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Study Abroad

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?

university library with dollar bags

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 tuition fees across much of the UK 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.

This is a rough guide to fees and living costs. The actual figures will vary depending on where you study, as well as your personal circumstances.

American tuition fees

Harvard campus quad American university

Credit: Jorge Salcedo – Shutterstock

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 of 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.

Average annual tuition fees in the USA 2021/22

Type of collegeCost*
Public two-year£2,764($3,800)
Public four-year (in-state)£7,811($10,740)
Public four-year (out-of-state)£20,044($27,560)
Private non-profit four-year£27,688($38,070)

* Figures were sourced from College Board, who publish the figures in US Dollars. Conversions were accurate at the time of writing.

As you can see, average tuition fees at private universities are much more than at 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 $50,000 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

dollar bill
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 for a three-year course (the norm in the UK).

Once you've accounted for accommodation, transport and all your other expenses, student living costs in the USA in 2021/22 are as follows.

Annual cost of living as a student in America 2021/22

Type of collegeCost*
Public two-year£10,928($15,030)
Public four-year (in-state)£12,063($16,590)
Public four-year (out-of-state)
Private non-profit four-year£12,891($17,730)

* Figures based on estimates by College Board, who provide figures in US Dollars. Conversions were accurate at the time of writing.

Bear in mind that, as in the UK, the bulk of this figure is made up of the cost of accommodation. Room and board will likely set you back between £6,500 – £10,000 each year, with the lowest prices at the two-year public colleges, and the highest at the private non-profit four-year institutions.

The remaining money will be to cover transport, course materials (such as university textbooks) and other expenses.

If we combine these average figures for tuition and the cost of living, you get a pretty good indication of the average annual outlay.

Total annual cost of studying in America 2021/22

Type of collegeCost*
Public two-year£13,691($18,830)
Public four-year (in-state)£19,872($27,330)
Public four-year (out-of-state)£32,101($44,150)
Private non-profit four-year£40,572($55,800)

* Figures were sourced from College Board, who publish the figures in US Dollars. Conversions were accurate at the time of writing.

To get an idea of how much it costs to live as a student in the UK, and to compare with the costs in the States, check out the results of our latest National Student Money Survey.

Financial support for British students in America

Clearly, studying in America as an international student isn't cheap. And to make things even more challenging, tuition fees in America must be paid in advance of each semester.

All in all, you'll need to find a lot of cash in order to fund your studies in the US of A. Fortunately, however, there are a fair few sources of funding for students.

From scholarships to student loans and even part-time jobs, there are plenty of options. We go through them in more detail in our guide to funding your studies in America.

Is it worth going to university in America?

New York skyline

It's really up to you! As we've found, the overall price of an American degree can be more, less or about the same as the cost of studying in the UK, depending on where you choose to study (although crucially, in the UK, you can get financial support to cover most up-front costs).

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 studying abroad (usually your second year). This is the perfect choice if you don't feel you're quite ready to make a permanent move!

Not sure whether the USA is the right place to study for you? Here are some reasons to study at an American university.


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