What It Really Costs To Attend America’s Top 50 Colleges

Karen Doyle
·17 min read
BrianPIrwin / Getty Images
BrianPIrwin / Getty Images

It’s no secret that the cost of college is rising, and the more competitive the school, the more it can charge. GOBankingRates looked at the cost to attend the top 50 colleges in the United States, based on the 2020 ranking in U.S. News & World Report. The study noted the cost of college tuition, as well as fees and room and board, for undergraduate students. Both in-state and out-of-state tuition costs are included where they are offered.

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The most expensive colleges might not be the ones you suspect, and there are creative ways to pay for college. Here’s how much an education costs at the top 50 colleges in the country.

Last updated: March 5, 2021

Johns Hopkins University George Peabody Library in Baltimore Maryland
Johns Hopkins University George Peabody Library in Baltimore Maryland

Saving On the Cost of College

Whether you choose an Ivy League school or your own state university, the answer to the question, “How much does college cost?” is simple: College is expensive. Here are some creative ways to pay for college:

  • Go to a public university. Every public college on this list is less expensive than every private school, even for out-of-state students.

  • Consider spending the first two years at a community college. Then transfer to a four-year institution to get your bachelor’s degree. Your diploma will still have the four-year school’s name on it, but it will have cost a lot less.

  • Apply for outside scholarships. There are many scholarships available that may be earmarked for students who live in a certain area or who are pursuing a certain type of degree. Search for scholarships you may be eligible for and apply for all of them.

  • Research a reciprocity program. If your state university doesn’t offer the program you want to major in, you may be able to get in-state tuition at a school in a nearby state. Ask if your state university has reciprocity with the school you’re interested in.

  • Work at the school your child wants to attend. This one requires some advance planning, but some colleges offer free tuition to the children of their employees, assuming they meet the admission criteria. Getting a job at an elite school can save you a lot of money when it’s time for your children to enroll.

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Coral Gables FL/USA: Nov 30, 2017 – Carved stone sign greets visitors to the University of Miami and Watsco Center which is home to the University of Miami Hurricanes basketball teams.
Coral Gables FL/USA: Nov 30, 2017 – Carved stone sign greets visitors to the University of Miami and Watsco Center which is home to the University of Miami Hurricanes basketball teams.

University of Miami

  • Tuition and fees: $52,080

  • Room and board: $15,470

The University of Miami is a private research university in Coral Gables, Florida. Undergraduate students can expect to pay a total of $67,550 for room, board, fees and tuition at this institution of higher learning.

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Pepperdine University campus in Malibu California
Pepperdine University campus in Malibu California

Pepperdine University

  • Tuition and fees: $57,750

  • Room and board: $16,160

Pepperdine is a Christian university located in beautiful Malibu, California. Undergraduate students can expect to pay a total of $73,910 for room, board, fees and tuition.

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Northeastern University in Boston Massachusetts
Northeastern University in Boston Massachusetts

Northeastern University

  • Tuition and fees: $54,360

  • Room and board: $17,480

Northeastern University focuses on experiential learning, with cooperative education, research and service opportunities that integrate the real world into the classroom. The cost of room, board, fees and tuition at Northeastern totals $71,840.

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Lehigh University

  • Tuition and fees: $54,790

  • Room and board: $14,740

Lehigh University is a private research university in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The cost of room, board, fees and tuition at Northeastern totals $69,530.

University of Illinois college campus in Urbana Champaign
University of Illinois college campus in Urbana Champaign

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

  • In-state tuition and fees: $16,862

  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $34,312

  • Room and board: $12,252

In-state costs including tuition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign total $29,114. If you’re out of state, be prepared to spend $46,564.

University of Georgia Zell B Miller Learning Center in Athens Georgia
University of Georgia Zell B Miller Learning Center in Athens Georgia

University of Georgia

  • In-state tuition and fees: $12,080

  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $31,120

  • Room and board: $10,328

The University of Georgia is the second-cheapest school of the top 50 for out-of-state students. Including room and board, fees and tuition at UGA will run you $41,448. If you live in the Peach State, you’ll spend just $22,408 altogether.

Case Western Reserve University Peter B Lewis by Frank Gehry in Cleveland Ohio
Case Western Reserve University Peter B Lewis by Frank Gehry in Cleveland Ohio

Case Western Reserve University

  • Tuition and fees: $52,448

  • Room and board: $16,080

Case Western Reserve University is a research university located in Cleveland that has produced 16 Nobel Laureates. You’ll spend a total of $68,528 for Case Western Reserve University tuition and other costs.

Brandeis University campus in Waltham Massachusetts
Brandeis University campus in Waltham Massachusetts

Brandeis University

  • Tuition and fees: $55,340

  • Room and board: $15,890

Brandeis University is a private research university with a focus on liberal arts located in Waltham, Massachusetts, just west of Boston. Undergraduate students will pay a total of $71,230 a year for tuition and other costs.

Boston College Gasson Hall in Chestnut Hill Massachusetts
Boston College Gasson Hall in Chestnut Hill Massachusetts

Boston University

  • Tuition and fees: $56,854

  • Room and board: $16,640

Boston is known for its institutions of higher education, and Boston University is an exclusive private research university with a historical affiliation with the United Methodist Church. Tuition and other costs now total $73,494 per year.

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University of Wisconsin in Madison
University of Wisconsin in Madison

University of Wisconsin–Madison

  • In-state tuition and fees: $10,746

  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $38,634

  • Room and board: $12,200

The University of Wisconsin at Madison has produced the most Fortune 500 CEOs of any college on the list at 14, according to a study from executive recruitment firm Kittleman & Associates. If you want to be a Badger and you don’t live in Wisconsin, you’ll have to shell out $50,834 per year for tuition and other costs. If you live in-state, you’ll pay just $22,946 for tuition, fees and room and board.

University of Texas Austin campus at sunset
University of Texas Austin campus at sunset

University of Texas at Austin

  • In-state tuition and fees: $10,582

  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $37,670

  • Room and board: $12,286

In-state tuition at the University of Texas at Austin is the third-cheapest of any university on the list. You’ll pay a total of $22,868 annually if you live in Texas, but $49,956 if your home is elsewhere.

Tulane University
Tulane University

Tulane University

  • Tuition and fees: $58,850

  • Room and board: $16,248

Tuition at Tulane University in New Orleans, including room, board and fees, totals $75,098. But all freshmen are considered for merit scholarships that can be as high as $32,000 per year, so studying hard in high school can pay off.

College of William and Mary in Williamsburg Virginia
College of William and Mary in Williamsburg Virginia

College of William and Mary

  • In-state tuition and fees: $17,434

  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $40,089

  • Room and board: $13,356

The College of William and Mary in Virginia is the most expensive public college on the list for in-state students. William and Mary tuition and other costs total $30,790 for Virginia residents and $53,445 for everyone else.

University of California Davis Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem
University of California Davis Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem

University of California, Davis

  • In-state tuition and fees: $14,597

  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $44,351

  • Room and board: $14,356

Home of the Aggies, UC Davis is situated in Northern California, 20 minutes from Sacramento on a 5,300-acre campus. Tuition at the University of California, Davis and other costs total $28,593 for California residents and $58,707 for out-of-state students.

Boston University campus entrance in Massachusetts
Boston University campus entrance in Massachusetts

Boston College

  • Tuition and fees: $59,050

  • Room and board: $15,220

Boston College, the oldest college in all of Boston, has a total cost of $74,720 a year — including tuition and room and board.

University of California San Diego Geisel Library campus
University of California San Diego Geisel Library campus

University of California, San Diego

  • In-state tuition and fees: $14,769

  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $44,433

  • Room and board: $15,366

At the University of California in San Diego, tuition and other costs add up to $30,135 for California residents — a comparative bargain for a research university. If you live out of state, you’ll pay $59,799 — still more affordable than many top-tier universities.

University of California Irvine Langson Library
University of California Irvine Langson Library

University of California, Irvine

  • In-state tuition and fees: $11,442

  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $41,196

  • Room and board: $16,561

The University of California, Irvine, is a public research university in Irvine, California. Californians will pay $28,003 to go here, while those from other states will have to come up with $57,757 per year.

Georgia Institute of Technology campus in Atlanta Georgia
Georgia Institute of Technology campus in Atlanta Georgia

Georgia Institute of Technology

  • In-state tuition and fees: $10,258

  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $31,370

  • Room and board: $12,246

Georgia Tech is a public research university located in Atlanta. Georgia Tech tuition and other costs add up to $22,504 for Georgia residents and $43,616 for those who come from out of state.

University of Rochester library in New York
University of Rochester library in New York

University of Rochester

  • Tuition and fees: $57,188

  • Room and board: $17,208

The University of Rochester in upstate New York is a top-tier research university that offers 200 academic majors to 10,000 students. Total costs including tuition at the University of Rochester add up to $74,396 per year.

Tufts University
Tufts University

Tufts University

  • Tuition and fees: $59,560

  • Room and board: $15,630

Tufts University is a private research university on the border of Medford and Somerville, Massachusetts. Tufts University tuition and other costs total $75,190.

New York University in New York
New York University in New York

New York University

  • Tuition and fees: $52,204

  • Room and board: $19,244

New York University tuition and other costs total $71,448, due in part to high room and board costs of any school on this list. NYU enrolls about 30,000 undergraduate students after accepting 20% of applicants.

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University of California Santa Barbara campus
University of California Santa Barbara campus

University of California, Santa Barbara

  • In-state tuition and fees: $12,570

  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $42,324

  • Room and board: $15,039

The University of California, Santa Barbara, is a member of the Association of American Universities, one of only 62 research-intensive institutions in the U.S. and Canada to join. If you’re a California resident, you’ll pay $27,609 to attend. If not, expect your UCSB tuition and other costs to total $57,363.

University of Florida
University of Florida

University of Florida

  • In-state tuition and fees: $6,380

  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $29,108

  • Room and board: $10,590

The University of Florida, located in Gainesville, has the lowest total cost for both in-state students and out-of-state students. Total costs, including living expenses, fees and tuition at the University of Florida total $16,970 for Floridians and $39,698 for everyone else.

Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem North Carolina
Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem North Carolina

Wake Forest University

  • Tuition and fees: $57,760

  • Room and board: $15,520

Wake Forest University is located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and is home to the Demon Deacon mascot. The 5,287 undergraduates will pay $73,280 this year for Wake Forest University tuition and other costs.

University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • In-state tuition and fees: $7,019

  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $34,198

  • Room and board: $11,526

UNC Chapel Hill’s tuition is the second-least expensive for in-state students. The total cost for in-state students is just $18,545. If you’re coming from out of state, you’ll pay $45,724.

Carnegie Mellon University Randy Pausch Memorial Bridge in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
Carnegie Mellon University Randy Pausch Memorial Bridge in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania

Carnegie Mellon University

  • Tuition and fees: $57,560

  • Room and board: $15,550

Carnegie Mellon University is a private research university located in Pittsburgh, with colleges in engineering, fine arts, humanities, public policy, science, computer science and business. Carnegie Mellon tuition and other costs total $73,110.

University of Virginia Rotunda in Charlottesville Virginia
University of Virginia Rotunda in Charlottesville Virginia

University of Virginia

  • In-state tuition and fees: $14,188

  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $48,036

  • Room and board: $12,350

Founded by Thomas Jefferson and located in Charlottesville, UVA enrolls about 16,000 undergraduate students. University of Virginia tuition and other costs will set you back $26,538 if you live in the state, or $60,386 if you don’t.

Students walk and bike at the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles California USA.
Students walk and bike at the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles California USA.

University of Southern California

  • Tuition and fees: $59,260

  • Room and board: $15,437

The University of Southern California has 20,000 undergraduate students, who will each pay a total of $74,697 to attend. To offset the cost of tuition at USC, the school awarded $570 million in financial aid in the 2017-2018 school year.

University of Michigan Ann Arbor college campus
University of Michigan Ann Arbor college campus

University of Michigan

  • In-state tuition and fees: $15,948

  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $52,266

  • Room and board: $12,034

Tuition and other costs to attend the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor total $27,982 for in-state students and $64,300 for out-of-state students, but two out of three students receive financial aid of some kind. Michigan is a big sports school, boasting 29 NCAA Division 1 teams and 395 all-time Big 10 athletic championships.

Georgetown University Healy Hall campus in Washington DC
Georgetown University Healy Hall campus in Washington DC

Georgetown University

  • Tuition and fees: $57,384

  • Room and board: $13,554

Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., is the country’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university and was established in 1789. The cost of college tuition at Georgetown, added to room and board and other fees, totals $70,938.

University of California at Berkeley, California.
University of California at Berkeley, California.

University of California, Berkeley

  • In-state tuition and fees: $14,254

  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $44,008

  • Room and board: $17,220

UC Berkeley is a public university in Berkeley, California, overlooking San Francisco Bay. Total costs are $31,474 for Californians and $61,228 for everyone else.

Emory University in Atlanta Georgia
Emory University in Atlanta Georgia

Emory University

  • Tuition and fees: $53,070

  • Room and board: $15,242

Emory University in Atlanta has just over 8,000 undergraduates, each of whom pays a total of $68,312 in tuition, room and board and other costs. It has nearly the same number of graduate students in business, law, medicine and other disciplines.

University of California Los Angeles Royce Hall
University of California Los Angeles Royce Hall

University of California, Los Angeles

  • In-state tuition and fees: $13,239

  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $42,993

  • Room and board: $17,599

UCLA’s out-of-state tuition and other costs total $60,592. If you live in California, expect to pay $30,838.

University of Notre Dame in Indiana
University of Notre Dame in Indiana

University of Notre Dame

  • Tuition and fees: $57,699

  • Room and board: $15,984

The University of Notre Dame offers 75 undergraduate majors to its 8,731 students at its campus in South Bend, Indiana. Tuition at Notre Dame, plus other costs, total $73,683.

Cornell University McGraw Tower in Ithaca New York
Cornell University McGraw Tower in Ithaca New York

Cornell University

  • In-state tuition and fees: $58,586

  • Room and board: $15,706

Cornell University is a private and statutory Ivy League research university in Ithaca, New York. Undergraduates will pay $74,292 for room and board.

Washington University in St Louis Missouri
Washington University in St Louis Missouri

Washington University in St. Louis

  • Tuition and fees: $56,300

  • Room and board: $17,402

If you’re looking beyond academics for a rewarding college experience, Washington University in St. Louis is ranked No. 2 for its dorms and No. 3 for best campus food by The Princeton Review. Total costs including tuition at Washington University are $73,702 per year.

Rice University James Turrell Skyspace in Houston Texas
Rice University James Turrell Skyspace in Houston Texas

Rice University

  • Tuition and fees: $50,310

  • Room and board: $14,500

Rice University is a private research institution in Houston with about 4,000 undergraduate and 3,000 graduate students. Rice University tuition, room and board and other fees total $64,810.

Vanderbilt University
Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University

  • Tuition and fees: $52,780

  • Room and board: $17,602

Industrialist Cornelius Vanderbilt founded Vanderbilt University in 1873 with a $1 million gift. Today, tuition and other costs total $70,381 at this private research university in Nashville, Tennessee.

Brown University campus
Brown University campus

Brown University

  • Tuition and fees: $59,254

  • Room and board: $15,908

Brown University is an Ivy League school that was founded in 1764 in Providence, Rhode Island. Each of its 7,160 undergraduate students pays a total of $75,162 for Brown University tuition, fees and room and board.

Dartmouth College New Hampshire Hanover
Dartmouth College New Hampshire Hanover

Dartmouth College

  • Tuition and fees: $57,796

  • Room and board: $17,022

Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, provides 4,459 undergraduate and 2,154 graduate students with an Ivy League liberal arts education. The total cost of Dartmouth tuition, room and board and other fees is $74,818.

Duke University in North Carolina
Duke University in North Carolina

Duke University

  • Tuition and fees: $57,934

  • Room and board: $17,022

Duke tuition and other costs will set you back $75,418, making it the third-most expensive school on this list. On the bright side, 50% of the students receive some type of financial aid.

Northwestern University Patrick G and Shirley W Ryan Center in Chicago Illinois
Northwestern University Patrick G and Shirley W Ryan Center in Chicago Illinois

Northwestern University

  • Tuition and fees: $56,286

  • Room and board: $17,616

Located in Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern was the first university in the northwest territories when it opened in 1855. Northwestern University tuition and other costs add up to $73,902.

Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore Maryland
Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore Maryland

Johns Hopkins University

  • Tuition and fees: $54,160

  • Room and board: $16,310

Cost to attend Johns Hopkins University is pricey at $70,470 all in, but the college recently revamped its financial aid program. It will now meet 100% of each student’s demonstrated need in the form of grants and will not include loans in financial aid packages. This means that as long as the family meets their expected family contribution, the student will have no loans after graduation.

California Institute of Technology Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics by Morphosis Architects
California Institute of Technology Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics by Morphosis Architects

California Institute of Technology

  • Tuition and fees: $54,570

  • Room and board: $17,337

Caltech has only 938 undergraduate students, but has earned an impressive 39 Nobel prizes. More than 50% of undergraduates receive at least some need-based financial aid, taking the sting out of the hefty tuition and other costs that total $71,907.

University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania

  • Tuition and fees: $53,166

  • Room and board: $15,114

This Ivy League school is located in Philadelphia and was founded by George Whitefield in 1740. University of Pennsylvania tuition and other costs add up to $68,280.

The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, IL.
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, IL.

University of Chicago

  • Tuition and fees: $57,642

  • Room and board: $17,004

The University of Chicago was founded in 1890 by John D. Rockefeller. Tuition, fees and room and board totals $74,646.

Leland Stanford Junior University
Leland Stanford Junior University

Stanford University

  • Tuition and fees: $55,473

  • Room and board: $12,361

Stanford University, located in the midst of Silicon Valley in Palo Alto, California, provides 6,996 undergraduate students with a quality education, albeit at a steep price. Stanford tuition, fees and room and board add up to $67,834.

Yale University campus
Yale University campus

Yale University

  • Tuition and fees: $57,700

  • Room and board: $17,200

Yale tuition and other costs total $74,900, but nearly 50% of students receive scholarships or grants from the university.

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology college campus designed by Frank Gehry
Massachusetts Institute of Technology college campus designed by Frank Gehry

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • Tuition and fees: $53,450

  • Room and board: $16,390

The highest-ranking non-Ivy League school is selective — for the class of 2022, only 1,464 students were admitted from an applicant pool of 21,706. For students fortunate enough to be admitted, MIT tuition and other costs total $69,840.

Low Memorial Library at Columbia University in New York City.
Low Memorial Library at Columbia University in New York City.

Columbia University

  • Tuition and fees: $64,464

  • Room and board: $25,160

Columbia University is the most expensive college on the list, probably due in part to its location in pricey New York City. Room and board, fees and tuition at Columbia University add up to $89,624.

Harvard University
Harvard University

Harvard University

  • Tuition and fees: $49,653

  • Room and board: $18,389

It might surprise you that Harvard is second, not first, on the list of best colleges, and you might be even more surprised that it is in the middle of the pack when it comes to total cost. Harvard’s tuition and other costs come in at $68,042.

Princeton University Lewis Science LIbrary designed by architect
Princeton University Lewis Science LIbrary designed by architect

Princeton University

  • Tuition and fees: $53,980

  • Room and board: $17,820

Princeton ranks No. 1 on the list of best colleges and while it’s not cheap, it is an education worth every penny. Princeton University tuition and other costs come in a total of $71,710.

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Jordan Rosenfeld contributed to the reporting for this article.

In order to discover what it really costs to attend America’s top 50 colleges, GOBankingRates first used U.S.News & World Report’s “2021 Best National University Rankings” to identify the top 50 colleges/universities. With these colleges isolated, GOBankingRates then used each institution’s self-published data to find: (1) in-state tuition where applicable; (2) out-of-state yearly tuition; and (3) room + board yearly cost. All data was collected on and up to date as of Nov. 30, 2020.

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: What It Really Costs To Attend America’s Top 50 Colleges