How Much Does College Cost?

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How much does college cost? It’s a question that many students and their families are asking as they start to think about higher education. The answer, of course, depends on the school and the program you choose.

How Much Does College Really Cost?

When it comes to paying for college, there’s a lot more to consider than just the tuition bill. College students should also think about how much everything from an apartment to flying back home for break to late-night munchies will cost them.

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So how can you afford to go to college? There are a lot of options available when it comes to how to finance college, and it’s important to explore them all before making a decision. Keep reading to learn more!

How Much Does College Cost?

The cost of attendance (COA) at a college is the estimated amount it will cost a student to attend that school for one academic year.

Check out these typical fees associated with college:

It includes tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board, transportation, and personal expenses. It is an estimate, and actual costs may be higher or lower.

Tuition and Fees

college student applying for student loan

Tuition and fees are the largest components of the COA. Tuition is the amount charged by the school for instruction, while fees are charges for services such as registration and technology. Then answering the question of how much is college tuition, it’s important to take into account if you’re planning to attend a private or public school.

The tuition costs for colleges that are private are typically higher than at a public colleges. There are several reasons for this. First, private colleges tend to have smaller class sizes, which means they need to charge more per student to cover their costs. 

Second, private colleges often have more expensive facilities, such as better-equipped laboratories and libraries. Finally, private colleges generally have less government funding than public colleges, meaning they have to rely more on tuition revenue to cover their costs.

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It’s also important to consider your degree choice. For example, the average cost of a bachelor’s degree will vary from the average cost of an associate’s degree. One year of college tuition at a 4-year public school averages between $20,000 – $25,000. The average one-year tuition for a private school averages between $30,000 and $35,00.

Alternatively, if you’re looking to attend a 2-year school, the one-year average for a public school is between $3,000 and $5,000. While private 2-year schools average between $15,000 to $18,000 per year. These averages do not include other expenses such as books and housing.

Schools typically release their tuition rates for the upcoming academic year in the spring, so it is important to stay up-to-date on these rates. Many schools also offer payment plans that allow students to spread out their tuition payments over the course of the semester or year.

Plus, there are some colleges that offer free tuition for low income students that you may want to research if this would be helpful for you.

Room and Board

student attending online class on laptop at home

One of the biggest expenses to factor into the average cost of college is room and board. This can be a shock for students and their families who are used to the relatively low costs of living at home. However, there are some ways to save money on room and board while still enjoying all that college has to offer. 

One way to save money is to live in a dormitory rather than an off-campus apartment. Dormitories typically have lower rent costs and include utilities in the monthly price. That’s not always the case, though, so be sure to compare figures before you make the decision. Some schools prohibit students, particularly freshmen, from living off-campus, too.

Many colleges offer discounts on room and board for students who live in the dormitories and eat in the college dining halls. These discounts can be significant, so it is worth checking with your college to see if they offer any such programs.

Students can expect to pay between $8,000 and $12,000 for room and board for a full academic year. This price will vary based on the type of school you choose. A 2-year school falls on the lower end of the spectrum.

Books and Supplies

college student in a library

Books and supplies are another significant expense associated with attending college. Books can be purchased new or used, either from the campus bookstore or online retailers. Students should also budget for other supplies such as paper, ink cartridges, and notebooks. 

Textbooks and other college supplies can be a significant expense for students, but there are a few ways to save money. One option is to buy used textbooks instead of new ones. This can be done through the campus bookstore or online retailers. 

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Another way to save money is to rent textbooks instead of purchasing them. This is often available through the campus bookstore or online retailers as well. Additionally, students can wait to purchase books until after classes have started in order to see if they are actually required for the course.

Regardless if you choose a 2-year or 4-year school, you can expect to pay anywhere between $1,200 and $1,500 for your books per year. Finally, students can also check with their professors to see if there are any recommended readings that are available for free online.

Transportation and Other Expenses

college student computing school expenses

Transportation costs will vary depending on whether a student owns a car or relies on public transportation. Students who live on campus may be able to get by without a car altogether.

Those who do have cars should budget for gasoline, insurance, and maintenance expenses. Public transportation costs such as bus or train fares should also be factored into the transportation budget. Transportation costs will average between $1,000 – $1,800 per year. 

Personal expenses include clothing, entertainment, cell phone service, and other incidentals. Other expenses can add up to an average of an additional $1,000 to $1,800 per academic year. These costs can vary greatly depending on a student’s lifestyle; some students may be able to get by on a very tight budget while others may need to spend more liberally.

One way to save money on personal expenses is to take advantage of free entertainment options such as concerts in the park or museum exhibitions with no admission fee.

Average College Tuition

art student reading book at art studio

The cost of a college education varies greatly by region, state, and type of school. For example, according to the data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average tuition for a 4-year public university is more than $9,000. Below you will find a breakdown of average costs within various categories.

Average College Tuition by Region

The cost of college tuition varies widely depending on the region of the country where the school resides. According to data provided by The College Board, the New England region has the highest in-district and in-state average tuition costs for both 2-year and 4-year schools.

In contrast, the South had the lowest tuition for a 4-year education at around $9,000. The West region had the lowest 2-year tuition coming in at around $2,000

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Another thing to keep in mind is the projected increase over the next 10 years. The College Board data states that the West region had the highest increase of  62% for 4-year schools and 60% for 2-year schools.

Average College Tuition by State

Tuition rates can vary widely from state to state and whether you choose in-state or out-of-state schooling.

For comparison, here are 5 states’ in-state tuition along with the corresponding out-of-state costs according to the NCES: 

School In-State Out-of-State
Illinois $14,455 $23,480
New Hampshire $16,679 $28,430
New Jersey $14,360 $26,600
Pennsylvania $15,565 $26,960
Vermont $17,083 $38,990

As you can see, there’s quite a bit of variation depending on where you live and if you choose in-state education or out-of-state.

Average College Tuition by Degree Type

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Here’s a breakdown of the average cost of tuition by degree type when attending a public school, according to the data from NCES for one year of education:

  • Associate’s degree: $3,300 per year
  • Bachelor’s degree: $8.500 per year 
  • Master’s degree: $$5,372 per year 
  • Doctoral degree: $5,709 per year 

There are many ways to offset the cost of tuition, such as scholarships, grants, and student loans. And although the initial investment may be costly, pursuing a degree can pay off in the long run in terms of career opportunities and earning potential. 

Average College Tuition by Flagship University

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, the cost to attend a flagship university varies greatly based on location and in-state or out-of-state education.

Here is a list of 5 schools and their average charge for tuition according to data provided by NCES:

School In-State Out-of-State
State University of New York at Buffalo $9,828 $27,338
University of Alabama $10,780 $28,100
University of Connecticut $14,880 $36,948
University of Maine $10,902 $30,282
University of Montana $7,063 $24,943

These schools are state universities, so the tuition tends to be lower for in-state students than out-of-state attendees. 

Average College Tuition of Ivy League and Other Elite Colleges

group of students studying together

On average, according to data collected by the NCES, Ivy League colleges cost about $60,000 per year. Elite colleges cost around $50,000 per year. 

Here are 10 Ivy League and elite schools with their tuition costs (not including room and board):

  • Amherst College – $60,430
  • Brown University – $60,696
  • Columbia University – $61,671
  • Cornell University – $59,282
  • Dartmouth College – $60,117
  • Harvard University – $54,002
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology – $53,450 
  • Princeton University – $48,502
  • Stanford University – $55,473
  • University of Pennsylvania – $60,042
  • Yale University – $59,950

Attending an Ivy League or elite school comes with prestigious benefits, but of course, the costs should be taken into consideration.

Average College Tuition of Online Colleges

The average college tuition of online colleges is typically lower than that of brick-and-mortar institutions. This is due to the fact that online colleges have fewer overhead costs, such as buildings and grounds, and can therefore pass the savings on to their students.

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In addition, online colleges typically have a higher student-to-teacher ratio, which allows them to offer more individualized attention to each student. As a result, students who attend online colleges often find that they are able to get more out of their education for less money.

Pros and Cons of College Housing Options

student thinking of getting an apartment

Once you choose a college, you’ll also need to find somewhere to live (unless you’re commuting from home). Your housing choice can be an extension of college life or simply a place to sleep. Here are a few options to consider:

Residence Hall

Living in a residence hall (or dorm) is a popular choice for first-year students. This all-inclusive option lets you meet new people outside the classroom and, along with available meal plans, is probably the best “all-in-one” choice. Pre-arranged study groups and activities in campus housing mean you’ll never be bored, and because residence halls are conveniently located, you don’t need a car.

Residence hall living also means you can be more immersed in college life. This makes a dorm a great choice since most freshmen don’t know anyone when they first arrive. On the downside, expect noise, a small and sparsely furnished living space, and minimal privacy.

You’ll probably be assigned a roommate, who may turn out to be your best friend (well, at least your first friend, for a while). So while there are advantages and disadvantages to dorm living, it’s probably your best option to get a true taste of college life as a freshman.

Greek House

If you join a fraternity or sorority, you may be able to live in a Greek house as a freshman, although at most schools you’ll have to wait until you’re a sophomore. In a Greek house, you’ll live with like-minded people, many of whom will become friends.

Fraternities and sororities have a lot of social activities, so they might be a good choice if you aren’t as inclined to seek them out on your own. Some houses have cooks or house mothers, while others require members to prepare their own meals. Many Greek houses bundle all living expenses into one fee.


college student studying in apartment

Living in an apartment means you are able to choose your roommate(s) and make your own rules. By having a true space to call home, it’s easier to separate yourself from school, and, depending on the choices you make, this can be a fairly inexpensive living arrangement. Apartments offer more privacy and probably impose fewer restrictions on your activities than dorms.

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However, apartment living also requires the most responsibility. You’ll need to shop for groceries, cook, pay your rent and utilities, manage your bills, and buy furniture (if the place is unfurnished). Factor in travel expenses if your apartment is far from campus.

Parent’s Home

If you choose a college in your hometown, you don’t have to go through the hassle of moving. The room you grew up in is familiar and private, which may make it easier to cope with the college adjustment. Because you are separated from college life, there will be fewer distractions.

But living in your parents’ home generally means your college experience is confined to classes. You’ll have minimal out-of-class interaction with other students so you’ll miss many experiences that accompany traditional college housing options. However, commuting from your parents’ home is clearly the least expensive housing option.

Financial Aid, Scholarships, and Loans

Financial Aid, Scholarships, and Loans

There are a variety of financial aid options available to help students pay for college. Federal and state governments offer financial aid programs, while employers may offer tuition reimbursement programs. 

Private organizations also offer scholarships to eligible students. Loans are another option for financing college, although they must be repaid with interest. Financial aid can significantly reduce the cost of college, making it more affordable for students. 

Scholarships and loans can also help students cover the cost of college, although loans must be repaid with interest. By carefully researching all of the colleges with financial aid available, students can choose the best option for their needs and budget. 

To qualify, be sure to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), regardless of your enrollment status or income. This will help financial aid offices determine what kind of aid (and how much) you might be eligible for. 

Why Are Colleges So Expensive?

group of students working on a project in library

The cost of college has been increasing for years, and there are no signs of it slowing down. One reason for this is that colleges are becoming more and more competitive, which means they need to spend more money on things like top-notch faculty, updated facilities, and scholarships. 

Additionally, the number of students going to college has increased, while the amount of funding colleges receive from state governments has decreased. This has put even more pressure on colleges to raise tuition prices. Finally, many colleges are facing rising costs for things like health insurance and utility bills. All of these factors combine to make college an increasingly expensive endeavor.

Is Tuition Per Year or Semester?

college students listening to the lecture

One question that often comes up is whether tuition is charged per year or per semester. The answer can vary depending on the school, but most colleges and universities charge tuition on a per-semester basis. This means that students taking a full course load will typically be responsible for two semesters of tuition each year.

However, there may be some schools that offer a discount for students who pay their tuition in full upfront. In any case, it’s important to check with the school’s financial aid office to get the most accurate information about tuition costs.

How Much Does 4 Years of College Cost on Average?

The average cost of four years of college can vary widely depending on the type of school you attend and your state of residence. 

According to The National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of tuition and fees for a four-year university was $14,200 for in-state public school students and $23,200 for private school students in the 2019-2020 academic year.

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These figures don’t take into account the cost of room and board, books and supplies, and other expenses associated with college life. When you factor in all of these costs, the total price tag for a four-year degree can be quite hefty. 

How Much Does Community College Cost?

college student preparing for the exams

The cost of community college can vary depending on a number of factors, such as the location of the school and the type of program. In general, however, community college is significantly cheaper than four-year universities. 

For example, the average annual tuition at a community college in the United States is just over $3,000, while the average tuition at a four-year university is nearly $9,000. There are also other costs to consider, such as room and board, books and supplies, and transportation. Even when these costs are factored in, community college is still much more affordable than a four-year university. 

What’s the Difference Between College Sticker Price vs. Net Price?

student taking notes to prepare herself for the exam

The “sticker price” of college is the advertised tuition and fees, without taking into account any scholarships or grants. The “net price” is the sticker price minus any financial aid that the student is eligible for. 

Here are a few more details to know:

  • Net price is what the student will actually pay out of pocket. 
  • The net price is typically lower than the sticker price, making college more affordable.
  • Net prices vary from student to student, depending on the financial situation of each student.  

Again, how much you actually pay for college will vary depending on your financial aid package. 

Is College Worth It?

Yes, college is worth it for many students. There are quite a few reasons for this, especially when you consider the job market. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs that require a college degree are expected to grow much faster than the average for all jobs through 2030. Not only will there be more of these jobs available, but the demand for them will be high as well. Having a college degree will put you ahead of the competition when applying for these jobs. 

Getting Your College Degree Online

male student taking online class at home

Don’t let anything hold you back from getting the education you deserve. If attending a traditional brick-and-mortar university isn’t feasible for you, there are plenty of accredited online colleges that offer quality programs. 

Getting your college degree online is a great way to further your education without having to take time off from work or sacrifice your busy lifestyle. There are many accredited online colleges that offer a variety of degree programs, so you can find one that suits your needs and interests. 

So what are you waiting for? Start researching online colleges today and take the first step towards furthering your education.

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Rebekah Pierce
WRITTEN BY Rebekah Pierce

Rebekah has a Master of Education in Special Education from SUNY Plattsburgh and a Bachelor of Arts in English from St. Lawrence University. Her writing interests focus on a wide range of educational topics, including higher education, special education, and more.