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What Does It Really Cost to Attend Northwestern University?

When it comes to choosing a college, cost is a significant concern for many families. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of college students receiving financial aid has climbed steadily over the past decade, reaching 85% in 2016, the last year in which data was collected.


This shouldn’t come as a surprise: the cost of attending college is also on the rise. According to CNN, the average amount a family paid for a four-year degree from an in-state public school was $56,840 in 2016. For a four-year degree from a private school, families paid around $104,400. Of course, these are only averages, so individual costs will vary.


Although exact out-of-pocket costs are difficult to predict, it’s important to have an estimate of how much your teen’s tuition will cost. In this series, we break down the factors that will affect a family’s college costs and look at the price of attending individual schools. To learn more about how much you can expect to spend on a degree from Northwestern University, don’t miss this post.


Want to learn what Northwestern University will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering Northwestern University needs to know.


Why Are College Costs So Variable?


It’s difficult to predict exactly how much you’ll spend, even at a specific university, because costs are highly variable. The amount that one family spends out of pocket can be tens of thousands of dollars more or less than another family. That being said, you can more accurately predict what you’ll pay by learning about the factors that impact costs.


The first factor to consider is list price. List price is the raw amount that a college charges to attend, also sometimes referred to as a sticker price. It generally includes tuition, room and board, and any fees the campus might charge, like a library card fee. It’s always a good idea to double check that all of these extra costs are indeed included. At schools with a high number of commuter students, room and board may be considered a separate cost.


List price is generally a less helpful data point than net cost. Net cost is the actual amount that families typically pay out of pocket, including loans. Generally net cost depends on three separate components. They include: federal, state, and local government aid; institutional financial aid; and merit scholarships. Because it’s difficult to predict how much of each of these a student will receive, it also becomes difficult to predict exactly how much a family will spend on college.


What Is the List Price at Northwestern University?


The list price at Northwestern from 2016-2017 was $70,496 per year. Because Northwestern is a private school, this number is the same for in-state and out-of-state students.


Few students typically pay the list price. Those who can expect to pay full price are usually those from wealthy families who earn more than $175k per year.


What Is the Net Cost of Attending Northwestern University?


Because net costs depend on government aid, institutional financial aid, and merit scholarships, it can be helpful to further narrow it down. For our purposes, we will look at net cost after financial aid only.


The average net cost of attending Northwestern University after financial aid is $59,388 per year. For students not receiving any financial aid, the average net cost is $66,960. Out of the 1,000 schools we analyzed for financial aid generosity, Northwestern ranks 49.


What Is the Income-Based Cost of Attending Northwestern University?


Because financial aid varies largely depending on a family’s income, it can be even more helpful to break down average net cost by various income levels.


The average net cost of attending Northwestern University when accounting for family income is as follows:


Family Income Average Net Price
$0-$30,000 $9,339*
$30,001-$48,000 $7,150
$48,001-$75,000 $12,763
$75,001-$110,000 $28,038
$110,000 $38,052


* These numbers do not reflect any Pell Grants that families may receive. Families with an income of $0-30k often receive Federal Pell Grants, which reduce the amount of financial aid that individual institutions need to award. This is why there is a higher tuition rate for families with $0-30k vs. those with $30k-48k.


How Much Merit Aid is Typically Awarded at Northwestern University?


The third component that affects average net cost is merit aid. Merit aid amounts can also vary drastically by student, but it can still be helpful to look at average merit awards to understand how generous (or not) a school is with merit awards.


At Northwestern University, only 6.7% of students receive merit aid. It’s important to realize that this merit aid is generally a nominal amount at Northwestern, with the average student without financial aid receiving just $536.


Of the more than 1000 schools we analyzed for this series, Northwestern ranks 824 for merit aid generosity. Many of the more prestigious schools offer little to no merit aid, so this is typical for a top 15 school.


How Many Students Take Out Loans to Attend Northwestern?


It’s not surprising that many students need to take out loans to fund their education at Northwestern. In fact, 73% of students at Northwestern have loans as one part of their college funding. The average federal student loan per undergrad student at Northwestern is $2,323 across all four years.


Student Outcomes


When considering the cost of a college education, it’s also important to consider the outcomes one can expect from a specific college. This helps frame your expectations on the likely return on your investment.


At Northwestern, 92% of students graduate within six years. The average salary ten years after graduation is $69,000.


Local Area Cost Considerations


Local variations in the cost of living can add up to big differences over the course of a four-year degree. Northwestern is located in Evanston, which is a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. Evanston has a high cost of living compared to many other places in the United States. While groceries and utilities cost just under the national average, housing expenses and transportation costs are far above average.


Students who consider living off campus should realize that a studio apartment in the Evanston area averages $1190 per month, compared to the national average of $821. A three-bedroom apartment goes for around $2005, compared to the national average of $1537.


Evanston has a relatively good job market. Its unemployment rate is half a percent less than the national average, and its job market is projected to increase significantly over the next decade. Minimum wage in Illinois is currently just $8.25/hr, but this will be changing by 2025 when it’s slated to increase to $15/hr. The median hourly wage is $18.69.


Other Ways to Help Fund a College Education


Federal grants, loans, and merit aid aren’t the only ways to fund a college education. There are many independent scholarships that your student can also pursue.


One option is the National Merit Scholarship program. In this program, students qualify through PSAT scores to earn scholarships towards college. Those who score in roughly the top one percent become National Merit Semifinalists and are asked to fill out a complete scholarship application. Some students also qualify for scholarships in this way through the National Hispanic Recognition Program or other special awards sponsored by corporations or individual colleges. To learn more about the program, check out our post How to Qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program.


Of course, the National Merit Scholarship is just one of many scholarships out there. You can learn more about other programs in these important posts:



Curious about your chances of acceptance to your dream school? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.