How Much Does College Cost?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn more about how to determine the total cost of attending college so you're better prepared to finance your education.

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The cost of college usually refers to what you will pay each year in tuition and fees. During the 2022-2023 academic year, a four-year public institution cost $10,940 (for an in-state student) and a four-year private institution cost $39,400 in the United States [1].

However, there are many factors that go into attending college to earn your bachelor’s degree, such as housing, meal plans, health insurance, and books. Due to these variables, it’s often best to understand the cost of attendance rather than look solely at the cost of tuition and fees alone. 

In this article, we'll discuss how you can learn more about the costs associated with an undergraduate degree, how you can reduce your overall cost, and how to determine whether college is worth the cost for you. 

What is the total cost of college? 

Many colleges and universities offer two different ways to understand the total cost of college: cost of tuition and cost of attendance. While tuition and fees look at the academic charges you’ll need to pay to take classes, cost of attendance looks at the entire picture. 

Your specific cost of attendance will depend on where you go to school, the type of housing you choose (on-campus vs. off-campus), whether or not you participate in a campus meal plan, and more.  

Cost of attendance typically includes:

  • Tuition 

  • Fees

  • Books and materials 

  • Housing (room and board)

  • Meal plans

  • Health insurance 

  • Parking pass or transportation expenses

  • Additional living expenses (cell phone, entertainment, etc.)

Basic college expenses

Colleges and universities now outline what they charge per academic year for tuition and fees as well as on-campus room and board. In-state students tend to pay less than out-of-state students, and public institutions tend to cost less than private ones. Below, you’ll find the average annual college costs for the 2022-2023 academic year in the US: 

Tuition and feesRoom and board
Two year in-state$3,860$9,610
Four year in-state$10,940$12,310
Four year out-of-state$28,240$12,310

*All data from College Board

On-campus housing typically includes utilities and internet. As you set about comparing different colleges and universities, you should also research what they charge for annual health insurance, meal plans, and parking or transportation passes. 

  • Health insurance is mandatory at most institutions in the US. However, you can submit a waiver proving that you have health insurance through your family or a third party and avoid that fee.

  • The average price of a college meal plan is $450 per month and includes breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, though many institutions offer ways to tailor plans to meet your needs [2].

  • The amount you’ll spend on books and materials, like notebooks, will depend on your course requirements. The average student spends between $628 and $1,471 each year on books and supplies [3]. 

Additional college expenses

Beyond those costs, think about your lifestyle. What additional bills might you be responsible for, such as your cell phone plan or car insurance? How much would you comfortably need each month?

Even if you have a campus meal plan, will you eat out occasionally? And how much might you spend on entertainment? Understanding your personal expenses can help you build a useful budget for living expenses, which will feed into your cost of college.  

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How to calculate your annual cost of college

Many colleges and universities provide a sample budget worksheet so you can estimate what your expenses will be. You can find this information by searching for your school’s name and “cost of attendance" or "student budget."  

Your lifestyle will ultimately determine how much money you spend per month and on what categories. Below, we've compiled a sample budget to show what annual and monthly costs a first-year student living on campus might expect.

Annual expenses related to educationCost
Tuition & fees$10,940
Books & supplies$1,226
On-campus housing$12,310
Monthly expenses related to educationCost
Meal plan$450
Health insurance$125
Parking pass or transportation pass$52
Monthly expenses related to livingCost
Car insurance$320
Cell phone$75

5 ways to reduce the overall cost of college

There are several ways to reduce the overall cost of college. Let’s review your potential options. 

1. Financial aid 

If you’re a US citizen or permanent resident and you plan on attending an accredited school in the US, Canada, or approved territory, you can submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is due by June 30 each year. FAFSA determines your eligibility for financial assistance and may offer you grants, scholarships, work-study opportunities, or federal student loans. 

Learn more: What Is Accreditation: Guide to Accreditation and Alternatives

2. Part-time work

Many students work part-time while going to college to help cover some of the costs associated with attendance. Whether taking a paid internship or working on-campus in some capacity, it can be beneficial to develop important professional experience, which you can use to transition into a full-time job after college. 

Learn more: Jobs to Pay for College

3. Early graduation 

The longer it takes to finish your degree, the more you will end up paying for college. While undergraduate degrees are designed to be completed in four or five years, a growing percentage of students are taking longer to graduate, which can add to the overall total cost. There are ways to shorten the amount of time it takes to earn your degree, including taking advantage of summer semesters, transferring any high school AP courses for credit, and more. Learn more about how to earn college credits faster

4. Community college

The first two years of your four-year degree program will involve working through several required general courses to broaden your knowledge before you begin focusing on your major. Some students opt to complete their first two years at a community college, earning their associate degree before transferring to a four-year school. 

Community colleges often offer in-state students more affordable rates in terms of tuition, and in many states, certain community colleges are free for qualifying students. While not widely available, some community colleges have also started offering bachelor’s degrees in specific subjects, which may be more affordable than a four-year college or university. 

5. Online degree programs

Online learning has never been so abundant. In addition to the growing number of online colleges, more brick-and-mortar institutions now offer online bachelor’s degree options in several majors. Because these programs and schools do not have the same overhead that in-person learning often requires, they often cost less to attend. Thanks to the flexible schedule and self-paced nature of learning, you may also find it easier to work part- or full-time around your studies. 

On Coursera, you can enroll in open courses that stack into degree programs to help you decide whether the program is right for you. Many certificates and courses come with ACE Credit Recommendation, meaning you can earn a recommendation of college credits for completing the program that may transfer to an accepting college or university. 

Learn more: 10 Surprising Benefits of Online Learning

Is the cost of college worth it?

Mounting student loan debt in recent decades has led many to question whether college is worth it. Many students use student loans to finance their education. In 2020, 55 percent of students graduated with student debt [3]. Earning a bachelor’s degree can require a great deal of time and money, and may not always be the best choice for every individual. However, there are many long-term benefits to attending college: 

Lifetime earnings

Bachelor’s degree holders earn more on a weekly basis than high school graduates and associate degree holders [4]. Taken over the course of a lifetime, that difference adds up. The journal Demography published a study in 2015 that showed men with a bachelor’s degree earned nearly $1 million more than high school graduates. Women with a bachelor’s degree made less than men. However, they still grossed much more than high school graduates: $1.43 million compared to $800,000 [5]. 

High-paying jobs

Many high-paying jobs require a bachelor’s degree. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, just over 24 percent of jobs require bachelor's degrees, and that number is expected to grow by eight percent over the next decade [6].

What's more, the degree can signal to potential employers the time you’ve taken to acquire important subject knowledge while refining important technical and workplace skills.

Career advancement

While attitudes about needing a bachelor’s degree for an entry-level job have slowly been changing, leading a growing number of companies to do away with the requirement, the credential can be helpful when it comes to career advancement. As you pursue senior and managerial roles, employers may expect to see a bachelor’s degree.  

Learn more: Is a Bachelor’s Degree Worth It?

Explore further 

Learn more about affordable and flexible online bachelor’s degrees options from respected universities on Coursera. Bachelor's degree programs on Coursera are designed to help you transfer credits you've already earned and complete your undergrad degree on a faster timeline. Sign up for an information session today to learn more.  

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Article sources


College Board. “Trends in College Pricing 2022,” Accessed June 1, 2023.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.