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The 10 Most Expensive Colleges in the U.S.

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College can be prohibitively expensive in the U.S, but some schools are certainly more expensive than others. In this post, we’ll cover the top 10 most expensive colleges in the country, plus offer our tips for saving money on tuition.


Sticker Price is Not Always the Price You’ll Pay


Keep in mind that the list price is not always indicative of what a student will ultimately pay at a school. A number of factors influence the overall cost of college, including financial aid, family income, and in-state/out-of-state status. 


Net price—the sticker price minus grants and scholarships awarded—is a more accurate indicator of the overall cost of college. Most expensive private schools offer generous financial aid. Depending on your family’s income, these schools may become cheaper than attending an in-state public university. Some families pay nothing at all!


You should also consider the return on investment of your college degree. College grads have much higher earning potential, so your tuition dollars may pay off in the long run, depending on your college, major, and career choice. The cost of college is more complex than simply its sticker price and students shouldn’t let a seemingly high price tag dissuade them from applying. 


The 10 Most Expensive Colleges in the U.S. 


1. Harvey Mudd College ($77,589)

Undergraduate enrollment: 900

Acceptance Rate: 14%


Harvey Mudd College (HMC) is one of the top liberal arts and STEM schools in the nation—in fact, it’s #23 on our list of best schools for engineering and the first liberal arts college on the list. Harvey Mudd is part of the Claremont Consortium, a group of seven small, tightly focused colleges in the region, which allows Harvey Mudd to maintain a small-school identity but have access to “big school” resources. 


A testament to sticker price not reflecting the true cost of college is that despite Harvey Mudd’s high sticker price, Payscale ranks it #1 on its list of Best Value Colleges. Seventy percent of HMC students receive financial aid, with the average grant being $35,259.


2. University of Chicago ($77,556)

Undergraduate enrollment: 6,600

Acceptance Rate: 7%


The University of Chicago consistently ranks in the top 10 national universities and hardest colleges to get into. The school is best known for its quirky and intellectual student body, and UChicago’s unusual essay prompts reflect that.


UChicago states that students from families earning less than $125,000 (with typical assets) will have free tuition. Families earning less than $60,000 will receive a full ride. Those outside of these ranges may still qualify for need-based financial aid.


3. Columbia University ($76,920)

Acceptance Rate: 6%

Undergraduate Enrollment: 8,200


Prestigious, private universities often come with a high price tag. In the case of a school like Ivy League Columbia University, that number is only heightened by its New York City location, which has the distinction of not only being the most expensive city in the U.S., but also the 7th most expensive city in the world. While NYC keeps prices high at Columbia, it’s also one of the school’s best assets as it provides unrivaled opportunities as 73 of the Fortune 500 Companies that call New York City home.  


Luckily, Columbia promises that students from families earning less than $60,000 (with typical assets) will pay nothing and that they’ll meet the full demonstrated need of each family.


4. Barnard College ($75,524)  


Undergraduate enrollment: 2,500

Acceptance Rate: 14%


Barnard has the distinction of being one of the “Seven Sisters,” a group of seven renowned schools that are historically all-women colleges. Thanks to Barnard’s partnership with Columbia, students are able to get the best of both worlds—enjoying the close-knit campus of a small liberal arts school while having access to the resources of a major university. 


Barnard’s New York City location and affiliation with Columbia University help keep prices high, but Barnard promises to meet 100% demonstrated financial need.


5. Duke University ($75,031)  

Undergraduate enrollment: 6,600

Acceptance Rate: 9%


In addition to its renowned basketball team and exceptional athletics, Duke is known for its selective admissions and undergraduate research. In fact, Duke is located in the “Research Triangle” in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, where you’ll find major technology and biotech companies and three major research universities (including Duke, UNC Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University).


Despite Duke’s high sticker price, the school promises to meet 100% demonstrated need, and 52% of students don’t pay the full price.

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6. Scripps College ($74,788)

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,000

Acceptance Rate: 24%


Scripps is known as one of the most prestigious liberal arts colleges and all-women colleges in the country. Its campus is said to be one of the most beautiful in the country. Scripps is another member of the Claremont Consortium—along with Pomona College, Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College, Claremont Graduate University, and Keck Graduate Institute.


Scripps may be expensive, but the college promises to meet 100% demonstrated financial need. 


7. Trinity College ($74,400)

Undergraduate enrollment: 2,100

Acceptance Rate: 34%


Trinity College is a reputable liberal arts college that provides easy access to many of the major cities in the Northeast—it’s within a few hours of New York City, Boston, and Providence—and the college itself is located in Hartford, the capital of Connecticut. Trinity is notably the second-oldest college in Connecticut (only Yale is older).


The student body is one of the wealthiest in the nation, ranking #5 in the U.S. for having the richest students. The college meets 100% demonstrated need, however, and 40% of students receive aid.


8. University of Southern California ($74,111)

Undergraduate enrollment: 19,900

Acceptance Rate: 13%


Things have changed a great deal since USC was founded in 1880. For one, the 53 then-frontier-town students paid a mere $15 per term for tuition. Over the years, Los Angeles has grown into one of the largest cities in the U.S. and USC has grown in esteem (U.S. News ranks it 24th on its list of National Universities). Today, the school boasts a wealth of opportunities in a variety of fields, from entertainment to athletics to entrepreneurship.    


While USC is known for its rich student body, two-thirds of USC’s fall 2020 freshman class received aid, with 21% receiving a merit scholarship.


9. University of Pennsylvania ($73,960) 

Undergraduate enrollment: 11,800

Acceptance Rate: 8%


UPenn is one of the eight Ivy League schools, was founded by Benjamin Franklin, and is one of the oldest colleges in the country. From its outset, UPenn has defied convention—its early curriculum was akin to today’s modern liberal arts course of study and divergent from the colleges of the time, which primarily educated young men to serve in the Christian ministry. It’s hard to fathom that the original idea for the university (the 9th most expensive in the nation) was a charity school that would double as a house of worship, but once again UPenn breaks the norms. 


Although the university has a high sticker price, Payscale ranks it the 30th in the nation for return on investment—the average mid-career salary of UPenn graduates is $152,900. 


10. Amherst College ($73,950) 

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,800

Acceptance Rate: 13%


Amherst College has the honor of being a U.S. News 2nd-ranked National Liberal Arts college. The school is best known for its open curriculum, where students have no required courses outside of their major. The school is a member of the Five College Consortium, a collection of schools—including Smith, Mount Holyoke, Hampshire, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst—that gives students access to resources, facilities, and courses at all five schools. 


Amherst is extremely expensive, but it offers some of the most generous financial aid in the country, being a no-loan school that meets 100% demonstrated financial need. Sixty percent of students receive aid and the average award is $58,000.


How to Find Affordable Colleges


When considering the financial implications of attending college, there are some steps you can take to finding affordable schools. 


1. Find Schools that Offer Generous Financial Aid 


We can’t emphasize this enough: the most expensive schools can become affordable for many families with financial aid. Some schools commit to meeting 100% of your demonstrated financial need, meaning that they cover the gap between the cost of attendance and your expected family contribution. Many of the schools on this list have this policy.


Some schools are also “no-loan” and will replace loans with grants or work-study in your financial aid packages. You may also want to consider need-blind schools, where your financial need will not be considered in admissions. The most generous schools will have all three of these policies.


2. Apply to Schools Where You’re a Strong Applicant 


Winning merit aid at competitive schools is extremely difficult—many super-selective schools don’t offer it and competition is fierce for it at schools that do. One way that less-selective schools woo strong applicants is with generous merit aid awards. Applying to schools where your GPA, test scores, or extracurriculars will stand out improves your odds of a school making you an offer you can’t refuse. 


3. Don’t Just Look at Sticker Price


It’s easy to get sticker shock when looking at paying tuition of more than $70,000 a year, but remember that sticker price is just part of the story. Take an in-depth look at what a college will really cost—after financial aid and scholarships. Also, evaluate what graduating a school will mean for your future. For example, many of the most expensive schools listed above are also among the best institutions in the nation for value and return on investment because they provide pathways to high-paying careers. It’s easier to stomach paying for Harvey Mudd when you learn that the average early career salary for graduates is $91,400.


4. Search Smart 


Know what you’re looking for in a college and create a list that reflects it. Here, CollegeVine can help—our free College Search tool allows students to enter their financial information once and see cost estimates at hundreds of schools. In addition, search schools based on a number of other factors, including your personal chances of acceptance, majors, location, size, and more. 


For some schools, you’re also able to see the return on investment of specific majors, helping you understand whether the cost of attendance is worth it in the long run. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account to get access to these tools today!



Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.