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The 51 Most Expensive Colleges in the United States

Posted by Justin Berkman | Sep 30, 2019 9:00:00 AM

College Admissions, Financial Aid



College is a costly investment. For the 2018-19 academic year, the College Board reported that the average annual budget was $25,890 for an in-state public college and $52,500 for a private college. These are the averages, but just how much are the most expensive colleges in the US? Which ones have the most expensive college tuition?

Here, I’ll give you a list of the 51 most expensive colleges in the US. I’ll first explain why they’re so pricey and then go over how you can attend one regardless of your financial situation.


Why Are These US Colleges So Expensive?

All the schools on our list below are private institutions. These colleges are not subsidized by the government, but many of their students are on federal and state aid.

Also, most of these schools are considered elite, selective institutions. Because they're trying to offer the same or better amenities (without any government aid) as those provided by large public universities (and with much smaller student bodies), the cost per student is significantly higher. Many of the schools on this list are small liberal arts colleges.

You might notice right away that some elite private schools didn't make the cut, but they're not too far behind. For example, while neither Harvard nor Stanford made our list, both still have very high total price tags of $71,650 and $71,587, respectively.

Possible reasons that some popular schools are somewhat less expensive is that they have larger student bodies and substantially bigger endowments.

Unfortunately, college tuition continues to rise. There are many explanations for these rising costs, such as the increased demand for higher education and the theory that financial aid causes tuition hikes.


How We Created This List of the Most Expensive Colleges

To come up with the list below, we compared the total costs of US colleges. The total cost is the sum of tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and other expenses. Fees are mandated for all students and do not cover optional fees, such as student health insurance costs or orientation fees.

All total costs are for the 2018-19 school year and were taken from College Navigator (part of the National Center for Education Statistics).


The 51 Most Expensive Colleges in the US

Most of the colleges that made the list below are in the greater Los Angeles area or Northeast. Some notable exceptions are the University of Chicago, Northwestern, Oberlin, and Tulane. All of the schools are selective private colleges.

In addition, the difference in price between #1 and #51 is not that substantial relative to total cost. The most expensive college on this list (University of Chicago) costs $78,555 annually, whereas the 51st (Kenyon College) costs $71,780.

Again, we are not looking at which institutions have the most expensive college tuition, but rather which schools have the highest overall cost (which includes tuition as well as room and board, fees, and supplies).

This list should provide you with a clear idea of the price range for the most expensive colleges in the US. Colleges are arranged in order of most expensive to least expensive.




Total Cost (2018-19)

University of Chicago

Chicago, IL


Harvey Mudd College

Claremont, CA


Columbia University

New York, NY


University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA


Barnard College

New York, NY


Southern Methodist University

Dallas, TX


Northwestern University

Evanston, IL


Oberlin College

Oberlin, OH


University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA


Washington University in St. Louis

Saint Louis, MO


Dartmouth College

Hanover, NH


Duke University

Durham, NC


Fordham University

Bronx, NY


Trinity College

Hartford, CT


Occidental College

Los Angeles, CA


Landmark College

Putney, VT


Amherst College

Amherst, MA


Cornell University

Ithaca, NY


Haverford College

Haverford, PA


Yale University

New Haven, CT


Georgetown University

Washington, DC


Claremont McKenna College

Claremont, CA


Brown University

Providence, RI


Scripps College

Claremont, CA


New York University

New York, NY


Tufts University

Medford, MA


Brandeis University

Waltham, MA


Bennington College

Bennington, VT


Reed College

Portland, OR


Williams College

Williamstown, MA


Boston College

Chestnut Hill, MA


Franklin & Marshall College

Lancaster, PA


Pitzer College

Claremont, CA


Bard College

Annandale-on-Hudson, NY


Vassar College

Poughkeepsie, NY


Bucknell University

Lewisburg, PA


University of Rochester

Rochester, NY


Sarah Lawrence College

Bronxville, NY


Wesleyan University

Middletown, CT


Boston University

Boston, MA


Tulane University

New Orleans, LA


Carnegie Mellon University

Pittsburgh, PA


Colgate University

Hamilton, NY


Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Geneva, NY


Bard College at Simon’s Rock

Great Barrington, MA


Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Troy, NY


Pomona College

Claremont, CA


Connecticut College

New London, CT


Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

Needham, MA


Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, MD


Kenyon College

Gambier, OH





Why Many of the Most Expensive Colleges Are Still Accessible

It's important to remember that these total costs are just the listed sticker prices. At most of these institutions, the vast majority of students are paying significantly less because of financial aid and scholarships.

Many of these schools have very generous financial aid programs. Typically, they'll try to meet the demonstrated financial need of each individual student.

At Columbia (#3 on the list), the average need-based scholarship or grant award is $56,829. This cuts the average cost of attendance way down to around $20,000.

In fact, many of the schools on the list will meet 100% of your demonstrated financial need.

If you're still not sure whether you'll be able to afford one of the most expensive colleges but really want the option to go (should you get accepted to one!), plan to apply for as many scholarships as possible. I strongly suggest looking at these full-ride scholarships as well.




What's Next?

Learn more about how much colleges really cost. If you need help financing your education, you might want to check out this post about the work study program.

All the most expensive colleges listed above are private. But what exactly are the differences between public and private colleges? Get the answers in our expert guide!

You know what the most expensive colleges arebut what about the cheapest? Learn all about the most affordable colleges in the US here.


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Justin Berkman
About the Author

Justin has extensive experience teaching SAT prep and guiding high school students through the college admissions and selection process. He is firmly committed to improving equity in education and helping students to reach their educational goals. Justin received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics at Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies.

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