10 Most Expensive Private Colleges and Universities

The U.S. News Short List, separate from our overall rankings, is a regular series that magnifies individual data points in hopes of providing students and parents a way to find which undergraduate or graduate programs excel or have room to grow in specific areas. Be sure to explore The Short List: College and The Short List: Grad School to find data that matters to you in your college or grad school search.

Economic uncertainty is influencing the colleges prospective students choose to attend, according to an annual report by the University of California--Los Angeles, which surveyed more than 190,000 first-time, full-time students.

Nearly 68 percent of these students said the ability to finance their education was a concern, and close to 10 percent passed on a first-choice school in favor of a less expensive option, the report states.

[Gauge a school's cost with a net price calculator.]

Students may find the sticker price of a private education difficult to swallow, especially at elite institutions such as Columbia University and Vassar College, both in New York. Each school landed among the top 10 in their respective categories in the 2013 Best Colleges rankings, but they also hold court as the two most expensive private schools in the country.

Tuition and fees at Columbia totaled $47,426 for the 2012-2013 school year. That is nearly $1,000 more than Vassar, which rang in at $46,270, and almost $18,500 higher than the average cost among private schools, which totaled $28,946, according to data reported to U.S. News by 752 ranked colleges and universities. Those figures do not include room and board and other miscellaneous costs.

But a hefty sticker price doesn't necessarily result in a heavy debt burden. Students at Williams College, the top-ranked National Liberal Arts College and one of the 10 most expensive private colleges, graduated with an average debt load of $8,801 in 2011, only $1,140 more than graduates from Berea College, the least expensive private school in the country.

Students can fit even the most expensive private schools--where tuition among the 10 priciest institutions averaged $45,580 in 2012-2013--into their budgets with the help of merit scholarships, need-based aid such as Pell grants, and healthy college savings accounts.

[Learn which colleges award the most merit aid.]

Below are the 10 private colleges and universities with the highest tuition and fees for the 2012-2013 school year (figures exclude room and board, books, and other miscellaneous costs). Unranked colleges, which do not submit enough data for U.S. News to calculate a ranking, were not considered for this report.

School name (state)

Tuition and fees (2012-2013)

U.S. News rank and category

Columbia University (NY)


4, National Universities

Vassar College (NY)


10, National Liberal Arts Colleges

Trinity College (CT)


38, National Liberal Arts Colleges

Wesleyan University (CT)


17, National Liberal Arts Colleges

Bucknell University (PA)


32, National Liberal Arts Colleges

Tulane University (LA)


51, National Universities

Union College (NY)


41, National Liberal Arts Colleges

Carnegie Mellon University (PA)


23, National Universities

Dartmouth College (NH)


10, National Universities

Williams College (MA)


1, National Liberal Arts Colleges

Don't see your school in the top 10? Access the U.S. News College Compass to find tuition data, complete rankings, and much more.

U.S. News surveyed more than 1,800 colleges and universities for our 2012 survey of undergraduate programs. Schools self-reported a myriad of data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News's data the most accurate and detailed collection of college facts and figures of its kind. While U.S. News uses much of this survey data to rank schools for our annual Best Colleges rankings, the data can also be useful when examined on a smaller scale. U.S. News will now produce lists of data, separate from the overall rankings, meant to provide students and parents a means to find which schools excel, or have room to grow, in specific areas that are important to them. While the data come from the schools themselves, these lists are not related to, and have no influence over, U.S. News's rankings of Best Colleges or Best Graduate Schools. The tuition and fees data above are correct as of Feb. 12, 2013.