10 Most, Least Expensive Private Colleges and Universities

Kelsey Sheehy
U.S.News & World Report LP

Updated 9/12/13: This article has been updated to reflect a new figure for Trinity College, which has notified U.S. News that it incorrectly reported its tuition and fees.

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Private colleges and universities are known for small class sizes and a close-knit, small-town feel. They are also known for their price tags.

At the high end, a private school can run close to $50,000 per year, before grants and scholarships are factored in. Columbia University in New York charged $49,138 in tuition and fees for the 2013-2014 school year, more than any other private school in the country. Vassar College in New York and Trinity College in Connecticut were not far behind with sticker prices of $47,890 and $47,510, respectively.

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Prices at the three East Coast schools are well above average for private institutions, though. Tuition and fees at private schools for the 2013-2014 school year averaged nearly $30,500. That figure is a full $22,000 more than average in-state tuition and fees at a public institution, according to data reported by 1,110 ranked public and private universities in an annual U.S. News survey.

College students pining for a private education are not doomed to four years of double-digit tuition, though. To find a private college at a bargain price, head south.

Eight of the 10 least expensive private colleges and universities are located south of the Mason-Dixon Line, including Berea College in Kentucky, which boasts a sticker price of $1,070 for the 2013-2014 school year. All students at Berea work on campus in exchange for free tuition, and some receive financial aid to cover the cost of fees.

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While the South is home to many of the lowest-priced private colleges, the Northeast is a haven for pricey elite institutions. New England and the Mid-Atlantic are home to eight of the 10 most expensive private schools, including Vassar, Trinity and Columbia.

Those 10 schools charge an average of roughly $47,300 in tuition and fees for 2013-2014, a far cry from the $8,800 average at the 10 least expensive colleges. Neither figure includes extra costs such as room and board, books or personal expenses. Nor do they factor in financial aid packages, which can bring the price of even the most expensive schools down to a manageable level.

All but two of the most expensive schools ranked in the top 50 of the 2014 Best Colleges rankings. George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and Tulane University in Louisiana both came in at No. 52 on the National Universities list.

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Only two of the 10 least expensive private schools earned a top 50 rank in their category -- Alice Lloyd College in Kentucky and William Carey University in Mississippi -- and six are designated as Rank Not Published. Schools listed as RNP fell in the bottom one-fourth of their ranking category. U.S. News calculates a numerical rank for these schools, but does not publish them.

Below are the 10 most and least expensive private colleges and universities for the 2013-2014 school year. Unranked colleges, which did not submit enough data for U.S. News to calculate a ranking, were not considered for this report.

Most Expensive Schools

School name (state) 2013-2014 tuition and fees U.S. News rank and category
Columbia University (NY) $49,138 4, National Universities
Vassar College (NY) $47,890 13, National Liberal Arts Colleges
Trinity College (CT) $47,510 36, National Liberal Arts Colleges
George Washington University (DC) $47,343 52, National Universities
Carnegie Mellon University (PA) $46,962 23, National Universities
Wesleyan University (CT) $46,944 17, National Liberal Arts Colleges
Tulane University (LA) $46,930 52, National Universities
Bucknell University (PA) $46,902 32, National Liberal Arts Colleges
Oberlin College (OH) $46,870 25, National Liberal Arts Colleges
Union College (NY) $46,785 41, National Liberal Arts Colleges

Least Expensive Schools

School name (state) 2013-2014 tuition and fees U.S. News rank and category
Berea College (KY) $1,070 76, National Liberal Arts Colleges
Brigham Young University--Provo (UT) $4,850 62, National Universities
Rust College (MS) $8,900 RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges
Lane College (TN) $9,180 RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges
Life University (GA) $9,747 RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges
Tougaloo College (MS) $10,210 RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges
Park University (MO) $10,600 RNP, Regional Universities (Midwest)
Alice Lloyd College (KY) $10,620 40, Regional Colleges (South)
William Carey University (MS) $10,800 36, Regional Universities (South)
Allen University (SC) $11,940 RNP, National Liberal Arts Colleges

Don't see your school in the top 10? Access the U.S. News College Compass to find tuition, complete rankings and much more. School officials can access historical data and rankings, including of peer institutions, via U.S. News Academic Insights.

U.S. News surveyed nearly 1,800 colleges and universities for our 2013 survey of undergraduate programs. Schools self-reported a myriad of data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News's data the most accurate and detailed collection of college facts and figures of its kind. While U.S. News uses much of this survey data to rank schools for our annual Best Colleges rankings, the data can also be useful when examined on a smaller scale. U.S. News will now produce lists of data, separate from the overall rankings, meant to provide students and parents a means to find which schools excel, or have room to grow, in specific areas that are important to them. While the data come from the schools themselves, these lists are not related to, and have no influence over, U.S. News's rankings of Best Colleges or Best Graduate Schools. The tuition and fees data above are correct as of Sept. 3, 2013.