25 Most Expensive Colleges in 2023

March 21, 2023

most expensive colleges

In 1950, the University of Pennsylvania charged $600 per year to attend—roughly $6,000 in 2023 money. Today, Penn’s annual cost of attendance is over $83,000. By 1960, most private institutions charged an annual fee of $1,500–$2,000, which equates to $12,000–$16,000 today. In the current marketplace, a $50,000 annual tuition is considered “reasonable.” This is hardly just a private school phenomenon. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s current in-state tuition/fees cost of $9k is one of the best bargains in all of higher education. Of course, that pales in comparison to the in-state tuition of thirty years ago—only $504 per year. (No, that’s not a typo). Before we reveal the 25 Most Expensive Colleges, let’s quickly provide some further context by addressing the elephant in the room.

Why is College so Expensive in 2023?

Here’s an attempt at a concise answer to a complex issue: public universities are more expensive today in large part because the majority of U.S. states don’t provide nearly the same level of funding that they did at the dawn of the millennium. For private schools, the culprit is a more amorphous medley of increased administrative costs, market forces, and a lack of relation between the sticker price and what consumers actually pay.

That last point is most important when viewing a list of the 25 Most Expensive Colleges. In truth, this list is not (entirely) a car wreck to elicit reader rubbernecking or a pillory in written form, intended to publicly shame a select group of institutions. The reality is that most of the schools on this list are among the most generous with financial aid in the entire country. To varying degrees, the well-endowed universities profiled succeed in helping make school affordable for growing numbers of economically-disadvantaged and first-generation students.

How we Calculated the Most Expensive Colleges

The majority of “Most Expensive Colleges” lists you’ll find online solely look at tuition costs. While somewhat useful, these resources fail to capture the complete picture. After all, tuition is only one item on an often much larger bill. A more complete way to examine the true cost of a particular institution is to consider the cost of attendance. The cost of attendance figure covers tuition, fees, housing, food, books, and sometimes items like transportation and personal expenses.

All of the tuition numbers are for the 2022-23 school year unless otherwise noted. While some 2023-24 figures have been released, we opted to use the previous year’s figures for consistency of comparison.

25 Most Expensive Colleges in 2023

1) Northwestern University

The networks you will gain at Northwestern are likely to end up paying career dividends many decades down the road. A fantastic 44% of undergraduates do receive financial aid and the university meets 100% of demonstrated need.

2) University of Pennsylvania

Penn meets 100% of demonstrated need for all eligible students, awarding annual grants averaging $54k. Even if you are required to pay the full sticker price, Penn’s starting salaries are such that even substantial loans will not be crippling to the vast majority of grads.

3) Brown University

For the current students who receive need-based grants, 100% of their demonstrated need will be covered. That equates to an average grant of more than $57,000 per year. Despite the cost, Brown is the type of school worth its hefty price tag.

4) University of Chicago

If you are among the 36% of current UChicago students who qualify for financial aid, then you are in luck. The school covers 100% of demonstrated need, which leads to an average annual grant of $57k.

5) Reed College

Over 50% of Reed students do qualify for need-based aid and receive average annual aid packages of $52k. Undoubtedly, the academic experience here is uniquely wonderful and a perfect fit for a certain type of budding intellectual. Yet, if you don’t qualify for need-based aid and don’t come from a wealthy family, you would have to make sure that the $300,000+ bill for tuition would make sense as part of your life plan.

  • Tuition & Fees: $62,730
  • Full COA: $82,660

Most Expensive Colleges (Continued)

6) Georgetown University

Like many similarly elite institutions, it is more focused on providing sizable grants to those with true financial need. More than one-third of enrolled undergrads receive need-based aid and Georgetown meets 100% of demonstrated need, which works out to an average annual grant of roughly $50k.

7) Wesleyan University

A tiny percentage of students receive substantial merit aid, but it is need-based aid that rules the day at Wes as all qualifying students have 100% of their demonstrated need accounted for. The average grant for those individuals is $60,000.

8) Harvey Mudd College

About 70% of students receive some type of financial aid and the average award is $44k; last year, 17% of freshmen qualified for merit awards. As a result, HMC helps many students from lower- and middle-income families attend the school.

  • Tuition & Fees: $62,817
  • Full COA: $82,236

9) Yale University

Thanks to a $42 billion endowment, every single student who qualifies for need-based aid sees 100% of that need met by the university. The average grant is $65k, significantly reducing the sticker price cost of attendance

10) Wellesley College

Our last school in the top 10 most expensive colleges and, even at an $81,000 annual cost of attendance, Wellesley is unquestionably worth the investment. You won’t receive merit aid from this school, but 57% of the student population does receive need-based aid, and 100% of that group sees their need fully met. That translates to an average need-based grant of $60k.

  • Tuition & Fees: $61,920
  • Full COA: $82,090

11) Wake Forest

Wake Forest only awards need-based aid to 25% of its undergraduates, a low number compared to other top schools, but when it does offer aid, it does it right. Ninety-seven percent see their full demonstrated need met for an average annual grant of $56k.

13) Tufts University

Only 43% of current undergrads qualify for need-based aid, and the average annual grant is for just under $53k. Even if you have to make an economic sacrifice to attend, Tufts is a school that will expose you to many personal and professional networks that will come in handy as you enter the world of graduate school or employment.

13) Columbia University

All qualifying students at Columbia receive an aid package that meets 100% of their demonstrated need and averages over $61,000. Columbia does not offer any degree of merit aid, so those without financial need will end up paying the full annual cost of attendance

14) Dartmouth College

The Class of 2025 received an average annual scholarship award of $69k, a figure that meets 100% of every single student’s demonstrated financial need. Big Green is unlikely to cost you large amounts of green unless you can comfortably afford it. For that reason, coupled with the stellar postgraduate outcomes you would expect from an Ivy, Dartmouth is, without question, worth the high price.

15) University of Southern California

Nearly two-thirds of current undergrads receive some form of financial aid and all students who qualify for need-based grants see their need fully met. Further, many USC grads go on to lucrative careers that are enhanced by the school’s employer/graduate school connections as well as those of the well-connected alumni base.

Most Expensive Colleges (Continued)

16) Washington University in St. Louis

A fairly standard (in the world of elite private colleges) $80k list price cost of attendance greets WashU freshmen. Undergrads who qualify for financial aid see 100% of that amount met by the university, which averages out to $55k in grant money each academic year.

17) Haverford College

Haverford meets 100% of demonstrated need for those who qualify. The total average annual grant is almost $58,000 and is given to 44% of attending students, helping make the school affordable for those not in the highest income brackets.

  • Tuition & Fees: $63,348
  • Full COA: $81,522

18) Vassar College

54% of the undergraduate student population qualifies for aid, and the school meets 100% of the demonstrated need for all students. That translates to an average grant of over $51k, making Vassar an incredibly affordable institution for those from less advantageous economic circumstances.

  • Tuition & Fees: $64,800
  • Full COA: $81,280

19) Tulane University

Don’t let the official cost of attendance make you think that Tulane is beyond your financial reach because a large percentage of students receive a discount in the form of merit or need-based aid that brings that sum down to a more reasonable level. In fact, on average, Tulane covers $40k in the form of grants to the average need-eligible student.

20) Southern Methodist University

Rounding out the top 20 most expensive colleges is SMU. This university meets 86% of demonstrated financial need and is generous with merit scholarships, giving an average of $31k to all first-years who qualify. In total, 72% of all undergrads receive some level of grant or scholarship.

  • Tuition & Fees: $61,980
  • Full COA: $81,074

21) Franklin and Marshall College

If you are among the 58% of undergraduates who demonstrate financial need, in which case you see 100% of your financial need met. The average grant is more than $52,000. Merit-based aid is not offered at F&M.

  • Tuition & Fees: $65,844
  • Full COA: $80,811

22) Oberlin College

Oberlin is in the exclusive club of colleges that meets 100% of all undergraduates’ demonstrated need. Last year, the school administered some form of aid to 80% of undergrads with an average grant of $32,000.

  • Tuition & Fees: $61,965
  • Full COA: $80,705

23) Barnard College

Those on the lower end of the income scale see 100% of their demonstrated need paid for by the college through an annual grant of $51k. Thanks to this equitable process, the average debt carried by a Barnard graduate is far less than the average college graduate.

24) Boston College

BC awards healthy amounts of financial aid to those unable to pay full freight as eligible undergraduates receive more than $50,000 per year, making the cost far more palatable. The university meets 100% of demonstrated need.

25) Pitzer College

Pitzer has notably generous financial aid as just below 40% of undergraduates received an average annual package of $44k, meeting 100% of students’ demonstrated need. While median salaries are on the low side, being part of the world-renowned Claremont Consortium allows access to premier facilities and professors and opens doors to the most competitive grad schools, fellowships, and, should you choose, major corporations.

  • Tuition & Fees: $60,578
  • Full COA: $80,558

Colleges that Just Missed the 25 Most Expensive Colleges List

What’s the difference in impact on your wallet/loan documents between $80,000 and $79,000? Probably not much! As such, below is a list of schools with a COA just shy of $80k and missed our lines by the cost of a textbook or two.

Johns Hopkins University, George Washington University, Pomona College, Connecticut College, Claremont McKenna College, Scripps College, Middlebury College, Union College, Cornell University, Amherst College, Pepperdine University, and Colgate University.

Final Thoughts – The 25 Most Expensive Colleges

Remember, the list price of a given college is rarely what you actually pay. Further, investing in a college that produces higher-earning graduates may be an optimal move. Contrarily, paying top dollar for a school with fewer resources and poor graduate outcomes can be catastrophic. While a list of the most expensive colleges can be a useful tool in orienting yourself to the market, it should only be the first step of a deeper and more nuanced college search.