Most of us need no reminder that between tuition and books and room and board, the price of a college degree is high.
And let’s face it: while we’d all like to attend our dream college, the numbers often get in the way and force us to narrow down our options. So where are the cheapest schools? And the most expensive?
We found out.
New England wins (ahem, loses) with some of the highest college costs. Meanwhile, the Southwest and mountain states boast the lowest tuition in the country.
Before you step into the world of all-nighters and frat parties, see where college is most affordable—and where it’ll bust your bank account.
Our ranking criteria
To get our rankings, we looked at all public and private colleges in each state that offer bachelor’s degrees and higher.1 We compared each state’s average in-state tuition with its average out-of-state tuition.2 We found that, in general, the states with high in-state costs also have high out-of-state costs—so we based the final ranking solely on the average in-state tuition.
For more context, we also looked at net cost by state, which includes in-state tuition for first-time students plus living expenses, books, and supplies (and minus scholarships and aid).3 In some states, students receive enough financial aid to actually nudge that net cost lower than the annual cost of tuition. Basically, the net cost is the total cost to attend college for a year after all is said and done.
(Well, almost: it doesn’t include the late-night fast food fund you’ll likely dip into more than once during your college career.)
Still want to know more? Jump down to our methodology section.
The 10 states with the most expensive college tuition
#1. Rhode Island
Despite being the smallest state in the US, there’s nothing tiny about Rhode Island’s college tuition. With an average in-state tuition of $30,879, it costs—drumroll please—$27,494 more per year to attend school in the Ocean State than in Wyoming, the cheapest US state for college.
In-state tuition: $30,879
Out-of-state tuition: $33,908
Net cost: $28,197
With schools like Champlain College and the University of Vermont in Burlington, going to college in Vermont is a great idea—as long as you have some generous FAFSA funds. The Green Mountain State’s average in-state cost is nearly $30,000.
Plus, out-of state tuition is $4,604 more.
Luckily, Burlington is one of the cheapest college towns in the nation. So if your heart is set on Vermont, your other expenses may be more manageable.
In-state tuition: $29,756
Out of state tuition: $34,360
Net cost: $23,065
Massachusetts is one of the most expensive states to live in—and its tuition bills are equally staggering.
With Harvard, Boston University, and Northeastern (just to name a few), it’s easy to see the appeal of a state so jam-packed with historic charm and resume-building schools.
But be warned: it costs almost three times more to attend school in Massachusetts than in Arizona, which is among the least expensive states in the US (cue wide-eyed emoji).
In-state tuition: $28,889
Out-of-state tuition: $31,270
Net cost: $24,045
#4. Washington, DC
There’s nothing low-priced about living blocks away from Pennsylvania Avenue, and attending college in the nation’s capital is no different. Plus, being a DC resident won’t net you much of a discount on college costs. The difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition is a mere $487.
With centrally located schools like Georgetown, American, George Washington, and Howard University, we understand why you’d shell out for college in DC.
In-state tuition: $25,358
Out-of-state tuition: $25,845
Net cost: $23,270
Between the Penn State Nittany Lions, the UPenn Quakers, and the Pittsburgh Panthers, there are plenty of good schools in Pennsylvania worth gunning for. Just be prepared to fork over some major cash.
Pennsylvania’s average net cost is $21,183—higher than Wyoming’s ($7,285) and New Mexico’s ($9,983) net costs combined.
If you’re thinking about heading over to Pennsylvania, know that you’ll pay a pretty penny—no matter your mascot.
In-state tuition: $22,391
Out-of-state tuition: $24,570
Net cost: $21,183
Indiana is the first state in our list that’s not on the East Coast. But with an average in-state tuition of $21,215 per year, Indiana holds its own among the ten states with the highest college costs.
Of course, Indiana is home to schools like Notre Dame, Purdue, and Indiana University, which cost quite a bit for both in-state and out-of-state students alike. There’s nothing quiet about this mellow midwestern state’s college tuition.
In-state tuition: $21,215
Out-of-state tuition: $24,366
Net cost: $18,634
#7. New Hampshire
It’s hard to ignore New Hampshire’s average out-of-state tuition: $25,670 is a lot of money.
When it comes to college in this New England state, a solid essay and killer SAT scores aren’t the only things you’ll need—come ready with cash to cover steep tuition and fees.
In-state tuition: $21,005
Out-of-state tuition: $25,670
Net cost: $21,408
Connecticut has several of the wealthiest cities in the country—and some of its college campuses come with similarly eyebrow-raising price tags.
In-state tuition in Connecticut costs more than both North Dakota’s ($10,148) and Wyoming’s ($8,784) out-of-state tuitions combined. Plus, with private universities like Yale in the mix, college costs in the Constitution State aren’t cheap.
In-state tuition: $20,214
Out-of-state tuition: $26,493
Net cost: $17,962
We’re just as shocked as you are to see that Iowa snagged a spot in the top ten. One possible reason is that Iowa isn’t subsidizing tuition for its residents as much as it once did.
Either way, Iowa’s net cost of $17,136 is pretty steep, especially when you compare it against, say, California’s: the Golden State’s average net cost is $16,829 even with schools as big name as UCLA and as high priced as Pepperdine.
Iowa is home to 62 colleges and universities, though.4 So if your heart is set on spending your glory years in the Corn State, at least you have options.
In-state tuition: $19,671
Out-of-state tuition: $20,868
Net cost: $17,136
#10. New York
It costs an arm and a leg to live in New York (we’ll give credit to the Big Apple for that)—and it’s no different when you’re trying to get a diploma.
New York is home to schools like Cornell and NYU that come with price tags so high you’ll rethink your bottomless mimosa brunches every Saturday morning.
The Buffalo State is also home to Columbia, the most expensive Ivy League school. We’d bet an annual tuition over $57,000 pulls New York’s overall average a little bit higher.
In-state tuition: $19,305
Out-of-state tuition: $21,153
Net cost: $17,630
The ten states with the most affordable college tuition
We have lots of good things to say about Wyoming. Between Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons, you’ll have lots of talking points if you ever want to convince your friends to take a road trip out West.
But what’s even better? There are plenty of reasons you should consider getting a degree in the Cowboy State.
Wyoming’s average in-state tuition is just $3,385—cheaper than that used car your coworker is always trying to sell you. Plus, out-of-state tuition averages only $8,784—the cheapest on the list by nearly $2,000.
In-state tuition: $3,385
Out-of-state tuition: $8,784
Net cost tuition: $7,285
#2. New Mexico
Despite its location in the wild, wild West, there’s nothing wild about New Mexico’s tuition costs. The state’s average net cost of $9,983 per year is less than half that of New Hampshire’s $21,408.
With college costs that low, we’d gladly brave the state’s scorching summers.
In-state tuition: $7,154
Out-of-state tuition: $10,695
Net cost: $9,983
#3. North Dakota
Have you considered going to college in North Dakota? If not, perhaps you should—the Roughrider State’s average in-state tuition is only $7,550 per year. That’s cheaper than the US average of $10,230 for a single year at a four-year public university.5
Even though North Dakota is known for its freezing winters, with the money you’d save on going to school there, you could buy yourself as many parkas as your heart desires.
In-state tuition: $7,550
Out-of-state tuition: $10,148
Net cost: $11,876
Just like North Dakota, Montana’s in-state tuition averages less than $8,000 per year. And just like Wyoming, Montana’s got a backyard and mountain scenery worthy of any Instagram shot. Take Glacier National Park, for example—that’s cause to head on over to Montana, and that’s before we’ve even talked numbers.
Montana’s out-of-state tuition rounds out to only $13,142, which is cheaper than the average in-state tuition of 21 other states.
In-state tuition: $7,629
Out-of-state tuition: $13,142
Net cost: $11,713
Regardless of whether you’re a die-hard Ole Miss fan, it’s hard not to root for Mississippi’s tuition costs.
Paying your bills is stressful no matter the season of life you’re in, and tuition and other college expenses can make saving for the future next to impossible. But in college—a time when you don’t always know how you’re going to make rent—net costs as low as $10,248 will cut you some major slack (and free your money up for spring break road trips and weekend excursions).
In-state tuition: $8,302
Out-of-state tuition: $10,815
Net cost: $10,248
Visiting Alaska should be on everyone’s bucket list (glaciers, the Northern Lights, Denali National Park—we could go on all day), but an average net cost of $11,735 for college might make you want to pack your bags and move there right this instant.
Plus, Alaska’s in-state tuition is $5,490 cheaper than its out-of-state tuition. If you’re already living in Alaska and are thinking of running to the lower 48, hold the phone! You’d score a major discount just by having an Alaska driver’s license.
In-state tuition: $8,789
Out-of-state tuition: $14,279
Net cost: $11,735
Arkansas might not be the first place you think of after moving your tassel to the left, but with average in-state tuition costs as low as $9,046, it should be.
Plus, Arkansas is a highly affordable place to live. So whether you’re trying to get your degree in as little time as possible or taking a few gap years in between classes, Arkansas is a cheap place to live.
In-state tuition: $9,046
Out-of-state tuition: $11,219
Net cost: $11,672
Hawaii is one of the most expensive US states to live in. And if you’ve ever seen its white sandy beaches or tried its next-level fresh fruit, you’ll understand why people pay a ton to live in paradise.
But when it comes to Hawaii’s tuition costs, they’re shockingly low. In-state tuition averages just $9,622. That said, those extras like housing and books add up—the net cost per year to attend college in the Aloha State is nearly $5,000 higher.
In general, though, Hawaii’s affordable college costs could get you in trouble: who wouldn’t want to ditch class to catch some waves? (We know we would.)
In-state tuition: $9,622
Out-of-state tuition: $14,283
Net cost: $14,126
Arizona’s summers may bring sky-high, fry-an-egg-on-a-car temperatures, but its average in-state tuition is low—$9,793 low.
To give you a sense of how affordable this is, only nine other states (out of 50 plus DC) have an average in-state tuition under $10,000. And while Arizona’s out-of-state tuition is a bit higher, it’s still relatively affordable—especially since Arizona boasts PAC-12 powerhouses like the University of Arizona and Arizona State.
In-state tuition: $9,793
Out-of-state tuition: $14,600
Net cost: $14,093
No matter your feelings on Bama football, you have to admit: Alabama’s average net cost of $13,882 is not too shabby. Plus, with an in-state tuition of $10,393, this southern state beats out Rhode Island in the affordability game by almost $20,000.
And to that we say, Roll Tide.
In-state tuition: $10,393
Out-of-state tuition: $13,996
Net cost: $13,882
Let’s get you on your way!
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How did your state stack up against the rest? Let us know in the comments section below!
To get the average tuition cost for each state, we looked at schools that met the following criteria:
- Offer bachelor’s and graduate degrees
- Offer in-person learning (i.e., are not “distance-education” only)
- Operate on an academic year (i.e., do not have open enrollment)
From there, we compared each state’s in-state and out-of-state tuition. We also looked at the net cost to attend college in each state. This is the total cost of attendance for a first-year, full-time student, including in-state tuition and fees; books and supplies; and living expenses (minus the average grant or scholarship aid amount—which can actually bump your net cost below the advertised tuition rate).
Complete data set
|Ranking||State||In-state tuition||Out-of-state tuition||Net cost|
|4||District of Columbia||$25,358||$25,845||$23,270|
|State||In-state tuition||Out-of-state tuition||Net cost|
|District of Columbia||$25,358||$25,845||$23,270|