Colleges and Universities With the Highest Cost of Attendance

Colleges and Universities With the Highest Cost of Attendance
portrait of Jessica Bryant
By Jessica Bryant

Published on September 10, 2021

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The rising cost of attendance at U.S. colleges and universities has continued to be one of the most important factors students consider when choosing what school to attend.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Education from nearly 2,000 U.S. institutions, the total cost at 200 of these schools exceeded $65,000 per year in 2020-21 for out-of-state students living on campus. Five years prior, less than 100 schools cost that much.

Over the last decade, the average total cost of attendance for out-of-state students living on campus has risen approximately 25%.

Source: U.S. Department of Education. Average total cost of attendance reflects the cost for out-of-state students living on campus at Title IV institutions that year. Total cost includes tuition, room and board, books, and other school fees.

Despite these institutions' high sticker prices, most students who attend will actually pay much less. Many schools have generous financial aid packages for individuals below certain income thresholds and offer additional assistance based on merit. Some schools even commit to meeting 100% of students' demonstrated need without having to take out loans.

But even when costs are high, many of the priciest schools to attend have seen increasing enrollment figures amid national enrollment declines. Unsurprisingly, each of these schools is a private institution.

Here are the top 10 colleges and universities with the highest cost of attendance in 2020-21. Cost of attendance and enrollment figures data was collected from the U.S. Department of Education’s IPED System and average need-based aid data was collected from the Princeton Review:

1. University of Chicago

Over the last five years, University of Chicago's total cost of attendance has increased by 12%. But soaring costs have left interested students undeterred. Between the 2015-16 and 2019-20 academic years, UChicago's enrollment increased by nearly 36%.

According to the Princeton Review, UChicago is one of the best valued private institutions in the U.S., offering extensive financial assistance and meeting 100% of demonstrated need for its students without loans.

2. Northwestern University

Between 2015-16 and 2020-21, Northwestern University's total cost of attendance rose nearly 20%. But while costs grew, enrollment fell by more than 7%, higher than the average rate of decline among all universities during the same period.

Despite the high cost, the school boasted a $207 million financial aid budget in the 2020-21 school year. The school reports that approximately 61% of undergraduate students receive financial aid. Additionally, Northwestern will meet 100% of demonstrated need without loans.

3. University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania's cost of attendance rose by more than 21% over the last five years. The institution's enrollment also grew by 6.5% between the 2015-16 and 2019-20 academic years.

Penn is ranked as one of the best valued private universities by the Princeton Review for a combination of its cost and aid options, academic rigor, and alumni career outcomes.

4. Brown University

Brown University's total cost of attendance increased 23% during the last five years. The Ivy League institution also saw its enrollment figures increase by just under 5% between 2015-16 and 2019-20.

Brown was recently ranked one of the best private schools for financial aid and commits to meeting 100% of students' demonstrated need without loans.

5. Dartmouth College

From 2015-16 to 2020-21, Dartmouth College's total cost of attendance rose 19.6% from $67,044 to $80,184 a year. The institution also saw a 4% increase in enrollment between 2015-16 and 2019-20.

Dartmouth's financial aid packages do include loans if necessary. The average student debt for Dartmouth students for all four years combined is $20,373.

6. University of Southern California

University of Southern California's cost of attendance increased by 19% over the last five years. USC additionally saw its enrollment figures increase by 6% between 2015-16 and 2019-20.

Unlike most other schools on the list, USC is not known for its financial aid offerings. However, the school is a need-blind institution, meaning students' financial needs are not factored into admissions decisions. More than 75% of aid the school offers comes in the form of grants and scholarships that do not need to be repaid.

7. Amherst College

Amherst College saw its total cost of attendance increase by 19.6% since 2015. Enrollment at the college did increase between 2015-16 and 2019-20, but only by about 1%.

Though costs are high, Amherst is among one of the best value private institutions for its academic quality, costs, and career outcomes.

8. Washington University in St. Louis

Washington University's cost of attendance increased by 17.5% between 2015-16 and 2020-21. Enrollment at the institution also increased by 5.5%.

Despite high costs, the university is among one of the best schools for financial aid and meets students' full demonstrated financial need without loans.

9. Harvey Mudd College

Out of all the schools on this list, Harvey Mudd College saw the smallest increase in total cost of attendance and the largest increase in enrollment since 2015. The institution's cost grew 14.7% from $69,355 to $79,539 a year. Meanwhile, enrollment increased by 36% between 2015-16 and 2019-20 to 1,132 undergraduate students.

10. Yale University

Yale University's cost of attendance increased by 19.5% between the 2015-16 and 2020-21 academic year. Though enrollment also increased at the Ivy League institution, it was a relatively small rise of 0.7%.

Yale is one of the top three best private universities for financial aid, despite its high costs. Eighty-six percent of the university's 2018 class graduated with zero loan debt.


Feature Image: Bob Krist / The Image Bank / Getty Images

A recent BestColleges survey found that a majority of Americans value affordability over prestige in their college choice. Despite rising college costs, some schools are offering generous financial aid packages that make college planning just a bit easier. Enrollment declines continue to plague colleges and universities across the U.S., with students of color disproportionately affected.