The 5 Most Expensive Colleges in America

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Expensive collegesThe one thing that cars and colleges have in common is that their sticker prices are useless. Some of the most expensive schools have equally large financial aid packages that can eliminate college costs. Instead of relying on the advertised price, students can get a clearer idea of what they’ll actually pay by researching each school’s net price, which includes an estimate of their future financial aid package. Using data from the Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center and updating it with more recent net price figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, we’ve determined that these schools have the highest net prices.

1. Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, New York City campus

Tuition: $28,273
Net price: $49,670
Pacific awards scholarships, but this holistic healthcare school still costs a proverbial arm and leg, in part because of location. While tuition at this for-profit school is actually lower than costs at the average four-year nonprofit private college according to the College Board, housing, transportation and living expenses in NYC make it almost as expensive as owning a home.

Ben Kaplan, a Harvard grad who won over $90,000 in scholarships and the author of How to Go to College Almost for Free: The Secrets of Winning Scholarship Money, says that before borrowing big, students should research job possibilities and earning potential after graduation. “…people get into trouble [in] fields and schools that cost a lot and the actual job prospect out of that is not substantially better than something that costs a lot less,” he says.

2. School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Tuition: $38,340
Net price: $42,882
One of the fastest ways to tack on college costs is to stay longer. This fine arts institution has graduation rates above the national average, but only 38 percent of all full-time, bachelor’s degree seeking students graduate in four years reports the Department of Education.

“The worst financial decision you can make is taking out a lot in loans and not finishing your degree,” Kaplan says.

Students can research their school’s graduation rates at the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator site.

3. West Coast University, Orange County, California campus

Tuition: $31,500 – $33,600
Net price: $42,807
Only offering degree programs in nursing, dental hygiene, healthcare management and pharmacy, job prospects abound for West Coast grads, but you’ve got to know that’s what you want.

“…most students usually change their minds about what they want to study and what their career is,” says Kaplan.

Before enrolling in a school with a narrow focus, Kaplan recommends getting a firm understanding of what those degree programs entail and what work in those fields is like in the real world.

4. Southwest University of Visual Arts

Tuition: $22,488 (Albuquerque campus), $22,944 (Tucson campus)
Net price: $40,904 (Albuquerque campus), $40,332 (Tucson campus)
One way to land more aid is to examine what expenses the financial aid formula doesn’t consider. Your family’s income and assets from the year before will be considered on the federal aid formula, but factors like medical expenses or divorce costs won’t be.

If you have a special circumstance that’s not considered in the federal aid formula, Kaplan advises students to request a “professional judgment” through the school’s financial aid office.

“…certain schools will add that back into the formula that will actually increase your financial aid,” he says.

5. Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota, Florida

Tuition: $33,960
Net price: $40,222
If your school doesn’t offer a robust financial aid package, there are other options. Organizations ranging from nonprofits and professional associations to religious institutions and community groups offer assistance. Students can start the scholarship hunt by researching awards in their own area and through national search sites like and

“[Students] think you have to be the next Doogie Howser to do this and they don’t realize all the kinds of scholarships that are out there…,” says Kaplan.

{ 7 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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7 Responses to “The 5 Most Expensive Colleges in America”

  1. You’ve got to wonder whether the tuition is worth it at these particular places. Is the prestige of a degree from Southwest University of Visual Arts (for example) going to net you a job that pays well enough to handle the student loan payments?

    Somehow, I don’t think so. But that’s true for the majority of private colleges and universities.

    The best solution is to opt for the least expensive undergraduate college or university, work part-time to keep loans to a minimum, and hedge your long-term financial bet accordingly.

  2. I’m not sure why, but these schools being the most expensive really surprises me. Getting an education is important, but I can’t move past the price tag. I can’t imagine the education for these institutions being THAT much better than that of another, less expensive school.

  3. SLS says:

    As an art historian with a PhD on the job market for a full time teaching position, I am fascinated by the fact that three of these schools are specifically arts-focused. The incidentals (including studio fees and material costs) of taking art classes could definitely drive up the net price of art schools.

  4. mannymacho says:

    It seems like these are mostly art schools…kind of helps you understand why the term “starving artist” exists…

  5. educate4less says:

    There are so many assumptions – number in family, number in college, annual income, etc. – and incorrect information among stats produced by the government that it makes little sense to worry about such lists. “Net Price Calculators” are notoriously inaccurate.

    Families would be better-served by accessing the free EFC calculator at the CollegeBoard’s website and checking their own EFC. Deduct that figure from a particular college’s Cost of Attendance (from the same site) to arrive at “Need” (aid eligibility). Multiply Need by “Percent of Need Met” to arrive at an approximate financial aid award from said college. Add whatever need way not met – most colleges award far less than 100% of need – to EFC to arrive at an approximate price.

    For $100k income (AGI) families of four with one in college, an aid- generous college like Penn (100% of need met, 4-year grad rate 89%) may very well be cheaper – post aid – than Penn State (60% need-met, 62% 4-yr grad) for instance.

  6. What about BU?

    $42,400 in tuition, over $56,000 per year total

    Or George Washington University? $45,000 in tuition alone

    I think you missed some big expensive schools unless these are per semester prices.

  7. Bob says:

    Vassar in Poughkeepsi, New Yrok has them ALL beat.


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