Guide to the Most Affordable Universities

Written by: Kristyn Pilgrim
Updated: 7/10/20

Choosing the right university is one of the most significant commitments in a student’s career. The final decision might depend on a range of factors, including class sizes, alumni network, location, course offerings, prestige, and more. Each educational institution has a unique mix of character that makes it unique. 

However, when it comes to choosing a university, the cost of attendance might be the most important consideration. In the United States, student debt has increased at a rapid rate. Borrowers in the graduating class of 2017 owe an average of $28,650 in student loan debt. Individuals attending graduate or professional school can end up owing much more. For example, the average law student owes $145,500 upon graduation

While attending a four-year university can be an intelligent and worthwhile investment, many students benefit from prioritizing affordability. By graduating with less debt, students enjoy greater freedom to choose the career path of their dreams. 

Here, we’re going to review some of the most affordable universities in the United States. First, we’re going to look at some of the most affordable public universities. Next, we’ll review private colleges with low tuition. Finally, we’ll discuss elite private institutions that offer sizable financial aid for qualifying students. Let’s get started. 

Public Universities

Public universities offer high-class education with low costs for in-state students. Here, we’ll review some of the most affordable public colleges for students paying in-state tuition.

University of Florida – Gainesville, Florida 

Florida residents pay just $6,380 for annual tuition. According to the University of Florida, the all-in cost for undergraduate students living on campus is $21,430, with students living with their parents paying an average of just $11,850 per year. Out-of-state students should add $22,278 to their projected all-in cost of attendance.

University of Wyoming – Laramie, Wyoming 

The University of Wyoming has the lowest annual tuition on this list, with in-state students paying just $4,350. Students living on campus should expect to pay roughly $21,362 per year. Out-of-state students spend about 40% more, with an all-in annual cost of $35,102. 

University of North Carolina School of the Arts – Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Students at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts pay $6,370 if they’re residents and $23,040 if they’re from outside of North Carolina. All-in, in-state students can expect to pay roughly $22,151 if they live on or off campus and $14,375 if they live at home. 

State University of New York at Plattsburgh – Plattsburgh, New York 

New York residents pay $11,457 per semester to attend SUNY Plattsburgh, located next to New York’s northeast border with Vermont. Including room and board, in-state students can expect an all-in cost of roughly $22,884 per academic year. Out-of-state students pay approximately $10,000 more per year, with an annual all-in cost of $32,794. 

How to Get In-State Tuition at Public Universities 

A little-known secret is that some out-of-state students can get in-state tuition at public universities. Some of the most common ways to get an out-of-state tuition waiver include: 

  • Reciprocal state agreements: Some states make deals with other states to reciprocally offer in-state or reduced-rate tuition. Examples include the Midwest Student Exchange Program and the New England Regional Student Program. Before you pay out-of-state tuition at a school in a nearby state, check to see if you might be able to reduce your costs using a regional exchange. 
  • Legacy scholarships: Some schools offer in-state tuition to high-achieving students whose parents attended the university. Examples include the University of Missouri’s Black & Gold Scholarship and the University of Kentucky’s Legacy Tuition Program
  • Department-specific scholarships: Some schools, like the University of Texas at Austin, offer a limited number of out-of-state tuition waivers to students in specific departments. At UT, roughly 60 to 70 students at the College of Natural Sciences have an opportunity to get in-state tuition each year. 

Private Colleges With Reasonable Tuition

Private colleges often have smaller class sizes, tighter alumni networks, and a close sense of community. The following educational institutions are ideal for students who want a private education without breaking the bank. 

Brigham Young University – Provo, Utah 

BYU’s tuition is only $5,970 for undergraduates of the Mormon faith. Non-Mormons pay $11,580. Regardless of their beliefs, students attending BYU enjoy Provo’s low cost of living. BYU’s office of admissions estimates 2020-2021 room and board fees of just $7,766. 

Rust College – Holly Springs, Mississippi

Students at Rust College in Mississippi pay only $9,900 for yearly tuition and just $4,300 per year for room and board. Part-time students pay only $421 per credit hour. Rust College also offers tuition discounts for United Methodist pastors, Rust College employees’ families, and students who pay in advance. 

National Louis University – Chicago, Illinois 

Many students believe college tuition is too high. National Louis University agrees. In fact, the university recently reduced tuition for all undergraduates and some graduate programs. A full-time undergraduate can expect to pay tuition of just $10,260 per year. Part-time students pay $430 per credit hour of class. 

LeMoyne-Owens College – Memphis, Tennessee 

Full-time students at LeMoyne-Owens College pay tuition of just $10,776 per year. Part-time students – and individuals who want to take more than 17 credits per semester – pay $449 for each credit hour. Annual room and board costs are as low as $3,600 per year. 

Private Colleges Offering Significant Financial Aid 

The universities in this final section might not be your idea of inexpensive colleges. Ivy League educational institutions are often regarded as elite clubs admitting only the wealthy. However, as you’ll see, the nation’s top universities offer substantial financial aid packages to students in need. Let’s dive in. 

Harvard University – Cambridge, Massachusetts

According to Harvard, 100% of students can graduate debt-free if they use the financial aid available to them. The average parental contribution is just $12,000, with 20% of families paying nothing at all. Over 50% of students receive a financial aid package of some sort. Harvard graduates go on to have exciting careers in finance, technology, consulting, and more. 

Yale University – New Haven, Connecticut

If your parents make under $65,000 per year, they won’t have to spend a dime to send you to Yale. At Yale, 64% of students receive a financial aid package, with an average amount of $51,500 per year in scholarships. Families making higher incomes can receive financial aid, too. Roughly 96% of students from families making under $100,000 per year obtain assistance. 

Plus, roughly half of Yale students find paying jobs or internships during the summers in between academic years. By making a little money on the side, Yale students can increase their chances of graduating without student loans. In fact, 86% of undergraduate students graduate debt-free. 

Princeton University – Princeton, New Jersey

Roughly 61% of Princeton students receive financial aid, with students receiving an average award of $56,500. Like at other Ivy League institutions, families making above-average incomes are still eligible to qualify for financial aid. Every family making under $180,000 per year qualifies for some level of financial assistance, and 82% of Princeton students are debt-free upon graduation. 

Like some other Ivy League schools, Princeton has a financial aid estimator to help students evaluate affordability. Take a look today to see how much financial aid you might receive. 

Stanford University – Stanford, California

Stanford, the West Coast powerhouse, commits to meeting students’ demonstrated financial aid requirements without resorting to student loans. If a student’s parents make under $65,000 per year, they receive free tuition, room, and board. Plus, Stanford students whose parents make less than $125,000 per year pay no tuition. 

Even students from families with high incomes may receive financial aid. According to Stanford, 95% of applicants with families making less than $200,000 are eligible for financial assistance. On average, students receiving financial aid get $58,494 in total aid. To see how much financial assistance you might receive, try Stanford’s online cost estimator

Choosing an Affordable College 

A student’s final decision often depends on the exact financial packages each school offers. Students with impressive academic backgrounds might shoot for the stars and try to secure an attractive financial aid package from Harvard or Stanford. Other students might want to apply to low-cost private colleges and public institutions. 

If you or someone you know is in the college selection process, College Finance has the in-depth resources to help students with financial planning. Whether you want to learn about financial aid, student loans, or other financing options, the experts at College Finance can help you plan for the future.