The 20 Cheapest Universities in the US for International Students – 2023
June 13, 2023
Colleges in the United States offer international students the opportunity to study at well-respected institutions among diverse student bodies. While higher education in the US is a worthy investment for many international students, it isn’t always affordable. International students can pay $32,000-$60,000 annually to attend college in the United States. Moreover, financial aid opportunities are often more limited for international students, since they are not eligible for the federal financial aid that many US citizens utilize. However, hope is not lost for international applicants. In this post, we have identified some of the cheapest universities in the US for international students that make higher education more accessible.
What do we mean by the “cheapest” universities?
It would be easy to assemble a list of the cheapest colleges in the US strictly based on tuition costs. However, that list would reflect only one aspect of a university’s offerings. In this post, we’ve elected to do things a little differently, selecting universities that balance affordability with well-regarded academic programs. While we have ranked the universities on this list according to the cost of tuition and fees, we want to acknowledge that it is impossible to craft a precise or objective ranking of colleges. Schools on this list vary in cost, but they all offer excellent academic programs. For this reason, it’s important for applicants to do ample research to determine which universities best fit their academic, social, and cultural preferences, as well as their financial needs.
We also recognize that “affordable” is a relative term. In this post, we have selected colleges where tuition for international students is below the national average. According to Melanie Hanson with the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of tuition for out-of-state or non-resident students at public colleges in the US is $27,279. In contrast, the average cost of tuition at private nonprofit universities is $37,641. Therefore, the average tuition that an international student might pay at public or private universities is $32,460. Thus, for the purposes of this list, we’re defining “cheap” or “affordable” colleges as those where tuition costs are below $32,460 annually. Accordingly, we have listed our selections for the cheapest universities in the US for international students from least to most expensive based on annual tuition and fees.
Tuition vs. the Total Cost of College
In this post, we identify some of the cheapest universities in the US for international students based on tuition. However, it’s important to note that tuition and fees do not represent the total cost of a college education. Beyond tuition, applicants should research their estimated living expenses, including the cost of living on or off campus, dining plans, and the cost of textbooks and other instructional materials. This is where location will play a significant role, as universities in metropolitan areas may be more expensive to attend than colleges in suburban or rural areas due to the increased cost of living. In addition, prospective students will need to account for costs such as health insurance, visa fees, and transportation. Most colleges will provide a net price calculator to help prospective students estimate their expenses.
Some colleges in the United States engage in need-blind admissions, wherein admission officers evaluate applicants without considering their families’ financial status or ability to afford tuition. While quite a few universities engage in need-blind admissions for in-state applicants, very few do so for international students. Even fewer conduct need-blind admissions and meet the full financial needs of international students through financial aid. In fact, only five colleges in the US fall into this category, including Amherst College, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, and Yale. These schools are, of course, some of the most prestigious and highly selective universities in the country. While their financial aid practices arguably make these schools some of the most affordable in the United States, their high degree of selectivity makes securing admission extremely difficult. For this reason, we have omitted these colleges from our list of the cheapest universities in the US.
The 20 Cheapest Universities in the US for International Students
Now that we have clarified some of the variables that can impact the cost of higher education, we can focus on our selections for the cheapest colleges in the US for international students. Our choices are ordered from least to most expensive based on the cost of tuition and fees. This means that colleges ranked higher are generally more affordable than those lower on the list.
1) Western Carolina University
- Tuition and Fees: $8,285
- Acceptance Rate: 79%
Western Carolina University is a public university located in Cullowhee, North Carolina, in the Appalachian Mountains. As part of the NC Promise plan, Western Carolina is able to provide significant tuition savings for both in-state and out-of-state students, making it one of the cheapest colleges in the US for international students. Moreover, Western Carolina offers a variety of academic programs in fields such as education, nursing, and forensic science. WCU’s mountainous setting also makes it an ideal choice for applicants who love the outdoors, as many students engage in recreational activities such as hiking and biking.
2) The University of South Dakota
- Tuition and Fees: $12,942
- Acceptance Rate: 87%
The University of South Dakota is a public research university located in Vermillion, South Dakota. As the state’s flagship university, it houses South Dakota’s only law and medical schools. It also offers undergraduates a liberal arts education at an affordable price. Popular majors include nursing, elementary education, and sports management, among many others.
3) California State University, Long Beach
- Tuition and Fees: $17,304
- Acceptance Rate: 47%
California State University, Long Beach is a public research university within the California State University system. CSULB has long had a great reputation for its affordability, as well as its academic programs in areas such as agriculture, life sciences, and media. For more information on the California State University system and the colleges it comprises, check out our blog post.
4) The University of South Florida
- Tuition and Fees: $17,324
- Acceptance Rate: 49%
The University of South Florida is a public research university in Tampa, Florida. USF offers a variety of academic pathways for students to pursue, including their highly regarded programs in criminal justice, informational technology, and public health. Beyond academics, USF prides itself on its diverse student body, which includes students from 146 countries. USF also demonstrates their commitment to diversity by offering several scholarships for international students.
5) San Jose State University
- Tuition and Fees: $17,356
- Acceptance Rate: 84%
San Jose State University (SJSU) is a public university in San Jose, California. As the founding campus within the California State University system, SJSU is situated in Silicon Valley. This location makes it an excellent choice for prospective engineering and computer science majors. After enjoying the savings of attending one of the cheapest universities in the US, many alumni go on to work for Fortune 500 companies in the Silicon Valley area.
6) Florida State University
- Tuition and Fees: $18,796
- Acceptance: 23.7%
Florida State University is a public research university in Tallahassee, Florida. Well known for its athletic and research programs, FSU has undergone significant growth in recent years, heightening its selectivity. Popular majors include finance and criminal justice, as well as limited access majors like communication and motion picture arts. FSU also awards tuition waivers to some international students, which can further reduce tuition costs. For more information on FSU admissions, check out our blog post.
7) Minnesota State University, Mankato
- Tuition and Fees: $18,812. Applicants should note that all first-year international students are awarded the International Maverick Scholarship, which reduces tuition to $11,112.
- Acceptance Rate: 69%
Minnesota State University, Mankato is a public university that offers over 130 areas of study for undergraduates. The university’s popular majors include business administration and nursing. It also has the only accredited aviation program in Minnesota, allowing students to pursue disciplines such as airport management. In addition to its academics, the university has a well-respected LBGT Center. In fact, it was named one of the most LGBT-friendly universities by The Advocate.
Cheapest Colleges in USA (Continued)
8) The University of Kansas
- Tuition and Fees: $26,960
- Acceptance Rate: 92%
The University of Kansas is a public research university located in Lawrence, Kansas. Well known for its athletic programs, particularly the men’s basketball team, the University of Kansas offers students a choice of over 190 different majors, including several accelerated degrees for students hoping to earn both their bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Conversely, students who are undecided can select an exploratory pathway to help them find their niche. Perhaps most excitingly, the University of Kansas offers a range of scholarships for international applicants. These opportunities and the University’s low tuition make it one of the cheapest colleges in the US for international students.
9) The University of Florida
- Tuition and Fees: $28,660
- Acceptance Rate: 30%
The University of Florida is a public university in Gainesville, Florida. Enrolling over 60,000 students, the University of Florida is one of the largest colleges in the United States. Popular majors include engineering, business, and biological and biomedical sciences. The university is also a major scholarly force that surpassed one billion dollars in research expenditures in 2022. More information on the University of Florida’s admissions is available on our blog.
10) Stony Brook University
- Tuition and Fees: $28,992
- Acceptance Rate: 48%
Located 60 miles from New York City, Stony Brook is a public research university within the State University of New York system. The university offers over 200 undergraduate programs, with many students gravitating toward biology, psychology, and health sciences majors. For more information on Stony Brook University’s admissions, check out our blog post. International applicants should also note that other SUNY colleges are also among the cheapest universities in the US. They include Binghamton University and the University at Buffalo.
11) Iowa State University
- Tuition and Fees: $29,523
- Acceptance Rate: 91%
Located in Ames, Iowa, Iowa State University of Science and Technology is a public research university. Iowa State offers over 100 majors for undergraduates to choose from. However, as a land-grant university, it is particularly well known for its agriculture and forestry programs. The university also has well-regarded programs in statistics and architecture. In addition, Iowa State is home to several high-profile laboratories. These include Ames Laboratory, one of ten laboratories for the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Biorenewables Research Laboratory.
12) The University of Oklahoma
- Tuition and Fees: $30,368
- Acceptance Rate: 85%
The University of Oklahoma is a public research university in Norman, Oklahoma. OU has over 170 majors, including programs in meteorology, international business, and energy management. Reflecting the history and influence of Native American culture at the university, OU also offers a Native American Studies program. At OU, international applicants may also be eligible for merit-based scholarships. These opportunities help make it one of the cheapest universities in the US for international students.
13) Howard University
- Tuition and Fees: $31,050
- Acceptance Rate: 35%
Howard University is a private, historically black research university located in Washington, D.C. While the university offers a broad range of academic programs, popular majors include biology, political science, and public relations. In an effort to support diversity and inclusion within STEM, the university also launched the Karsh STEM Scholars program, which encourages students from underrepresented minorities to pursue careers and advanced degrees within STEM fields.
14) Purdue University
- Tuition and Fees: $31,104
- Acceptance Rate: 67%
Purdue University is a public research university in West Lafayette, Indiana. Offering more than 200 undergraduate majors, Purdue is particularly known for its engineering programs, including its School of Aeronautics. The university also has a large international student population, the fourth largest of any public university in the United States. Additional information about Purdue University admissions is available on our blog.
15) The University of Georgia
- Tuition and Fees: $31,120
- Acceptance Rate: 35%
The University of Georgia is a public research university located in Athens, Georgia. As a land and sea grant university, UGA promotes its agricultural programs, including the United States’ first School of Ecology. UGA also offers many other popular degree programs, including finance, computer science, and psychology. In addition to excellent academics, UGA students enjoy the university’s robust athletics program and the cost savings it facilitates as one of the cheapest universities in the US for international students. Want more information on UGA admissions? Check out our blog post.
16) The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
- Tuition and Fees: $31,664
- Acceptance Rate: 75%
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville is a public university and the flagship campus of the University of Tennessee system. Nestled in the Appalachian region, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville provides undergraduate students with over 360 degree options. Some of the university’s nationally ranked programs include nuclear engineering, supply chain management, and accounting. Beyond academics, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville is well known for its athletic programs, including their women’s basketball team, which has the second-highest number of NCAA championships.
17) NC State University
- Tuition and Fees: $31,980
- Acceptance Rate: 47%
NC State is a public research university located in Raleigh, North Carolina. Alongside Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill, NC State forms North Carolina’s Research Triangle, which houses a growing number of science and technology firms. Not surprisingly, NC State is well known for its STEM majors, particularly engineering and statistics. The university also houses well-respected programs in design and textiles. For more information on NC State admissions, check out our blog.
Cheapest Colleges in USA (Continued)
18) The University of Alabama
- Tuition and Fees: $32,260
- Acceptance Rate: 79%
Located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the University of Alabama is a public research university. The University of Alabama offers over 70 academic pathways for undergraduates to explore. Like many public research universities, the University of Alabama is generally considered to be an affordable option for higher education. However, one thing that sets it apart, and makes it one of the cheapest colleges in the US for international students, are the variety of scholarships available for international applicants. The university is a great fit for applicants seeking a traditional college experience in the United States, given the strong influence of Greek life and athletics on campus, as well as its excellent academic opportunities. For more information on admissions at the University of Alabama, check out our blog post.
19) James Madison University
- Tuition and Fees: $32,300
- Acceptance Rate: 86%
James Madison University is a public research university based in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Boasting over 130 academic programs, JMU offers students a multitude of pathways to explore. Situated in the Shenandoah Valley, JMU offers students the best of both worlds through Harrisonburg’s beautiful scenery and proximity to Washington D.C.
20) The University of Iowa
- Tuition and Fees: $32,316
- Acceptance Rate: 86%
The University of Iowa is a public research university in Iowa City. Known for its excellence in both the arts and the sciences, the University of Iowa, fittingly, has both a well-respected medical school and writing program, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. With over 200 academic programs, the University of Iowa provides students with plentiful opportunities for academic exploration, as well as the social and recreational opportunities that come with living in one of the best college towns in the country.
Cheapest Universities in the US for International Students: Final Thoughts
As this post demonstrates, there are numerous affordable options for international students wishing to study in the United States. Many colleges understand and appreciate how international students enrich their campus communities. As a result, some colleges are actively working to make education more affordable for international applicants through scholarship opportunities. However, no ranking can objectively identify the best school for any one student. For that reason, it is important that all students, including international applicants, conduct ample research to identify schools that best align with their academic interests and financial needs.
These statements also hold true for US-based students wishing to study internationally. If you’re a student in the US and are considering studying abroad, check out the following Dataverse items:
- Top Universities in Canada
- Top Universities in the United Kingdom
- Top Universities in Ireland
- Top Universities in Australia