How much are American university fees?
With tuition fees now above £9,000 a year in the UK, should you be considering studying in America instead?
If your knowledge of American universities (or ‘colleges', as they're often called in the USA) is based entirely on films and TV, you could be forgiven for thinking that the prices are sky-high.
To be fair, sometimes they are – but with UK tuition fees now surpassing £9,000 a year, are American degrees actually that much more expensive than a British equivalent?
Well to answer that very question, we've put in the time and effort to figure out how much studying for a degree in America as a UK student could cost you.
What’s on this page?
How much does it cost to go to university in America?
As is the case in the UK, there are two main costs that you need to consider when studying in America: the price of tuition, and how much it costs to live.
Tuition fees in America
It's hard to say what the ‘average' cost of tuition at an American college is, as the fees can vary dramatically depending on the type of university and length of degree you go for.
You can go public or private, and study for two years, four years, or perhaps even longer.
However, it's worth noting that at the end of your studies at a two-year college, you won't actually have a full degree – you'll have what's known as an associate's degree, which can be topped up to a full degree by transferring to another university and studying for an additional two or three years (a bit like how an AS Level is roughly half an A Level).
Fees will also vary depending on whether or not you're from the university's state (kind of like how fees at Scottish universities are higher if you're not from Scotland). As a UK resident, unless you've somehow been resident in a specific state, you'll almost certainly be paying the out-of-state fees.
Here are the average annual fees for each type of college education in the US in 2017-18*:
- Public two-year college – £2,537
- Public four-year college (in-state) – £7,086
- Public four-year college (out-of-state) – £18,210
- Private non-profit four-year college – £24,692
*Figures were sourced from College Board and converted from USD into GDP. Conversions were accurate at the time of writing.
As you can see, private universities charge much more on average for tuition than publicly funded universities. Most of the top American universities are private and will typically charge even more than the average figures, with tuition at both Yale and Harvard topping £30,000 a year.
Your fees need to be paid in advance of each semester, and you can choose to pay for either the year as a whole, or semester by semester.
And just as we've seen in the UK in recent years, there have been many complaints in America regarding the rising cost of tuition fees and the cutting of financial aid sources.
Cost of living while studying in America
Considering that most undergraduate courses in the United States are four years long (some six or more), you'll need to factor in the cost of actually living out there and compare it to what you'd be paying in the UK.
Once you've accounted for accommodation, transport and all your other expenses, annual college living costs in 2017-18 are as follows*:
- Public two-year college – £9,957
- Public four-year college (in-state) – £10,889
- Public four-year college (out-of-state) – £10,889
- Private non-profit four-year college – £11,486
*Figures based on estimates by College Board and converted from USD into GDP. Conversions were accurate at the time of writing.
So, if we combine these average figures for tuition and the cost of living, your average annual outlay will be as follows:
- Public two-year college – £12,494
- Public four-year college (in-state) – £17,975
- Public four-year college (out-of-state) – £29,099
- Private non-profit four-year college – £36,178
To get an idea of how much it costs to live as a student in the UK, check out the results of our latest National Student Money Survey.
Financial support for UK students in America
UK student loans are administrated by the Student Loans Company (SLC), but unfortunately British students are unable to use this loan for studying abroad. This means that you'll have to look at alternatives sources of funding for your degree.
Financial aid for students in America
You might look at the sky-high tuition fees of some US colleges and think, “Well, I can forget about going there”. However, it's important to remember that the listed cost of tuition in America is very rarely what you'll actually pay.
In fact, in 2014/15, 86% of full-time undergraduates at American universities received some kind of financial aid – and often the colleges with the highest listed fees (which are usually the big names like Harvard and MIT) have the most generous support packages.
This financial aid can come in all shapes and sizes, including the famous sports scholarships that every jock is going for in teen movies. If you excel in a sport – any sport – it's worth saying so in your application!
But sporting scholarships aren't the only type of financial aid, and crucially, these funds are usually open to international students as well as Americans. What's more, financial aid will help to cover your living costs too – not just tuition.
Some universities – again, often the elite – even run a ‘needs-blind' policy for all applicants. This means that your application will only be assessed on your academic credentials, and should you (literally) make the grade, the university will provide whatever financial assistance is necessary.
The financial support on offer will vary from uni to uni, so if you've got a shortlist of a few that you're interested in, you should check out their websites or get in touch with them to find out what you'd be eligible for.
American student loans
If it transpires that you're not eligible for any financial aid, you can still apply for a student loan from the US government.
However, this should be treated as a bit of a last resort. As much as the UK's student finance system is flawed, the American equivalent is arguably even worse.
In short, you'll need an American citizen (with a decent credit rating) to be a guarantor on your loan, and unlike in the UK where all loans come courtesy of the Student Loans Company, you'll have to choose which provider to go with.
Interest rates and repayment schedules can (and will) vary depending on who you choose. That said, you'll struggle to find terms that are as generous as those attached to student loan repayments in the UK (where debts are cancelled after 30 years, and you'll only ever repay a percentage of your income over the threshold).
Finally, you can also look to secure a part-time job to help fund your studies in America. Again, however, this shouldn't be considered a primary option.
Your student visa will only allow you to work on-campus, and even then you can only work for a maximum of 20 hours a week.
During holidays you'll be able to work for up to 40 hours a week, but even so, it's highly unlikely that you'll find a campus job with a salary that can cover all your expenses – particularly given that you'll only be able to work a half-week most of the time.
Is it worth going to university in America?
It's really up to you! As we've found, the overall cost of an American degree can cost more, less or about the same as a British equivalent, depending on where you choose to study.
But, of course, it's not all about the money. You could go to an American college and spend less than you would have in the UK, but receive a worse education. Equally, you could go to one of the most expensive universities and get a degree that you feel trumps anything that Britain could have offered.
As a British student, going to study at an American college will look impressive on your CV, partly because it shows that you're willing to go out of your comfort zone and do something different.
On the other hand, you could just as easily argue that it's better to enjoy your time at university than to study something (or somewhere) that you end up hating. If you think you'd be unhappy at an American college, we'd recommend that you steer clear! After all, the UK's unis are still among the very best in the world.
Ultimately, given that both the UK and USA charge for a university education, your main focus should be on finding somewhere that will give you the education and experience that you're after!
And remember, you don't need to do your whole degree in America to get the experience of studying there. Plenty of UK universities have links with American institutions, allowing you to spend a year (usually your second) studying abroad. This is the perfect choice if you don't feel you're quite ready to make a permanent move!
Check out the rest of our Study Abroad America series for more info and advice.