College is a costly investment. For the 2020-21 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 Harvard didn't make our list, it still has a very high total price tag of $73,800.
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. For room and board, we used costs for on-campus housing. 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 2019-20 school year and were taken from College Navigator (part of the National Center for Education Statistics).
The 51 Most Expensive Colleges in the US
What is the most expensive college 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 $81,531 annually, whereas the 51st (Stanford University) costs $74,570.
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.
|School||Location||Total Cost (2019-20)|
|University of Chicago||Chicago, IL||$81,531|
|Columbia University||New York, NY||$79,752|
|Harvey Mudd College||Claremont, CA||$79,539|
|Northwestern University||Evanston, IL||$78,654|
|Barnard College||New York, NY||$78,044|
|Scripps College||Claremont, CA||$77,588|
|Brown University||Providence, RI||$77,490|
|University of Southern California||Los Angeles, CA||$77,459|
|Landmark College||Putney, VT||$77,400|
|University of Pennsylvania||Philadelphia, PA||$77,264|
|Dartmouth College||Hanover, NH||$77,152|
|Oberlin College||Oberlin, OH||$77,124|
|Duke University||Durham, NC||$77,029|
|Washington University in St. Louis||Saint Louis, MO||$76,910|
|Fordham University||Bronx, NY||$76,891|
|Trinity College||Hartford, CT||$76,850|
|Amherst College||Amherst, MA||$76,750|
|Southern Methodist University||Dallas, TX||$76,710|
|Yale University||New Haven, CT||$76,645|
|Occidental College||Los Angeles, CA||$76,600|
|Claremont McKenna College||Claremont, CA||$76,475|
|Haverford College||Haverford, PA||$76,384|
|Georgetown University||Washington, DC||$76,280|
|Cornell University||Ithaca, NY||$76,258|
|Tufts University||Medford, MA||$76,200|
|Brandeis University||Waltham, MA||$76,141|
|Bennington College||Bennington, VT||$75,950|
|Boston College||Chestnut Hill, MA||$75,886|
|Pitzer College||Claremont, CA||$75,850|
|Wesleyan University||Middletown, CT||$75,723|
|Franklin & Marshall College||Lancaster, PA||$75,720|
|Reed College||Portland, OR||$75,671|
|New York University||New York, NY||$75,502|
|Bucknell University||Lewisburg, PA||$75,400|
|Pepperdine University||Malibu, CA||$75,312|
|Williams College||Williamstown, MA||$75,250|
|Vassar College||Poughkeepsie, NY||$75,240|
|Wellesley College||Wellesley, MA||$75,198|
|University of Rochester||Rochester, NY||$75,190|
|Smith College||Northampton, MA||$75,169|
|Chapman University||Orange, CA||$75,112|
|Colgate University||Hamilton, NY||$75,015|
|Boston University||Boston, MA||$75,002|
|Tulane University||New Orleans, LA||$74,884|
|Santa Clara University||Santa Clara, CA||$74,829|
|California Institute of Technology||Pasadena, CA||$74,763|
|Colorado College||Colorado Springs, CO||$74,760|
|Sarah Lawrence College||Bronxville, NY||$74,740|
|Bard College||Annandale-on-Hudson, NY||$74,712|
|Connecticut College||New London, CT||$74,590|
|Stanford University||Stanford, CA||$74,570|
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 (#2 on the list), the average need-based scholarship or grant award is $60,566. 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.
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 are—but what about the cheapest? Learn all about the most affordable colleges in the US here.
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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.