Rising Cost of a Bachelor’s Degree: Is It Worth the Investment?


A bachelor's degree represents a financial-gaining degree, but the graduates pay for it in various ways. Higher education in the United States got out of hand six decades ago.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, when adjusted to inflation, the average annual tuition and fees rose more than three times from $5,369 in 1963 to $17,709 in the 2023 academic year-a far higher rate than inflation. That alone is tuition. Added to that figure, students have to add books, supplies, food, and housing which take a lot on the overall cost of education.

Rising Cost of a Bachelor’s Degree: Is It Worth the Investment?

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The True Cost of College

Factoring in all expenses, these four-year degree bills total staggering numbers. One rough estimate from Self Financial pegged it at more than $500,000 for four years at Columbia. Columbia University lists a total cost of attendance of $89,587 for this academic year, which factors in tuition and housing. That total will rise even further for students opting to live off-campus or study in New York City.

Self Financial evaluated the total cost of obtaining a bachelor's degree at different schools by considering tuition, fees, and localized cost-of-living data. This included the average expenses for food and rent specific to each location. Its findings report that the top ten most expensive schools in the US have a total four-year cost of more than $440,000. Here are the top ten:

  1. Columbia University, New York: $514,442
  2. New York University, New York: $497,402
  3. Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.: $472,817
  4. Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts: $472,027
  5. California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California: $458,330
  6. University of Southern California, Los Angeles: $457,650
  7. University of Chicago, Chicago: $455,257
  8. George Washington University, Washington, D.C.: $454,377
  9. Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut: $451,516
  10. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts: $441,948

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Financial Aid and Scholarships

These are big numbers, but, importantly, each of these highly selective institutions lists a stickier price that few students will actually pay. A disproportionate number of the most expensive schools are private colleges and universities, even though many offer generous financial aid and scholarship packets to curry favor with accepted applicants, slashing the price for many of them.

At Harvard University, the average annual cost for a student receiving financial aid is $19,500. That is significantly lower than what some public universities charge, such as the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, whose average cost for students getting aid is $21,846 annually, according to the Education Department data from College Scorecard. The figures demonstrate that financial aid can make even an overly-expensive private college more affordable than many public institutions.

Smart Financial Choices

The real cost of college varies greatly depending on many factors: the institution, financial aid, and where your spending habits are. The decisions you make about living arrangements, bringing a car, and where to buy books can significantly affect your expenses. Prospective college students should research thoroughly now to make informed financial choices later.

While a bachelor's degree may be expensive, very high returns can be obtained in the long run. A degree from one of these prestigious institutions would serve to open highly lucrative job opportunities and thereby give good value for the money invested. Therefore, one needs to carefully consider all the fees and look out for funds that help make higher education within reach.

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