The Cost of a College Degree

At first glance, the cost of a college degree in the US is quite daunting. Reports show that Americans pay more for college than almost every other country in the world. In 2018, HSBC reported that college students in America spend about $100,000 on average to acquire a college diploma. 

Does that mean you should bury your dreams of going to college if you can’t afford to pay that much? Absolutely not. In fact, when you examine all of the options, you may realize that a degree can be cheaper than you thought. We’ll walk you through the nitty-gritty details of the cost of a college degree in the United States.

Tuition Costs at Different Types of American Universities 

Actual costs for each college may vary significantly from the average. For instance, the average cost of studying in a US university is $25,000 per year, but some top-tier colleges (mostly non-profit private colleges) cost as much as $60,000 per year. In the same breath, however, other colleges cost significantly less than the average. 

Are you looking for a cheap college diploma? If so, you should consider studying at a community college or any other public educational institution. These public universities are operated as state-owned institutions. They usually have two different tuition fees: one for in-state students and another for out-of-state students.

The fees for out-of-state public university students are higher. These fees apply to applicants who don't reside in the state before they join the university, including overseas students. Private universities, on the other hand, have a flat rate.

The College Board's 2021 report on trends in college pricing puts the average tuition for community colleges at $3,800 per year. According to the report, non-profit state universities charge an average of $10,740 for in-state students and $27,560 for out-of-state students. These figures compare to the average tuition of $38,070 at non-profit private colleges. On the other hand, the average tuition at for-profit private institutions is $14,957 per year, according to the Education Data Initiative. 

As you can see, the cheapest place to get a US college diploma is at a community college (also called a city or technical college). These are, however, two-year institutions that do not offer 4-year degree programs. What you can get from a community college is an associate’s degree, which equals the first two years of a bachelor’s degree. After acquiring an associate's degree, you can complete your bachelor's degree by transferring to another college for the remaining two or three years. 

Total Cost of a College Degree in The US 

The cost of a college degree includes far more than the tuition. You must factor the costs of room and board, books, supplies, transportation, and more into your expenses. Here is an estimate of the college degree budget for 2021/2022 when you add living and personal expenses to your tuition: 

  • Community colleges: $18,830
  • State institutions (in-state): $27,330
  • State institutions (out-of-state): $44,150
  • Non-profit private colleges: $55,800
  • For-profit private colleges: $31,549 

These averages can give you an idea of what you are likely to spend to acquire a college degree in the US. However, bear in mind that there could be significant variations depending on a few factors, such as:

  • The institution you attend
  • Whether you live on- or off-campus
  • Whether you are staying alone, living with family, or living with non-family members 

For instance, some prestigious state institutions cost as much as private colleges. The University of Michigan is one such prestigious state institution. According to their website in-state, 2021/2022 freshmen may spend up to $34,302 for tuition and living expenses. Out-of-state freshmen, on the other hand, may spend up to $73,056. 

Furthermore, at private non-profit private colleges, students who choose to stay on campus spend about $2,733 on transportation and personal expenses. Conversely, off-campus students living with their families spend $4,220. Those living with non-family members or staying alone spend the most — $6,022 on transportation and personal expenses.

College Diplomas With the Best ROI

As you can see, college degrees are quite expensive. More so, the costs keep increasing every year. Despite the daunting costs, college diplomas are still worth it. Degree holders who work full-time earn 84% more on average than those who only hold a high school diploma. This means that getting a college diploma is akin to investing.

In that sense, different types of college degrees have varying economic values. So, what type of college diploma is best for their tuition dollar investment?

According to Payscale, the top 5 paying associate's degrees are:

  • Computer Science & Mathematics
  • Nondestructive Testing
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Software Engineering
  • Instrumentation Technology 

The early-career salaries for these majors range from $45,500 to $65,300. Mid-career salaries, on the other hand, range from $90,800 to $106,000. 

Conversely, the top 5 paying bachelor's degrees are: 

  • Petroleum Engineering
  • Operations Research & Industrial Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering & Computer Science
  • Interaction Design
  • Public Accounting 

The early-career salaries for these majors range from $59,800 to $108,500. Mid-career salaries, on the other hand, range from $147,700 to $187,300. 

Financial Aid for US College Degrees 

The published costs of acquiring a US college diploma usually differ from the actual amount students pay, because many of them benefit from financial aid and other funding for their college degrees.

Most public universities receive local and state government funding to subsidize the costs for students. Prestigious public universities, which are usually the most expensive, offer very generous college funding opportunities to their students. Private colleges also provide federal funding for students who benefit from financial aid. In all, research shows that over 80% of students enrolled in US universities receive financial aid. The different sources of financial aid and funding for college students include:

  • Grants
  • Scholarships
  • Work-study schemes 
  • Assistantships

Some funding opportunities are only available to American citizens, but international students also have many financial aid opportunities. Many prestigious universities allocate millions of dollars of funding for international students each year.

Some colleges even expect students to apply for funding while applying for admission, while others will only accept funding applications after they have granted the student admission. 

For more detailed funding information for any university, you should visit the school's official website. You can also calculate your estimated costs of acquiring a college degree by visiting the College Affordability and Transparency Center (CATC)'s website.


You may also like

View all
Example blog post
Example blog post
Example blog post