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Top 10 Most Expensive Colleges In America: Are They Worth It?

The 10 most expensive colleges in America could end up costing you a quarter of a million dollars over a four-year period if you’re bound and determined to get your undergraduate degree from them. And while that sounds super-expensive — okay, it IS super-expensive — recent reports, such as this one from USA Today, have indicated a trend toward tuition freezes among a growing number of higher education facilities. Still, with a tough job market, a sluggish education system, and a government that appears ill-equipped to do anything about it, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: is an expensive education truly worth your time and investment? In many cases, the answer is, it depends on the university. So let’s look at each of the 10 most expensive colleges in America and apply that question at the end.

(Hat tip to Forbes for providing the tuition and total cost numbers.)

10. Vanderbilt University

Annual Tuition: $41,332
Annual Total Cost with books and other fees applied: $58,544
Cost of a four-year degree: $234,176

The “Harvard of the South,” located in Nashville, Tennessee, stands out for how expensive it is simply because of geography. In a region of the US that isn’t used to paying close to a quarter of a million dollars for education, here it’s the norm. Founded shortly after the Civil War, it has a diverse student population from all 50 states and counts former Vice President Al Gore among its former attendees. According to the 2012 Post-Graduation report, 50.7 percent of the 847 respondents (around 430) were planning employment. Of those, 51.9 percent of graduates surveyed had already found a job while 32.2 percent were currently searching. Around 9.9 percent were considering offers or had turned down an offer and were still searching. The remaining 5.3 percent had not yet begun their job search.

9. Boston Conservatory

Annual Tuition: $37,658
Annual Total Cost with books and other fees applied: $58,573
Cost of a four-year degree: $234,292

Located close to Fenway Park, room and board is close to $17,000 annually, the highest in the nation. It’s a performing arts school of about 738 students, and very selective about who is accepted. As of the 2012-2013 school year, the acceptance rate was around 34 percent with a student to teacher ratio of 5:1. We couldn’t track down the numbers for how many find employment after graduation, but considering the school’s focus, we don’t think it’s a stretch to say “not very many.” According to a Yahoo! report, fine arts majors have an unemployment rate of 12.6 percent making it one of the least valued degrees in America.

8. Dartmouth College

Annual Tuition: $42,996
Annual Total Cost with books and other fees applied: $58,638
Cost of a four-year degree: $234,552

Attending Dartmouth College will put you in the same company as John Belushi. Oh wait, never mind, we mean it’ll put you in the same company as Belushi’s character from Animal House. That’s right. The bawdy comedy classic was inspired by frat life at Dartmouth, but this Ivy League university has more going for it than just that. It also possesses a pretty good post-graduation employment rate for its students. According to the 2011 annual post-grad report, out of 428 respondents, 274 had found full time employment (approximately 64 percent). Of course, with books and supplies running around $1,850 per year, much higher than other top schools, you would and should expect results.

7. Fordham University

Annual Tuition: $40,292
Annual Total Cost with books and other fees applied: $58,732
Cost of a four-year degree: $234,928

Fordham University is located near Yankee Stadium, but with $15,000 in annual expenses for room and board, you may find yourself catching the Yanks on the tube over a bowl of ramen instead of in person. As far as results are concerned, we’ll put them as comparable to Dartmouth, though it’s hard to know anything for certain because the Career Services folks are pretty tricky about their placement reports. Instead of breaking it down, they combine the full-time employed and those with plans to further their education into one group, totaling 83 percent, which sounds better than it really is from a job search standpoint. Still, the number of employed from the Class of 2012 was at 414 at the time of the report, and the employers were an impressive collection that included Disney ABC Television Group, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and GE Capital.

6. Northwestern University

Annual Tuition: $41,893
Annual Total Cost with books and other fees applied: $58,829
Cost of a four-year degree: $235,316

Northwestern University sits on Lake Michigan on a 240-acre campus, and boasts an endowment of more than $7 billion, making it one of the tenth highest in the country, so the financial support is certainly there. Nevertheless, an individual student will pay more than $235,000 for a basic four-year degree, and according to the last available numbers (2010), only 35.8 percent of newly minted graduates had found full time employment while 17.4 percent were officially (not voluntarily) unemployed. (That’s about 10 percentage points higher than the standard rate of unemployment throughout the US.)


5. New York University

Annual Tuition: $41,606
Annual Total Cost with books and other fees applied: $58,858
Cost of a four-year degree: $235,432

Depending on the type of life that you want for yourself in the ever-expensive New York, this total cost is clearly just a “bare bones minimum.” Will you ever get out of the degree what you put in to it? It’s hard to tell from the post-grad report which doesn’t distinguish its 92.5 percent respondents from “employed” and “attending graduate school or enrolled in professional program.” If you’re planning on ending your education with a bachelor’s degree, then you’ll need a little more information to know the odds.

4. Washington University

Annual Tuition: $41,992
Annual Total Cost with books and other fees applied: $58,901
Cost of a four-year degree: $235,604

Mark Wrighton from MIT has taken this university national thanks to fundraising efforts that have resulted in more students, professors, and research. Results have definitely been competitive with lower unemployment rates for the Class of 2011-2012 (12 percent) than other schools on this list. Out of all schools, the number of full-time employed has averaged 60 percent. The remaining 28 percent are attending law school, med school, grad school, or are busy doing volunteer work. Overall, a busy class logging some pretty decent results for the school.

3. Columbia University

Annual Tuition: $45,290
Annual Total Cost with books and other fees applied: $59,208
Cost of a four-year degree: $236,832

Undergraduates are assured on-campus housing for all four years at this Ivy League school in New York City. That may be of little comfort when you’re an 18- to 22-year-old and dealing with annual tuition rates in excess of $45,000. How are employment rates? According to numbers for the graduating class of 2012, Columbia produced 56.8 percent employment for newly minted grads. Another 22.9 percent had plans for continuing education. Close to 10 percent were continuing the job search while 4.7 percent were not searching and 5.9 percent were willingly taking time off.

2. University of Chicago

Annual Tuition: $43,780
Annual Total Cost with books and other fees applied: $59,950
Cost of a four-year degree: $239,800

The University of Chicago’s 5,100 undergraduates comprise about half the student population, so the school’s emphasis is a bit more on post-grad work than the four-year degree. Nevertheless, the school has one of the better reputations with 51 percent having secured full-time employment and another 19 percent continuing to graduate school. Around 24 percent were still searching or unsure of their post-graduation goals. With the total rate of unemployment/underemployment hovering at around 25 percent nationally, the U of C mirrors the rest of the country in outcomes data.

1. Sarah Lawrence College

Annual Tuition: $45,212
Annual Total Cost with books and other fees applied: $60,116
Cost of a four-year degree: $240,464

Sarah Lawrence College only had 1,300 undergraduates in the most recent data, and that made for an impressive 9:1 student-to-teacher ratio. Located just 15 miles from Manhattan, this liberal arts college boasts such alumni as Brian De Palma, J.J. Abrams, and Vera Wang. However, it is also the most expensive college in the country, and you should look at the names we just mentioned as the exceptions and not the rule. However, for what its specialty is, we’d say the quality of Sarah Lawrence College’s education is top drawer. Unfortunately, very few enjoy the level of success that many of the school’s most famous graduates have. Still, if you believe in yourself and truly think you can do it, then a little detail like that isn’t going to stop you.


With the 10 most expensive colleges in America, there is a predisposed line of thought that states that obtaining an education at any one of these is worth it. But slow down before you jump to that conclusion. A recent study from Georgetown University found that people who earned their IT certificates and decided to forgo college altogether earned higher salaries than many with bachelor’s degrees.

“In computer and information services, [certificate holder] men working in field earn $72,498 per year, which is more than 72 percent of men with an Associate’s degree and 54 percent of men with Bachelor’s degrees. Women with certificates in this field and working in a related occupation earn $56,664 annually, which is greater than 75 percent of women with an Associate’s degree and 64 percent of women with a Bachelor’s degree,” the study finds.

In a press release from the PC AGE Career Institute, Zafar Khizer, president, notes that experience is a factor as well. “Generally speaking, it takes four years and costs over $100,000 to complete a Bachelor’s degree in contrast to one year for a certificate that costs about $20,000. For a $35,000 salary, three years of loss of income while attending college and not working is $105,000. Since some employers pay for your college, if you get a certificate first, get a job, and then complete your degree, you’re probably saving $185,000,” Khizer said.

Ultimately, deciding whether $100,000 to $250,000 for a four-year degree is worthwhile should be weighed against the reality of today’s job market and the eye-opening numbers of what an IT certificate can mean to your future. Obviously, you have to have a passion for whatever you decide to do. But does passion have to occur naturally, or can you find it in a career field that you’re not sure about? These are questions worth considering.

The practical thing to do, if you’re dead set on going to college, is to try and keep costs as low as possible on the front end. For career fields like law, med school, and psychiatry, you’re not going anywhere with a bachelor’s degree alone. You’ve got to put in the extra time and effort to further your education, and that means a substantial investment at some point. And the truth of the matter is, very few universities in the country have four-year degrees that are any more special than another.

That’s why we recommend that you attend a smaller – and by smaller we mean cheaper — college or university for undergraduate work. With a strong performance, you’ll be able to get in to most graduate programs, and from there, you can worry about the name of the school on your degree. With more of a performance-based economy building throughout the business world, however, you may want to do something that is practical, useful, and immediately measurable. With software and hardware development opportunities and virtually every business needing someone with technology knowledge and experience, you may want to consider an IT certificate as a viable alternative. If your main concern is making a living and staying out of debt, this could be your best bet.

You also live in a very rewarding time. With all the groundwork that has been lain, the IT world is more intuitive than it was in the pre-Apple/pre-Microsoft days. Couple that with the fact you’re growing up in a world where technology is an everyday necessity, and you are definitely in a position of advantage in respect to what lies ahead.

At the end of the day, you’ll know best whether an opportunity is worth taking. Either way, best of luck to you.

[Featured Image via Practical Youth Ministry]

[NYU Image via Club-MBA.com]

[Jobs Image via Harvey Mackay]

Written by

's work appears regularly here at 4tests.com and across the web for sites, such as The Inquisitr and Life'd. A former high school teacher, his passion for education has only intensified since leaving the classroom. At 4tests, he hopes to continue passing along words of encouragement and study tips to ensure you leave school ready to face an ever-changing world.

Website: http://aricmitchell.blogspot.com/

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