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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 2016 report, The Value of Education: Foundations for the future, the US emerged as the top choice for parents considering university abroad for their child – but also the most expensive, with the average annual cost of tuition fees to study in the US estimated at $33,215.

Multiply by four for most undergraduate 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.

Costs 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, 2016-17


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








Room and board









Total (per year)









Source: College Board


When transport and other living expenses are factored in, College Board estimates the following annual budgets for undergraduate students in 2016/17:

  • $17,000 (community college)
  • $24,610 (in-state students at a four-year public college)
  • $39,890 (out-of-state students at a four-year public college)
  • $49,320 (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 (one of the highest-ranked public US universities in the QS World University Rankings®) estimates fees for new out-of-state students in 2016/17 at $45,410, plus $10,872 for room and board, $1,048 for books and study supplies and $2,454 for personal and miscellaneous items. This adds up to a total budget of $59,784, or $65,462 for graduate students.

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 are considered. In 2013/14, 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), 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 $6 million every academic year in funding specifically for undergraduates from outside of the US and its neighbors Canada and Mexico. According to data collected by US NewsHarvard University allocated aid to 559 international undergraduates in 2015/16, with the average grant standing at $56,268, while Yale University awarded an average of $54,954 to 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.

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 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 January 2015 and again in December 2016.

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Written by Laura Bridgestock
The editor of, 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 How Do Students Use Rankings?

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Hello,my name is nilesh and I want to achieve MA in english language please help.

Hi Nilesh, if you'd like to study in the US, you might like to start by reading our guide on how to study abroad in the US. To help you to choose a university, you could view our latest rankings by subject for English language - the results can be narrowed down by country to show the best US universities for your subject. Hope this helps!

when a student is enrolled in the US.can he/she eventually become a citizen in the US AND IF YES HOW

Hi Timothy, you can, but it's a complicated process - please take a look at our article on how to get a US work visa. :)

Study in Chile and get Permanenet Residency in 2 Years.

Study Nursing in Chile and Get Permanent Residency in 2 Years

Study in Chile(Santiago) for Nursing/MBBS/Health Management courses.As like all other Universities in Russia,Ukraine,Phillipines and China,Chile is offering MBBS at a very affordable price to International students.It is an excellent oppurtunity for your students to study in Chile and at the same time get Permanent Residency in just 2 years unlike any other countries and Citizenship in 5 years.None of the other countries is offering this advantage to International students.Students have to go back to thier country after course completion wheras immediately after completing of 5 years of studies,student can apply for Citizenship which entitles them for Visa on Arrival for 32 countries and right to keep DUAL CITIZENSHIP.

HI Laura . Iam Faizullah from afghanistan . i am seeing scholarships in bachelors degree in USA or maybe in Germeny. please let me if there are possibilities . because i cant really afford that huge amount of money , Thank you

Hi Faizullah, please take a look at our lists of scholarships to study in the US and scholarships to study in Germany. You might also like to apply for our QS Undergraduate Scholarship, which awards up to US$10,000 to one student starting an undergraduate program at any QS-ranked university. Good luck! 

My name is jyothish
I want to study hotal management in abroad can u contact me plse and about the fees
I am from India (Kerala)
Plse answer me fast

Hi, I am Hewan from Nepal. I want to study Computer Engineering in University of Colorado. What sort of scholarships are available for Nepalese students???

Hi Hewan, I don't know of any scholarships specifically for Nepalese students, but we've listed a range of computer science scholarships here. I'd also recommend checking the University of Colorado's official website for information on scholarships you could apply to. 

Hi ,I am Hrishikesh from Indis.i am currently pursuing my in civil from coep in pune. I would like to do ms in structural engineering.could you please provide me info on the best college for the course with their fees structure and scholarships program

Hi I am Pratik from Nepal and completed my highschool and willing to study computer science in USA. Would you please provide me the fee structures and scholarships to study there.?

Hi Pratik. The fees will vary depending on the university. In addition to the information provided in the article above, you may also want to take a look at our list of international scholarships to study in the US, and our complete guide to studying abroad in the US.

hi my name is neo i'll be completing my grade 12 next and i would like to study medicine in the university of washington can you pleas assist me with more information as when to apply and the financial assistance as well thank you

Hi Neo, application deadlines to study in the US are usually in January, but you can find the exact date by checking the University of Washington's website, which should also have a section on scholarships and funding opportunities. You can browse a range of other scholarships to study in the US here. Hope this helps!

My high school entering daughter is studying in Washington USA for the past 5 years and I hold a H1B visa and my daughter eventually H4. We migrated from another country 5 years back and we are not citizens of US and we don't hold Green card as well. Can you please tell me whether the fee structure for the US universities going to be same for us, or, will we be considered as international student and our fee structure going to be high and different. How does the fee structure matters with regarding to green card or the status in US ? Please provide more insight into this. Thank you.

The most prestigious American universities - with the highest prices Sticker - offering the most generous funding options. At MIT, the highest ranked university in the US (and the world), 90% and 86% of university graduates and professional students receive financial aid. At Caltech, almost 60% of university students to get help, while 98% of university graduates and 99% of doctoral students receive full financial support.

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 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:

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!