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What is the Average Cost of College Tuition?

May 13, 2019 · 5 minute read

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What is the Average Cost of College Tuition?

You’ve dreamt of heading off to college for ages. For years you’ve spent countless hours studying, writing, and completing practice problems to prepare for your classes and standardized tests.

You aced your SATs and have submitted all of your applications. Now that you’re just inches away from your goal, the reality is starting to set in—you’ll have to figure out how to pay for your college education. So, how much does college cost?

The Average Cost of College

It’s no secret that college is expensive. The cost of tuition has been steadily increasing for decades. When it comes to four year colleges and universities, the statistics typically break down between two types—public and private.

According to the College Board, the average cost of attending a four year college as an in-state student at a public university during the 2018-19 school year was $10,230 . As an out-of-state student attending a public four year college, the average rose to $26,290 . The average cost of attending a private four year institution was $35,830 .

The cost of tuition can be a major factor in determining which school students commit to. According to the 2018 Sallie Mae survey “How America Values College ,” more than 75% of families weighed cost and affordability as part of their college selection process.

Expenses Beyond Tuition

Even with that large price tag, tuition and fees only cover a portion of your expenses in college. Tuition and fees, typically, are the price you pay for taking classes at college. Depending on how many credit hours you take and the types of classes you enroll in, this number may change. Some colleges charge “comprehensive fees” which reflect the total for tuition, fees, and room and board.

Other colleges and universities charge room and board separately from tuition and fees. The cost of room and board typically accounts for the cost of housing (i.e., a dorm room or on-campus apartment) and the cost of the meal plan.

The cost will vary depending on the type of housing accommodations you live in and the type of meal plan you choose. Housing can be another determining factor for students. According to the same 2018 Sallie Mae survey , 77% of college students selected a college in their home state and 37% live at home or with relatives to save on housing costs.

On top of those expenses, don’t forget to budget for books and supplies. The average college student attending a four-year college spends over $1,200 on textbooks and supplies over the course of the year.

Transportation is another major category of expenses for college students. Will you have a car on campus? If so, plan to pay for gas, insurance, and a parking permit. How often do you plan to go home? Will a trip to visit your family require airfare?

Then there are any additional personal expenses like eating out, laundry, or the cost of a cell phone bill. To get an idea of how much you’ll actually spend every month, you could review your current spending.

Consider sitting down with your parents, an older sibling, or trusted friend who has already navigated their first year of college to get an idea of the types of expenses you may encounter.

Paying for College

There are, of course, options available to help you finance your education. If you’re planning on going to college for the first time, or returning for further education, make sure you look into the following:

First Thing’s First: The FAFSA

A common first step for students interested in securing financial aid is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Aid form, commonly referred to as FAFSAⓇ. To qualify for federal aid you must meet some basic eligibility criteria , such as demonstrating financial need.

As you get ready to apply, pay attention to deadlines, as they can vary by school and state. After you fill out the FAFSA, you’ll receive an award letter detailing the type of aid you qualify for. This may include scholarships and grants, work-study, and/or federal student loans.

Planning ahead is one way to set yourself up to successfully pay for college. If you’re not quite ready to fill out the FAFSA yet, you can use the FAFSA4caster to get an idea of how much aid you might qualify for.

Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships and grants can be immensely helpful when it comes to paying for college since it’s money that doesn’t need to be repaid. In addition to filing the FAFSA, you could check to see if there are any other scholarship opportunities for which you may qualify. There are also online resources and databases that compile different scholarship opportunities.

The federal work-study program offers another form of aid that can help students pay for college. If you are offered work-study as part of your financial aid award, you may still have to find your own employment at your university. Check with your school’s financial aid office to find out if your school participates and whether they will place you or if they have a work-study job board.

Student Loans

Student loans offer another avenue for students to finance their college education. Unlike scholarships and grants however, student loans must be repaid. There are two umbrellas when it comes to student loans—federal and private.

Federal student loans are offered through the Department of Education via the Direct Loan program . Federal loans can be either subsidized or unsubsidized . With a subsidized loan, borrowers won’t be responsible for paying the interest that accrues on the loan while they are actively enrolled in school at least half-time. With an unsubsidized loan, borrowers are responsible for paying the accrued interest during all periods.

Whether subsidized or unsubsidized, you generally won’t be required to make payments until after you’ve graduated (or drop below half-time) and your grace period has lapsed.

Most grace periods for federal loans are six months. Interest rates on federal student loans are set by the government (and have been since July 1, 2006) and are fixed for the life of the loan. If you qualify to borrow federal student loans, it will be noted as part of your financial aid award.

Federal loans aren’t guaranteed to cover your undergraduate or graduate school tuition costs. In fact, there are limits to the amount of federal loans you can take out each year—for example, in your first year of undergrad, dependent students are currently only allowed to take out $5,500 in federal loans. Sometimes students turn to private student loans to fill in the gaps.

Private student loans are offered by lenders, credit unions, or other financial institutions. Terms and conditions of a private student loan are set by the individual lender.

Private lenders will likely review your credit history and other financial factors in order to determine what type of loan you may qualify for. If you apply with a cosigner, private student loan lenders will look at their financial background as well, which might include things like their credit score and current income.

While federal student loans come with fixed interest rates, private student loans can have fixed or variable interest rates. Variable interest rates may start lower than fixed rates, but they rise and fall in accordance to current market rates.

Considering SoFi’s Private Student Loans

Of course, private student loans aren’t going to be the right choice for every student. If they seem like the right idea for you, SoFi’s private student loans might be worth considering.

SoFi private student loans have no fees—that means no late fees or origination fees—and the application process is entirely online, even if you need to add a cosigner.

Learn more about financing your education with SoFi private student loans.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

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SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp. or an affiliate (dba SoFi), a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law, license # 6054612; NMLS # 1121636 . For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.


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