legally required to include a fees and financial aid calculator on their websites"! I didn't knew there was a financial aid calculator on each university websites.

The cost to a US university is not really affordable for students from other continents. I've heard that Ivy Ties, a social network for college applicants is giving away application fees to its contest winners. Is topuniversities.com have any similar giveaways/funding we could use?

Hi Jerry. Yes, for several years now all US universities have had this calculator on their sites - it's just an estimate, not a guarantee of financial aid, but the idea is to give a reasonably accurate reflection of the actual cost per student.

We do have a scholarships scheme which is open to all attendees of the QS World Grad School Tour - you can find out more here.

And we offer a list of scholarships to study in the US here.

Hope this helps!

I agree with Sandeep. For an international student, what is the average amount required in a public university and in private university for 3 types of subjects, like,
engineering, economics and statistics?

there is no clear information about fee and residance facilities and total expenditure to spend there so can u include these things there

Hi Sandeep. You'll find some more useful information in our guide to studying abroad in the US: http://www.topuniversities.com/where-to-study/north-america/united-states/guide

Specific fees and living costs vary a lot depending on the university, so it's best to consult the university website to get exact numbers. They usually give a breakdown of costs such as accommodation, health insurance and so on.

Hope this helps!

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