How Much Does it Cost to Study in the US? | Top Universities

How Much Does it Cost to Study in the US?

By Laura Bridgestock

Updated May 28, 2021 Updated May 28, 2021

While the US remains the world’s most popular destination for international students, it’s also among the most expensive choices. However, although 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, as it may work out cheaper than you initially think.

In HSBC’s 2018 report, The Value of Education, the US again emerged among the top choices for parents considering university abroad for their child – but also one of the most expensive, with students spending an average of US$99,417 over the course of their degree.

With most undergraduate degrees at public universities costing $26,290 (according to student support organization College Board), for many 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 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 here.

According to College Board, published tuition fees for 2018/19 at state colleges are an average of US$10,230 for state residents, and $26,290 for everyone else. This compares to an average of $35,830 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 2018/19 are just $3,660.

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

$3,660

$10,230

 

$26,290

 

$35,830

 

Room and board

$8,660

 

$11,140

 

$11,140

 

$12,680

 

Total (per year)

$12,320

 

$21,370

 

$37,430

 

$48,510

 

Source: College Board

When transport and other living expenses are factored in, College Board estimates the following annual budgets for undergraduate students in 2018/19:

  • $17,930 (community college)
  • $25,890 (in-state students at a four-year public college)
  • $41,950 (out-of-state students at a four-year public college)
  • $52,500 (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 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 fall/winter 2018/19 at $49,350, on top of additional costs of $11,534 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 annual cost of $64,386, or $70,356 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 and financial aid are considered. Unlike in other countries, it’s rare for US students to pay the full tuition amount. In 2015/16, 85 percent of full-time undergraduate students at four-year universities in the US received some form of financial aid, including 83 percent of those at public colleges and 89 percent 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), 58 percent of undergraduates receive financial aid. At Caltech, almost 60 percent of undergraduates receive aid, while 98 percent 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 NewsHarvard University allocated aid to 594 international undergraduates in 2017/18, with the average grant standing at $64,459, while Columbia University awarded an average of $66,350 to a total of 257 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 most recently updated in May 2019.

Want more content like this? Register for free site membership to get regular updates and your own personal content feed.

This article was originally published in May 2019 . It was last updated in May 2021

Want more content like this Register for free site membership to get regular updates and your own personal content feed.

Written by

The former editor of TopUniversities.com, Laura oversaw the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edited the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributed to market research reports, including 'How Do Students Use Rankings?'

+ 158 others
saved this article

+ 159 others saved this article

Related Articles Last year

Monthly updates
QS Community
QS Community

Get the latest student and graduate news straight to your inbox.

Sign me up
Course Matching Tool
Course Matching Tool
Course Matching Tool

Use our tool to find your perfect course. Answer a few questions and we will do the rest!

Start Matching
QS Leap
Test Preparations
Test Preparations

Free test prep platform with practice questions and more.

Start Now