average college tuition
average college tuition

In the United States, the average student borrows more than $30,000 to chase a bachelor’s degree. Average debt has risen considerably over the last decade or so, sitting at roughly $36,000 in 2020. That debt is expected to continue to rise, with no limit in sight.

With all that said, discovering the average college tuition is a tricky task. If you are curious about the ultimate cost of college tuition, college fees, and what it all adds up to, we’re here to help. Read on for some vital information on the average college tuition.

Public or Private?

One of the bigger things affecting the cost of college tuition is whether your university is public or private. These both come with different pros and cons, with the cost being one of the most important. Here is some of the most important differences and what you should expect.


Beginning with public, you won’t find a shortage of public schools in the United States. There are more than 1,600 public colleges in the nation split into multiple categories. These categories include community colleges, 2-year schools, 4-year schools, and a few other subcategories.

Public schools widely depend on government funding on a state or nation-wide level. Because of this, the cost of tuition is kept a bit lower, as much of the funding comes from somewhere other than the students.

The average public university tuition is hard to nail down, as it varies wildly by state due to different funding. The Department of Education has the average 2018-2019 public tuition listed as $18,383. This information includes tuition, fees, room, and board for full-time undergraduate students.

One common question many students run into is “is community college free?” Unfortunately, despite rising political pressure, community college currently is not free in the United States.

However, community colleges are normally much cheaper than any other options, public or not. Not counting college fees outside of tuition such as supplies, they are usually in the low thousands annually. 

This makes community colleges a popular choice for students that aren’t sure if college is for them. It’s also excellent for earning a 2-year degree before moving to a larger campus. Many community colleges are even partnered with other universities to allow this exact strategy.


Private schools rely on their funding primarily from student tuition. Because of this, they’re often significantly more expensive than public universities. There are also no community college options, as private schools by their very nature aren’t open to the community.

There are benefits such as the price usually remaining similar or identical for in and out of state students. Because of this, it’s also easier to pin down the average private tuition. The same source used above lists the 2018-2019 average at $44,306 – over double what public schools pay.

Private schools also include for-profit schools. As the name suggests, these are schools that operate with a more business-minded ideology. Some feel that these schools put education second and profit first, but many consider that a wide generalization.

There’s also an enormous range of private colleges as far as tuition goes. For example, New York’s Columbia University charges $63,530 in their 2021-2022 tuition and fees. Utah’s Brigham Young University-Provo charges $6,120 in 2021-2022 tuition and fees.

There are a number of reasons for the wide range. Private schools are less affected by the state’s funding, letting them charge a more customizable price. Many of the most prestigious schools are private universities as well, increasing the funding.

For example, all of the Ivy League schools are private colleges. These schools are considered some of the most prestigious in the world, and also are home to some of the most qualified instructors. Because of this, they are able to charge much more than the average public school.

When you’re asking questions like “how much is medical school” or “how much is law school,” you’re contemplating private colleges. The vast majority of these institutions are private organizations. This is also why they are often more expensive than other career paths.

Staying or Going

Once you’ve decided on public or private, you’ll then have to decide where you’ll attend. Prices vary depending on whether you want to attend a university in or out of your home state. 

One important note is that, as said above, out-of-state fees usually don’t apply to most private schools. The information discussed here will mostly focus on public schools because of that. In specific, we’ll use the 


In-state colleges usually charge much less to students applying from their home state. This is because funding for these schools mostly comes from taxes. These in-state students have effectively been paying for this institution with their taxes, and are given lower rates because of this.

There are other factors, such as states often mandating a certain quota of in-state students. Many colleges also prefer to bring in-state students in, as it can help with marketing to other students. College and state pride are massive drives to universities, and bringing in students from the same state often helps with this.

The average in-state tuition varies considerably due to taxes being different in each state. A reliable average is between $8,000 and $10,000 dollars annually. There are many outliers to this number both above and below, but it’s a decent ballpark. 

Out of State

Out-of-state colleges are much more expensive than in-state colleges. Part of this is because of the taxes mentioned above. Out-of-state students haven’t been paying taxes, which some even consider meaning they are mooching off of the state’s citizens.

Of course, this isn’t true, if for no other reason than because these students will pay higher tuition. The average cost of a four-year out-of-state university is about $27,000, according to some outlets. This doesn’t include extra fees, housing, travel, or any other additional expenses.

Example of Differences

One example we can look at is the University of Central Florida. UCF is one of the largest universities in the nation by population, boasting nearly 70,000 students. This includes a large number of out-of-state and even out-of-nation foreign students.

If you are an in-state student, then tuition will be relatively cheap. UCF’s tuition is about $6,000 annually before fees and supplies.

Moving to out-of-state, the tuition becomes significantly more expensive. The out-of-state tuition is just above $22,000 annually. This number also does not include fees or supplies.

This isn’t due to any strange dealings on the University of Central Florida’s part. Instead, this is par for the course. Paying for an out-of-state college is much more expensive than paying for an in-state college.

Why Leave Home?

With tuition varying so massively depending on your in-state or out-of-state status, why would you leave your state? There are a number of draws that could take you to another state.

One of the many is, as mentioned above, state pride. Many students hear of a school from another state and are enchanted by the idea of attending. Others might have a family tradition of attending school.

There are also schools that may not offer everything wanted. The University of Central Florida, for example, offers unique degrees such as Integrated Business. This is often a draw for students who can’t find such a program elsewhere.

This is usually the case for students that don’t need to worry about money as much. As more generations attend college, many also are more relaxed about college debt. In today’s economy, debt can feel inescapable, so many decide to take it on in a way that prepares them for the future.

Other Costs

Once your tuition is paid for, you’re only halfway done. Here are some of the other college costs you can expect with a university.


Travel is one of the pricy additions that many don’t consider. Ironically, this is often cheaper for out-of-state students.

This is because out-of-state students will often be housed on campus. This makes walking, biking, or bussing much more viable. As a result, they’ll spend less on gas, car maintenance, and other fees.

Many schools often also charge for the ability to park. All of these costs can add up to thousands of dollars annually.


The supplies to attend college are a massive additional cost. Even affordable colleges will often add thousands on with mandatory supplies. College books, note-taking tools, personal computers, and the like are all rather expensive.

This is to say nothing of things like food, medical supplies, and other basic needs. The cost of living can raise depending on where you are attending college as well. Always overshoot when factoring in the cost of supplies – it’s better to have too much than not enough.

Multiple Attempts

The average college tuition doesn’t take into account retries, but real life should. There’s a number of ways you might need to repeat a class or semester.

Unfortunately, this can also cause the loss of some funds, such as merit-based scholarships. Your Pell Grant eligibility may also come into question if it’s being used.

If you have to repeat a semester or class, you will have to pay for it again. This will naturally increase the overall cost of your education.

Ways to Pay

While college is expensive, there are plenty of ways to pay. Most of these do inevitably involve accruing some sort of debt, but not all. If you’re wondering how to pay for college, consider these options.

Scholarships and Grants

One of the most well-known ways to fund education is through scholarships. There are thousands of scholarships through the United States and more appearing every day.

Many of these require an application. Some will require a specific demographic, discipline, age, task, or other such requirements. That said, there are plenty of easy scholarships

Grants are similar but often less exclusive. Scholarships are usually given on achievement or merit, hence the term “merit-based scholarship.” Grants are instead given on financial need without as much attention to your “merit,” so to speak.

If you’re wondering “do you have to pay back grants,” the good news is, no. Grants do not have to be repaid at any point.


Loans are another of the most well-known ways to pay for education. They are affected by factors such as the FAFSA income limit, which changes your loan parameters depending on your income.

There are also differences depending on your current level. Graduate student loans are more expensive than undergraduate loans, for example. A university of dentistry or other medical institution might have more rigid loan requirements as well.

Some may ask, should I consolidate my student loans? The reality is that that’s a much more difficult and personal choice. Consolidation can offer relief from fees, but make sure you aren’t consolidating them under an organization that’s even worse than loan interest.

You can also look into donors that pay off student loans. This is rarer, though there are often ways to refinance. A Bank of America student account, for example, might have ways to pay off your loan and repay the bank at a lower income rate.

Banking Assistance

Speaking of student accounts, many banks offer some sort of student discount. Chase college checking, for example, is open to students between the ages of 17 and 24. These are more flexible, offer fewer fees, and generally complement students’ lifestyles.

Looking into something like a student account Chase bank offers can help immensely. Bank of America, PNC, and many other banks offer student aid of some sort.

Work, Work, Work

Time can get tight, and it can feel difficult to figure out how to make money in college. There are a great number of ways to pay for college. This can include freelancing, a work-study, summer jobs for college students, and many others.

But what is work-study useful for? These positions are designed to help students earn money to pay for their education. They are much more flexible and offer ways to study and work with your schedule.

Average College Tuition

The average college tuition is hard to pin down, and some say even harder to pay for. You’ll want to keep track of things like “when are college applications due” and when you’ll need to pay. With the right organization and preparation, you can weather the costs of university with relative ease.

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